No Learned Lessons On The Border
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[Recently by Jon Dougherty: Billions For The Middle East—But How Many Cents For the Border? ]

Late this summer, the Arizona Daily Star reported that U.S. officials alerted authorities in Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora to be on the lookout for an al Qaeda suspect named Adnan G. El Shukrijuma [Arizona, Sonora on alert for al-Qaida suspect, By Michael Marizco, August 18, 2004].

According to the report El Shukirjumah, a Saudi national and pilot, is "suspected of being an al Qaeda cell leader and has been wanted by the United States since 2003."

What's that? An al Qaeda operative in Mexico? Say it isn't so.

(In fact, John Kerry did say more or less this to George W. Bush in their now-celebrated mini-exchange on immigration during their third debate. The President replied, inexplicably,  "He just doesn't understand how the borders work, evidently, to say that. That is an outrageous claim.")

But Mexican migrants, people-smuggling coyotes, and drug runners aren't the only groups of people who are aware of how easy it is to sneak into the U.S. via the southwestern border.

Now, it seems, al Qaeda has also figured it out.

While the terrorist group has gotten a lot of credit in the past for being so crafty and creative, it should not receive such accolades this time. Anyone familiar with the habitual lax enforcement of our border knows it was only a matter of time before al Qaeda, or any other terrorist groups, chose the American southwest as their next infiltration route.

Additionally, al Qaeda is also becoming active not just in Mexico but also in other Latin American countries.

As early as May 11, Insight Magazine reported the Honduras attorney general's office and its Ministry of Security were investigating al Qaeda ties to Islamists there. "The Muslim groups offer to finance their studies in Middle Eastern countries, but their ultimate objective is to locate and enlist followers for a terrorist war against the West," the magazine reported. [Analysis: Al-Qaeda Recruiting Hondurans? May 11, 2004 By Julio Medina Murillo]

In August, The Associated Press confirmed the story:

"Governments throughout Mexico and Central America are on alert as evidence grows that al-Qaeda members are traveling in the region and looking for recruits to carry out attacks in Latin America — the potential last frontier for international terrorism."

There's more. According to Agence France Presse, the U.S. 9/11 panel discovered that al Qaeda had established a "clandestine travel service," which was possibly partnered with human smugglers south of the border, to help move operatives around the world.

Without offering specifics, the panel stated,

"There are uncorroborated law enforcement reports suggesting that associates of al-Qaeda used smugglers in Latin America to travel through the region in 2002, before traveling onward to the United States." [PDF]

There is enough circumstantial evidence to warrant plenty of concern. There is also a high common sense factor in play here. If millions of Mexican migrants illegally cross into the U.S. annually, why couldn't a couple dozen terrorists do the same thing?

The Bush administration has responded meekly to this obvious threat. The White House gives the impression that they are not truly serious about the magnitude of the challenge.

Enforcement has been stepped up in key areas with increased surveillance and beefed up presence of border agents. But it is far too little.

A radio host asked me recently if it were possible to completely seal off the U.S.-Mexico border and, for that matter, our border with Canada.

I answered that, while completely sealing both borders might not be possible, the U.S. could certainly do a much better job at securing our nation from the north and the south.

Using more technology, loosening enforcement restrictions on our border agents, and backing them up with U.S. troops (Mexican troops patrol their border, by the way) are good places to start.

Why would we want to wait for another terrorist attack before implementing these procedures?

Answer: because, incredibly, 9/11 taught the political establishment nothing about border security. 

Jon E. Dougherty [email him] is author of Illegals: The Imminent Threat Posed by our Unsecured U.S.-Mexico Border,"  and a reporter for

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