DHS Secretary: Transnational Criminal Organizations Are A Top Threat To US

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Alex Pfeiffer White House Correspondent
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WASHINGTON — Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly laid out the threats to the United States in a speech Tuesday, focusing on the dangers posed to the U.S. by transnational criminal organizations.

Kelly said that if there is another terrorist attack in the U.S. from a foreigner that he would be confident that the individual came “through the southwest border.”

The speech from Kelly, “Home and Away: DHS and the Threats to America,” was delivered at George Washington University and were his first such remarks since being sworn into office.

“When people think about DHS, they think about how we respond to terrorism. This is our foundation, given our origin story, and a critical part of what we do. But our jobs are to secure the nation from the many other threats we face — from all hazards,” Kelly said. “And one of the greatest of which is from transnational criminal organizations (TCOs).”

These comments from Kelly on TCOs came the same day as both President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions attacked a porous border for the spread of the violent MS-13 gang in the U.S.

“The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin. allowed bad MS 13 gangs to form in cities across U.S. We are removing them fast!” Trump tweeted.

Kelly spoke about the violence inflicted by drug cartels and gangs such as MS-13, saying they “regularly behead their victims.” He added that immigrants in these organizations “bring great shame to their countries of origin.”

One of the threats Kelly focused on regarding TCOs was human smuggling. The DHS secretary pointed to “special interest aliens” brought across the border as particular threats to the homeland.

“We face very real threats from so-called special interest aliens that move at great expense from vast distances outside the hemisphere along the network into the U.S. The ‘special interest’ is that they are from parts of the world where terrorism is prevalent, or nations that are hostile to the United States,” Kelly said. “These individuals pay TCOs huge sums of money to transport them from, for example, the Middle East or Asia, through South and Central America and into the United States. We don’t get to vet them. We don’t know their intentions. We don’t know they’re here. They slip into our country unnoticed, living among us, and we are completely blind as to what they are capable of.”

Kelly also noted that an estimated 10,000 Europeans have traveled to Iraq and Syria for fight for the Islamic State. “Many are citizens of countries in our Visa Waiver Program, they can more easily travel to the United States which makes us a prime target for their exported violence.”

He said that for him and Sessions there is “nothing more” they would like to do “than put these human smugglers out of business.” Kelly said it be an incorrect assumption to think that cartels would not want to smuggle someone carrying a “dirty bomb,” as it would be bad for their business.

“There’s a lot of subcontractors in this network. These guys don’t check passports,” Kelly added. “If you’ve got the money you’re in.”

He went on to say, “when there is another terrorist attack in our country, if it comes from outside the country up until 90 days ago I would say that individual, if we do the forensics on it, that individual or individuals come into the United States through the southwest border.”

“That’s what keeps up at night,” Kelly said. The retired Marine general also pointed out that “the damage TCOs do is not only violence and potential terror.” He said that 52,000 people died from drug-related deaths in the U.S. in 2015, “almost as many as was lost in 12 years in Vietnam.”

The DHS secretary did seem to be confident, however, about combating this threat. He noted there has been a 70 percent reduction in illegal migration to the U.S. in the past 90 days, all before the department has completed a hiring surge and built a border wall.