The chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, Rep. Robert Pittenger, is on a week-long trip to South America to investigate first-hand the potential of the region to fund a variety of terrorist groups that could use the money to attack America.
Speaking to Breitbart News from South America on Monday, Rep. Pittenger described the objectives of his visit as properly assessing who can work with American intelligence as a viable partner to stunt the growth of terrorist organizations in Latin America, and how the United States can help. In his words: “Who is our partner? What do they need?”
Rep. Pittenger hopes as well to get a sense of “what countries are turning a blind eye to banks being accessible [to terrorists],” and is particularly interested in aiding American allies in the region with “technology that allows us to data mine and probe… relationships between different companies and individuals” that could benefit terrorist organizations.
Latin America is home to the wealthiest non-jihadist terror organization in the world – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which Rep. Pittenger described as “without a doubt the largest terrorism funding organization in the world” in part due to their access to coca leaf production in Colombia. The region has also recently become a hotbed of Shiite Islamist activity, as the terror group Hezbollah expands its footprint through Venezuela, Argentina, and Ecuador.
“It’s well known that Hezbollah has been down here. There is a strong Lebanese population, and they have exploited this region quite well,” Rep. Pittenger explained, adding that “Iran is making a major play down here, but it’s open season for so many others,” as well.
The Iranian government has strong ties to the socialist government of Venezuela, the product of a near-decade-long effort on the part of late dictator Hugo Chávez. According to defecting diplomats, a result of that diplomacy has been the mass production of falsified Venezuelan passports for Hezbollah terrorists, who have used them to freely navigate most of the Western Hemisphere. The government of Cuba is alleged to have also participated in the passport scheme, vouching for Hezbollah before the Chávez regime.
Iran also cultivated a close relationship with former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, which many argue led to a national lack of action in the case against numerous Iranian political officials implicated in the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA), the largest terrorist attack in the history of the Western Hemisphere before September 11, 2001. Her successor, the popular conservative Mauricio Macri, has begun to slowly undo the many deals cut between Argentina and Iran during Fernández de Kirchner’s tenure.
In addition to its relationship with leaders in these two nations, Iran is running more than 80 “cultural centers” to promote Shiite Islam throughout Latin America. “As the foremost state sponsor of terrorism, Iran’s involvement in the region and these cultural centers is a matter for concern, and its diplomatic, economic, and political engagement is closely monitored,” Gen. John Kelly, the head of U.S. Southern Command, warned last year.
Rep. Pittenger has continuously expressed concern regarding Iran’s presence in the region, particularly in light of President Obama’s concessions to Iran as a result of last year’s nuclear agreement. “No one denies the reality of what’s going to happen with that money,” Rep. Pittenger said in July. “It’s a foregone conclusion. Look at their terrorism footprint in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and Latin America now and through their surrogates… We are placing them in an extraordinary position in terms of economic prowess.”
On Monday, Rep. Pittenger made clear his concerns expanded far beyond Iran. Terrorists will go anywhere, like any criminal, to find the money they need to support their objectives,” he explained. “The source of funding for terrorism is primary to us… it is our best hope of intercepting these objectives.”