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Blinking Red: U.S. officials heighten terror warnings amid Israel-Hamas war, border crisis

Be they existing lawmakers, intelligence officials, border authorities, or security veterans of prior administrations, the nation's leading figures on terrorism have become distinguishably of one mind about the United States' security vulnerabilities.

Published: October 31, 2023 11:00pm

Amid an unprecedented surge in illegal entries into the United States and mounting calls for a global jihad as the Israel-Hamas conflict escalates, U.S. officials are vocalizing increasingly urgent warnings that the U.S. is vulnerable to a terrorist attack.

The ongoing Israeli conflict with the Gaza-based Hamas terrorist group has threatened to spill over into neighboring nations and the myriad anti-Israel factions have called for violence, both on the middle-eastern battlefields and abroad, in retaliation for the Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip.

Be they existing lawmakers, intelligence officials, border authorities, or security veterans of prior administrations, the nation's leading figures on terrorism have become distinguishably of one mind about the United States' security vulnerabilities.

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday appeared before the Senate Homeland Security Committee and painted a bleak picture of the national security situation and even his agency's ability to prevent acts of terrorism.

"What has now increased is the greater possibility of one of these foreign terrorist organizations directing an attack in the United States," Wray said. "This is not a time for panic, but it is a time for vigilance."

Pressed by Florida GOP Sen. Rick Scott on the FBI's ability to track potential terror threats, Wray conceded that "I couldn't say that we're able to detect all individuals... the gaps in our intelligence are real and it's something that we have concerns about." 

"It is a time to be concerned. We are in a dangerous period," he said.

Wray's remarks came the same day that a group of Republican senators returned from a trip to the southern border and warned that the administration's lenient border enforcement policies were placing national security at risk.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has reported more than 7 million migrant encounters at the southwest land border since President Joe Biden took office.

In a press conference Tuesday, GOP Sens. John Barrasso, Wyo.; Ted Cruz, Texas; John Cornyn, Texas; and Pete Ricketts, Neb.; relayed both the conference of border authorities and their own fears of security risks.

"We have just returned from our southern border, and it is painfully clear that with Joe Biden's open border policy, our country is really at an increased threat for a terrorist attack," Barrasso said, pointing to the Border Patrol's recent arrest of migrants equipped with explosives that he said were "tailored for terrorism."

Cruz and Cornyn, meanwhile, pointed to the concerns of border personnel that the lax enforcement policies had undercut respect for the legal process and encouraged repeat efforts to cross the border.

"What the Border Patrol tells us... is there's no consequences associated with illegal entry in the United States," Cornyn said.

"[T]hey risk their lives catching dangerous people, and they turn around and their political superiors just let them go. And the next day, they go back and catch the same people all over again," Cruz said of the Border Patrol and related agencies.

The warnings from Wray and the GOP lawmakers represent the latest in a month-long chorus of ever-louder, ever-more-dire warnings of U.S. vulnerability since the Oct. 7 Hamas atrocities against Israel that triggered the ongoing conflict.

Last week, former FBI Assistant Director of Intelligence Kevin Brock pointed to an uptick in military-age men arriving at the southern border as a cause for concern.

"We know now that there has been an intentional surge of military-aged young males from countries that are either state sponsors of terrorism, or up to 170 of them who are on the terror watch list," he said on the "Just the News, No Noise" television show. "Those are the ones that were caught. We don't know who else might have been able to get into the country. When we have that kind of vulnerability, then the attack on Gaza becomes even more jarring."

Pointing to the raid, former Trump foreign policy adviser Walid Phares in mid-October, warned that Hamas could conceivably repeat its operation against the U.S. by exploiting the porous Mexican frontier.

"Look at the operation by Hamas into Israel: 1,000 to 3,000 Hamas operatives,"  he said on the John Solomon Reports podcast. "Look what they've done. Now you can imagine numerically, that there are tens of thousands of potential jihadist, Hamas and radicals who are now within the United States. This is the most scariest projection that one would think of."

"We have a movement crossing through the Rio Grande without any control or without any vetting," he added. "It's not that we know that one thousand jihadists are in. We don't even know how many they are. We just know the numbers of the illegal migrants who are going in but we don't know  who's in."

At least some elements of the border security apparatus appeared acutely aware of the potential threats in the near-immediate aftermath of the raid.

Days after Phares's remarks, reports emerged that the San Diego field office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection had distributed a document warning of the prospect that Hamas or similar terrorists might attempt to cross the southern border.

”San Diego Field Office Intelligence Unit (SDFO-FITU) assesses that individuals inspired by, or reacting to, the current Israel-Hamas conflict may attempt travel to or from the area of hostilities in the Middle East via circuitous transit across the Southwest border," the document read. "Foreign fighters motivated by ideology or mercenary soldiers of fortune may attempt to obfuscate travel to or from the US to or from countries in the Middle East through Mexico."

The CBP document also included known iconography linked to Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group. The Lebanon-based Hezbollah, in particular, has long conducted operations in the Western Hemisphere.

"[W]e know Hezbollah has been active in Latin America; they've carried out attacks against Jewish targets in Argentina, for example,"  former Trump Deputy National Security Advisor Victoria Coates said on the Just the News, No Noise television show just days after the raid. "So they're here. And the notion that they haven't tried to cross the border in the last two and a half years, is pretty disingenuous."

Another Trump administration veteran, former National Security Council chief of staff Fred Fleitz, echoed that sentiment on the same program.

"I'm very worried that our southern border hasn't been defended, because we have to assume that Hamas has sent fighters into the U.S.," he said

"I think it's a severe security threat... there are so many gotaways. And I think if... members of a foreign intelligence service or a terrorist organization decided to infiltrate the border, they would know how not to be caught," he added.

Ben Whedon is an editor and reporter for Just the News. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter.

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