U.S. law enforcement agencies have long known that Mid East terrorist organizations like Hezbollah had established pockets of activity in the Southern hemisphere, leading the Treasury Department in 2006 to freeze the group’s assets in South America. Of equal concern was the finding that terrorist-allied criminals were active in exploiting the region's lucrative narcotics trade in an area known as the Tri Border region. The Triborder Region is known within intelligence and law enforcement circles as a predominately lawless intersection where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet and which is hone to at least half million inhabitants. Though not populous, its vast expanse of rural and jungle area allows major smuggling rackets to thrive uninterrupted by law enforcement: drug trafficking, arms sales, counterfeiting, money laundering, travel document fraud, and pirated goods.
In 2001, authorities estimated that more than $6 billion in illegal funds were laundered in the triborder region. Law enforcement officials believe windfall drug profits were being returned to the Mid East headquarters of known terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah. So far, the religiously inspired violence of which Hezbollah is notoriously capable appears mostly confined to the Mid East and has not yet spread north to the U.S.-Mexican border region - although there are documented reports that Iran has labored to build intelligence cells in other South American localities.
A 2013 Congressional hearing sounded the alarm about anticipated consequences from terrorists inhabiting the same geographic space as organized crime groups: "In the South American tri-border region of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay… members of Hamas, Hezbollah, and other Islamic extremist groups are reportedly co-located with a variety of transnational organized crime groups, including the Chinese Triads and Korean and Taiwanese syndicates."
The chief of an international anti-crime task force shared his finding that terrorists and other criminals operating in the Tri Border region had given logistical support to terrorist organizations by providing funds to groups operating in other countries. Other reports noted that suspected Hezbollah and other terrorist cells were identified in Colombia and Venezuela, with the specific example that an Islamic Jihad terrorist arrested in Colombia had Iranian and other extremist ties to the Colombian Marxist group FARC, which has been in open rebellion against the Colombian government for decades.
Dr. Louise Shelley, a leading transnational organized crime expert, commented that areas like the Tri Border region "are so saturated with all kinds of organized crime as well as terrorist activity that it is often difficult…to draw a distinction between groups. Many individuals belong to both terror and organized crime groups, and conduct a variety of tasks for both" [emphasis added]. It is now unmistakable that the Tri Border region hosts collaborations that combine Islamist terrorism and traditional organized crime.
With the growth of illegal commerce in the Tri Border region, perhaps the next question is whether ISIS/ISIL has plans to exploit the anti-U.S. climate there and begin to build foundation for launching extremist actions against the U.S. Although presently there is no solid traction for this hypothesis, it is important to remember that Hezbollah and other violent groups have used the region as a hemispheric base of operation— without an effective challenge from anti-crime and counter-terrorism initiatives. In view of the reality that the Tri Border region is a launching pad for terrorist operations, it is time for the U.S. military - and in particular, the respected U. S. Army’s Southern Command (SOCOM) - to assume a more prominent role in neutralizing what must be viewed as a growing threat of terrorist violence to our homeland.