Oct. 17, 2006, 5:28PM
Border Patrol, lawmen outgunned by cartels
Homeland Security panel also says traffickers are forming ties with U.S.-based gangs
By MICHELLE MITTELSTADT
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle
The U.S. Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies at the U.S.-Mexico border are outgunned by increasingly ruthless and well-armed Mexican drug cartels, a new congressional report concludes.
“The cartels use automatic assault weapons, bazookas, grenade launchers and improvised explosive devices,” the House Homeland Security oversight subcommittee report said. “In contrast, U.S. Border Patrol agents are issued 40-caliber Beretta semiautomatic pistols.”
The report, scheduled to be released today by U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, said drug cartels are able to break the encryptions on Border Patrol and sheriffs' deputies' radios.
“Lookouts for the cartels, using military grade equipment, are positioned at strategic points on the U.S. side of the border to monitor movements of U.S. law enforcement,” it continued.
Fear of terrorism
Even as the traffickers expand their drug-running routes to smuggle immigrants into the United States, they are forming dangerous alliances with U.S.-based criminal gangs such as MS-13 and the Latin Kings, according to the congressional panel.
McCaul, whose district stretches into western Harris County, chairs the subcommittee.
The former federal prosecutor expressed concern that trafficking networks could use their delivery routes to smuggle terrorists or weapons of mass destruction into the U.S.
“The thing that keeps me up at night when I think 'What can we do to prevent another 9/11?' is that they own these delivery routes,” he said in an interview Monday.
Hezbollah members already have entered the U.S. from Mexico, the report confirmed.
“As if narco-terrorist violence were not enough, extensions of Middle East terrorism have crept into the United States,” the report stated. “Islamic radical groups that support Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamiya Al Gamat are all active in Latin America.”
McCaul said he commissioned the report to bring focus to the national security threat and rising violence at the border, which has witnessed a spree of murders and kidnappings linked to warring drug cartels, particularly in Nuevo Laredo.
The federal government has added Border Patrol agents, detention beds and high-tech surveillance systems to deter illegal crossings, he said, with less attention to the border's other problems.
“We put billions of dollars in trying to stop the flow coming in, in a more reactive way, and what I'm suggesting is we also need to take a look at the other piece of this problem and identify what is the root cause and attack the root cause head on,” he said. “In my view, the head of the snake is the cartels.”
McCaul urged better intelligence gathering in Mexico and Latin America. And he called for greater cooperation with the Mexican government to crack down on the cartels.
Still, he acknowledged that expanding the partnership is difficult in light of persistent corruption in Mexican law enforcement ranks and the deadly attacks the cartels have launched on Mexican authorities.
Citing federal estimates that the Border Patrol apprehends only 10 percent to 30 percent of illegal crossers, the report said as many as 10 million illegal immigrants may have entered the U.S. last year.
Estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center and other experts peg the illegal immigrant population in the U.S. at 11 million to 12 million.
And while federal law enforcement seized 1.1 million pounds of cocaine and 6.8 million pounds of marijuana, McCaul's staff estimated the total cocaine flow may have topped 11 million pounds.
“While the United States has taken positive steps to secure its borders, much more is needed to combat an increasingly powerful, sophisticated, organized and violent criminal network which seeks to move illegal contraband … into our country for profit,” the report concludes.