FrontPage Interview’s guest today is Ben R. Furman, the FBI's Former Counterterrorism Chief. He writes a blog at blackhawkpress.com/blog, and he is the author of The Devil’s Darning Needle, a counterterrorism thriller.
FP: Ben R. Furman, welcome to Frontpage interview.
I would like to talk to you today about the infiltration of terrorists across U.S. northern and southern borders, and the groups here that support it via facilitating illegal alien immigration.
What is the state of this problem as we speak?
Furman: No one knows how many terrorists are currently in the United States, but that they are here is not debatable, and the tally goes up each day. It’s natural to be swept away by the frightening battle occurring along our southern border, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the flood of illegal aliens crossing over that are eluding capture, but there’s a similar problem on our northern border that can’t be overlooked and it is equally as serious.
Terrorist infiltration is a deadly ongoing problem that our counterterrorism and law enforcement agencies face, both externally and internally, and in many respects the internal obstacles are the most troubling. Rooting out terrorists is a difficult job under the best of circumstances, but it’s made more difficult by the “open border” crowd that labels the agencies or anyone trying to control illegal immigration as racists, xenophobes and bigots. And the current mantra of political correctness has darn near beaten common sense police work to death.
FP: Can you give us some examples.
Furman: Sure. Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian who plotted to blow up the Los Angeles Airport on the eve of the millennium was arrested in Port Angeles as he drove off a ferry from British Columbia with a trunk full of bomb-making materials. The agent responsible for the arrest said it had little to do with the man’s nationality, rather that he was sweating (it was December and at the northern border), made no eye contact, became belligerent as she peppered him with questions, and he gave lousy answers. She followed her training and applied common sense to the situation. Would this same incident be considered racial profiling today? I suspect the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) would use it as another example of Muslims being targeted by racist jack-booted cops.
Fox News reported that in October 2008 the Border Patrol began conducting random roadside stops of buses that pick up passengers at the Port Angeles ferry terminal, across the strait from Victoria, BC, to check for illegal aliens. Michael Mermudez, the Border Patrol spokesman said, “These are the places that terrorists or criminals would use to egress away from the border.”
Again, the Border Patrol’s actions make sense to most of us, but not to the ACLU, which has joined forces with left-leaning groups in Washington State, who say these measures have infringed on people’s civil liberties. So what are they doing to thwart the efforts of the Border Patrol? They’re installing signs in all the buses informing riders of their rights to ignore Border Patrol agents.
The way I see it, the ACLU has just handed the terrorists a playbook for evading federal law enforcement agents who are working to secure one of the most dangerous and porous borders in the country at a time when the threat to national security is particularly high. And, let’s not forget, in 2010 the Winter Olympics will be held in Vancouver; terrorists love the world stage and visions of the 1972 Olympics come to mind.
From a topographical standpoint, our border with Canada stretches 4,000 miles through mostly unattended territory and twelve states, and the terrain, especially in the Pacific Northwest, makes detection difficult. The Puget Sound area, for example, is dotted with numerous small islands, lakes and heavy forests that provide cover for illegals, and the border security forces, both Canadian and U. S., are thin. We’re also challenged by Canada’s immigration and security policies. In particular, Canada doesn’t have a visa requirement for visitors from forty countries, and many are aliens of special interest (ASIC) that come from countries with known ties to terrorist groups or have a substantial terrorist presence within their borders.
Even more troubling is the inability of Canadian law enforcement to track those entering the country. For example, within 72 hours after arriving by an international flight, entry records are purged. This creates a security nightmare for us when one of these individuals arrives at a point of entry. There’s no way to corroborate the story about how or when the individual entered Canada and for what purpose.
During a question and answer session after a speech I’d given on terrorism, I was accused by a journalist of hyping the northern border terrorist problem; she said there was none. I wish it were so. In 2002, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) reported this to the Canadian Senate Committee on Security and Intelligence:
“With perhaps the singular exception of the United States, there are more international terrorist groups active here than any other country in the world.
“By way of example, the following terrorist groups or front groups acting on their behalf have been and are active in Canada: Hezbollah and other Shiite Islamic terrorist organizations; several Sunni Islamic extremist groups, including Hamas, with ties to Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Lebanon and Iran; the Tamil Tigers; the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK); and all of the world's major Sikh terrorist groups.”
And in its November 2008 report to Congress concerning northern border security, the Department of Homeland Security said, “The primary threat along the northern border is the potential for extremists and their conveyances to enter the U.S. undetected. There is an undisputed presence in Canada of known terrorist affiliate and extremist groups, including Hezbollah, Hamas and the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria."
FP: Can you expand on the ASIC you mentioned?
Furman: Aliens of Special Interest Countries (ASIC) are those individuals traveling both legally and illegally to the United States and originating in countries with known ties to terrorist groups or with a substantial terrorist presence within their borders.
The term Special Interest Alien (SIA), meanwhile, covers individuals from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Gaza, and the West Bank.
FP: Ok, how about the situation in the south?
Furman: That’s another ulcer maker. The deadly civil war between the drug cartels and Mexican soldiers has created an ideal climate for terrorists to slip into the country. Smugglers, both human sex trade traffickers, and those like the “coyotes” that transport illegal aliens, are eager to help them for a price.
A major concern is the terrorist who gains entry legally by establishing residence in a friendly country like Venezuela, becoming a citizen, and then entering the U.S. by a valid visa. With the increased scrutiny of visitors and the visa tracking enhancements being implemented, solid steps are being taken to control that migration segment, considerable work still has to be done to fill in all the intelligence gaps.
Operationally, I believe the stealth terrorist is the bigger danger. Less than half of the illegals who flood across our border are apprehended. This means no one can say how many terrorists or terrorist sympathizers are moving about the country unchecked, but they number in the tens of thousands. And it’s no secret that Middle East terrorists enter Central and South America and Mexico, change their Islamic names to Hispanic, match their new identities with forged documentation and like sucker fish; attach themselves to the flood of illegal aliens crossing our borders. Once here they swim silently away to the deep shadows.
FP: So what do we do?
Furman: We have to maximize the thin resources dedicated to fighting the terrorist threat. Our agencies are working hard to do so by employing unmanned aero vehicles (UAV), sensors, visa enhancement and control, border cameras, and many other viable avenues to compensate for the manpower shortage. Others are better equipped than I to address our feckless politicians and the radical Left terrorist facilitators that permeate our landscape and create dangerous problems. But here’s an issue that needs to be addressed by the Department of Justice and the politicians. There’s a trainload of frivolous, harassing lawsuits against agents alleging they’re the bad guys and the terrorists are the victims. There has to be a safety umbrella developed that protects our law enforcement agencies from these as they do their work.
This is on the top of my wish list. We need actionable intelligence on the large alien smuggling organizations with international links that facilitate terrorist crossings into our country. What makes them tick? What goes into the planning and carrying out of operations? What process is used to make operational decisions? Are decisions to transport their cargo based on an analysis of historic trends displayed by law enforcement? Where do they obtain fraudulent papers and passports? How do they obtain real time information about law enforcement border security plans? What are the tactics, techniques and procedures the organizations follow? How do terrorists convince the smugglers to provide safe passage into our country?
To get the answers, we have to get down and dirty. This means infiltration of the groups by informants and by agents (HUMINT operations), and when it’s learned that we’ve been cozy with some very slimy characters this means being prepared to face the inevitable congressional hearings and second guessing. Can we do it? We’ve done it with all stripes of organized crime and hostile intelligence agencies and we can do it again. Is it essential? I’m sure of it.
This General Douglas MacArthur quote serves as a daily reminder for all of us to remain vigilant: “I am concerned for the security of our great nation, not so much because of any threat from without, but because of the insidious forces working from within.”
FP: Ben R. Furman, thank you for joining Frontpage interview.