Hezbollah is using the same southern narcotics routes that Mexican drug kingpins do to smuggle drugs and people into the United States, reaping money to finance its operations and threatening U.S. national security, current and former U.S. law enforcement, defense and counterterrorism officials say.
The Iran-backed Lebanese group has long been involved in narcotics and human trafficking in South America's tri-border region of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. Increasingly, however, it is relying on Mexican narcotics syndicates that control access to transit routes into the U.S.
Hezbollah relies on "the same criminal weapons smugglers, document traffickers and transportation experts as the drug cartels," said Michael Braun, who just retired as assistant administrator and chief of operations at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
"They work together," said Mr. Braun. "They rely on the same shadow facilitators. One way or another, they are all connected.
"They'll leverage those relationships to their benefit, to smuggle contraband and humans into the U.S.; in fact, they already are [smuggling]."
His comments were confirmed by six U.S. officials, including law enforcement, defense and counterterrorism specialists. They spoke on the condition that they not be named because of the sensitivity of the topic.
A U.S. official with knowledge of U.S. law enforcement operations in Latin America said, "we noted the same trends as Mr. Braun" and that Hezbollah has used Mexican transit routes to smuggle contraband and people into the U.S.
Two U.S. law enforcement officers, familiar with counterterrorism operations in the U.S. and Latin America, said that "it was no surprise" that Hezbollah members have entered the U.S. border through drug cartel transit routes.
"The Mexican cartels have no loyalty to anyone," one of the officials told The Washington Times. "They will willingly or unknowingly aid other nefarious groups into the U.S. through the routes they control. It has already happened. That's why the border is such a serious national security issue."