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America's Unacknowledged War

Headline: Grenades that were used in three attacks -- the first two in northern Mexico, the last in Texas -- over the past four months all trace back to the same source, the paramilitary group known as Los Zetas. The attempted bombing in Texas occurred in January in a small town named Pharr, just outside of McAllen and Brownsville, and not all that far from the Mexican border and places like Matamoros and Monterrey. It so happens that another grenade failed to detonate in a January attack in Pharr. Three men, members of two gangs, Tri-City Bombers and the Texas Chicano Brotherhood, were arrested this week and charged with felony drug charges.

Focus remains on the drug violence, the murders and the cartels in Mexico. Concern over whether Mexico is on the verge of being a failed state was expressed in January when the Joint Operating Environment (aka J.O.E.) report from the United States Joint Forces Command was finally released and the comment that the potential for failed states in Mexico and Pakistan represented significant security issues for the United States. However, it could be argued that the possibility of a catastrophic failure of the Mexican state should come as no surprise. It is also arguable that the outright failure of the Mexican government is the not only threat to U.S. security. Mexico is a country of great instability, widely separate economic classes, and corruption.

Of course, by now, this is not the first of the many commentaries on this subject, but "day job" circumstances and deadlines delayed this writing. Often, and perhaps too often, I've focused on the constant and persistent rise of violence across our border with Mexico. But it hasn't just been my move to the "Republic" that prompted my concern over the instability in Mexico affecting us here in the United States.

The question of How Seriously Should we Take The Mexican Crisis? was covered earlier by Doug Farah on his own blog and on the Counterterrorism Blog. He makes a few important observations including the continuing violence and bloodshed attributable to the drug cartels and their turf battles. Also noted is perhaps a 21st Century, North American version of the domino theory in raising the point that instability in Mexico might also lead to unrest in neighboring Guatemala and Honduras, as well as the potential for opening a door for either or both of Venezuela and Nicaragua to step in (with neither of these countries being friendly with the U.S., and both being connected with Iran and Russia to name just two.

But recognizing that a grenade connected to Los Zetas was found in Pharr is more than troubling because it shows that the reach of the cartels has extended beyond the border. Also, when you realize that so-called incursions into the United States by Mexican military and paramilitary troops has been occurring for a while and attracted the attention of Rep. Peter King in early 2006 who at the time was the Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. In a letter to his constituents he wrote:

Dear Mr. Fraser:
It is bad enough that millions of illegal aliens have crossed our borders in recent years. Even more disgraceful are reports that Mexican military personnel - or those posing as Mexican military personnel - have illegally penetrated our southern border hundreds of times while assisting Mexican drug runners. There have even been reports of Mexican troops firing on American Border Patrol agents.

If true, this is one more example of inexcusable conduct by the Mexican government. That is why I have joined with other members of the Homeland Security Committee in demanding that the Mexican government and our own government provides us with all the details of these incursions.

Additionally, as Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, I am scheduling hearings to make sure that we get the complete truth and nothing but the truth about the actions of the Mexican military. We cannot allow the Mexican government to get away with this violation of American sovereignty.

I would be interested in your thoughts on this issue.

All the best.

Sincerely,

PETER T. KING
Member of Congress

The Incursion Report for FY2006 can be found here.

Might it come as a surprise to anyone that those of us familiar with the counter-narcotics technology arena have known of and been dealing with these drug cartel tunnels since long before Sept. 11th? Frankly, going back to my first presentation at an ONDCP Conference in the early 90's, I've heard discussions of the multiplicity of tunnels running under the borders of Arizona and Texas (Nogales, Tucson with El Paso being most prevalent). Some of these tunnels have been especially elaborate, not too different from the one discussed in this thread. But IMO, this is an issue that now goes far beyond drug runners and drug cartels...its an issue of National Security.

In May of 2002 I was interviewed by the MIT Technology Review about the convergence of Counter-narcotic and Counterterrorism. I commented about the similarity of border issues when it came to fighting drug traffic and blocking terrorism. Perhaps not surprisingly back then Brian Houghton, director of research for the Oklahoma City National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism said, "Terrorists and people in the drug industry are constantly searching for the weak link." He further stated, "There are similarities, but [drug trafficking and terrorism] are two different things," he says. "Where they start to go apart is that drugs are such an epidemic. If all drug dealers and cartels were terrorist organizations we'd be in big trouble."

America is at war, not a War on Drugs, and not the War on Terrorism. We, as our neighbors to the South of the border, are at war with the drug cartels. And maybe more specifically, we are at war with Los Zetas. The Zetas are a paramilitary operation that was originally based on renegade Mexican special forces elements trained and armed by the U.S. The multiple and continuing incursions of Mexican military and Mexican nationals across our border, and the infrequently reported engagements of our Border Patrol with such factions, raises serious questions. At one point recently, it was posed that Los Zetas were acting more independently of the cartels. So, also raised is the question of whether Los Zetas should be designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization and dealt with as such. Perhaps this is a "radical" idea right now, but how long is it before it becomes an idea whose time has come?