For far too long, our foreign policy, counterterrorism apparatus, and intelligence assets have been almost exclusively directed at threats in the Middle East. But what about the drug cartels, transnational gangs, and Hezbollah in the Western Hemisphere operating in our own backyard and coming over the border? After all, the purpose of foreign policy is our national security.
The Obama administration spent years covering up the threat Hezbollah and the drug cartels pose to our people right here inside our own borders. Now the Justice Department, led by Jeff Sessions, is making transnational gangs and the transnational crime that funds terrorism on our own shores a priority.
While we were refereeing endless Islamic civil wars halfway around the world, the Obama administration turned a blind eye to Hezbollah’s billion-dollar crime industry in our own hemisphere that is funding terror, often from businesses of Shiite immigrants to the U.S. In a major expose in Politico earlier this year, it was revealed that Obama shut down Operation Cassandra, the join counterterror and crime task force designed to disrupt Hezbollah in Latin America – all to appease Iran and pave the road for the nuclear deal.
“In its determination to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama administration derailed an ambitious law enforcement campaign targeting drug trafficking by the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, even as it was funneling cocaine into the United States,” wrote Josh Meyer in one of Politico’s greatest pieces of journalism ever. Since then, a record number of people have died from cocaine, even as deaths from other drugs have plateaued.
Ironically, it was none other than the infamous Bruce Ohr who was put in charge of the operation that was undermined before it could do any work. That in itself should indicate how important Hezbollah’s Latin America operation is to Iran’s geopolitical goals: much more important to our national security and border security than, say, the Yemeni civil war.
Well, what a difference a new attorney general makes. Earlier this week, Jeff Sessions designated MS-13, Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG), Sinaloa Cartel, Clan del Golfo, and Lebanese Hezbollah as transnational crime organizations (TCOs). He organized a Transnational Organized Crime Task Force designed to coordinate activities between drug agents, law enforcement, counterterrorism, and intelligence assets to disrupt the full spectrum of their activities in our hemisphere. Terrorism is increasingly funded through transnational crime, most prominently the drug trade, and all of these organizations pose a threat either on our own soil or to our border through the flow of Middle Eastern and Latin American migrants controlled by gangs and drug cartels – with Hezbollah lurking in the background.
Former DEA Special Operations Division head Derek Maltz told me he is heartened by the move and hopes it will finally rectify the mistakes of the past. The key to not repeating the failures of the past is cross-agency unity and information sharing, according to Maltz. “The Trump administration inherited a dysfunctional mess in regards to the transnational organized crime threats to America. It’s great to see leadership in action with the public announcements yesterday. Now we need focus, interagency cooperation, accountability, and results. The best and brightest in the U.S. have the potential to shut these crime and terror networks down only if they unite.”
Maltz’s division was at the center of the investigation into hundreds of used car lots owned by Shiite extremists on our own soil. These businesses were being funneled extra cash from Hezbollah’s banking empire to purchase extra used cars here in the U.S. In a circuitous laundering operation, those cars were then sent to lawless West African countries and resold, the proceeds used for drug operations both in Europe and in the Western Hemisphere. Much of the funds, of course, were used to purchase weapons for the endless struggles in the Middle East. The second part of the Politico expose provided a useful infographic showing the flow of crime, drugs, and terror. Ayman Joumaa, a Hezbollah operative and a dual Colombian-Lebanese citizen, was at the nexus of this operation and was indicted for laundering drugs and contraband for the brutal Las Zetas cartel. “This is two for the price of one,” says Maltz. “They immigrate to America, use our generosity against us to fund terror, and then make more money off a drug trade that is also killing our youth.”
The Obama administration did nothing to follow up on the work of these agencies, and no other indictments have followed. None of these car lot owners have even been deported.
Given that Hezbollah sits at the nexus of special interest alien smuggling to our border, drugs, gangs, and subversion activities in Latin America, this designation by Sessions will have positive effects on our allies in Latin America. One of the forgotten trends in Latin America is that a number of countries have recently elected pro-Trump governments willing to work with us on combatting Iran’s influence and fighting organized crime and drug trafficking. Brazil, Argentina, Peru, and Guatemala are some good examples.
Joseph Humire, executive director of the Center for a Secure Free Society, served as an expert witness in a first-of-its-kind anti-Hezbollah trial in Peru and told me this task force will have a very positive effect on sharing and learning intel from our allies there:
“Designating Hezbollah as a Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO) allows our regional partners in Latin America to increase their focus on the crime-terror organization. While most Latin American countries don’t have adequate legal frameworks to deal with foreign terrorist organizations, they have significantly improved their capabilities (legal and operational) to deal with TCOs. This puts us in sync with our southern neighbors to more effectively dismantle Hezbollah’s crime-terror network.”
Many countries in Latin America and in West Africa that are home to Hezbollah’s crime syndicates will be more likely to cooperate with us now that we are going after crime activities that adversely affect them. Moreover, given that organized crime and drug trafficking are now the fuel of terrorism, drying up their networks is the most effective way of combatting terror, much more so than nation-building and refereeing civil wars.
By simply using soft power to clamp down on criminal aliens, terror financing, and drug trafficking, we can stop a huge amount of death and mayhem while also remaking our foreign policy. Clearly, this has been a priority for Sessions. On my podcast several months ago, Sessions said, “We also have people who get in here and make money off the United States and then send money to terrorist groups. … We’ve got a string of cases we are continually prosecuting. … Some of them are recent immigrants. … This is a top, top priority for us.”
The designation of MS-13 and the drug cartels as TCOs is also welcome news. Todd Bensman, a former intelligence analyst for the Texas Department of Public Safety and senior national security fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, told me that the designation will net quick results. “Designating them as a TCO is very significant because it will now flag any MS-13 member crossing the border and would trigger a number of security measures that would have otherwise not been triggered,” said Bensman in an interview with CR. “This allows intelligence personnel inside the U.S. to notify cops in their internal systems who come into contact with these individuals, even if they are pulled over for a broken tail light.” While sanctuary cities will ignore a run-of-the-mill drunk driving illegal alien, it’s hard for them to ignore an alert that a person is essentially on a terror list.
The mix of drug cartels, MS-13, and Hezbollah is the ultimate threat to our homeland, much more so than Afghanistan or the civil wars in Syria and Yemen. Just this week, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said that 100 known terrorists were arrested in his country and deported. Remember, Guatemala is the choke point for migration to our border, and there have been hundreds of Middle Easterners caught at Laredo, Texas, this year. Also, according to ICE, 85 percent of the family units coming through the Yuma sector are from Guatemala, and we saw a record number of such incursions in September. To focus on Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia as the terrorist threat and ignore our border is insane, especially when we bring in tens of thousands of immigrants from these countries, among them people who fund these very wars with fraud and organized crime on our own shores.
The broader lesson is that we need not discover the impossible solution to securing the sovereignty of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia to keep us safe from Islamic terrorism. We merely need to assume control of our own sovereignty through our border, immigration policy, and banking system, while working closely with our neighbors. “This is much cheaper, more effective, and doesn’t cost us lives,” said Maltz, who lost a brother in Afghanistan.
Overall, Jeff Sessions has been leading more than most other Cabinet members on discernable policy outcomes. Whether it’s crime, drugs, terrorism, immigration, religious liberty, or affirmative action, Sessions has been changing policies in the most meaningful way. He’s even pushing back against judicial supremacy. For those disappointed in the way he is handling Mueller, just remember that the Mueller probe will be over, and it would be a shame to lose all this progress for a RINO who would likely take his place. National security policy, when done right, should trump everything else.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.