This week’s column by Clark Judge:
Border Security – and Insecurity
By Clark S. Judge: managing director, White House Writers Group, Inc.; chairman, Pacific Research Institute
Sometimes Washington is beyond clueless. Immigration reform is a case in point.
Central to the immigration reform is border security, stopping people from illegally slipping across the Mexican border into the United States. Millions have done so in recent years, though far fewer since the recession began. Many were seeking jobs. Some may have been looking to take advantage of our social services safety net. But, though you wouldn’t know it from any of the media coverage, a few – a lethal few – have come to do us no good. The most threatening consequence of not dealing with border security has been the failure to keep this last group out.
For years it has been widely believe that Iran and Venezuela have been using our porous borders to their advantage. There has been ongoing speculation about Iran directly or indirectly planting terrorist sleeper cells in the U.S. There have been reports of alliances between Iran and the drug lords who have turned northern Mexico into a field of savage battle.
We rarely hear talk of terror lumped together with talk of human trafficking and drugs. But human trafficking experts tell us that the traffickers use established routes to move their (let’s use the word) slaves from Mexico and farther south across the border and then to their ultimate destinations. These routes come complete with drop points, safe houses and conductors on this sinister updating of the Underground Railroad of 200 years ago. The experts tell us that the same networks that transport people also transport drugs. Why not terrorists and their weapons, too?
What I have describes is a long smoldering fear in national security circles. It broke into the open in the past week in the pages of The Wall Street Journal.
Last Saturday, in her regular column, Peggy Noonan expressed her fears that “America’s Power is under siege.” She was writing not about our global military or economic power but about last April’s recently revealed rifle team attack that disabled a Pacific Gas & Electric substation near San Jose, California. Police have determined that the shooters (who have not been apprehended) had scouted the site in advance, determined sight lines and marked firing positions. Before launching their barrage, they had cut phone lines to and from the station. A silent flashlight signal started the barrage. Another ended it. AK-47-type casings clean of fingerprints were found around the marksmen’s posts the next morning. One federal official termed the episode “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred.”
Noonan reported speculation that the incident was a dress rehearsal for a much larger and more lethal attack on the grid. She said she has long worried about hostile forces using widely spread and well-coordinated teams of snipers to crash the nation’s electrical system.
Then Wednesday, another widely respected Journal columnist, Holman Jenkins responded, in effect saying, as Scarlett O’Hara would say, “fiddley dee.” This sort of thing happens all the time, Jenkins reported. No big deal.
Jenkin’s list of incidents similar to the San Jose one was alarmingly long and occasionally comic. In 1990, in tiny Broken Bow, Oklahoma, in the state’s southeastern Little Dixie region, three men opened fire on an electrical substation and knocked it out. The police chief called it “a terrorist type thing,” except the shooters turned out to be not hostile agents but three drunks.
Jenkins is surely right about the history and that by and large a particular kind of thrill seeker is behind most of such incidents. Still, whether Noonan is right or wrong about the April 2013 attack, the fact underpinning her fear remains – that our loosely guarded southern border is an invitation to Iran and others to insert agents into our midst to do bad things.
Which brings me back to immigration reform. A central obstacle to reform has been what to do about our southern border. Republicans feel burned by the failure of the executive branch under both parties to enforce the border security provisions of the 1986 immigration reform act. They want the government to get control – verifiable control — of cross border traffic before proceeding with other aspects of reform. Democrats have responded with a firm “no” to this reasonable demand, fueling speculation that, in their minds, more illegal immigration equals more votes in their column in the years ahead.
Meanwhile, Iran and its allies continue doing whatever they have been doing, raising a question, at least in my mind. Even if Noonan was wrong about the San Jose shootings, how long will it be before we have an incident – not necessarily aimed at the grid but big and unmistakable – in which she is right?