U.S. faces lethal combination of transnational terrorism and criminal gangs

Published 10 February 2009

Sometime in the near future a lethal combination of transnational terrorism and criminal gangs is going to cross the U.S. border in force

With American attention focused on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the economic crisis, national security experts have largely overlooked the bitter countercartel war in Mexico (see “U.S. Worried that Mexico May Be on Verge of Collapse,” 24 January 2009 HS Daily Wire). Col. Robert Killebrew (Ret.) writes that that war, which is beginning to overlap the U.S. border, is only the forerunner of an even more serious threat. Sometime in the near future a lethal combination of transnational terrorism and criminal gangs is going to cross the U.S. border in force. According to some, it already has, and we haven’t even noticed.

Concern about transnational terrorism and organized crime is not new. The end of the cold war spurred the growth of international gangs newly freed from state controls and made available on the gray market enormous quantities of arms and arms-related materials. At the same time, Killebrew writes, revolutionary groups in South and Central America began diversifying from social revolution into the enormously profitable drug trade that serves North America, turning thousands of trained soldiers into drug mercenaries in the services of organizations such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and others. In Mexico, powerful criminal families began organizing the cartels that today are challenging the Mexican state. At the same time, criminal gangs - the hired guns of the Mexican cartels - began a period of exponential growth, in Latin America and in the U.S.

Killebrew describes the different policies that shoyuld be formulated and implemented, but says that beyond police work, U.S. lawmakers must begin to address social and domestic issues that support the gang and drug culture — and thus provide ungoverned space for terrorism — as a matter of national security. Immigration reform is a good example of a national domestic issue intrinsically involved in international gang culture that must be addressed. Prison reform is another — overcrowded prisons that warehouse minor offenders next to hardened gang members have become gang universities that take in amateurs and produce hard cases. Improvements in education, work-force development and other social priorities are no longer stovepiped issues, but have become part of the challenge of isolating and eliminating a drug and crime culture that has become a national security challenge. Killebrew adds:

None of this is easy, and all of it is “irregular.” The enemy follows no rules, wears no identifiable markings — except perhaps gang tattoos — and attacks his objectives only indirectly, by undermining the opponent’s will to prevail. There is no single enemy network to attack, or hostile command and control system. In many cases, American security experts continue to be unaware of the threat posed by the axis of international gangs and terrorists, overseas and within America’s own borders. Much more can be said. But the challenge now is to recognize the threat, comprehend its many dimensions and better coordinate the counterattack.