WASHINGTON – Amid news reports that Hezbollah and other hostile actors are exploiting political uncertainty in Venezuela, U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ted Cruz of Texas are raising concerns that adversaries, including known and suspected terrorists, may be able to threaten American security via the southern border. The senators are seeking a briefing from top national security and diplomatic officials regarding steps being taken to prevent threats from around the world from entering the United States.
In a letter to the secretaries of the Departments of State and Homeland Security as well as to the Acting Secretary of Defense and the Director of the FBI, Grassley and Cruz note that the Obama administration was aware of the potential for cross border threats in 2016. According to news reports, it also knew of Hezbollah’s strategic networks in Central America. In the letter, the senators are seeking a briefing on what steps the government is taking to deter known or suspected terrorists and others who pose a security threat to the homeland.
“The prospect of such bad actors in our hemisphere raises significant concerns about the safety and well-being of the American people. Should the U.S. government not address these concerns head-on, it would be an absolute abdication of our primary responsibility to provide for the common defense,” the senators wrote.
The senators are also seeking information on how the government is combatting narcoterrorism, trafficking and money laundering by Hezbollah. Further, they are requesting details on counterintelligence efforts in the region to identify, deter and mitigate operations to impede democracy in the region.
Full text of the letter from Grassley and Cruz follows.
February 19, 2019
VIA ELECTRONIC SUBMISSION
The Honorable Michael R. Pompeo
U.S. Department of State
The Honorable Kirstjen Nielsen
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
The Honorable Christopher A. Wray
Federal Bureau of Investigation
The Honorable Patrick M. Shanahan
U.S. Department of Defense
Dear Secretary Pompeo, Secretary Nielsen, Director Wray, and Acting Secretary Shanahan:
We write to you today regarding a recent interview that Secretary Pompeo gave, in which he confirmed there are active Hezbollah cells in Venezuela. This information is extremely troubling, especially given reports that nefarious elements of the Cuban, Iranian, Chinese and Russian states have also infiltrated Venezuela. We applaud the Trump Administration’s strong stance on a free and democratic Venezuela. We also appreciate the Trump Administration’s unapologetic commitment to protecting our homeland, and it is because of that commitment that we write to you.
Effective border security not only addresses the ongoing problem of illegal immigration, but also prevents the cross-border movement of Special Interest Aliens (SIAs) and known or suspected terrorists (K/STs). SIAs are a broad category of individuals who pose a security threat to our homeland. The spectrum of K/STs and SIAs located in Venezuela may include not only Hezbollah terrorists, but also agents of Cuba, Iran, Russia and China. The prospect of such bad actors in our hemisphere raises significant concerns about the safety and well-being of the American people. Should the U.S. government not address these concerns head-on, it would be an absolute abdication of our primary responsibility to provide for the common defense.
Therefore, we request a briefing as soon as possible, but no later than March 12, 2019, on the following questions:
Thank you both for your attention to this matter. Please direct any questions or follow-up correspondence to our respective staffs.
Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
Ted Cruz (R-TX)
 See Fernandez, Henry, Cuban, Hezbollah and Iranian cells drawn to embattled Venezuela: Mike Pompeo, Fox Business, Feb. 6, 2019, available at https://www.foxbusiness.com/politics/cuban-hezbollah-and-iranian-cells-drawn-to-embattled-venezuela-mike-pompeo
 See Cara Labrador, Rocio, Maduro’s Allies: Who Backs the Venezuelan Regime?, Council on Foreign Relations, Feb. 5, 2019, available at https://www.cfr.org/article/maduros-allies-who-backs-venezuelan-regime
 See Bensman, Todd, Terrorist Infiltration Threat at the Southwest Border, Center for Immigration Studies, Aug. 13, 2018, available at https://cis.org/Report/Terrorist-Infiltration-Threat-Southwest-Border
 See Meyer, Josh, The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook, POLITICO, Dec. 2017, available at https://www.politico.com/interactives/2017/obama-hezbollah-drug-trafficking-investigation/
 See Cara Labrador.
 See Department of Justice Press Release, Iraqi National Wanted for Murder in Iraq Arrested in California, Aug. 15, 2018, available at https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/iraqi-national-wanted-murder-iraq-arrested-california
 See Tharoor, Ishaan, Venezuela’s refugee exodus is the biggest crisis in the hemisphere, The Washington Post, Aug. 23, 2018, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2018/08/23/venezuelas-refugee-exodus-is-biggest-crisis-hemisphere/?utm_term=.a51d53ce1db8