Al Qaeda and ISIS terrorists sprung by the Taliban from an Afghan prison could enter the United States via the porous southern border, security experts said, lending grim legitimacy to concerns raised by Republicans.
Feds patrolling the 2,000-mile-long U.S.-Mexico border are increasingly on alert for foreigners on the terror watch list, given the situation in Afghanistan, a senior official at U.S. Customs and Border Protection who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Washington Examiner.
“I believe CBP and the Border Patrol are both taking it very seriously, but I can’t say the same as far as the administration,” the official wrote in an email. “If I was a bad person that wanted to do harm to the U.S., I know now is the time to illegally enter the border. You have sectors and stations that cannot fully man their areas of operation and people are getting through.”
More people were encountered by law enforcement while illegally attempting to enter the U.S. from Mexico in July than any month in the past 21 years, and those numbers show no sign of declining. As a result, roughly half of the thousands of Border Patrol agents who work on the southern border have been pulled inside to process and take care of migrants in custody, resulting in fewer agents patrolling the border.
Border Patrol agents have been asked to consider going overseas to screen Afghan refugees, which would leave even fewer agents on the southern border. In addition, recently retired Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott warned agents earlier this month that suspected terrorists are crossing “at a level we have never seen before.”
The CBP official said the upcoming 20th anniversary of 9/11 “increases the potential threat” of an attack. Kenneth Gray, a retired Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent of 24 years who worked in counterterrorism, said 9/11 is the government’s “big event” of the year, in terms of looking out for additional acts of terrorism.
The DHS has specific personnel who are regularly reviewing intelligence and tracking people on the terror watch list who are caught trying to enter or are on their way from abroad, according to three-decade Border Patrol agent Ronald Vitiello.
“With the current chaos on our [southwest border], we must be concerned that too many agents are tasked with addressing large groups and bringing them into processing/book-in mission and meeting their humanitarian needs versus patrolling and interdicting,” Vitiello, former acting CBP deputy commissioner and acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, wrote in an email. “Agent and officer resources are spread thin. Fewer resources on the line increases the risk that threats to the homeland could enter without our knowledge.”
A CBP spokeswoman said its border security efforts are layered and “include multiple levels of rigorous screening that allow us to detect and prevent people who pose national security or public safety risks from entering the United States.”
In Texas, where more people are being caught crossing illegally than in New Mexico, Arizona, or California, the Department of Public Safety declined to comment on the prospect of terrorists crossing over but did note that state police deployed to the border have arrested more than 600 gang members since March.
One former senior official, who oversaw counterterrorism efforts at the Department of Homeland Security during the Trump administration, was confident the department can track known and suspected terrorists.
"If they were in prison in Afghanistan, we know who they are and have the ability to track travel of known and suspected terrorists. So no, I’m not concerned,” Elizabeth Neumann, former DHS assistant secretary for threat prevention, wrote in a statement. “It doesn’t mean we don’t have to be vigilant. But our layered defense system is very good and we usually can detect their attempts to come to the US, even via the southern border, well before they reach us."
Washington Examiner Videos
Original Author: Anna Giaritelli