In 2017, an informant for the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) inside Mexico reported that three suspected Pakistani al-Qaeda operatives were about to cross the border. The alarming report landed on my desk because I worked for DPS’s Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division, where I managed an analytical team that worked such threat matters alongside federal agencies inside the Austin-based Texas Fusion Center.
Within a few days, U.S. Border Patrol agents picked up three Pakistanis near Laredo and reported it to my team. Per usual with reports of a possible terrorist crossing, red flags zipped up the pole to the governor’s office, who wanted a full assessment — yesterday.
So I, a civilian employee of the State of Texas with a DHS-sponsored security clearance, hopped in a truck with an intelligence officer whose partnership with a local law enforcement worker like me, on U.S. soil, might surprise people. He was with the Defense Intelligence Agency, the U.S. military’s spying and analysis arm. I had been working closely already with the DIA officer for three years on terrorist-infiltration reports like this, and on other matters besides.
We drove together down to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Pearsall, Texas, about 50 miles south of San Antonio, where the Pakistanis were detained. Side by side, we took turns grilling two of the Pakistanis, with the aid of a Pashtun-speaking interpreter on the speaker phone, while the FBI took a first crack at the third one and then reworked our two after we finished.
The officer and I both agreed on the analytical result: Some Pakistani terrorists may have been en route to the U.S., but these guys surely weren’t them. My report: let’s keep looking.
But aside from any surprise people might feel that Pakistanis cross the border from Mexico, this small episode, one of many just like it, underscores a broader truth about a border security effort that is barely known to the American public, policy-makers and elected leaders: For more than 15 years, agencies of the U.S. intelligence community have been deeply involved in securing the southern border from terrorist infiltration.