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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Iranian Penetration of Western Hemisphere

One of the hot stories is the reported plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador to the US with a bomb at his favorite restaurant.  Perhaps not in the MSM, but off line, there have been some questions about this plot and why the Iranians would not use their own Hezbollah sleeper cells here in the US.  My interlocutors seem to think that such sleeper cells do exist, but we don't hear about them just because they are sleeper cells.  The idea that an Iranian operative would contact some Mexican Cartel is as weird as the idea that the Kennedy Administration would contact the Mafia about taking out Fidel Castro.

However, we should be aware of Iranian activities in Latin America.  Here are some comments from retired Army Colonel Bob Killibrew, who has been studying these issues for some time: 
A quiet disagreement has been going on for a couple of years among the people who follow this story about the extent of the Iran-Venezuela-Mexican Cartel relationship; the essence of the talk was when and whether the Iranians would cross a "red line" and start to use cartel networks to carry out terrorist acts inside the US.

As many on this reflector know, the Iranians have deployed Revolutionary Guards and the Quds Force in various countries in Latin America.  They have close ties, particularly, with Chavez, the Cubans, Hezbollah and the Mexican cartels (the Iranians and Venezuela are deeply involved in the drug trade as well).  There are well-defined "rat lines" that run from Iran to Venezuela and through South and Central America and into the U.S.

The arguements against the cartels getting involved in terrorism inside the US has always been "what would be the profit in that?"  I heard it deployed just yesterday by a brilliant lady who has a key role in a think-tank, before we heard the news.  In my opinion, this exposes, though only partly (sort of like the first attack on the World Trade Center presaged 9/11) the capability and willingness of Iran and its band of assorted fellow travelers to use criminal networks to penetrate the US.  Let's hope they never get nukes, though hope is a lousy way to run defense policy.
The question is, if we accept this view, how do we respond?

Colonel Killebrew says the following:
It's a real problem.  In my study, I recommended a national strategy that had three big pieces—more effective drug treatment and anti-gang measures here, more vigorous alliances with countries that are fighting the cartels—notably Mexico and Colombia, a country that is already trying to support a regional strategy, and international measures against cartels and criminal states outside the hemisphere.  Every problem we have, Europe has as well.

One thing I didn't do well was really get into how we should fight for control of international financial systems that are the lifeblood of these people; I'm of the opinion now that money is their center of gravity, that has to be attacked with far more vigor than we are doing now.  (The people who are doing it are fine; they're just undermanned and not part of a larger strategy).  This implies a new international system that is more coercive; it makes a mockery of sanctions and controls when Venezuela can start an Iranian-Venezuelan bank and use it to evade sanctions and oversight.  And incidentally, we also need to send some of our own bankers to jail; there are US banks that are washing huge quantities of drug money and that get slap-on-the-wrist fines.  A few white-collar executives in jail would be a good first step.

Finally, we have got to think urgently about proliferation and the crime and criminal state networks.  It's only a matter of time.
Well, he isn't pulling any punches here.

The death of Hugo Chavez will not be the solution to this problem.

The other thing to keep in mind is that drone attacks are not freebees.  People who are the target of drone attacks are looking for ways to hit back.  The US is not a retribution-free zone.

Regards  —  Cliff

Colonel Killebrew has an infantry and Special Operations background and taught at the Army War College.  He is currently Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).  He has an article, titled "Crime and War", in the October 2011 issue of the US Naval Institute Proceedings.  Yes, I have a copy.

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