Arizona border is popular with smugglers and now possibly terrorists, experts say
PRESCOTT – The al-Qaeda terrorist organization is trying to get into Mexico and cross the United States border using people who don't look Middle Eastern, according to Congressman Randy Cunningham, R-Calif., who serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
"Lectures like this should be held all over the country, because the threat is real," Cunningham told the packed audience at the National Security and Intelligence Symposium on Tuesday.
The U.S. has stopped more than 62 major terror acts since 9-11, he said, while adding that people such as those in the audience often are the reason.
Arizona is the favorite state for smugglers crossing the Mexican border, a Border Patrol intelligence agent said.
"Arizona has become a real focal point," said George Scott, an intelligence agent in the Tucson sector.
The sector has 2,114 agents to patrol 261 linear border miles and more than 90,000 square miles with the help of 12 aircraft, video surveillance, stadium-style lights, sky watch towers, fencing and vehicle barriers, Scott said.
Congressman Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., said agents tracked smugglers who hid as much as $400,000 worth of marijuana on his Sonoita ranch.
Renzi promoted an effective "technology curtain" for the border that would reduce the number of illegal immigrants by 90 percent and therefore produce support for a guest worker program.
The west desert area of the sector has limited roads, Native American sacred sites and wildlife refuge areas that make the Border Patrol job more of a challenge, said Scott, showing photos of border crossings that consist of small broken fences and bumpy dirt roads.
"It's really tough," he said. "It's a big area to try to control … Arizona has just become the route of choice for a lot of smugglers."
The U.S. Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., is stationed nearby.
It is revamping and beefing up the training it provides around the world, said Col. Tommy Kelley, commander of the 111th Military Intelligence Brigade at the fort.
About 5,000 troops with 15 specialties and 60 mobile training teams trained 11,000 other troops on intelligence issues last year and will train more like 14,300 this year, Kelley said.