Archive for 2018

June 27 2018 image description
by: SFS Team 0 Comments

Venezuela’s Mounting Refugee Crisis

Most recently on Capitol Hill, the Center for a Secure Free Society held a panel discussion on the mounting refugee crisis in Venezuela on Wednesday, June 27th. Our panel speakers included, Col. Preston McLaughlin, USMC Ret.; Dr. R. Evan Ellis; Ambassador Roger Noriega; and the Executive Director of Center for a Secure Free Society, Mr. Joseph Humire with our moderator from NTN24, Emiliana Molina. The event opened with commentary from the Dean of the Daniel Morgan Graduate School, Dr. Stephen Meyer, who called the SFSVZ6:27growing human tragedy in Venezuela, “the eruption of humanitarian crises a new phenomenon that we have not seen before, nor caught up with.” The social and economic situation in Venezuela has caused 1.5 million people to flee the nation and now the monthly income in Venezuela is equivalent to 2 USD a month. There has been nearly $31 million of humanitarian aid given to the region by the United States alone this year. One of our panel speakers, Dr. R. Evan Ellis stated, “You can not pay debt and import the goods needed.” He said that there is still more room for escalation of violence and believes that the least likely scenario is a transition to democracy. “This is not the failure of the regime, it is the success,” as Ambassador Roger Noriega stated. Institutions have been destroyed, as well as the criminal justice system, so there is no balance of power. The regime will have looted at least $5 billion for their personal gain and this is all being micromanaged by Cuba. All grief, insecurity, and instability is part of the ruination by Cuba. Ambassador Noriega stated, “How long can we treat the symptoms before going to the source?” The people are being driven out because institutions have been systematically destroyed. The entire situation is being carried out by transnational crime and the United States cannot simply treat the symptoms. Mr. Joseph Humire remarks, “We have to be smart about how we provide humanitarian assistance, we have to ensure that the routes used through Venezuela are not contaminated and that SIAs (Special Interest Aliens) do not cover the movement of potential terrorists throughout the Western Hemisphere. Venezuela has provided such movement by legitimizing SIAs. Optimized-2VZSFS627

Venezuela legitimized SIAs by providing them with complete identification records so that they can move across the world and claim that they are Venezuelans. Along with the humanitarian issues, we must also provide counterintelligence support in order to verify refugees. It takes very little to do a lot of damage. The United States has a responsibility to prevent this from furthering. Representative Keith Rothfus of Pennsylvania’s 12th District made the following statements, “the current leader of Venezuela continues to restrict human rights and for anyone who believes socialism is the answer, Venezuela is a great example of why it fails.” He continued to state Venezuela has restricted freedom of speech and corrupted its judiciary and we have a solemn duty to protect our own citizens, we need time to ensure refugees are properly vetted. Mr. Humire believes that we need a more cohesive strategy, it is undeniable that there is Cuban involvement in Venezuela, but Hugo Chavez used a democratic insurgency, which is not what we see in Venezuela. If the regime wants power, we must remove power, however, what if their goal is not to gain power but to incite conflict? Regimes come and go but revolutions last, and the regime in place wants to destabilize all of Latin America in order to illegitimate the United States. The people of Venezuela have left due to sheer economic instability, simply to feed their families and across the region there has been a huge increase in crime. Dr. Ellis said it is crucial that the United States does not encourage military crime if they are not ready to take military action. With refugees, it is important to have international coordination and to keep pressure on the nation for a transition to democracy.

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The United States must de-escalate the situation so that it becomes simply a drug trafficking regime as Mr. Humire remarked. In regards to sanctions, Dr. Ellis made the following points that targeted sanctions prolong the issue. We need more aggressive sanctioning that goes after the financial systems and we can help partnered nations by highlighting SIA migration. Ambassador Noriega responded back with Russians have interest in Venezuela, but it is completely different and this is transnational organized crime that generates an average $850 billion, so what are they doing to optimize supply chain? Dr. Ellis again asserted that it is crucial the United States does not encourage military action if they can not support it. He asserted this discussion point because Venezuela has an influx of Russian supplied gear and the United States has commitments other places, it would be a strategic failure to commit ourselves with another long ground force. If things get out of control, we could see another collapse in Venezuela. We must coordinate with other Latin American countries, such as the situation in Nicaragua and how it plays out has a huge affect. Before leaders from Venezuela could flee to Nicaragua but now we must see if that will change. The United States must gently lean on Dominican Republic to ensure they are part of the solution and not the problem. The discussion on military conflict is the most important question, and it is a monumentally bad idea. The situation in Venezuela is described as Cuban managed, Russian armed and China funded.

Systematically, the increase in social pressure as seen by no food or medicine with a Constitutional Crisis as they dissolved their National Assembly, led to unite territorial disputes that have been going on for over 100 years and established a counter revolution. As well as a counter narrative to control the opposition to ensure success. Even through humanitarian assistance it will be spun that the United States is aiding in escalating the situation. Because of this we must first de-escalate the situation so that Venezuela can be treated as only a narco-state and stop believing that there is a fracture in the regime.

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The event ended with a thorough discussion on strategy. Dr. Ellis noted that the situation is a strategic trap for the United States. While President Trump firmly believes that a military intervention with Venezuela is not a good idea, a strategy is an absolute must, something that is more creative, with gross production that causes people to act. While the situations are similar, this is not Syria we are dealing with, this is a country dealing with a humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere. In addition, Mr. Humire added that doing nothing is not a strategy and that the policy needs to be containment. Ambassador Noriega stated that it makes sense to have a strategy for Latin America as a whole, claiming that Venezuela is not the only issue, but the biggest blister. “We may have to eventually go to the source,” which he believes is Cuba and then from there we need a broader strategy to span out in all of Latin America. It is absolutely crucial to understand and recognize the threat that Venezuela poses to the United States and the region as a whole. This is not a natural disaster, it is a human made disaster remarked Ambassador Noriega, so the public law has to be changed. We need an equal amount of counterintelligence support to where refugees are going and this situation is the magnitude of Syria. 

Read our Event Fact Sheet, here.

March 22 2018 image description
by: jmhumire 0 Comments

The Crime-Terror Convergence: Countering Hezbollah’s Growing Empire in Latin America

In recent years, Hezbollah has developed a significant presence in Latin America. Its continued terrorist activity and expanding financial empire, built on drug trafficking and money laundering, is becoming a growing U.S. security concern, as demonstrated by the creation of a new Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team (HFNT) at the Department of Justice in January. On March 22nd, the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS) hosted a panel of U.S. national security experts to discuss how the United States can successfully address the growing convergence of international terrorism and transnational organized crime from which Hezbollah benefits.

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The panel was moderated by SFS Senior Fellow JD Gordon and consisted of SFS Executive Director Joseph Humire, Vanessa Neumann, author of Blood Profits and president of Asymmetrica; Charles “Sam” Faddis, retired CIA Operations Officer and former chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center’s WMD Unit; and Derek Maltz, former director of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Operations Division.

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Humire initiated the dialogue by emphasizing that U.S. sanctions have been ineffective in curbing Hezbollah’s activity, and collaboration with regional partners is necessary to enforce this kind of unilateral action and ultimately dismantle Hezbollah’s networks in South America. Neumann, who had just returned from the Tri-Border Area, explained that Brazil faces a variety of complicated issues, primarily that the Lebanese population in Brazil make up the primary merchant class and facilitate the majority of smuggling and money-laundering into the country. Further, she added while there is not a direct link between Hezbollah and BCC, the Brazilian mafia, these groups often take advantage of their mutual interests and the gray areas between their operations. She ended by saying that Venezuela is the heartland of Hezbollah in Latin America, and it is difficult for Brazil to differentiate between genuine Venezuelans entering Brazil and Hezbollah members with legitimate Venezuelan passports.

Faddis and Maltz discussed at length the need for inter-agency cooperation and a “unity of effort” between the DEA and intelligence community in order to successfully combat this security threat. Both panelists acknowledged the lack of communication between different agencies had hurt efforts in this area and emphasized the need for strong leadership in order to align intelligence and law enforcement priorities and keep members accountable. Project Cassandra, an effort led by the DEA to undercut Hezbollah funding from illicit drug sources, served as a small-scale example of the kind of cooperation necessary.IMG_3742-min

Drawing on his experience as an expert witness in a variety of Latin American trials, Humire provided insight on the perspective of Latin Americans, highlighting that Latin Americans do not necessarily understand jihadist groups, but they are fully aware of transnational organized crime. The convergence between the two is often not recognized and this connection is intentionally veiled by the skillful compartmentalization that Iran achieves in its operations there. He highlighted the groundwork of Ghazi Nassereddine, a Venezuelan diplomat in Syria who builds and isolates networks that ultimately prevent significant leaders such as Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El-Aissami from being linked to Hezbollah. Neumann added that the infiltration of people deeply positioned in the Venezuelan financial and political system has led the state to become a part of the crime-terror pipeline. She further maintained that terrorism is not endemic, and Venezuela needs U.S. assistance to combat it.

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Ultimately, the conversation shed light on the relationship between terror and crime in Latin America and encouraged U.S. security agencies to collaborate in order to prioritize action in the region.