Napolitano to McCain: Yes, Mexican Cartels Pose Terror Threat to U.S.

By Edwin Mora | September 24, 2010 | 3:47pm EDT

( - Under questioning by Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) in the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano conceded that Mexican drug cartels pose a terrorist threat to the United States.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, left, and FBI Director Robert Mueller prepare to testify on Sept. 22, 2010, before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing to examine nine years after 9/11, focusing on confronting the terrorist threat to the homeland.(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

In 2009, the U.S. Justice Department declared in its annual National Drug Threat Assessment that the Mexican drug cartels were “the greatest organized crime threat to the United States,” but the U.S. State Department has not listed those cartels as foreign terrorist organizations.

Napolitano’s concession that Mexican drug cartels pose a terrorist threat to the United States came while she was testifying beside FBI Director Robert Mueller who told McCain that violence on the Mexican side of the border increased the “national security threat” to the United States, an assessment Napolitano shared.

“Would you agree that the violence in Mexico has dramatically escalated in, say, the last three or four years?” McCain asked.

“Yes,” said Mueller.

“And would you say that, then, increases the national security threat on the other side of our border?” asked McCain.

“Yes,” said Mueller.

When McCain asked Napolitano if she agree with that, Napolitano said, “I think that’s right. Particularly in some of the state of northern Mexico—Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, for example, homicide rates are up dramatically, attacks on government, and, of course, we saw the paper in Juarez just a few days ago, on a front page editorial saying, ‘What do we need to do?’”

McCain then asked Napolitano is the massive influx of illegal aliens across the border and the fact that Mexican drug cartels have threatened attacks on the United States raised a concern that there might be a “terrorist act” committed against the United States.

“So, wouldn’t that lead one to the concern that with still hundreds of thousands of people crossing our border illegally that a terrorist act could be committed on the United States of America, since there have been threats by the cartels alone to do so?” McCain asked.

“That goes to all of the efforts that are going on with Mexico, in Mexico, and along the southwest border,” Napolitano said. “But to the extent, yes, we see groups in Mexico, the large drug cartels. Now the plain fact of matter is that illegal immigration, while still too high, is down significantly. It is the plain fact that drug seizures, cash seizures, and gun seizures are up significantly. It is the plain fact that there is more man power, more technology, at the border than ever before and more is going to the border. But it is also true that the situation in Mexico is very, very serious and how we’ve seen it escalate in the past several years.”

McCain then challenged Napolitano to state whether the situation in Mexico has improved or worsened in the last two years.

“I think that in terms of the violent crime in Mexico it has worsened,” said Napolitano.

More than 28,000 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched a military offensive against drug cartels in late 2006, according to the Mexican government’s Center of Investigation and National Security.

Speaking at the Council of Foreign Relations on Sept. 8, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the drug cartels in Mexico were increasingly acting like an “insurgency.”

“We face an increasing threat from a well-organized network--drug trafficking that in some cases is morphing into or making common cause with what we would consider an insurgency in Mexico and in Central America,” Clinton said.

“This is a really tough challenge,” Clinton said. “And these drug cartels are now showing more and more indices of insurgency. All of a sudden car bombs show up that weren’t there before.”

When asked what McCain meant when he said that the Mexican cartels had threatened to commit terrorist acts against the United States, the senator’s office pointed to a story published in Houston Chronicle on June 2 about a plot by the Mexican Zeta cartel to blow up a dam on the Rio Grande River.

McCain told Secretary Napolitano at Wednesday’s hearing that residents in his state of Arizona have not seen the improvement in border security Napolitano claims has taken place.

“From my visits to the southern part of our state, they don't see this dramatic improvement, Madam Secretary," McCain told the secretary of Homeland Security. "In fact, they are more worried than they've ever been. They see continued home invasions, they see continued requirements for our government to put up signs that say, 'Warning to our citizens' that they are in a drug smuggling area, a human smuggling area. They don't have the same security that people do in other parts of our country."

In its 2009 National Drug Threat Assessment, the Justice Department said, “Mexican DTOs represent the greatest organized crime threat to the United States. The influence of Mexican DTOs over domestic drug trafficking is unrivaled. In fact, intelligence estimates indicate a vast majority of the cocaine available in U.S. drug markets is smuggled by Mexican DTOs across the U.S.–Mexico border. Mexican DTOs control drug distribution in most U.S. cities, and they are gaining strength in markets that they do not yet control.”

The 2010 National Drug Threat Assessment said that “900,000 criminally active gang members representing approximately 20,000 street gangs” distribute drugs for the Mexican cartels in more than 2,500 American cities.

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