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Dr. David Grantham is a renowned national security expert who writes and speaks regularly on regional security, international conflict, and cybersecurity.

He has served as a counterintelligence operative in Iraq and has field experience in hotspots across the globe.
He is known for his work at Camp Bucca, Iraq, which is known as the birthplace of ISIS.

About "Consequences: An Intelligence Officer's War" By Dr. Grantham

We are still living in the long shadow of the Iraq War in 2020. But in 2006, David Grantham was fresh out of college and serving as a counterintelligence officer with the elite and secretive Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Iraq was veering toward civil war. The U.S. military desperately needed better on-the-ground intelligence to turn the tide. Grantham found himself in Kuwait and Afghanistan, then at Iraq’s infamous American prison, Camp Bucca. Not only was Bucca the breeding ground for the Islamic State, it was in southern Iraq, where America’s deadly fight with Iran was an open secret.

David Grantham authors the Transnational Threat Journal – Texas Series – a SFS publication that takes national security issues from the beltway to main street.

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Interview: Audiobook release, Consequences: An Intelligence Officer’s War

https://www.audiobookrelease.com/podcast-1/episode/509e0dfc/7-consequences-an-intelligence-officers-war-interview-with-david-grantham

Weaponizing Networks (Part One): Venezuela’s Asymmetric Attack On Texas

Texas has the second largest GDP of any state in the union. It is home to some of America’s most critical warfighting capabilities and is the only state with a semi-independent electrical grid.[i] These facts alone make Texas critical to U.S. national security. These same facts make the Lone Star State a prime target for America’s adversaries – especially a less recognized, yet remarkably dangerous conglomeration of state and non-state actors in Latin America, known as the Bolivarian threat network.

Led by Cuba and Venezuela, the Bolivarian threat network unites a lengthy list of criminal groups, socialist non-governmental organizations (NGO), digital activists, media entities, political parties, terrorist organizations, and rogue regimes to wage asymmetric war against the United States. Asymmetric warfare is known conceptually as the use of non-state groups for surprise and subterfuge to achieve parity against superior opponents. The Bolivarian threat network relies on more than just non-state groups, though. It also enjoys the support of America’s near-peer adversaries in Russia and China, and from the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, the Islamic Republic of Iran.[ii]

The term “Bolivarian” is drawn from the late Hugo Chávez’s so-called Bolivarian revolution,[iii] which began as a socialist political movement that has transformed Venezuela into a criminalized state and the worst humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere.[iv] Chávez exported his socialist revolutionary model to other nations in the region through a political power bloc formed in 2005 called the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA).[v] Although the once-powerful ALBA has lost much of its legitimacy in Latin America after the death of Chávez in 2013, it maintains an informal network of non-state actors and high-profile political figures who continue to shape political discourse in the region.

The ALBA survives through the Bolivarian threat network and Texas’ location and resources make it a chief target for this Latin American adversary. The Bolivarian threat network, as the name suggests, relies heavily on covert and overt networks that run through Texas. Whether its strategy to undermine U.S. power in the region and weaken the security of the homeland is effective hinges, in part, on its operations in the Lone Star State.

This article is the first of a three-part series where we will deconstruct how the Bolivarian threat network has penetrated Texas by utilizing Venezuelan illicit networks and legitimate oil networks to tap into the core of economic and political influence in the Lone Star State. This is part of a six-month research effort to understand how Venezuelan threat networks directly affect Texas security and prosperity. But first it is important to understand the purpose and capabilities of a modern threat network and recognize their design.

HOW THREAT NETWORKS FUNCTION

The name “criminal network” can be a misleading title. Often times the term “network” implies an arranged process to service a certain goal with terms like “intersecting” and “interconnected” to describe them.[vi] Concepts like a “chain network” come to mind, where operations resemble a supply line of people, goods, or information with end-to-end communication. Criminal networks, however, are more versatile and function like a “star or hub network,” where a central node coordinates the actions of various actors. A centralized command allows criminal organizations to maintain control of loosely connected individuals and entities within their network. The problem is these criminal networks are in a near-constant state of change and expansion.

On December 12, 2016, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) published Joint Publication 3-25 “Countering Threat Networks” to address the myriad of transnational and transregional threats that have converged into highly adaptive tools of asymmetric warfare. As the publication notes “threat networks use asymmetric methods and weapons and can enjoy state cooperation, sympathy, sanctuary, or supply.” These networks also increasingly blend elements of both criminal and non-criminal activity. Indeed, the modern threat networks leverage criminal and non-criminal enterprises in such a manner that law-abiding citizens can easily be caught up in an illicit network without knowing it. Admiral James G. Stavridis added that these modern, refashioned threat networks have “expanded [into] fields of diplomacy, information, military, and economic power.”[vii] The challenge then becomes making sense and then defeating ever-more-powerful networks that further blur criminal and non-criminal activity.

Figure 1: Basic Network Structure

Basic Network Structure taken from pg. IV-11 in Joint Publication 3-25 Countering Threat Networks from the Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff

For the purposes here, the modern threat network is characterized as collaborative groups of people who may have different motivations but are formally intertwined when it benefits them against a common adversary. Some call them “all-channel networks” or “network of networks.” Regardless of the moniker, these networks have destabilized much of the modern world; and none is more relevant to Texas than the threat networks established in Venezuela.

Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez understood how threat networks enhanced asymmetric warfare capabilities and went about constructing them for those ends.[viii] Chávez designed networks in Venezuela as functional arrangements of people, goods, and products tied to illicit activities, such as drug trafficking, and to legal commercial enterprise, such as oil production and delivery. His successor, Nicolás Maduro, has advanced the reach and influence of Venezuela’s threat networks under the guise of free trade, while adhering to the Bolivarian revolution’s stated goal of undermining U.S. influence.[1] Chávez, and now Maduro, also understood that one of the most important elements for these networks, indeed any successful asymmetric warfare strategy, is the use of counterintelligence and human intelligence (CI/HUMINT) performed just below the surface.

CRIMINAL NETWORKS AS CI/HUMINT

HUMINT is an intelligence specialty where information is gathered through interpersonal contact. It is neither a practice entirely of intangibles and instinct, nor is it an exact science that can be measured and observed. Take for instance the process for creating a false identity for an undercover agent. The process demands imagination, a collection of creative minds who through experience and knowledge can sculpt the contours of that identity to fit a culture where it will exist. That process is largely artistic in nature. Backstopping the fake identity with birth certificates, college degrees, driving record, and family history requires technical abilities, which is more akin to a science. HUMINT can be an art and a science to control a person or an entire population.

In Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, with the help of Cuba’s intelligence service, known as the G2, used human intelligence to achieve countrywide control of his population. Among the most notable examples are a series of social programs created by Chávez, known as Bolivarian missions. These programs were designed to manipulate the population into government dependence, and as intended, the Venezuelan people have become reliant on the state for virtually everything. They are now mechanisms for social control.

Figure 2: Fraudulent Venezuelan Identification Card

Syrian national issued a fraudulent Venezuela national ID changing the identity of the individual with a new birthdate and name. According to multiple former Venezuelan immigration officials, more than 10,000 Middle Easterners have been given similar fraudulent IDs from the Venezuelan government.

Meanwhile, these social welfare programs were used to support the networks. One of the most consequential examples was the restructuring of Mission Identity – Venezuela’s immigration agency – where now they are responsible for creating false identities and documents for use by criminals, terrorists, and insurgents abroad.[ix] Previous reports have documented the extent to which Venezuela’s immigration system, now called SAIME, has provided identification documents to suspected members of foreign terrorist organizations, to include Hezbollah.[x] Mission Identity transformed Venezuela’s criminal and terrorist networks into a shadow intelligence service and now these networks can penetrate territories and countries where its official intelligence service, SEBIN, would struggle to, and all with plausible deniability.

This was the art behind Venezuela’s design of its HUMINT networks. Cuban and Venezuelan intelligence services were embedded in drug networks, for instance, working together in ways that Pablo Escobar could have only dreamed of. And just as the doctrine of asymmetric warfare dictates, a well-designed HUMINT network can level the playing field in the face of superior competition.[xi] These practices are now an integral part of the Bolivarian threat network.

THE ACHILLES HEEL OF U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY

The practice of counterintelligence is intended to disrupt, degrade, and preempt the HUMINT efforts of foreign intelligence services and modern threat networks. Counterintelligence is then America’s greatest defense against the Bolivarian threat networks. It is also arguably America’s greatest weakness on the state and local level, where those networks thrive.

America’s adversaries are inherently geared toward espionage and counterintelligence.[xii] After all, the central quest of an authoritarian government is the accumulation of power, resulting in a political lifestyle that survives on the manipulation and control of a given society. That manipulation comes largely through the control of information and the compromise of people – all hallmarks of the Venezuelan regimes and their allies in China, Cuba, Russia, and Iran.

The United States is at a disadvantage because our system, in a free society, is not designed with this kind of aggressive subterfuge in mind. Therefore, the United States and Texas lack the counterintelligence capabilities needed to combat the modern threat networks and their aggressive human intelligence efforts. America’s adversaries seemed to have recognized the deficiency and are directing their espionage efforts against state and local officials as a means to compromise future leaders. These authoritarian regimes have made a special effort at developing access to local officials and local markets through their networks.

California Congressman Eric Swalwell and two U.S. mayors made headlines in 2020 after being named as alleged targets of a female Chinese operative who successfully penetrated their inner circles, almost certainly to collect information and influence their decisions to the benefit of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Intelligence services from the PRC also supposedly compromised a New York Police Department (NYPD) officer and used him to, among other things, monitor Chinese dissident communities, according to a recent federal indictment.[xiii] That officer had originally immigrated to the United States as a Tibetan refugee claiming to be escaping Chinese persecution. The indictment and timing of his arrival suggest he was sent to the United States for the express purpose of working for Chinese intelligence against dissident communities.

Another recent federal indictment accused a Massachusetts-based political scientist of being an unregistered agent of the Islamic Republic of Iran. A published author and academic, the suspect often “pitched himself to Congress, journalists, and the American public as a neutral and objective expert on Iran,” according to the indictment.[xiv] He was, however, reportedly paid by Tehran’s UN mission to spin pro-Iran narratives to the American public and in the press.

Authoritarian regimes excel at human intelligence and domestic counterintelligence because they must. They become experts in the art of identifying and neutralizing threats to their power. American society, by its nature, has less instinct for and experience with counterintelligence. Yet, officials continue to improve on those capabilities through broader cooperation and understanding of the modern threat networks.

COUNTERING THE BOLIVARIAN THREAT NETWORK

The United States is becoming more adept at countering threat networks, including those from Venezuela, through cooperation with allied nations. In February 2019, three years after the publication of JP 3-25, the U.S. Army held a “Conference of American Armies” in San Antonio, Texas, where 16 Central and South American armies, as well as some from the Caribbean, came together to address these highly adaptive threat networks. Notably left out was Venezuela and Nicaragua. Most of those countries present, regardless of political orientation, have institutionally been committed to partnering with the United States on shared challenges and threats. More importantly, they have been critical to U.S. efforts at fighting transnational and transregional threat networks, which continue to destabilize the region.

These participating countries face profound institutional and political challenges from a Bolivarian threat network intent on undermining their democracies. Under Chávez and now Maduro, the Venezuelan regime has, and remains, at the center of this effort to destabilize the entire hemisphere in order to delegitimize the United States. The regime’s candid, anti-American posture is even more evident now as it weaponizes its illicit and licit networks of drug distribution and oil shipments for the express purpose of harming American communities. It remains a potent adversary as it deploys criminal-intelligence networks to identify targets for compromise throughout Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States.

Networks are the new “armies” of the 21st-century battlefield and combating the Bolivarian threat network itself is of crucial importance to Texas, and by extension, the United States. In parts two and three of our series, we will discuss in greater detail how the Bolivarian threat network from Venezuela is primed to challenge Texas state security and undermine broader U.S. homeland security. Evidence uncovered in SFS research suggests that Venezuela’s threat networks inside the United States were developed by commercial oil exchange and illicit narcotics distribution, targeting Texas for its proximity to the border and robust oil industry. The Maduro regime continues to nurture and leverage the Bolivarian threat network inside the United States with the intent to export the Bolivarian Revolution north.   


[i] Bob Hall and David Grantham, “The Nation Depends on a Resilient Grid,” Inside Sources, January 25, 2017. Accessed: https://insidesources.com/nation-depends-resilient-grid/

[ii] For more on the “Bolivarian network” and its support from Russia, Iran, and China, see the entries in the monthly VRIC Monitor produced by the Center for a Secure Free Society, here: https://www.securefreesociety.org/research/vric-monitor-trump-to-biden-america-first-policies-aimed-at-weakening-foreign-adversaries/

[iii] Named after Simón Bolivar, a 19th-century Venezuelan leader that achieved independence for northern South America from Spanish rule. According to Chávez and Maduro, the Bolivarian revolution seeks to build a united Latin America based on 21st century socialism and free of Western influence, namely the United States.

[iv] According to USAID, Venezuela is a complex emergency. As of December 2020, there were 5.4 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants globally and another 7 million people inside Venezuela that need assistance, while the IMF reports a 25% contraction in real GDP in October 2020.

[v] The current ten members of ALBA are Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Grenada, Nicaragua, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Venezuela. Suriname is a ‘special guest member” with previous intentions to join. Iran and Syria are observing members.

[vi] Pg. viii, Executive Summary, Commanders Overview, Joint Publication 3-25 Countering Threat Networks, Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Department of Defense, December 12, 2016. Accessed: https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/pubs/jp3_25.pdf

[vii] James G. Stavridis, “Foreword,” Convergence: Illicit Networks and National Security in the Age of Globalization, Institute for National Strategic Studies, 2013, ix.

[viii] Max G. Manwaring, “Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, Bolivarian Socialism, and Asymmetric Warfare,” Strategic Studies Institute, October 2005. Accessed: https://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep11239?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

[ix] Joseph M. Humire, “Canada on Guard: Assessing the Immigration Security Threat of Iran, Venezuela, and Cuba,” Center for a Secure Free Society, June 4, 2014. Accessed: https://www.securefreesociety.org/research/canada-on-guard-assessing-the-immigration-security-threat-of-iran-venezuela-and-cuba/

[x] Scott Zamost, Drew Griffin, Kay Guerrero and Rafael Romo, “Venezuela may have given passports to people with ties to terrorism,” CNN, February 14, 2017. Accessed: https://www.cnn.com/2017/02/08/world/venezuela-passports-investigation/index.html

[xi] Intelligence is one of the seven critical factors in an analytical model called the “Manwaring Paradigm” developed by the Small Wars Operations Research Directorate (SWORD) of U.S. Southern Command in the 1980s. In the Manwaring Paradigm, intelligence refers to the ability to identify, locate and neutralize your adversary through timely, relevant, verified, reliable and credible intelligence.

[xii] For more on this discussion, see the interview of Joseph Humire by Sabrina Martin, “Foreign Powers Seek to destroy the Rule of Law and Social Unity in the United States,” El American, December 4, 2020. https://elamerican.com/foreign-powers-seek-to-break-the-rule-of-law-and-our-unity-joseph-humire/?lang=en 

[xiii] Hollie McKay, “Chinese ‘honey trap’ could hold thousands of operatives,” Fox News, December 11, 2020: Accessed: https://nypost.com/2020/12/11/chinese-honey-trap-could-hold-thousands-of-operatives/ and “New York police officer charged with spying for China,” Yahoo News, September 22, 2020. Accessed: https://news.yahoo.com/york-police-officer-charged-spying-005433908.html?guccounter=1

[xiv] “Political Scientist Author Charged with Acting as an Unregistered Agent of The Iranian Government,” Department of Justice, January 19, 2021. Accessed: https://www.justice.gov/usao-edny/pr/political-scientist-author-charged-acting-unregistered-agent-iranian-government

U.S. Riots Take a Page from the Latin American Socialist Playbook

The second wave of riots is here. Escalating violence in Portland. A surge of rioting in Seattle. Police in Chicago ambushed. Daily confrontations are happening again. The premeditated violence has inspired violence elsewhere. That ripple effect is always the intent.

We know this, not only from Chinese communists and European fascists, but from socialists in Latin America.

The summer riots in the United States followed similar patterns as those in Latin America last year. The “breeze” of legitimate protests in urban areas after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis quickly escalated into a “hurricane” of violence against government institutions and private businesses. These were specific targets that represent national sovereignty and free markets, respectively.

Few Americans have probably heard of the “Bolivarian Breeze” or the “Bolivarian Hurricane”— phrases used by Diosdado Cabello, a U.S.-indicted drug trafficker in Venezuela and an influential member of Nicolás Maduro’s political party. He used those phrases to describe the organized riots that hit, among other countries, Chile, Ecuador, and Colombia in 2019. Fewer have probably heard of the “Bolivarian Alliance” from which the phrase originates.

Here is a quick refresher.

Once led by Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and now Nicolás Maduro, the Bolivarian Alliance can be best understood as a transnational effort to achieve 21st-century socialism in the Americas. At its zenith, the alliance consisted of 11 countries and three observers, including Iran and Syria. The Bolivarian Alliance has most recently morphed into a political-criminal network that seeks to destabilize American communities through the purposeful deployment of cocaine. It has also fomented unrest in those Latin American countries pursuing free market and democratic reforms.

In mid-October 2019, Chile saw protests against a 4-cent rate hike on public transit escalate into organized, mass riots. Much like in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, professional agitators attempted to and, in some cases, successfully burned government buildings and private companies.

That same month, activists and instigators tied to Venezuela and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – a communist guerrilla movement in Latin America and ally of the Maduro regime – caused so much violence in Ecuador that President Lenin Moreno had to leave the capital. All this after the Moreno government announced a plan to end fuel subsidies.

Protests then broke out in Colombia in November in response to the government’s plan for pension reform. When the protests turned violent, civilian groups with ties to the FARC were found to have been at the “forefront” of the subsequent unrest.

In early 2020, Diosdado Cabello bragged that this “Bolivarian Hurricane” in Latin America would soon strike the United States.

Americans then watched as outspoken Maduro supporters fomented unrest in Miami in June 2020. Some protesters flew flags of the socialist Sandinista party of Nicaragua in South Florida, while some in Minneapolis waved the flag of the Mapuche indigenous group in Chile. Agitators in D.C. sported Hugo Chávez imagery. All iconography that represents the Bolivarian Network.

In Bolivia, riots that followed the resignation of former President Evo Morales last year were accompanied by insurgent tactics by Evo and his supporters to try and block food from entering urban cities. Bolivian authorities published audio of an intercept conversation Morales personally had with a henchmen in which he is heard saying exactly this: “don’t let food into the cities.” A concerning sign of things to come should U.S. socialist and anarchist agitators follow the playbook of their South American counterparts.

The recent U.S. protests have been accompanied by statues being torn down, street names being changed, and brands reevaluating mascots and taglines. A Venezuelan actress living in the United States expressed concerns over the trajectory of these developments, writing on social media that: “statues came down – [Hugo] Chávez didn’t want that history displayed … and then he changed the street names … then came the school curriculum … then some movies couldn’t be shown, then certain TV channels, and so on and so forth.”

For many in Latin America, socialism is more than just a failed theory or ideology. For those in Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and more, socialism represents repressive regimes where citizens no longer have a voice or a vote. Those failures are now being exported to other countries through mass national protests, themselves long departed from their original grievance. Venezuela’s Maduro regime and its allies have turned unrest into an asymmetric weapon of warfare, intent on destabilizing the neighborhood.

America remains well positioned to push back against the socialist threat because of the economic principles to which it subscribes. Free markets, more than any other freedom, defy the privileges of the socialist elite and expose their fraudulent ideologies.

David Grantham is a Senior Fellow for the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS) and author of the book Consequences: An Intelligence Officer’s War. His website is granthamstrategies.com. Excerpts of this article were taken from the most recent Transregional Threats Journal of SFS.

How Maduro’s Crime-Terror Networks Could use National Protests to Threaten the U.S.

Riots in more than 40 major American cities last month followed similar patterns as those in Latin America last year.[1] The “breeze” of legitimate protests in urban areas after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis quickly escalated into a “hurricane” of violence against government institutions and private businesses – specific targets that represent national sovereignty and free markets, respectively.

There is evidence to suggest anti-American actors from Latin America fueled, and possibly deployed, local supporters to areas of unrest in the United States during the rioting. The presence of outspoken Maduro supporters in Miami, flags of the socialist Sandinista party of Nicaragua, and Chavez imagery worn by protesters in D.C. all point, at a minimum, to the presence of socialist ideologues at the forefront of the unrest.[2]  But the possible presence of foreign operatives is merely a part of a much more comprehensive national and local security threat – the consequences of which will be felt most acutely in Texas.[3]

CONVERGENCE AND THE BOLIVARIAN NETWORK

Convergence is the theory that hierarchical criminal organizations have largely been replaced by global, interlocking networks that link transnational criminal actors to international terrorist groups and their facilitators. A transformation is underway as Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCO) shift from vertical structures to horizontal ones.[4]

Meanwhile, globalization has made it possible for those criminal networks to spread and grow to the point that they possess power once reserved for nations. Admiral James G. Stavridis writes that modern criminal networks have “expanded” into “fields of diplomacy, information, military, and economic power.”[5] Such high-profile capabilities mean they do not intend to avoid detection. Instead, they look to corrupt people and co-opt public institutions so that criminals become the government. The criminal state, as it is known, remains the purest and most deadly form of convergence.[6]

Venezuela, the leader of the Bolivarian Alliance, is the epitome of a criminal state. Organized crime and conventional government in Venezuela are indistinguishable from the other. This type of criminal and political enmeshing is difficult to defeat because the criminal state can leverage public resources for their illicit operations, while retaining national sovereignty and all the benefits that come with borders and international law.

The Bolivarian Alliance, with Venezuela at the helm, then leverages facilitators, financiers, and fixers to aid in the covert movement of people, money, and material, while sharing operating areas, intelligence, and tactics. The overall strategy is to undermine rival nation-states and to challenge Westphalian state sovereignty. 

The once dwindling Bolivarian Alliance has experienced a resurgence thanks to these criminal networks and has recently sown chaos and discord in Latin America for the express purpose of destabilizing democratic governments. Indeed, few Americans have probably heard of the “Bolivarian Breeze” or the “Bolivarian Hurricane”—phrases used by Diosdado Cabello, a U.S.-sanctioned drug trafficker out of Venezuela and an influential member of Maduro’s political party.[7] He used those phrases to describe the organized riots that hit, among other countries, Chile, Ecuador, and Colombia in 2019. Cabello bragged in early 2020 that this Bolivarian violence would soon strike the United States.[8]

THE RIOTS IN LATIN AMERICA 

“We are organized, we are more than 100 organizations whose goal is to overturn the current political structure,” is a statement made by the former Chilean Cultural Attaché Florencia Lagos, when discussing the riots that rocked Chile in October 2019. Lagos made this statement while speaking at the International Communication Conference hosted by Maduro’s United Socialist Party (PSUV). She made quite clear the intentions of the Bolivarian Network.[9]

In mid-October 2019, Chile experienced mass riots when a 4-cent rate hike on metro travel was announced, and much like in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, protests turned into coordinated violence as agitators attempted to and, in some cases, successfully burned government buildings and private companies.[10]

Northern neighbor Ecuador experienced something similar that same month. Activists and instigators, tied to Venezuela and the FARC, deliberately attempted to destabilize the country by using President Lenin Moreno’s plan to end state fuel subsidies as pretext for violence. The announcement about fuel in early October 2019 was soon followed by so much premeditated violence that the Moreno government had to temporarily leave the capital.[11]

Next was Colombia. Protests broke out in November 2019, which were initially billed as resistance to pension reforms.[12] Noted national security scholar Douglas Farah writes that civilian groups with ties to Colombian terrorist organizations FARC and ELN were found to be at the “forefront” of the subsequent violence.

In each instance, online provocateurs surreptitiously shifted the conversation from local grievances to the toppling of democratic governments. They exaggerated their online presence so that the shift looked organic and widespread. Instead, one analysis found that 4.8 million tweets with hashtags in favor of the protests in Chile came from 639,000 different Twitter accounts, most of which had connections to Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba.[13] Plenty of analysis remains to be done on how social media activity amplified the violence in the United States.

Chile, Ecuador, and Colombia all have strong ties to the United States. All three openly oppose the Maduro regime. All three are trying to pursue free markets and democratic reforms. And like the United States, all three saw professional agitators co-opt demonstrations and resort to the looting and vandalizing of government institutions and private companies.

A “SUPER CARTEL”

The Bolivarian Network’s capability to foment unrest in other countries is strengthened by political and material support from extra-regional allies, like Iran and Hezbollah, who themselves are involved to one degree or another in the corrupting of political systems. The Maduro regime intends as the leader of the Bolivarian Network for violence against the United States.

In May 2020, Americans were again reminded of the dangers of Venezuela’s crime-terror convergence when the U.S. Department of Justice indicted former member of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Adel El Zabayar, for alleged participation in a narco-terrorism conspiracy, and a cocaine-for-weapons scheme in coordination with various foreign terrorist organizations and the Maduro regime. The indictment claims that Adel El Zabayar acted as a go-between for the Maduro regime and its state-sponsored drug organization, Cártel de Los Soles, who sought to recruit terrorists from Hezbollah and Hamas for the planning and execution of attacks against the United States. In fact, according to the indictment, the aforementioned Diosdado Cabello worked with Zabayar to successfully “obtain weapons and recruit members of Hizballah and Hamas to train at clandestine training camps located in Venezuela.”[14]

SFS research six years ago revealed that for more than a decade, Venezuela’s immigration agency, SAIME, had provided government identification documents to suspected members, supporters, and militants of Hezbollah and other terrorist actors in the Middle East, making the transition in Venezuela from legitimate government function to criminal enterprise that much easier.[15]

Shared values of anti-Americanism and opposition to free markets converge with illicit activities, to create, in a way, an international Bolivarian “super cartel.” But this imposing cartel is not unstoppable. Free markets defy the privileges of its socialist elite and expose their fraudulent politics. Free markets can also starve the illicit networks on which the cartel and Bolivarian Network relies.

TEXAS BUSINESSES ARE KEY

Texas’ businesses, particularly its small businesses, have the power to challenge this convergence masquerading as a political movement, namely because the Lone Star State commands the 10th largest economy in the world.[16] Texas has nearly unparalleled global economic influence and significant interests in a vibrant and free Latin America.

It is painful to see destruction done to the very thing that can help challenge the convergence of organized crime and terrorism.

Indeed, during the George Floyd protests in June, the state of Texas was put under a disaster declaration to protect against the threat of destruction to property, looting, and public safety.[17] The protests have been accompanied by statues being torn down, street names being changed, and brands reevaluating mascots and taglines.

A Venezuelan actress living in the United States expressed concerns over the trajectory of these recent developments. She wrote on social media that “statues came down – [Hugo] Chavez didn’t want that history displayed. And then he changed the street names. Then came the school curriculum. Then some movies couldn’t be shown, then certain TV channels, and so on and so forth,” until Venezuela was left a shell of the democratic country it once was.[18]

In other words, the longer one travels down this “road to serfdom,” the harder it is to turn around.

A first step in preempting the influence of the Bolivarian Network is to leverage free markets against the illicit networks that sustain the likes of Venezuela and Iran. That can be accomplished through public-private partnerships, collective sharing of information, and public awareness.

Information is key. Too often governments form a response based on what its organizations tell each other. Businesses of all sizes can serve as outside intelligence and could develop plans for facilitating the transfer of accurate, on-the-ground information to enforcement agencies. Businesses can also join public-private partnership groups for security, which do much of the same. Agreed upon procedures for the collection and sharing of intelligence on matters of illicit trade in goods, people, arms, and services, whether internally or through a public-private partnership, would provide a wealth of actionable insight to blunt the growth of a criminal system.

Public awareness campaigns are another way to shed light on dark activities. Whether for the consumer or related business, education on why illicit activity is bad for future investment could be a worthwhile pursuit, especially in areas where the rule of law is weak.[19] 

Texas stands as a bulwark against the crime-terror convergence that continues to grow and evolve within the Bolivarian Network. With its extensive economic relationships in Latin America, the Lone Star State holds a unique position in the effort to challenge this blend of authoritarianism and unabashed criminality. Moisés Naím writes that the “proliferation of criminal states” would threaten “the integrity…of sovereign states and the fundamental structure of global order.”[20] Texas, with its free markets and political stability, can help overcome the proliferation of criminal states in its backyard.

Notes


[1] Frances Martel, “Observers: Same Forces Behind U.S. Riots Fueled 2019 Latin America Violence,” Breitbart, June 5, 2020

[2] Frances Martel, “Report: Chavistas, Sandinistas, Other Foreign Leftists Join Nationwide Riots,” Breitbart, June 2, 2020; Manuel Madrid “Miami Venezuelans Blast (F)Empower Bail Fund Founder for Photo with Maduro,” Miami New Times, June 9, 2020; Michael Wilner, et al, “White House claims violence incited at Floyd protests linked to Venezuela’s Maduro,” Miami Herald, June 9, 2020

[3] Ibid; Wilner, et al, “White House claims violence incited at Floyd protests linked to Venezuela”; Douglas Farah, Transnational Organized Crime, Terrorism, and Criminalized States in Latin America: An Emerging Tier-One National Security Priority (Carlisle Barracks: Strategic Studies Institute, 2020).

[4] David M. Luna, “Fighting Networks with Networks,” Convergence: Illicit Networks and National Security in the Age of Globalization, Institute for National Strategic Studies, 2013, page 217.

[5] James G. Stavridis, “Foreword,” Convergence: Illicit Networks and National Security in the Age of Globalization, Institute for National Strategic Studies, 2013, ix.

[6] Douglas Farah, “Transnational Organized Crime, Terrorism, and Criminalized States in Latin America: An Emerging Tier-One National Security Priority,” SSI Army War College, August 2012.

[7] Press Release, “Treasury Targets Influential Former Venezuelan Official and His Corruption Network,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, May 18, 2018.

[8] “Con el Maso Dando,” May 27, 2020, Television. Accessed: file:///Users/sfs/Downloads/lineamientos-del-compatriota-diosdado-cabello-rondon-presidente-de-la-anc-durante-programa-con-el-mazo-dando-version-01-fidel-ernesto-vasquez-27.05.pdf

[9] Douglas Farah and Caitlyn Yates, “Turmoil in the Western Hemisphere,” Global Americans, April 15, 2020.

[10] Robert Funk, “Chile’s October Surprise,” Americas’ Global Rule, October 24, 2019.

[11] Farah and Yates, “Turmoil in the Western Hemisphere,”; Jack Guy and Helena de Moura, “Ecuador government leaves capital city amid violent protests,” CNN, October 8, 2019.

[12] Farah and Yates, “Turmoil in the Western Hemisphere,”; Ben Kew, “Colombia: Violent Leftist Riots Cause Millions of Dollars in Damage,” Breitbart, November 23, 2019.

[13] Farah and Yates, “Turmoil in the Western Hemisphere.”

[14] Press Release, “Former Member of Venezuelan National Assembly Charged with Narco-Terrorism, Drug Trafficking, And Weapons Offenses,” U.S. Department of Justice, May 27, 2020.

[15] Joseph Humire and Fernando Menendez, “Canada On Guard,” Center for a Secure Free Society, June 4, 2014

[16] Mark J. Perry, “Putting America’s enormous $19.4T economy into perspective by comparing US state GDPs to entire countries,” American Enterprise Institute, May 8, 2018.

[17] Alex Samuels, “Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declares state of disaster after George Floyd protests,” The Texas Tribune, May 31, 2020.

[18] Tim Haines, “Venezuelan Warns Americans: Statues Coming Down Is Where Revolutions Start,” Real Clear Politics, June 23, 2020.

[19] Luna, “Fighting Networks with Networks,” 223.

[20] Michael Miklaucic and Moisés Naím, “The Criminal State,” Convergence: Illicit Networks and National Security in the Age of Globalization, Institute for National Strategic Studies, 2013, 167.

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