What SFS accomplished in 2020

To say that 2020 was a challenging year is an understatement. As a nation, and as individuals, we all faced unprecedented challenges from a global pandemic to a disputed presidential election. But as they say in the Marines, we adapt and overcome.

Despite these challenges, and thanks to the support of our committed donors, the dedicated team of staff, fellows, and scholars at the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS) has made incredible gains in advancing freedom and security in the United States, and in our neighborhood, the Western Hemisphere. 

Here’s a look back at the major accomplishments for SFS in 2020:  

  • SFS helped reshape the policy discussion on the Venezuela crisis

When the head of U.S. Southern Command, Admiral Craig Faller, stated, in August 2020, that Russia, Iran, and Cuba are the center of gravity of the Venezuela crisis – this validated a position SFS has held and promoted since 2017. 

In 2020, SFS scholars, namely our executive director Joseph Humire and Senior Fellow Jose Gustavo Arocha, repeatedly briefed several entities in the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and Organization of American States, on the external state actors in Venezuela. We also helped award-winning journalists such as Catherine Herridge of CBS News or Isa Soares of CNN International with important news stories related to Venezuela, and worked with respected think tanks, such as the Atlantic Council, on mapping the Maduro regime’s illicit networks. Moreover, SFS helped U.S. allies, Colombia and Brazil, better understand the complexities of the Venezuela crisis, and published a chapter on the role of the Venezuelan Armed Forces in a new book published by the think tank AthenaLab in Chile, led by retired General John Griffiths and presented by the Chilean Undersecretary of Defense, Cristián de la Maza Riquelme.   

  • SFS advanced pressure on China, Russia, and Iran in Latin America, to include three additional terrorist designations of Hezbollah in the region. 

In 2020, SFS Program Manager Kylie Skorupa and Junior Fellow Cristina Armes provided consistent coverage of Russia, Iran, and China’s presence and activities in Latin America and the Caribbean, through our monthly VRIC Monitor. Moreover, SFS International Fellow Leonardo Coutinho advocated against the expansion of Huawei and other China mass surveillance mechanisms by exposing its intrusion on Brazil’s critical infrastructure under the pretext of the expansion of 5G networks. 

Also, this year, SFS advanced the momentum against Hezbollah in Latin America by cooperating with U.S. and Latin American policy officials to add more terrorist designations of Hezbollah in the region. In 2020, Colombia, Honduras, and Guatemala, added to Argentina and Paraguay, from 2019, in officially designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. SFS worked closely with the Trump administration and partner nations on this important issue. 

  • SFS raised awareness on how global security challenges have local security solutions – launching our new Texas program. 

If 2020 taught us one lesson, it’s that national security threats with geopolitical challenges have a direct impact on the daily lives of Americans throughout the country. In short, global and national security is a challenge for state and local public officials. From the response to the COVID-19 related disinformation by China, to the corrupt networks from Venezuela, this year has shown us how small the world truly is. 

For this reason and more, SFS launched in April 2020, our new State-based program, with a focus on the Lone Star State of Texas. Our first State-based Senior Fellow Dr. David Grantham authored three (3) original articles in our new Transregional Threats Journal. The journal takes global expertise and contextualizes it for state and local public officials throughout the United States. 

  • SFS published more reports and research than ever before. And has earned more than 600 media hits in 2020. 

This is our best year, on record, in publishing original research and analysis on important national security topics. In 2020, SFS released 53 original publications, to include 10 policy reports, 10 VRIC Monitors, 27 op/eds, and 6 articles or policy reports with other respected think tanks, such as the American Foreign Policy Council or the Atlantic Council. 

Below are the top five publications by SFS scholars this year. 

  • The Maduro-Hezbollah Nexus by Joseph Humire, published by the Atlantic Council on October 7, 2020. The policy report describes the nuance and strategy of how Iran-backed illicit networks tied to Hezbollah help prop up the Maduro regime in Venezuela. 
  • COVID-19 in Latin America by Kylie Skorupa, Leonardo Coutinho, Dardo López Dolz, Jose Gustavo Arocha, and Allison Reichel on October 29, 2020. SFS researchers and fellows analyze the geopolitical, economic, and security effects of the pandemic on Latin America, with various videos and info-graphics, including a short 4-minute SFS Deciphers video summary of the report. 
  • Iran, Turkey, and Venezuela’s Super Facilitator: Who is Alex Saab? By Joseph Humire on June 30, 2020. Following the high-profile arrest in Cape Verde of Colombian-Lebanese businessman Alex Saab, this SFS SITREP describes how Saab facilitated the support of Iran and Turkey to the Maduro regime in Venezuela. 
  • Venezuela’s Crime-Terror Convergence by José Gustavo Arocha and Joseph Humire on August 12, 2020. The first issue of the Venezuela series of our new Transregional Threats Journal provides an in-depth analysis of the various narcoterrorism threat networks in Venezuela that sustain the Maduro regime. 
  • Crisis and Opportunity in the Americas by Joseph Humire and Kylie Skorupa, published in the AFPC’s Defense Dossier on October 30, 2020. A shorter version of our longer COVID-19 in Latin America report, this article published by the American Foreign Policy Council outlines how the United States can turn a health and economic crisis in Latin America, into an opportunity for the United States to outcompete our adversary, China.  

Our increased output in research and publications led to an increase in SFS earned media from around 400 in 2019 to almost 600 total (TV/radio/print/online) media hits in 2020. That’s a significant increase, with at least a third in major English outlets and the rest in either Spanish or Portuguese. Our English media presence increased in 2020 because of our new weekly radio/podcast segment the #NewWorld Report on the prestigious The John Batchelor Show. 

Below are the top five TV/radio hits by SFS Executive Director Joseph Humire in 2020: 

  • The John Batchelor Show on October 27, 2020 – John Batchelor interviews Joseph Humire and Colombian Senator Maria Fernanda Cabal about the return of Evo Morales to Bolivia and the realignment with Venezuela and Iran. Here, Joseph Humire breaks news by announcing that Morales visited Caracas to attend a high-level meeting with Iran to discuss potential weapons transfers. 
  • CNN Español Conclusiones on January 20, 2020 – Fernando Del Rincon interviews Joseph Humire about the Hezbollah terrorist designation by the Colombian government following the Third Hemispheric Counterterrorism Conference in Bogota. This was an important landmark in regional counterterrorism cooperation. 
  • El Tiempo Colombia on August, 25, 2020 – Adriena Itriago interviews Joseph Humire on the possibility that the Maduro regime in Venezuela is acquiring missiles from Iran, after the claim was made by Colombian President Ivan Duque. Humire explains Iran’s motivations and how the Islamic Republic is hedging its bets after the UN Arms Embargo is lifted.  
  • Sin Filtros YouTube Show on April 21, 2020 – Maibort Petit interviews Joseph Humire about the origin and history of Venezuelan regime leader, Tareck El Aissami, revealing new information and analysis about his ties to the Middle East and to various revolutions from Syria to Venezuela. 
  • The Foreign Desk YouTube Show on October 8, 2020 – Lisa Daftari interviews Joseph Humire about his recently published report on Hezbollah and Venezuela, discussing the clandestine structure of Hezbollah support cells and clans along the Caribbean coast of the country. 

Finally, to overcome the inability to hold large events in 2020, SFS adapted by participating in more than 70 virtual forums and webinars with various organizations and national security entities from throughout the Americas. Here is a short sample of some of the most prominent. 

  • Defense Intelligence Agency
  • U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM)
  • William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, NDU
  • Inter-American Defense College (IADC)
  • Organization of American States, Department against TOC
  • Escuela Superior de Guerra (ESDEGUE), Colombia War College
  • Universidad Militar Nueva Granada (UMNG), Colombia
  • Parliamentary Intelligence Security Forum
  • Fundación Libertad, Argentina

Although 2020 was not what we expected, SFS rolled with the punches and still found opportunities to advance freedom and security in the Americas, from the United States to Colombia, Brazil, and elsewhere. We are eager to start 2021 as SFS has big plans to defend freedom and security in new ways, with new tools and partnerships. Stay tuned for more.