Smug­gling car­tels worry DHS chief

Kelly sees abil­ity to sneak in ter­ror­ists, dirty bombs


Smug­gling car­tels are now a ma­jor threat to the fab­ric of Amer­i­can so­ci­ety, Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary John F. Kelly de­clared Tues­day, say­ing the in­ter­na­tional crime syn­di­cates have shown an in­cred­i­ble abil­ity to sneak drugs and peo­ple — and po­ten­tially ter­ror­ists and dirty bombs — into the U.S.

Mr. Kelly, a for­mer Marine Corps gen­eral who is three months into his ten­ure as sec­re­tary, said among all the other dan­gers fac­ing Amer­i­cans, the threat from the car­tels, known in the se­cu­rity world as “transna­tional crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tions,” or TCOs, is what keeps him up at night.

He said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has al­ready notched some vic­to­ries over the crim­i­nal net­works, in­clud­ing cut­ting the level of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion across the south­west bor­der by a stag­ger­ing 70 per­cent. But he said the amount of drugs has ac­tu­ally in­creased, and the smug­gling car­tels share ties to the same ter­ror­ist net­works that the U.S. is fight­ing overseas.

“We know, as an ex­am­ple, that the money laun­der­ing of mas­sive amounts of profit from the U.S. drug de­mand — there are ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions that make money from that money laun­der­ing process,” he said. “It’s an in­cred­i­bly lu­cra­tive way to raise money. They’re not do­ing it in huge amounts yet, I don’t be­lieve. But to me, it would be a next step. So the nexus be­tween crim­i­nal net­works and ter­ror­ist net­works is real and, I would pre­dict, will get more so­phis­ti­cated.”

Mr. Kelly was lay­ing out his early ten­ure pri­or­i­ties in a speech at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity, while across town, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions de­liv­ered a sim­i­lar mes­sage to his or­ga­nized crime coun­cil, say­ing crim­i­nal gangs like MS-13 “rep­re­sent one of the gravest threats to our Amer­i­can safety.”

“If you are a gang mem­ber, we will find you. We will dev­as­tate your net­works. We will starve your rev­enue sources, de­plete your ranks and seize your prof­its,” Mr. Ses­sions said. “We will not con­cede a sin­gle block or a street cor­ner to your vi­cious tac­tics.”

Both Mr. Ses­sions and Mr. Kelly were de­scrib­ing crim­i­nal syn­di­cates that reach from Latin Amer­ica deep into U.S. com­mu­ni­ties.

Smug­gling car­tels in Mex­ico con­trol an in­creas­ing por­tion of il­le­gal drug traf­fick­ing into the U.S., while more tra­di­tional street gangs such as MS-13 span most of the coun­try and count more than 10,000 mem­bers.

Pres­i­dent Trump him­self weighed in on the is­sue Tues­day, say­ing on Twit­ter: “The weak il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies of the Obama Ad­min. al­lowed bad MS 13 gangs to form in cities across U.S. We are re­mov­ing them fast!”

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion did mount crim­i­nal cases against MS-13 mem­bers in the U.S., and did try to crack down on the smug­gling net­works in Latin Amer­ica — though it reg­u­larly down­played the dan­gers of those or­ga­ni­za­tions to home­land se­cu­rity.

One net­work man­aged to sneak four men from a U.S.-des­ig­nated Kur­dish ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion into the U.S. in 2014, while an­other net­work based in Brazil helped more than 80 mi­grants from Afghanistan and Pak­istan jump the south­west bor­der.

The ring­leader of that net­work pleaded guilty in fed­eral court in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., last week, ad­mit­ting to charg­ing up to $15,000 per il­le­gal im­mi­grant.

At least one of the men smug­gled in by that net­work showed up on U.S. watch lists as hav­ing fam­ily ties to a mem­ber of the Tal­iban, and hav­ing been in­volved in a ter­ror­ist plot to strike in ei­ther the U.S. or Canada, The Wash­ing­ton Times re­ported.

Mr. Kelly said that when he was a Marine Corps gen­eral in charge of Amer­i­can forces in most of Latin Amer­ica, the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion told him that the car­tels wouldn’t let their net­works be hi­jacked by ter­ror­ists.

Ac­cord­ing to the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, the car­tels were wor­ried

that those kinds of ties would be “bad for busi­ness,” Mr. Kelly re­called.

He said he’s come to a dif­fer­ent con­clu­sion, say­ing the U.S. faced “real threats” of ter­ror­ists be­ing snuck in by smug­gling net­works.

He said that if there had been an­other ter­ror­ist at­tack in the U.S., his first ex­pec­ta­tion would have been that the at­tacker snuck in across the south­west bor­der. He said un­der Mr. Trump, that’s less likely, but said it’s still a danger.

“I’m stay­ing up late at night ev­ery night try­ing to pre­vent that from hap­pen­ing,” he said. “So that’s what keeps

me awake at night.”

Both Mr. Kelly and Mr. Ses­sions said the in­come from drugs helps keep the smug­gling net­works afloat, and urged the U.S. to do more to cut down on the de­mand side of the equa­tion.

“It is a fi­nan­cial mon­ey­maker for them,” Mr. Ses­sions said. “I re­turned from the bor­der last week, and they told me that quite a num­ber of the peo­ple they ar­rest are haul­ing mar­i­juana across the bor­der.”

Mr. Kelly, mean­while, said his law en­force­ment agen­cies will con­tinue to tar­get mar­i­juana for en­force­ment,

in­clud­ing trav­el­ers re­turn­ing to the U.S. at air, sea and land ports of en­try, dash­ing hopes of le­gal­iza­tion ad­vo­cates who had pleaded for a more le­nient fed­eral pol­icy.

“It is a po­ten­tially dangerous gate­way drug that fre­quently leads to the use of harder drugs,” Mr. Kelly said.

“Be­yond that, how­ever, its use and pos­ses­sion is against fed­eral law, and un­til the law is changed by the United States Congress, we in DHS, along with the rest of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, are sworn to up­hold all the laws that are on the books,” he said.


WARN­ING: Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary John F. Kelly said the danger from car­tels, known as “transna­tional crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tions,” is gravest.

UN­DER­WORLD: Tun­nels un­der­neath the south­west bor­der are used by smug­glers to bring drugs and weapons into the U.S.

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