Feds aware of drug car­tel-ter­ror ties since 2001

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Sara A. Carter

A for­mer di­rec­tor of the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion warned fed­eral of­fi­cials shortly af­ter the Septem­ber 11 at­tacks that vi­o­lent drug car­tels from Mex­ico were teaming with Mus­lim gangs to fund ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions over­seas.

Asa Hutchin­son, who also has been a Home­land Se­cu­rity un­der­sec­re­tary, said that in 2001, DEA agents un­cov­ered the link be­tween the drug car­tels and ter­ror­ist groups but too few gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials lis­tened.

“I think it’s im­por­tant to rec­og­nize that the link be­tween ter­ror­ism and drug traf­fick­ing ex­ists,” said Mr. Hutchin­son in a phone in­ter­view from Arkansas. “While we are fight­ing ter­ror­ists, we should not ne­glect our fight against drug traf­fick­ers. We shouldn’t ne­glect it, be­cause the link is there.”

Last week, The Wash­ing­ton Times dis­closed a con­fi­den­tial DEA re­port sub­stan­ti­at­ing the link be­tween Is­lamist sleeper cells in the U.S. and Mex­i­can drug car­tels. The re­port, which in­cluded sev­eral doc­u­mented U.S. in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the ter­ror­ist/car­tel con-

nec­tion, stated that Mid­dle East­ern op­er­a­tives funded ter­ror­ist groups with drug money linked to Mex­i­can car­tels.

Fur­ther­more, the 2005 doc­u­ment sug­gests that some Is­lamist ter­ror­ists are dis­guis­ing them­selves as His­pan­ics.

In 2001, Mr. Hutchin­son said, he told fed­eral of­fi­cials that ter­ror­ists would use any in­ter­nal weak­ness if gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials failed to main­tain ad­e­quate re­sources, a fool­proof im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem and en­hanced border-se­cu­rity mea­sures. He be­came di­rec­tor of the DEA just one month be­fore al Qaeda op­er­a­tives hi­jacked four U.S. jet­lin­ers and killed al­most 3,000 peo­ple.

“Af­ter Septem­ber 11, our agents in­ter­viewed some of our sources in Mex­ico,” Mr. Hutchin­son said. “Dur­ing the course of that, they started see­ing the con­nec­tion glob­ally be­tween ter­ror­ists and drug traf­fick­ing.”

Dur­ing his three years at the DEA, he said, intelligence agents dis­cov­ered that Mid­dle East­ern gangs were hav­ing pseu­doephedr ine, an over-the­counter drug, shipped from China and smug­gled into the U.S. from Canada, to Mex­i­can drug syn­di­cates for man­u­fac­tur­ing metham­phetamine.

Th­ese “large bulks” of pseu­doephedrine were then sold to car­tels and trans­ported with the aid of the Mus­lim gangs to “su­per meth labs” in Mex­ico. The pro­ceeds from those sales were then trans­ferred to Mid­dle East­ern ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions.

“We know some of the money wound up back in the hands of ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions in the Mid­dle East,” Mr. Hutchin­son said. “It is a part­ner­ship of con­ve­nience. The drug car­tels would prob­a­bly like to dis­tin­guish them­selves from ter­ror­ists, but their tac­tics are nearly the same. They just may not ask what they are smug­gling. They may not know; they may not care.”

Afghanistan, he said, may be one of the most ob­vi­ous ex­am­ples of nar­cotics prof­its fund­ing ter­ror­ist groups, par­tic­u­larly the Tal­iban mili­tia that har­bored Osama bin Laden be­fore the Septem­ber 11 at­tacks. Ac­cord­ing to the U.N. World Drug Re­port for 2007, which was is­sued last month, Afghanistan is re­spon­si­ble for 92 per­cent of the opium pro­duced in the world last year.

“Wher­ever you look glob­ally, you see ex­trem­ist groups ben­e­fit­ing from drug traf­fick­ing,” he said. “You see the Tal­iban ben­e­fit­ing from opium. We see money com­ing from drug traf­fick­ing in the United States mak­ing its way back to ter­ror­ist groups over­seas.”

The 2005 DEA re­port in­cludes pho­to­graphs of known Mid­dle East­ern­ers who “ap­pear to be His­panic; they are in fact all Span­ish-speak­ing Arab drug traf­fick­ers sup­port­ing Mid­dle East ter­ror­ism from their base of op­er­a­tions” in the south­west­ern United States. Th­ese “per- sons of in­ter­est” use fake U.S. doc­u­ments and their fa­cil­ity with Span­ish al­lows them to blend in.

“I be­lieved that was a pos­si­bil­ity from the time I be­came di­rec­tor of the DEA,” Mr. Hutchin­son said. “It should be no sur­prise to any­one that ter­ror­ists would ex­ploit our weak­ness.”

Liz O. Baylen / The Wash­ing­ton Times

‘The link is there.’ Asa Hutchin­son

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