A New Deal for Drug Cartels? Lawmakers Suggest Looking at Them as Terrorist Organizations

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Byline: Shaun Waterman, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Lawmakers say it is time to treat Latin American drug cartels like terrorist organizations, highlighting alarm about possible links between the two kinds of groups after Iran's alleged efforts to recruit drug lords to kill a Saudi diplomat in Washington.

We must stop looking at the drug cartels today solely from a law-enforcement perspective, said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican and chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

She urged officials to consider designating these narcotrafficking networks as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, and their leaders as Specially Designated Nationals.

The foiling of a plot by Tehran's Qods Force militia to recruit a Mexican drug cartel to kill the Saudi ambassador by bombing a D.C. restaurant underscores that drug gangs are providing material support and assistance to terrorist groups and sponsoring states, Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said during a hearing.

Rep. Connie Mack, Florida Republican, went further, calling the Mexican cartels an insurgency that uses terrorist activities to further [their] cause.

Some specialists were skeptical about his call. But in answering questions from the two lawmakers, William Brownfield, assistant secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement at the State Department, acknowledged that many of the facts on the ground, the things that are being done by those [trafficking] organizations are consistent with what we would call either terrorism or insurgency in other countries.

Moreover, he said, the apparent overtures from Tehran's Qods Force to what they thought was a Mexican cartel is just one piece in a large jigsaw puzzle of Iranian threats to stability and security in the region.

Iran is reaching out to populist, anti-American governments in the region, especially the leftist regime of President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, he said.

Mr. Brownfield, who was the U.S. ambassador in Caracas for what he called three very long years, noted that when he arrived there in 2004, there were fewer than 10 diplomats assigned to the Iranian Embassy; three years later, there were more than 40.

On Wednesday, a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee heard testimony from a former senior Drug Enforcement Administration official, Michael Braun, who said Iran's growing diplomatic presence in the region often has been used as cover for members of its secretive militias, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Qods Force. …