With all the hue and cry raised about the threats to US national security coming from the Islamic State, Syria, Iran, North Korea, China, the «assertive Russia» and many others, the real threats are largely kept out of public discourse. At least, they are not on the priority list where they should be.
One of them had been kept out of spotlight until coming to prominence on April 18 – the day President Trump singled out MS-13 – a street gang with Central American roots – as «one of the gravest threats to American safety». The president signed an executive order calling for the Department of Justice to convene a task force to go after transnational criminal organizations like MS-13.
Formally known as Mara Salvatrucha (the gang of Salvadoran guys), the criminal group is made up of immigrants, mostly young teenagers from Salvador. According to the FBI estimates, the group’s strength is 6,000 in the US and 30,000 internationally. At least 46 states and Washington, D.C., have reported the infiltration of their «cliques» — typically linked to drug trafficking, low-level extortion, rape and even murder. Trump blamed open border policies implemented by former President Barack Obama for the spread of the gang in the US.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed that the Justice Department will crack down on violent crime. According to him, MS-13 and other gangs «represent one of the gravest threats to American safety». «The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin. allowed bad MS 13 gangs to form in cities across US We are removing them fast!», President Trump tweeted.
The president sounds too optimistic. The mission won’t be a cakewalk. The US Treasury Department declared the group a transnational criminal organization in 2012, linking it to drug trafficking, kidnapping, human smuggling, sex trafficking, murder, assassinations, racketeering, blackmail, extortion and immigration offenses. The gang has flourished in the US and internationally. Membership is now widespread. Gang members are reported in Canada, Central America, Mexico and elsewhere.
The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin. allowed bad MS 13 gangs to form in cities across U.S. We are removing them fast!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2017
Criminal groups have become powerful enough to make governments and international organizations reckon with them. In 2013, Mara Salvatrucha and Mara 18 Street violent gangs reached a truce in Honduras. Then Honduran President Porfirio Lobo personally offered his support for the agreement. It was brokered by Roman Catholic Bishop Romulo Emiliani and the Organization of American States (OAS).
Nowhere in Latin America was the fight against organized crime a story of success. In Mexico, the death toll is measured in thousands and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Central America is hit by violence, with criminal gangs growing influential enough to influence political life.
According to the 2017 US intelligence report, members of nearly every major street gang have been identified on both domestic and international military installations. Although most prevalent in the Army, the Army Reserves, and the National Guard, gang activity is pervasive throughout all branches of the military and across most ranks but is most common among the junior enlisted ranks.
The extent of gang presence in the armed services is often difficult to determine since many enlisted gang members conceal their gang affiliation and military authorities may not recognize it or may be inclined not to report such incidences. This is an imminent threat to national security on US soil. The enemy is inside. It’s much more threatening than Syria, Iran, North Korea or any other country media outlets pay so much attention too.
M-13 was organized in the 1980s by members of para-military groups created and supported by the United States to fight the Sandinistas considered to be clients of the Soviet Union. Some of the MS-13 gangsters came to Los Angeles, fleeing a US-backed civil war at home. The policy backlashed. Historically, this problem was engendered by the United States itself. Every action has consequences. The solution lies in depriving the criminal groups of their source of income – the demand for drugs inside the country. The mission is a tall order for any president.
This month, a book shaking the very foundation of the US political system hit the shelves of the country’s bookstores. «Drain the Swamp: How Washington Corruption is Worse Than You Think» by Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo, was published on April 11. On its first day of publication it was already topping online bestseller lists. The book addresses corruption present in government today that Congressman Buck was not prepared for after being elected to Congress in 2014.
«Lavish parties. Committee chairmanships for sale. Pay-to-play corruption. Backroom arm-twisting. Votes on major legislation going to the highest bidder. Welcome to Washington, D.C., the swamp that President Donald Trump was elected to drain», the author writes blowing the whistle on what the US Congress is really like.
The committees are ranked with letter —A, B, or C—assigned based on how important they are deemed to be by leadership. To serve on a committee, a congressman has to raise money for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). The amount varies depending on the committee and role.
Some members of Congress spend at least half their time fundraising to keep their dues paid and campaign coffers full. To become the chair of a B committee, a lawmaker is expected to raise $875,000 a year for the NRCC. Chairing an A committee means you must raise $1.2 million. The higher is the role in the House leadership, the higher the price tag. For the House speaker, the price tag is $20 billion. When representatives don’t pay their «dues» or fall behind, they are pressured to pay up – or else.
Buck mentions names and tells incredible true stories about what really happened behind closed doors in Congress during legislative battles that have ensued over the last two years. «It is an insular process directed by power-hungry party elites who live like kings and govern like bullies», the whistleblower reports.
The book saw light against the background of the continuing investigation into the Clinton Foundation for alleged fraud. Some of the people who knew «too much» about it died under the most mysterious circumstances.
The overwhelming corruption and unbridled crime spiraling out of control undermine the national security of the country much more than overseas conflicts that have no immediate relation to the United States at all. By no stretch of imagination the conflicts in Yemen and Syria, where the US is deeply involved, threaten the foundations of American society. But the problems described above do. No cruise missile strikes and stealth aircraft will help. Perhaps the time is propitious to start distinguishing real threats from imaginary ones.