A secret intelligence mission recently conducted along the southern border of the United States found that drug cartels are teaming with terrorists to exploit the numerous vulnerabilities along the sparsely defended 2,000-mile Mexican border.
The mission, dubbed Operation Red Zone was conducted in February and March by the Army’s Asymmetrical Warfare Group (AWG). The clandestine intelligence gathering organization is a 350-member “special mission unit” that works to “identify critical threats and enemy and friendly vulnerabilities through global first-hand observations,” the Army says.
The group is based at Ft. Meade, Maryland, also home to the National Security Agency.
Red Zone investigators discovered numerous alien smuggling and drug trafficking operations along the border. Perpetrators are using “maritime surface craft, semi-submersible watercraft, ultra-light aircraft and possess the capability [to] utilize other potential aerial infiltration techniques to circumvent ground border protection capabilities,” according to Asymmetric Observations Along the U.S.- Mexican Border released May 14 by the Army to federal and state law enforcement agencies.
“The AWG served as observers to advise the Border Patrol, Coast Guard and local law enforcement. During the operation AWG personnel were not authorized to enter Mexican territory and none were armed,” Donald Cicotte, spokesman for the AWG at Ft. Meade tells Newsmax.
After the mission was completed, AWG personnel prepared a classified report for the Department of Defense. A “cleansed” version, like the one viewed by Newsmax, was sent to civilian law enforcement agencies
“Obviously we don’t want to lose control of this [report,]” CiCotte adds. “We obviously don’t want to tell the bad guys what we know.”
Operating behind the scenes on the project was Joint Task Force – North (JTF-N), a joint-service command headed by Army Brig. Gen. Sean B. McFarland. The 180-member task force helps local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies plan and coordinate activities to thwart drug cartels, human smugglers, and other emerging threats, JTF-N spokesman Armando Carrasco tells Newsmax.
In this instance the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the San Diego area requested assistance identifying new threats and the AWG was recruited, he said.
“We don’t have any resources of our own. We don’t have heavy equipment or helicopters. For instance we can’t call up an engineer battalion to build a road. We solicit units from all the services equipped with what we need and asked them for help,” Carrasco said. “We have three JAG attorneys that ensure we are legally authorized to perform the mission. The lawyers spell out in briefings to each unit that they cannot be deployed in a law enforcement role.”
Militarty theorists define assymetrical threats as strategies and tactics used by ill-equipped terrorists and criminals to circumvent sophisticated defenses of more powerful governments. Common examples include clandestine cross-border infiltration, smuggling, and defeating sophisticated electronics and optical sensors with simple counter-measures.
During the operation, the AWG worked with the Department of Homeland Security and state and local law enforcement in the San Diego area to “observe asymmetric infiltration operations and emerging asymmetric threats.”
The Army investigators discovered that drug traffickers and smugglers are employing “exceptional surveillance and counter-surveillance capabilities, robust technical communications capabilities as well as effective marking and signaling techniques to facilitate smuggling of illegal personnel and illicit cargo into the United States,” the report says.
Some of the aliens are suspected of being terrorists from Middle Eastern countries sneaking into the country by employing drug smugglers skilled in transporting human cargo into the United States, the report adds.
Few of the tactics employed by the border busters appear sinister at first glance. In one example, the AWG reported seeing a woman setting up a road-side tamale stand on the south-side of the primary border fence. Upon investigation it was found that her car was parked pointing toward “known fence breach points” as a signal to border jumpers.
Other seemingly innocent activities observed by the intelligence operatives revealed drug trafficking and “alien smuggling spotters” using taxis and other legitimate businesses located on the U.S. side of the border to monitor and report Border Patrol activities to criminals who pay them with drug proceeds.
The innocuous nature of the smugglers tactics mask as far more sinister motive than smuggling illegal aliens seeking the American dream, the report concludes.
“Drug-related assassinations and kidnappings [in Mexico] are now common-place occurrences throughout the country. Squad-sized units of the police and army have been tortured, murdered, and their decapitated bodies left on public display. The malignancy of drug criminality now contaminates not only the 2000 miles of cross-border U.S. communities, but stretches throughout the United States in more than 295 cities.”
To accomplish their goals the drug and human smugglers use a variety of guises to transport drugs and illegal aliens into the United States, the report shows. Beside simply running across the border when nobody is looking, the smugglers are digging dozens of tunnels under the border, using homemade “spelunking-style” ladders to climb over border fences, and employing cutting torches and power tools to cut through the barrier, the AWG observers discovered.
Smugglers are also using hidden containers inside externally mounted fuel tanks of large trucks to hide both illegal drugs and people. One technique involves cutting the end off of large tanker trucks, inserting a “sealed aquarium-like container into the tank” and then welding the end back onto the tank with the illicit cargo inside. The tank is then filled with fuel, “making the submersed container much harder to detect.”
In one instance, 49 illegal aliens were discovered inside a water truck disguised to look like the water trucks the Border Patrol uses to wet down paths to detect foot prints of infiltrators crossing the border, the report said.
Terrorist organizations could adapt the tactic of hiding containers within larger liquid haul tanks “to deliver explosives onto U.S. bases, compounds or through Ports of Entry,” the reports warns. “The carrier could vary from a small automobile gas tank to a large seafaring oil tanker. The ability to detect this transport method exploits the current tactics that border authorities use to identify false compartment unless x-ray machines are available.”
The smugglers have not limited their operations to land. They also employ a variety of ships, boats and semi-submersible watercraft that can carry up to 10 tons and travel virtually undetected for more than 2,000 miles, the report said.
Drug traffickers used an estimated 50 to 80 “semi-submersible” watercraft to smuggle hundreds of tons of drugs and an unknown number of people into the US last year. A semi-submersible is “capable of moving large amounts of narcotics virtually undetected,” the report says.
The semi-submersible watercraft ranges from 33 to 60 feet in length and operates with a crew of four personnel. The vessel can navigate approximately 2000 miles and is virtually invisible to radar and sonar.
In addition, the traffickers line the top of the vessel with lead to counter infrared surveillance. Traffickers offload the cargo onto power boats to move the product to shore for distribution. The transfer commonly takes place “25-30 nautical miles off shore.” After the deliver is made “the vessel is often scuttled,” the report said.
The Army fielded the intelligence gathering unit in 2006 to assess new tactics potential adversaries may use to take advantage of U.S. vulnerabilities, according to the Pentagon.
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