By Mark Tapscott
U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials must assume that hundreds of Iranian-funded and -directed terrorist operatives with Hamas, Hezbollah, and similar groups are in the United States and can carry out lethal attacks across this country as soon as Iran gives them the green light, according to witnesses who testified at an Oct. 25 House Committee on Homeland Security hearing.
The committee’s chairman, Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), asked former Ambassador Nathan Sales, “What guarantees do we have” that Hamas and other Iranian-backed terrorists aren’t among the more than 1.7 million illegal immigrant “gotaways” that have crossed the southern U.S. border since 2021.
“I don’t think we have any guarantees, Mr. Chairman. I think we have to assume the worst,” Mr. Sales replied. “We know that Iranian-linked terrorists have been found in the United States.
He pointed out that, prior to the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack from Gaza on Israel, “128 Hezbollah operatives have been arrested here over the years by the FBI.” Hezbollah, like Hamas, is funded, equipped, and directed by Iran’s radical Islamic regime.
“Within that population of however many millions or hundreds of thousands of known gotaways, we should not assume that they are all perfectly clean,” Mr. Sales said.
Mr. Sales was ambassador-at-large and coordinator for counterterrorism, as well as acting undersecretary of state for civilian security, democracy, and human rights under President Donald Trump. He also served in the Trump administration as special presidential envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.
Mr. Sales told the House panel in his prepared testimony that Iran “is actively plotting to assassinate a number of former senior U.S. officials here on American soil.”
“Last year, the Justice Department announced charges against an [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] IRGC member believed to be the ringleader of a plot to murder John Bolton, the former national security adviser,” he said. “The would-be assassin reportedly also was targeting former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. These former officials and others like them now live under constant, 24-hour government protection because of the Iranian threat to their lives.”
Other witnesses warned the committee in similar terms.
“The Iranian regime is responsible for plots to kill or kidnap American citizens who are critics of the regime and against former American officials,” Atlantic Council senior fellow Thomas Warrick said. “There is every reason to expect such plots to continue. Disrupting these plots will require continued vigilance from the FBI, which has the lead in disrupting such plots. Other parts of the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement communities also play vital roles.”
From 2008 to 2019, Mr. Warrick was deputy assistant secretary for counter-terrorism policy at the DHS.
Similarly, Robert Greenway, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense, told the committee that nearly 73,000 illegal immigrants of high concern have been encountered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in the past two years at the open border between the United States and Mexico.
“The U.S. Border Patrol has encountered 72,823 ‘special interest aliens’ on America’s borders over the past two years, many from the Middle East,” Mr. Greenway said. “Multiple CBP reports of apprehensions between ports of entry between October 2021 and October 2023 show that agents encountered 6,386 nationals from Afghanistan in that period, 3,153 from Egypt, 659 from Iran, 538 from Syria, 139 from Yemen, 123 from Iraq, 164 from Lebanon, 1,613 from Pakistan, 15,594 from Mauritania, 13,624 from Uzbekistan, and 30,830 from Turkey.”
Asked by Mr. Green if he agreed with Mr. Sales’s warning about the national security threat posed to the United States by the open border with Mexico, Mr. Greenway said: “There is no question, Mr. Chairman, and again, they’ve got a stated and past record of doing exactly that. I would also note that their surrogates and Iran itself are engaged in criminal activity, so it would not be a surprise that they would make common cause with other criminal networks.”
Mr. Greenway was referring to Iranian-backed terrorist groups partnering with Mexican drug cartels and Eastern European criminal syndicates.
The criminal syndicates factor was of particular concern to the hearing’s fourth witness, Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist and political activist who was forced to flee her country of birth. Now a U.S. citizen, she lives in the borough of Brooklyn in New York City.
“As an American citizen, I don’t feel safe in my home. My family doesn’t feel safe. Since 2021, I have been forced to relocate over a dozen times under the supervision of the FBI. Two years ago, Iranian intelligence operatives were plotting to kidnap me and take me from Brooklyn via a speedboat to a cargo ship bound for Venezuela and then to Iran,” Ms. Alinejad testified.
“The constant need to move without knowing the exact nature of the dangers brought great hardships on myself, my husband, and my stepchildren. We all had to pretend to live a normal life while constantly on the move.
“This reality again struck home last July, when a man armed with an AK-47 came to my house in Brooklyn to kill me on direct orders from the Islamic Republic. The assassin, a member of an East European criminal gang, had been stalking me for days, waiting outside my home and monitoring my activities and those of my family, neighbors, and friends.”