By Autumn Spredemann
Hamas’s terror attack on Israel is having ripple effects around the world, and the porous U.S. borders are again in the spotlight.
“The same terrorists that just carried out this horrific attack in Israel—their hatred and their unwavering commitment … to do harm to the United States, is alive and well,” Mark Morgan, who served as acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection during the Trump administration, told The Epoch Times.
“Nobody in their right mind can say that our border is secure.”
There’s a real concern that terrorists have already crossed the U.S. border, particularly within the group of more than 1.6 million illegal immigrants who evaded Border Patrol upon entry and are unknown to officials, Mr. Morgan said.
In the past 11 months, 151 people on the terror watchlist have been arrested by Border Patrol after crossing illegally, while tens of thousands of other “special interest aliens” have entered and been released, he said. “Special interest” means that they hail from countries with direct ties to state-sponsored terrorist groups, including Yemen, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, and Pakistan.
Another terror attack inside the United States like the 2013 Boston bombing or the 2015 San Bernardino, California, mass shooting and attempted bombing, is imminent, Mr. Morgan warned.
“It’s coming. It’s coming. No one can predict, but what I will say is, there could already be a cell in the United States planning the next terrorist attack, and we would have no idea,” he said. “That’s a fair statement; that’s not hyperbolic.”
Terror concerns in the United States are escalating, especially as thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets around the country.
FBI Director Chris Wray, in a speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police in San Diego on Oct. 14, encouraged law enforcement officers to stay vigilant.
“You’re often the first to see the signs that someone may be mobilizing to violence,” he said.
“In this heightened environment, there’s no question we’re seeing an increase in reported threats, and we’ve got to be on the lookout, especially for lone actors who may take inspiration from recent events to commit violence of their own.”
Meanwhile, the FBI issued a statement on Oct. 9, saying that it doesn’t have “specific and credible intelligence indicating a threat to the United States stemming from the Hamas attacks.”
The lack of intelligence may not mean a lot, because the attack on Israel showed a “colossal intelligence failure,” Mr. Morgan, who also served as an FBI agent for 20 years, said.
He said that a terror event such as Hamas’s attack that killed 1,400 Israelis, including children, on Oct. 7 can serve as a trigger event.
“We have people in our own country that are actually supporting Hamas, supporting the actions of babies being decapitated, of being burned alive, of women being savagely raped and videotaped,” Mr. Morgan said.
“When you have this deep-rooted, irrational ideology, to be inspired to move to radicalization, then action can be very quick. Generally, it takes an event—and we have that now.”
Hamas sympathizers brandishing Palestinian flags stood outside of the White House on Oct. 14 chanting “Free Palestine.” Some demonstrators wore head and face coverings commonly associated with jihadist groups.
National security lawyer and regional analyst Irina Tsukerman said much the same about the threat that Hamas agents pose to the United States.
“There is significant pro-Hamas support in the United States already, both among leftist radicals and apologists in academia, and Palestinian activists and their allies, such as the crowds rallying with Hamas in various big cities around the United States in the past few days,” she told The Epoch Times.
Ms. Tsukerman said she disagrees with the FBI’s Oct. 9 statement that suggests there’s no current specific threat to the United States.
“The FBI is wrong. Khaled Meshaal called for his supporters to attack Western and other targets. … That could well include the United States or at least Jewish and Israeli targets in the United States,” she said.
Mr. Meshaal is the former chief of Hamas. In a cryptic recording sent to international media outlets, initially reported by Reuters on Oct. 11, the terrorist commander said, “To all scholars who teach jihad … to all who teach and learn, this is a moment for the application of theories.”
A man shouts slogans while holding a Quran, the holy book of Islam, in his hand during a rally to support Palestinians in Gaza, near the White House on Oct. 14, 2023. (Ali Khaligh/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images)
On Oct. 8, an Iran proxy terrorist group called Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS) warned the United States against getting involved in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
“Palestine is not Ukraine,” the terror group stated.
“Any direct American entrance into the conflict for the crumbling entity [Israel] will make all American positions in the region legitimate targets.”
The fanatical group is one of many through which Iran pushes its political agenda in the region. Another one of these is Hezbollah in Lebanon, which is reportedly holding an Israeli captive amid the newest conflict with Hamas.
Like Hamas and KSS, Hezbollah is an Iranian-funded Islamic terrorist group. In 2020, the U.S. State Department stated that Iran provides $100 million in annual aid to Hamas and another $700 million to Hezbollah.
However, while most of these organizations’ actions are limited to the Middle East, Hezbollah has terrorist cells operating in the Americas.
Wave of Mobilization
In Latin America, Hezbollah has quietly been putting down roots for decades, and the U.S. government is aware of it.
“It is important to note that the relationship Hezbollah has developed with criminal and terrorist groups in Latin America has escalated from one of mutual accommodation and benefit in the spheres of money laundering, contraband, and financing to more direct and deadly forms of collaboration,” a 2012 U.S. Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence report noted.
On Sept. 12, the U.S. Department of Treasury enacted sanctions on three people associated with Hezbollah’s illicit financial activities in Latin America.
“Over the past decades, Hezbollah has built a well-oiled, multibillion-dollar money-laundering and drug-trafficking machine in Latin America that cleans organized crime’s ill-gotten gains through multiple waypoints in the Western hemisphere,” Emanuele Ottolenghi, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said.
In the wake of Hamas’s attack on Israel, some intelligence members believe that sympathetic terrorist cells such as Hezbollah, which operate in remote parts of South America, will take a less direct approach to undermining U.S. security interests.
“I see this more as a long-term strategic play,” Evan Ellis, Latin America analyst and professor at the U.S. Army War College, told The Epoch Times.
He said he thinks that the United States could have “serious issues,” exhausting its resources supporting Israel in its conflict with Hamas. Mr. Ellis also pointed to Iran’s recent actions to quietly maneuver and reengage with its “anti-U.S. friends” in Latin America. These nations include Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.
In June, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro signed a new agreement deepening bilateral cooperation in multiple areas. One of the sectors is security cooperation.
“We are on the right side of history, Iran and Venezuela. Together, we will be invincible,” Mr. Maduro said during the signing event.
Mr. Morgan said that it’s well known that the regime has “proactively released criminals from Venezuela to encourage them to come to the United States.”
“This new war in the Middle East should tell us that global terrorism is alive and well. And they have their tentacles across the entire world. They are trying to radicalize as many people as they can,” he said.
There’s no movement of Islamic terrorist organizations—in the Americas or elsewhere—without some knowledge, consent, or support from Iran. The Middle Eastern anchor nation has wielded its anti-Western ideological agenda through Islamic extremist groups, including al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas.
Iran also hasn’t been shy about strengthening its connections in Latin America outside of predictable alliances with authoritarian regimes such as Venezuela.
In February, two Iranian warships arrived at Brazil’s famous beaches of Rio de Janeiro. Then, in July, Bolivia announced its entry into a formal defense agreement with Iran, prompting immediate security concerns from neighboring countries, including Argentina.
Through its proxy groups in the region, security analysts say that Iran has access to a wealth of funding from illicit activities such as drug and arms trafficking.
“There is some terrorist intent [from Hezbollah], but in general, the pattern seems to be this is an area for raising money and building networks,” Mr. Ellis said.
(Left) An activist wears a T-shirt depicting the flag of Hezbollah as he marches in support of Palestine near the Washington monument in Washington on May 15, 2021. (Andrew Caballero-reynolds/AFP via Getty Images) (Right) An officer of the Directorate of Narcotics Control of Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry empties a bag of tablets of captagon (Fenethylline) seized during a special operation, in Jeddah on March 1, 2022. (Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty Images)
However, he said, there currently seems to be “a collection of opportunities that are coming together to create a perfect storm.”
Ms. Tsukerman agreed.
“Given the level of Hamas and Hezbollah coordination and the fact that there is now a wave of mobilization, it is clear the two terrorist organizations could easily be joining forces to provide weapons and other material support to their counterparts inside the United States, or even plan an attack or other subversive activity from their base in South America,” she said.
Border Reality Check
As many other law enforcement officials have stated, the overwhelmed U.S. border is a gaping hole in the nation’s armor, Mr. Morgan said. He maintains that depleted border forces can’t perform thorough intelligence interviews to identify potential terrorists.
At best, border officials have time and resources to do a “rudimentary check” on special-interest aliens before releasing them into the country, Mr. Morgan said. By law, they should all be detained pending a thorough vetting process and the outcome of any claim to asylum they may make, he said.
Border officials have apprehended more than 2.8 million illegal immigrants in the past 11 months, the highest number in such a span on record.
U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehends a group of illegal immigrants from Brazil, on the U.S.–Mexico border in Sunland Park, N.M., on March 20, 2019. (Paul Ratje/AFP via Getty Images)
“We have just decided as a country, if somebody illegally enters our borders, in violation of our nation’s sovereignty, in violation of the rule of law, we have said that because we have a moral obligation to help ‘those in need,’ we have allowed our compassion to be hijacked,” Mr. Morgan said.
“And we have stuck our heads in the sand with any potential negative downstream impacts to our nation’s safety and national security.”
Customs and Border Protection didn’t respond by press time to requests by The Epoch Times for the number of special-interest aliens who have been apprehended at the border in the past year or who have been released into the United States.
Mr. Morgan suggested that the United States’ current top priority should be for the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force to conduct extensive interviews and background checks on the tens of thousands of special-interest aliens who have been released into the United States in the past several years and beyond.
“That should be No. 1 right now,” he said.
Mr. Morgan said he would target special-interest aliens “because they came from a country that sponsors, harbors, and encourages terrorism.”
“And we just want to make sure that they’re not sharing in the ideology. That is reasonable. That is rational.”
Charlotte Cuthbertson contributed to this report.