Returning from a week-long research trip to South America, Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) tells Breitbart News that intelligence officials in multiple countries have reason to believe that drug trafficking organizations are looking to work with terrorists groups like Hezbollah, but lack the technology to catch illegal money transfers as they happen.
“There is strong speculation by some of the countries that the terrorists seek to collaborate with drug traffickers,” Rep. Pittenger told Breitbart News on Monday, shortly after returning from high-level meetings in Argentina, Paraguay, Colombia, and Panama. He complimented the leaders of all four nations, describing them each as being “inclined to being a great partner,” but noted that without the proper tools to build a cases against terror financiers, they can do little to stop illegal activity in their respective countries.
Rep. Pittenger spoke to Breitbart News from South America last week, and made clear his mission was to identify “Who is our partner? What do they need?”
On Monday, he sounded optimistic about cooperation with regional governments. “We have some committed allies in South America,” he noted, describing the president of Paraguay, with whom he met, as a “particularly strong advocate on our behalf” and “a voice of reason and support for us.” He also noted that, of the four nations he visited, Argentina’s law enforcement technology was most advanced.
Even Argentina, however, was lacking in a region known as the “tri-border area,” the remote meeting of the borders of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina. “There is very little restriction of travel there,” Rep. Pittenger told Breitbart News, with easily accessible rivers forming some of the boundaries and little government infrastructure to monitor foot traffic. The fact that three countries meet in this region also allows for many law enforcement duties to go unfulfilled by any one nation.
David Shedd, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), confirmed to Breitbart News in May that the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah appears to be conducting “black market activities” in the tri-border region. Journalists have estimated through anonymous sourcing that Hezbollah uses the area (and friendly states like Venezuela) to generate between $60 and $100 million in illegal activities. But while journalists can report using sources on background and indirect claims, proving these allegations in court requires the technology necessary to track illicit activity and document it for trial.
Rep. Pittenger repeatedly emphasized that American allies in the region’s law enforcement agencies are ill-equipped in this regard. “Some of the governments have said there is high speculation” regarding Hezbollah activity in the region, he told Breitbart News, but “the reason we don’t have the evidence is lack of technology.”
“Hezbollah has its own structures and relationships inside these countries, and they have their own channels of revenue,” Rep. Pittenger explains, “but I think what we are trying to follow is the money trail coming out. When you have revenue oversight and limited capabilities, it’s harder to track the money.”
As a member of the House Committee on Financial Services, Rep. Pittenger hopes the American government can lend money-tracking software to allies in the region, to help stop terrorist activity before it expands north. He also hopes this technology can help nations like Colombia, struggling with a resurgence of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist narco-terror organization and the world’s wealthiest non-jihadist terrorist group.
Under President Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia agreed to a peace process with the FARC, which included halting the spraying of coca plants with pesticides in May 2015. Rep. Pittenger believes this has given the FARC, once on its last breath under Santos’ predecessor Álvaro Uribe, a second wind. “Production is way up, the volume, revenue is way up,” he noted, giving the FARC leverage to potentially reach out to other terrorist organizations and conduct business.
Rep. Pittenger is confident that solid international cooperation can stop terrorist and narco-terrorist groups from expanding even further. “The spirit of all the countries [I visited] was positive,” he told Breitbart News. “They all want to help.”