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An Evolution in the National Security Threat from the Mexican Drug Cartels and Iran?

By Rob Strayer, Director of the National Security Preparedness Group

The arrest of a dual Iranian-American citizen for soliciting a Mexican drug cartel member (who turned out to be a DEA informant) to commit a terrorist act on U.S. soil is notable for what it says about the drug cartels’ use of flagrant violence and the intentions of the government of Iran.

This plot confirms long-held fears about transnational narco-trafficking enterprises — that their channels for moving drugs, money, and weapons across the U.S. and other borders could also be used to smuggle terrorists or weapons of mass destruction into the United States.  In recent years, the concern was strengthened by news that individuals from countries of special interest, including Iran, were caught attempting to enter the United States and that the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah had undertaken activities in Mexico.  The assumption, however, had been that the drug cartels would not jeopardize their lucrative narcotics operations by assisting global terrorist organizations or committing violence in the United States that would result in a strong and direct response by the U.S. government, possibly shutting down their smuggling networks.

This brazen scheme shows that the perception of the drug cartels is that they have such an abject disregard for human life and the rule of law that if the price is right, they will participate in even terrorist activities and are willing to do so in the United States.  Whether this perception foreshadows a new reality remains to be seen, but it is troubling that those who know how to undertake sophisticated terrorist attacks (in Iran’s Quds Force) perceived the cartels to be willing accomplices.

This conspiracy shows the intent of the Iranian government to launch an attack in the United States, taking advantage of the lawlessness in Mexico.  Also remarkable is the financial backing for it.  While $100,000 was wired to a bank account as a down payment for the operation, $1.5 million was promised by the Iranian agent.  The 9/11 attacks were estimated to cost only between $400,000 and $500,000 to execute.  So this magnitude of funding by the Iranians for a terrorist attack in the United States presents a serious threat to our national security.  

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