Latin America’s Narco-Terrorism Nexus & The Obama Administration

By Rachel Ehrenfeld
Sunday, March 31st, 2013 @ 2:54PM

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“Terrorists use drug profits to fund their cells to commit acts of murder,” said President George W. Bush, on December 14, 2001. “It’s so important for Americans to know that the traffic in drugs finances the work of terror, sustaining terrorists.”

On March 19, 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft went on to say: “Terrorism and drugs go together like rats and the bubonic plague…. They thrive in the same conditions, support each other, and feed off each other.”

Alas, the water flowing through the Potomac seems to have swept this acknowledgement down to Chesapeake Bay, off to the Atlantic Ocean.

Incredibly, twenty-one years later, on March 20, 2013, Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, gave a press conference at the Pentagonto voice his concern about “A potentialconnection between crime syndicates and terrorists in Latin America.” (Emphasis added.)

Contradicting himself, Kelly added, “We do know that some terrorist organizations are able to skim off fairly substantial sums of money from the drug profits…. And so there has to be kind of a network for that to happen.”

Kelly explained, “Drugs are the basis for this wealth and the drug-related money coming out of the United States.” A criminal network (which one?) “transports tons of drugs into the United States and Europe and moves bales of money back out.”

The sums are “astronomical…. I mean palettes of money,” he said. “For a buck, anything can get on the [drug transport] network.” Kelly concluded,  “The point of it all is the network is a very dangerous thing to have working as effectively as it does, because anything can get on it.”

Already in 2002, twelve of the thirty-six groups on the U.S. Department of State’s ForeignTerrorist Organizations List were identified as being involvedin drug trafficking.In October 2002, a Colombian courier for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), which is funded mostly by drug trafficking, was arrested in the U.S. for having attempted to transport €182,000 (Euros) into the country. The money was confiscated.

In another case, U.S. law enforcement derailed an al-Qaeda plot to exchange “9,000 assault weapons, such as AK-47 rifles, submachine guns and sniper rifles; 300 pistols; rocket-propelled grenade launchers; 300,000 grenades; shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles and 60 million rounds of ammunition,”for $25 million dollars in cash and cocaine.

Since then, the cooperation between international drug trafficking has been cemented to share the “astronomical” amounts of money generated by drug trafficking, arms and people smuggling the worldover.

If Kelly’s worry about such a “potential” link strikes you as odd, it should.

At the same press conference Kelly was arguing that “The reality on the ground [Latin America] is that Iran is struggling to maintain influence in the region, and that its efforts to cooperate with a small set of countries with interests that are inimical to the United States are waning.”

He went on to explain that Iran have increased its “attempt to evade international sanctions and cultivate anti-U.S. sentiment,” Iran succeeded in establishing relations with “Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Argentina.” However, he noted, “This outreach has only been marginally successful…and the region as a whole has not been receptive to Iranian efforts.”

Kelly seemed oblivious to Iranian proxy Hezbollah’s longstanding involvement in drug trafficking and many other criminal activities criminal fundraising efforts in Latin America.

What to think of this? It was surely an example of both the current administration’s humoring of Iran (Kelly paraphrased: I’m not saying that Iran is sponsoring terrorism in Latin America. I’m only talking about ‘potential’) and an expression of just how far behind the curve the U.S. military will be when it comes to handling future events.

The fact that Hezbollah is Iran’s principal agent both in Latin America and a good number of other places worldwide was established decades ago. Since 9/11 Hezbollah’s activities and partnership with drug cartels in pursuing criminal activity of all sorts in the tri-border region have been documented in “Funding Evil; How terrorism is Financed – and How to Stop it,” and in many congressional hearings, by the Congressional Research Service, reports by the Drug Enforcement Administration, and many studies, reports and media accounts.

On March 17, 2009,a  former commander of U.S. Southern Command, Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis testified before the House Armed Services Committee

“He noted the direct link between the illicit drug trade and the terrorist groups it bankrolls, noting the threat posed by Islamic radical terrorism, and emphasized  that “Identifying, monitoring and dismantling the financial, logistical and communication linkages between illicit trafficking groups and terrorist sponsors are critical to not only ensuring early indications and warnings of potential terrorist attacks directed at the United States and our partners, but also in generating a global appreciation and acceptance of this tremendous threat to security.” Strangely, Gen. Kelly knows nothing about this.

Former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs Roger Noriega recently testified before Congress on the Iran/Hezbollah/ Venezuela nexus. Noriega noted the Iran has laundered billions of dollars through the Venezuelan financial sector and is currently stashing “hundreds of millions” in “virtually every Venezuelan bank,” some of which have corresponding branches in the U.S.

In addition to Venezuela, where Hezbollah has close ties to Chavez’s likely successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, there are credible reports of Hezbollah’s presence in Nicaragua, Belize and Mexico.

In April 2010, U.S. defense officials were cited by the U.S. Boarder Control website, saying that “Hezbollah is working with Mexican narcotics syndicates that control access to transit routes into the U.S, [and] …to smuggle drugs and people into the United States.” Moreover, he “warned that al Qaeda also could use trafficking routes to infiltrate operatives into the U.S.” ( see the map above).

One can only wonder why the Administration is considering Iran’s penetration of Latin America, as well as Hezbollah’s and other terrorist groups involvement in the narco-terrorism nexus, a matter of “potential.” It has long been a fait accompli.

Further Reading:

Roger Noriega: Hezbollah’s strategic shift: A global terrorist threat

Organized Crime & Terrorism: Making Room for New Friends

Thomas Joscelyn: Partners in Terror? Iran, al Qaeda, and the secret bin Laden files.

Russell Crandall, Paul DiFiore: Dancing With the Devil: Colombia’s peace talks with the FARC take wary, halting steps forward

Categories: ACD/EWI Blog, ACD/EWI Exclusive, Narco-Terrorism

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