In Paris on Friday, November 13, a mere national security theory — one long dismissed as the largely unwanted property of far right-wing stalwarts, racist anti-immigration nativists, and a few sober national security professionals — became proven reality. Some of the suicide terrorists who tore the city apart turned out to have infiltrated European borders as asylum-seeking immigrants fleeing Syria.
At least one of them slipped over the Greek border some six weeks earlier, then joined the plot in France. Whether or not the immigration was a pre-ordained part of the plot or a willing terrorist immigrant was recruited after arrival, a switch is now flipped. The eyeroll-prompting theory that willing suicide terrorists might infiltrate borders is now a reality with which all civilized nations have to contend.
The debate over American immigration reform and what to do about our own border security is now colored with a terrorist infiltration threat that is much more tangible than at any time before Paris.
The timing for this opening column, and the series of pieces that PJ Media invited me to write about migration from Islamic nations to the American southwestern land border for this new Homeland Security page, could not be more auspicious. The Paris attacks had not occurred when PJM agreed that I should share with you my 10 years of accumulated research about this theoretical border security problem.
I was going to argue, before Paris, that illegal immigration from Islamic nations to the U.S. land border could no longer be ignored in the debates over immigration or in any public policy under discussion. I was going to make the case that my research on the subject finally has to get onto the radar and be put to use right now, because millions of migrants from nations brimming with violent Islamic terrorists are coursing through the global bloodstream in numbers rarely seen in human history. I was going to put forth the proposition that these marching millions from Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, and Afghanistan — including some 30,000 foreign terrorist fighters moving to and from ISIS territory — warranted an escalated awareness should even a fraction of them turn toward our own borders.
I was going to suggest that when Republican and Democrat presidential contenders talk about immigration, they should no longer crimp the discussion at only Spanish speakers, and should instead start addressing those who speak the languages of the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. (Only Ben Carson briefly referenced these illegal migrants. He stopped after he was criticized for doing so.)
But tragically, Paris settled all of those arguments in blood just as I was sitting to write this first column. I suspect I will not have to work very hard at all to persuade anyone that the prospect of sleeper cell terrorists posing as asylum seekers and infiltrating our border is the real deal now.
So let the conversation begin about what the threat actually is to America from this migrant population, what it is not, and what we must do about it from here, during a presidential campaign where only Mexican immigration is discussed. For the next five or six months, I will share, in installments, grist for that mill.
I will let slip now something you should know, but probably do not because coverage of it is largely absent: asylum-seeking Syrian and Iraqi immigrants have been coming over the Mexico-U.S. border and petitioning for asylum, by the hundreds, for three years already.
It is my intention to soberly lay down an empirical foundation of knowledge about such migration, which I hope is put to use by our security policymakers, our next president, and you, an interested and consequential polity. Our current leaders, candidates for leadership, and voters needed good information on this topic long before Paris. Migrants from the Islamic world have been using highly accessible intercontinental routes to cross our borders by the thousands for years; too many of them have arrived with terrorist associations, as I will show. Too little reliable information is out there to prep responsible discussion of this phenomenon at the public square.
As the purveyor of the information, I know my bonafides matter. So here you go: I am a recovering print journalist and investigative reporter. I crossed the police tape in 2009 after 23 years, and entered the terrorism intelligence world, where I retooled and have remained.
The reason I am writing about immigration from the Islamic world is part of an obligation dating to the morning of 9/11. On that morning, I was a staff writer covering the FBI for the Dallas Morning News, in the city where American Airlines was headquartered. I spent the next eight years covering terrorism issues for the DMN and other mainstream media organizations.
In 2006, I learned that Iraqi refugees were coming across our border from Mexico, borne over extremely long distances by highly organized human smugglers through Latin America and Mexico. I investigated for six months, amazed by this discovery, its homeland security implications, and its absence from the 2007 debate in Congress over an immigration reform law that ultimately failed.
My reporting about the Iraqi travelers took me to Syria, Jordan, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Mexico.
Fast forwarding to 2014, the Department of Homeland Security bestowed on me a rare opportunity to build on my earlier work in a major way. DHS and the American taxpayers sponsored me to obtain a master’s degree in homeland security studies from the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS). I graduated from CHDS in September 2015. In exchange for its sponsorship, the government asked of me only one deliverable: a potentially actionable policy thesis based on significant original scholarship.
This series is part of my return on that DHS investment in me. I chose to document exactly how the human smuggling organizations I heard so much about back in ’06 actually operated, where and how. I used thousands of pubic court records from the un-mined archives of every U.S. prosecution of human smugglers I could find — 19 in all, plus thousands of other records and materials.
The purpose was to provide a blueprint for how homeland security authorities might more effectively dismantle these networks on the day after an infiltrating migrant, posing as an authentic asylum seeker among crowds of Mexicans, attacked the homeland (although preferably before such a tragedy). Faculty granted my work the “Outstanding Thesis” distinction.
As this series unfolds, you are going to learn what our homeland security enterprise has done to date to hunt these migrants and their smugglers in distant lands, and how and why the effort has fallen short. Next, you’ll learn all about these long-distance human smuggling networks, how they make terrorist infiltration and migration possible, who their leaders are, their motivations, how they evade us, and how we caught the ones we did. I am going to identify what I see as the fail points in these smuggling networks, soft spots where our law enforcement and intelligence communities will need to strike. Lastly, I will recommend specific strategies for them to do so, an interesting mix of conventional law enforcement operations abroad and intelligence operations.
I thought I might have to convince you of the reasons to pay heed to my message. Paris did that. Now that Paris has your attention, I hope you’ll stay along for the ride along the U.S.-Mexico border; the two places are connected.
(NEXT WEEK: Actually, U.S. Has Had Program to Filter Muslim Migrants Since 9/11, But It Has Been Neglected)