May 1, 2002
All the recent talk of invading Iraq ignores the nest of snakes at America's back door. A 24 April hearing before the Majority Staff of the House International Relations Committee (HIRC) asserted that "Colombia is a potential breeding ground for international terror equaled perhaps only by Afghanistan." The report details Colombian assertions that the FARC, IRA, Iranians, Cubans, and Basque terrorists have been sharing techniques, honing their skills, and using proceeds from the narcotics trade to fund their activities.
Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson added in his 24 April testimony to the HIRC that South America's tri-border area (where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet) continues to be a safe haven for Islamic extremists (primarily Hizbollah and Hamas). Hutchinson suspected that these terrorist groups fund their activities with counterfeit money production and illegal substances smuggling.
Iranian terrorists may have provided the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) with explosives training and this has "markedly improved" the FARC's proficiency in urban terrorism in the last few years.
The U.S. State Department's Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Mark F. Wong, also told the HIRC the Iranian/Syrian-backed terrorist organization "Hizbollah" had penetrated the Western hemisphere more broadly than any other terrorist organization, with a presence in virtually every country in North and South America.
Meanwhile, the cat-and-mouse war in Colombia continues. On 25 April, Colombian police seized 3.5 tons of explosives near Bogota and arrested 17 suspected FARC members in raids in the capital. The rebels planned to use the explosives to attack government offices, army barracks and police stations in Bogota, as well as sabotage nearby electrical towers and roads.
Meanwhile, the State Department approved a plan that may lead to resumption of drug surveillance flights in the Andes (which were suspended after an American missionary plane was shot down in 2001). The CIA would no longer be involved in the flights, except in the production of related intelligence. The military pilots and crews would receive increased training and have mandatory Spanish-language capability. - Adam Geibel