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Column: Retired ATF Official Warns that Law Enforcement Must Look Forward in the War on Terrorism

James Cavanaugh was an ATF agent and supervisor for 33 years before retiring in 2010.
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James Cavanaugh/atf photo

 
By James Cavanaugh
For ticklethewire.com

Law-enforcement, security and intelligence professionals must have a forward-looking approach in the current climate of world events. Now is the time for police and intelligence personnel to think critically about the year ahead. While the threat from a wounded Al Qaeda won’t disappear, the looming threat from a cornered Iran – and it’s terrorist proxies like Hezbollah — may become the more deadly problem.

Here’s why. Western nations have ramped up the sanctions against Iran. Additionally, in the last few years, five Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated. The most recent attack with a magnetic bomb was attached by a motorcyclist to the scientist’s vehicle. Just viewing the vehicle destruction on media footage shows the targeted nature of the bomb. It was no terroristic bomb trying to gain mass casualties.

Iran has ramped up its saber rattling and threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz. The Iranian Navy has sent small fast boats to harass U.S. Navy warships in the Persian Gulf. Iran is holding a 27-year-old former United States Marine Corps veteran of Iranian descent and accusing him of being a CIA spy. The New York Times reports Iran is vowing revenge against Israel and the United States over the scientists assassination. And this week, the European Union announced tougher sanctions still.

How this all plays out in the world stage is unclear. Ditto for how it could all play out here at home. But we know Iran’s and Hezbollah’s tentacles have reached our shores. Law enforcement has to be vigilante.

That’s where being proactive and smart counts. We have to look at the history of Iran and its terrorist proxies to try and predict the future. In the past years, Iran has wielded a formidable weapon, the dangerous and deadly proxies’ of Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a fighting force with capabilities above and beyond even Al Qaeda. Hezbollah is supported by a nation-state, trained directly by military personnel, closely allied with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) and the Quds Force, and tempered in war, most recently the 2006 war between Hezbollah in Lebanon against Israel. They are likely heavily operating as thugs in Syria for the Assad government, a close ally of Iran in the most recent months.

Hezbollah is the modern father of suicide bombing. It was responsible for three major terrorist bombings in 1983 in Beirut, Lebanon; The US Embassy, The French Military Barracks and the US Marine Corps Barracks, for a total of 316 deaths. The group was busy in Beirut in 1984 when it set a bomb outside the US Embassy annex that killed 24 people.

In 1985, the group hijacked TWA Flight 847 and killed a US Navy Diver, and later that same year, members captured, tortured and killed the CIA Station Chief in Lebanon. I was serving in The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and recall when we sent a team of ATF bomb investigators to the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1992, to help the Argentine Government investigate and deal with the 29 killed there. Once again Hezbollah and Iran were believed responsible. Hezbollah struck again with the Argentina bombing of a Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in 1994 that killed 96 people. The group also struck the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996 killing 19 US Military personnel.

Closer to home, in 2002, Sheriff’s Deputies, State Agents and ATF, FBI and federal prosecutors broke up and arrested members of a flourishing Hezbollah cell in North Carolina which was smuggling cigarettes and funneling huge amounts of cash and sophisticated military equipment to Hezbollah.

More recently, in October 2011, the DEA, FBI and federal prosecutors arrested a member of the Quds Force, an arm of the Revolutionary Guard, and an Iranian American for a plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States.

The group also plotted to bomb the Israeli embassy in Washington and bomb the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Argentina. Luckily the effort was poorly executed and failed. US Law Enforcement exploited that weakness and broke up the plot. Hezbollah has direct connections to the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Quds force. Also, we know from public information how closely they operate with direction from Iran.

The good news is that all of the training and preparation that law-enforcement and intelligence have done to defeat attacks by Al Qaeda are invaluable and directly applicable to the fight even against Hezbollah, Iran and all of its dispatched demons.

Notwithstanding that training, you often don’t see if you are not looking. Law enforcement has to look toward the next threat, not always the last threat, Al Qaeda is constantly looking behind themselves for drones, police can’t be constantly looking behind for Al Qaeda only, the next attack may come from another direction.

In the end, I refer to the United States Coast Guard’s motto, “Semper Paratus”, always ready.