WASHINGTON -- The FBI's counterterrorism unit has launched a broad investigation of US-based theft rings after discovering that some of the vehicles used in deadly car bombings in Iraq, including attacks that killed US troops and Iraqi civilians, were probably stolen in the United States, according to senior government officials.First off we can kill the meme of: Islamic terrorists not cooperating with non-Islamic groups. Doornail time for that.
Inspector John E. Lewis, deputy assistant director of the FBI for counterterrorism, told the Globe that the investigation hasn't yielded any evidence that the vehicles were stolen specifically for car bombings. But there is evidence, he said, that the cars were smuggled from the United States as part of a widespread criminal network that includes terrorists and insurgents.
Cracking the car theft rings and tracing the cars could help identify the leaders of insurgent forces in Iraq and shut down at least one of the means they use to attack the US-led coalition and the Iraqi government, the officials said.
The inquiry began after coalition troops raided a bomb-making factory in Fallujah last November and found a sport utility vehicle registered in Texas that was being prepared for a bombing mission.
But Lewis said the origins of the vehicles in question were unearthed by tracing the vehicle identification numbers, or VINs -- a standard production marker stamped on during manufacture -- as well as through other forensic tools such as auto parts. Some of the automobiles can be easily identified, specialists said, while others have had their VINs ground down or have been fitted with fake ones.
Investigators believe the cars were stolen by local car thieves in US cities, then smuggled to waiting ships at ports in Los Angeles, Seattle, and Houston, among other cities. From there they are shipped to black-market dealers all over the world, including in places like Syria where foreign militants fighting in Iraq are thought to be transiting from countries across the region and where they gain critical logistical support.
''It is getting a tremendous amount of attention in the US government," said Steven Emerson, who runs the Investigative Project on Terrorism, a Washington research firm that consults for law enforcement and intelligence agencies. ''We have gotten more calls on this than anything else in the last three or four weeks. [Auto theft] is an unregulated market. Some of the proceeds are going to terrorists."
Citing recent discussions with government investigators, Emerson said Al Qaeda terrorists suspected in suicide attacks in Saudi Arabia in recent years also apparently used cars stolen in the United States.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 1 million cars were stolen from US streets in 2003, the most recent statistics available. Government officials think the vehicles insurgents use were stolen from locations as varied as Virginia, Maryland, Texas, and Florida. Arizona reported more than 56,000 vehicles stolen last year, the largest per-capita number of thefts in the country.
Terrorism specialists think Iraqi insurgents prefer American stolen cars because they tend to be larger, blend in more easily with the convoys of US government and private contractors, and are harder to identify as stolen.
The new disclosures are part of a pattern, according to government officials. US law enforcement and intelligence agencies are increasingly finding links between violent Islamic extremists groups and vast criminal enterprises such as drug trafficking, weapons smuggling, and car theft.
Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government has cut off some of the terrorists' access to money, including freezing bank accounts of suspect groups and individuals and pressuring Middle Eastern governments to terminate aid. But terrorist operatives have found other means to raise cash, acquire weapons, or gain other logistical help. Facing greater scrutiny, terrorist groups are increasingly using illegal, highly lucrative business arrangements to support their operations, according to the FBI and other law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
Investigators say the criminal activities that terrorists use to raise money run the gamut from creating and selling fake documents to insurance fraud. Taliban and Al Qaeda followers are thought to be heavily involved in the expanding heroin trade in Afghanistan, and a US-based cigarette smuggling ring was linked to Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.
James G. Conway, Jr., legal attache at the US Embassy in Mexico City, told the Globe that ''where you find terrorists you often find some kind of criminal activity."
Car theft, a criminal enterprise that costs US citizens more than $8 billion a year, now seems to have become a new enterprise for some terrorist groups, according to the law enforcement officials and private specialists.
''The car bomb is the top weapon in the world for carrying out terrorist attacks," said Lieutenant Greg Terp, commander of the Miami-Dade Police Department's Auto Theft Task Force. ''These car thieves don't necessarily know that they are financing terrorism, but they might."
Tracing the path of these vehicles from the streets of America to the local ''chop shop" -- where criminal wholesalers process stolen vehicles -- and then on to the black market half a world away could help thwart a terrorist network that has wrought some of the worst violence against US troops and thousands of Iraqi civilians.
''They want to follow it through the whole process so they can identify as many people in the process as they can," Terp said. ''As you go back to the chop shop guy, he may not know the end user is some terrorist, but who are his contacts?"
Also seen is this article from TMCnet on a Pakistani driver caught with a stolen vehicle in Kuwait and he identified 3 Syrians as his point of contacts for arranging this trade of vehicles to Iraq, and was selling the vehicles at 1/2 market prices. (Again H/t to Gateway Pundit)
Now, as TMCnet is a new source for me, let me check out a few things... starting with smuggling. Can't tell the reliability of the source unless you know some of their reporting. So here it goes,:
31 AUG 2006 - AZERI SPECIAL SERVICES DETAIN MEMBERS OF DRUG SMUGGLING RINGAnd a report on cigarette smuggling in Vietnam and warning kids not to engage in the trade and other illicit activities from the Saigon Times, 31 AUG 2006. So far, pretty mundane stuff... and then you get THIS:
The Azeri National Security Ministry has neutralized a criminal group involved in smuggling drugs from Iran to Georgia and Russian via Azerbaijan.
Three residents of the Jalilabad district of Azerbaijan and the city of Ganja took drugs from two Iranians at the Azeri-Iranian border, a statement by the ministry's press service says. Employees of the National Security Ministry detained one of the members of the group in the Jalilabad district as he attempted to deliver drugs to other group members. Other members of the group were detained later. [Source: Interfax]
24 AUG 2006 - (The Jakarta Post Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) from THE JAKARTA POST -- THURSDAY, AUGUST 24, 2006 -- PAGE 9 Police have arrested two men for allegedly using cybertechnology to support terror attacks in Indonesia
IT and Cyber Crime Unit chief Sr. Comr. Petrus Reinhard Golose said Wednesday that the two men were Mohammad Agung Prabowo, 23, and Agung Setyadi, 31. They were detained separately earlier this month in Semarang, Central Java.
Police arrested 23-year old Prabowo, also known as Max Fiderman among hacker circles, on Aug. 12. He allegedly helped register a website, www.anshar.net, with UK-based hosting site www.openhosting.co.uk and German site www.joker.com late last year, said Golose
He added that the www.anshar.net website had been designed by Abdul Azis between June and August of last year. Abdul is currently on trial in Bali. He's accused of creating the site for Noordin M. Top, the alleged mastermind of several bombings in Indonesia, including the Bali I and II bombings
The website was used to deliver information related to their operations
The information included tips on how to carry out attacks in public places during traffic jams and backups at freeway interchanges or shopping malls and hotels. Some of the specific public places mentioned as possible locations for attacks were the Planet Hollywood restaurant, the Jakarta Convention Center, and Senayan Golf Driving Range, all in South Jakarta, and Ancol Recreation Park in North Jakarta
Police arrested the other suspect, Agung Setyadi, on Aug. 16 in Semarang, Central Java. Setyadi is accused of smuggling a laptop to Imam Samudera while he was detained in Krobokan prison in Denpasar, Bali, after being sentenced to death for his role in the 2002 Bali bombing
"Setyadi used a delivery service to send the laptop to the address of an official at the Krobokan prison, who then forwarded it to Imam," said Golose
He said Imam used the laptop to communicate with Setyadi and other militants about how to use the Internet to carry out credit card fraud to fund terror attacks, before he was moved to the high-security Nusa Kembangan prison in October following the second Bali bombing on Oct. 1, 2005
Imam also allegedly engaged in intense communication with unidentified people before the second Bali attack, but police have yet to find evidence he was in contact with anyone directly involved in that bombing, added Golose
The police said they seized a laptop along with its warranty card from the suspected terrorists, as well as two cell phones, three Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards, one flash disk, one Bluetooth USB, two hard disks, six CDs, one CD box, two bank books, and several documents released by Osama bin Laden, plus his picture and a photograph of Setyadi
Copyright 2006 The Jakarta Post
31 AUG 2006 - (The Saigon Times Daily Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) (SGT-HCMC) The HCMC Peoples Court yesterday opened the first-instance hearing of the criminal case against a ring that had smuggled nearly 18,000 mobile phones.
This is the second biggest ever cell-phone smuggling ring uncovered in Vietnam. The court adjourns for consideration and sentencing this Friday.
The uncovering of Dong Nam Co.s smuggling operation is the largest to date, with some 16,682 mobile phones valued at VND52.2 billion (US$3.3 million) revealed, entailing tax avoidance of more than US$6.5 million from import tariffs between 1999 and 2002. The ringleader, Nguyen Gia Thieu has already been sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.
Copyright 2006 The Saigon Times Daily. Source: Financial Times Information Limited - Asia Intelligence Wire.
31 AUG 2006 - Mitutoyo exported 10,000 devices since 1995, most of them illegally+Now THAT is a major piece of news! Here we have Japanese manufacturing filtering through the AQ Khan network to Libya, North Korea and Iran. Malaysia as a way station for this sort of thing was cited by officials earlier, but this report implicates them and Dubai as trans-ship points for WMD equipment to prohibited Nations.
(Japan Economic Newswire Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) TOKYO, Aug. 31_(Kyodo) _ Mitutoyo Corp., a precision instrument maker at the center of an export scam linked to weapons of mass destruction, has exported some 10,000 precision measuring devices, most of them illegally, since around 1995, investigative sources said Thursday.
The Metropolitan Police Department's Public Safety Division is investigating the possibility that some of these instruments were exported to North Korea and other nations suspected of developing nuclear weapons via a nuclear black market formerly run by Pakistani nuclear physicist Abdul Qadeer Khan, the sources said.
In addition, the police are investigating suspicions that a Mitutoyo-made precision measuring machine of a different type from the firm's three-dimensional measuring machine that went to Libya via Khan's smuggling network was exported to an Iranian firm suspected of links to Iran's nuclear development program, they said.
On Aug. 25, the police arrested Mitutoyo Vice Chairman Norio Takatsuji, President Kazusaku Tezuka, and three other executives on suspicion of illegally exporting two high-tech measuring devices convertible for use in the manufacture of nuclear weapons to Malaysia in 2001.
One of the two 3-D measuring machines was found in a nuclear research facility in Libya by International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors during their 2003-2004 checks.
The machines can be used to make centrifuge machines to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons by determining their dimensions and minimizing shape distortions with high accuracy. Their export is subject to restrictions under the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Law and the Export Trade Control Ordinance.
The police found that Mitutoyo's two other precision measuring instruments -- a form tracer for measuring the roughness of the surface of products and a roundness tester -- were handed over to Scomi Precision Engineering Sdn. Bhd. of Malaysia, suspected of being at the core of Khan's network, the sources said.
The police are investigating fresh suspicions that the two devices were exported to Libya as a "three-item set" with one of Mitutoyo's two 3-D measuring machines, which had been found to have been shipped via Dubai to Libya on an Iranian-registered vessel, they said.
The sources knowledgeable about investigations at the Public Safety Division said the Mitutoyo management decided to expand exports in the first half of the 1990s when its sales dived.
Then its project team developed computer software to make its precision measuring machines appear less accurate than they are to bypass Japan's export regulations on high-tech products convertible for the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction, the sources said.
Although some Mitutoyo employees alerted the management to the illegality of exporting high-performance machines using the software, referred to with an in-house code name of "COCOM," Takatsuji and others silenced the critics, telling them such exports have been decided as "a company policy," they said.
In addition to disguising the precision machines as devices with lower capabilities than they actually have, Mitutoyo filed export permit applications with customs, in which they falsely said their overseas arms were the final destinations of the machines to bypass the regulations on exports to countries and firms suspected of developing weapons of mass destruction, they said.
Mitutoyo, based in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, is a leading maker of high-tech precision measuring machines and runs a network of subsidiaries, research institutes and factories in more than 20 countries, including the United States, Europe and Asia.
Takatsuji and Tezuka acknowledged the allegations related to the exports to Malaysia for which they had been arrested, informed sources said, adding the two executives have denied that the management ordered employees to bypass the export regulations.
But a senior official at the Public Safety Division said they believe the management issued such orders, adding Mitutoyo "has placed priority on just boosting sales and I cannot find any sense of ethics in them as a company."
Copyright 2006 Kyodo News International, Inc.
And I haven't even GOTTEN off of page 1 on the smuggling links!
Now that, too, is fascinating. Peru having an expansionist drug trade via legitimate businessmen turning criminal for added profit. Previous to that is this 29 AUG 2006 regional profile of the Caribbean and, yes, drug smuggling of cocaine.30 AUG 2006 -This one is way too lengthy, but it involves a Peruvian druglord known as "The Dutchman" who was just busted. Mainly involved with the South American to Europe drug trade and apparently competing directly, in a head-to-head manner with Columbian and Mexican drug cartels. The individual in question, Ment Dijkhuizen Cceres, had been using food exports, mainly canned goods, as a means to smuggle cocain and other drugs out of Peru and to Europe. The Peruvian Prosecutor's Office said that this was 'only the tip of the iceberg' and it is possible that this drug lord had been moving hundreds of tons per month within the legitimate shipping containers of his business:""The Dutchman" reinvested part of his profits in new agro-export companies, and in improving the ones he already owned in order to maintain the appearance of a successful legal business, the investigations revealed.
Anti-drug police found that he had set up a network of front men, led by his lawyer, Eduardo Gallardo, who according to police and judicial investigations had organized such a complex and entangled money-laundering system that only part of it has been unravelled.
Gallardo had 20 powers of attorney to conduct transactions all over the world in the name of foreign ghost companies registered in the U.S. state of Florida, the Dutch island of Aruba and Panama in Central America."
It is believed that he is not the only one: "On July 24, anti-drug authorities in Nigeria discovered 16.3 tons of cocaine hidden in bags of white cement, in a container that originated in Peru. Four days later, police in Vancouver, Canada, seized 1.1 tons of cocaine from an organization led by Daniel Fernando Ledesma, a Peruvian. "
29 AUG 2006 - Tobacco smuggling in Uganda, also in Ghana.
30 AUG 2006 - L-3 Communications unveils new cargo containers with security features to help thwart smuggling of all sorts from goods to people.
28 AUG 2006 - Raytheon announces Advanced Spectroscopic Portal system that allows it to view inside trucks and cars. Probably not x-rays, folks... terahertz imaging is my first guess...
24 AUG 2006 - A look at Columbia's economy. An interesting statistic is that 5% of its productive agricultural land is used for illegal drug growing and the return to the economy is 2 to 2.5% of its GDP.
I left out of this the rampant, across-the-board smuggling problems in the Philippines, the US illegal immigrant problem and oil smuggling across parts of Asia, like Bangladesh.
So vehicle smuggling is a side-light to terrorism. A bit of a refined search doesn't get much:
13 MAR 2006 - Individual in Brunei doing auto parts smuggling.
So the side-track into TMCnet gains them a place in my regular visiting list for awhile.
A bit more on Iraq gets this tidbit from WorldNetDaily 22 JAN 2005:
Elite Iranian agent arrested in IraqAgain, Iran involved in operations in support and funding of insurgents in Iraq.
Admits smuggling insurgents, weapons through border
An agent of Iran's prestigious Jerusalem Force was arrested in Iraq carrying money and planning attacks against U.S. troops, sources said.
U.S. Coalition forces arrested members of an underground armed group operating in Iraq's eastern Diyala province Thursday. Among them was a senior member of the Jerusalem Force carrying $150,000 in cash, said the sources.
The arrests follow the confession earlier this week of Col. Muayed Al-Nasseri, an insurgent leader and former head of Saddam Hussein's "Army of Muhammad," who told U.S. interrogators Iran was the principle financer of the insurgency in Iraq.
Al-Nasseri's confession was broadcast on an Iraqi television station operating from the United Arab Emirates, Al-Fayhaa TV, and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute.
"Many factions of the resistance are receiving aid from the neighboring countries," Al-Nasseri said. "We in the Army of Muhammad – the fighting has been going on for almost two years now, and there must be aid, and this aid came from the neighboring countries. We got aid primarily from Iran. The truth is that Iran has played a significant role in supporting the Army of Muhammad and many factions of the resistance. I have some units, especially in southern Iraq, which receive Iranian aid in the form of arms and equipment."
Al-Nasseri also said another resistance group actually traveled to Iran to pick up arms and cash and to meet with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: "As for other factions of the resistance, I have reliable information regarding the National Islamic resistance, which is one of the factions of resistance, led by Colonel 'Asi Al Hadithi. He sent a delegation to Iran from among the people of the faction, including General Halaf and General Khdayyer. They were sent to Iran in April or May and met with Iranian intelligence and with a number of Iranian leaders and even with Khamenei."
Al-Nasseri said the group picked up $1 million and two cars full of weapons.
They still have a very close relationship with Iran," he said. "They receive money, cars, weapons and many things. According to my information, they even got car bombs."
15 APR 2006 Washington Post article on an oil smuggling ring in Iraq shipping oil to Syria.
So that winds it up for car smuggling: it is happening via criminal rings and not much is being said about it on a global scale. Connections via the internetworking of Transnational Terrorists and international criminal organizations is happening, and looks to be starting as local operations here and there. Unknown is if there is a direct order-link or 'once-removed' linkage between al Qaeda and US car theft rings. That is still in doubt.
What is not in doubt is that the AQ Khan ring had a Japanese manufacturer, Mitutoyo, looking to expand its profit margin via illegal equipment sales through Malaysia and Dubai. And they often used Iranians for shipment to final destinations, which gives that extra 'value added' to the Iranian nuclear program.