Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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Press Releases

A Slow Recognition of the Criminal-Terrorist Pipeline
Slowly, it seems, the criminal-terrorist nexus is coming into a sharper focus for policy makers. The head of DHS intelligence analysis

This may not seem like much, but until now, there has been only passing comments by U.S. Southern Command commanders and the DEA on the linkages between drug trafficking organizations and Islamist radicals. In this case, the threat is primarily from Iran and the Shiite Hezbollah organization rather than the Sunni-al Qaeda linked groups.

DEA Chief of Operations Mike Braun, at the same conference, aptly noted that drug traffickers and terrorist organizations often have much in common: ""They use the same money launderers, the same document forgers," he said. "You are naturally going to bump up against terrorist organizations."

Much of the discussion of these matters takes place in the context of these linkages being hypothetical, something to watch out for down the road.

Allen said the possibility of cooperation between terrorists and drug trafficking organizations was a "low probability" and would be "unprecedented," but that it was feasible.

I have a somewhat different take on this because, while each piece of the puzzle presents a fragmentary picture, all the pieces together show this would be, I think, a far higher probability.

The alliances among drug trafficking organizations and terrorist organizations have already taken place in Colombia (The FARC and AUC). The FARC has demonstrated an ability to reach out to other terrorist groups-even those who have little in common with the FARC's Marxist ideology-for technology sharing, information sharing and weapons (see
paper I did for the NEFA Foundation for details).

The FARC is transnational and wants specific things, in exchange for money. Right now that something is surface-to-air capability, in order to down U.S. and Colombian aircraft. It does not care who provides them

The FARC, in turn, is backed by not only president Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, but by his intelligence apparatus, and his military leadership, who profit now directly from the drug trade.

In turn, Chavez's closest ally, the ones providing him (along with Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega and Evo Morales in Bolivia) intelligence training, equipment and advisers, is Iran. And Iran runs Hezbollah, and Hezbollah's fairly widespread presence in Venezuela, Panama, Colombia and the Tri-Border Area has been well-documented.

I also have a different take on the issue of terrorists using the illicit pipelines of drug traffickers and coyotes to enter the United States. I do not think you can discount that now.

However, with Nicaragua and Venezuela willing to issue passports to allies (and Ortega with a long history of issuing them to terrorists) my greater fear is that terrorists will simply be able to travel about freely on valid, legitimate travel documents from Chavez or Ortega. These would be far harder to detect because, in reality, there is nothing illegal to detect.

But it is heartening to see these issues coming to the forefront of the policy debate, at least from time to time.
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