Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Documents identify terrorism threat in border gaps

Shortly after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, a secret government report highlighted a way terrorists might easily enter the United States carting weapons of mass destruction. It wasn't by air or sea. The classified analysis pointed to an arid and sparsely populated stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona teeming with drug runners. "This area has become very active with smuggling and encrypted radio traffic," says the report titled "Threat Assessment for Public Lands" completed by the Interior Department in late 2002. "This would be an ideal area to smuggle a weapon of mass destruction." The report, marked "sensitive," surfaced recently in a load of documents uncovered by Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop. Moreover, while officials stress a huge investment in fencing and border patrols has cut down smuggling traffic, one of Interior's top cops acknowledged portions of the border are still porous. "I don't want to suggest that the concern has completely dissipated and I can't go any further without straying into classified materials," said Larry Parkinson, Interior's deputy assistant secretary for law enforcement. "Anytime you have the ability for bad actors to come across the border, the Mexican border, the Canadian border or you know, flying into an airport, that concern will be there and I think we would be kidding ourselves if we suggested that all of those holes have been filled." Bishop, along with several other Republicans in Congress, say that one region of the U.S.-Mexican border -- a miles-long expanse abutting federal wild lands -- is a prime national security lapse that needs fixing. "The fact is that we have had for several years large parts of our border areas...controlled by human traffickers, potential terrorists, and especially, drug cartels," Bishop says. Bishop, the ranking Republican on a House subcommittee that oversees federal public lands, says he is concerned that wilderness laws are impeding the ability to secure the nation's borders...read more

And still Senator Bingaman continues to push for 560 square miles of wilderness near the Mexico border. The Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce sent testimony to the committee chaired by Bingaman, suggesting an alternative to wilderness and requesting a field hearing on S.1689. Recently a broad section of Dona Ana County groups endorsed the chamber proposal and also requested a field hearing. So far, no word back from Bingaman.

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