Our political system has been paralyzed over the past year with the incessant news cycle on Russian influence in our elections. Anything and everything related to Mueller’s Russia probe has forced our border crisis to take a back seat to the implied threat of “the Russians are coming.” Well, according to border experts who’ve spoken with CR, Russians are showing up on our southern border. Will the broader media and the politicians now take an interest in the border?
Jaeson Jones, a retired captain from the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division, warns that the cartels in charge of the plazas at the border are now helping to smuggle Russians into south Texas. “In the last few weeks in south Texas, Border Patrol agents have apprehended several Russians being smuggled between the ports of entry by the Gulf Cartel,” said Jones in an exclusive interview with CR.
Although Jones is retired from his counter-cartel work for Texas law enforcement, he is in regular contact with border officials and cartel informants and continues to train local, federal, and state law enforcement on the latest trends, tradecraft, and capabilities of the cartels. Jones is hearing that the smugglers are strategically using the masses of Central Americans showing up in the Rio Grande Valley, often up to 2,000 per day, to carefully bring over Russians in small, unassuming numbers.
“The Gulf Cartel is currently staging small groups of two and three Russians throughout the Reynosa plaza to be smuggled into the country illegally,” said Jones, who used to manage the daily operations of the Texas Rangers’ Border Security Operations Center (BSOC). “This type of smuggling activity is utilized to move what the cartel deems high-value people. We see this activity often when smuggling special interest aliens (SIAs). Those are people who come from a country with a terrorism nexus. This is due to their ability to pay more money to be crossed illegally.”
Current government officials working on border issues have confirmed a similar trend of aliens coming from countries of terrorism concern or threats of espionage. Last week, I interviewed Jack Staton, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) El Paso division. He observed that there is nothing unique about Central Americans using the loopholes and lapse in coverage at the border. He noted that because we’re not able to detain these people, they’re incentivized to come from all over the world, including Russia.
“Along with the continued flow, you’re going to have every nationality do it. It’s not just going to be Central Americans. We’ve seen non-Central American family units also coming up. We’ve seen families from Turkey and from Brazil. In our area here, we’ve seen Turkish nationals coming in, we’ve seen individuals from Angola, the Congo, we’ve seen individuals from Russia. … We’ve seen a lot of Brazilians coming in; many of the Brazilians are coming in as families, as are Turkish families. We’ve also seen a major influx of Cubans coming into our area here.”
Russia has a robust presence in Latin America. Border agents are tied down at the border, and the secondary checkpoints in the El Paso sector, which includes all of New Mexico, are completely unmanned. This means that any suspicious immigration activity, such as people coming from non-traditional migrant countries up the main highways, will go unchecked.
Staton noted that the secondary checkpoints were actually set up more for immigration enforcement than for drugs. “They’re not narcotics checkpoints. That’s a secondary function of them, in the sense that people have to stop for an immigration inspection. And then, all of a sudden, agents might find narcotics.”
In a recent interview with Staton’s counterpart at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in El Paso, Kyle Williamson, he also expressed concern that countries of security concern are exploiting the vulnerabilities. When I asked Williamson whether he thinks there is a looming threat from terrorists coming into the country with the knowledge that our agents are tied down at the border and that the secondary checkpoints remain unmanned, he responded emphatically, “Yes, it’s definitely a threat.”
“Let’s just put it this way, the cartels are an international organization. It’s a real threat, it’s a prevalent threat, and they do have their associations with groups like Hezbollah, with Afghans, and with radical terrorist organizations,” warned Williamson, who also served in the DEA’s offices in the Middle East overseeing narco-terrorism enforcement. “What that does is effectively move those borders right up to the United States. Those cartels link the borders. Just like they use their resources, their technology, their criminal enterprise to conduct criminal activities, they can use those resources to assist terrorists as well.”
Williamson sees no reason why national security should be any less affected by open borders than vulnerability to drug trafficking. “When you look at a terrorist organization, obviously they capitalize on chaos. When your borders are in chaos, the same way the drug traffickers exploit that to move the drugs through while border agents are moved away from the field, the terrorists have the same knowledge how to exploit the situation.” So what are Russians being moved in for?
Sheriff David Black of Otero County, which has two checkpoints now unmanned thanks to the surge in migration, was concerned that the highways coming up from El Paso into his county may serve as a conduit for national security threats. “If someone wants to get in to do harm to this country, there is nothing stopping them whatsoever,” said the sheriff. “They don’t even have to risk the hardship of coming over the rugged Mesa area with a load and a gallon of water when they can come straight up our highway without anyone stopping them.”
It’s no wonder the Supreme Court has said, “The right to [exclude aliens] stems not alone from legislative power but is inherent in the executive power to control the foreign affairs of the nation (Knauff v. Shaughnessy, 1950). The vulnerability of a broken asylum system has a cascading effect on numerous diplomatic and security issues not just with Mexico but with many adversaries in the world. If the president’s power over immigration isn’t enough to justify shutting down asylum processing at the border, perhaps the ubiquitous fear of “Russian interference” will spawn the political actors to act.
Editor’s note: The fifth paragraph has been updated to note that Mr. Staton was criticizing our inability to detain illegal border-crossers.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.