The threat of attacks posed by international terrorist organizations requires a multifaceted response that includes US officials working in close coordination with their foreign counterparts to develop strategies and share sources of reliable intelligence. In point of fact, as an INS agent, I frequently worked with law enforcement agencies of other countries to combat transnational crimes, narcotics trafficking and terrorism, and frequently found that our investigations could not have gone forward without the assistance of our allies.
Clearly the administration recognizes the threats to national security and public safety posed by international terrorists. However, a recent ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) news release titled Foreign National Sentenced to 31 Months in Prison for Leadership Role in Human Smuggling Conspiracy left me frustrated and befuddled. The defendant in this case, a Pakistani national by the name of Sharafat Ali Khan, admitted that he smuggled dozens of illegal aliens into the United States, yet was permitted to plead guilty to a single count of alien smuggling.
There is, as you will see shortly, far more to his crimes then simply facilitating the uninspected entry of a significant number of illegal aliens into the United States.
To be fair, most criminal prosecutions are concluded by plea bargains, not by trials. If all cases were resolved by a trial, the judicial system on all levels would collapse in a matter of weeks. Plea bargains are commonplace and are supposed to make sense for all involved.
Sometimes defendants become cooperators who provide vital information against other members of the criminal conspiracies in which they participated so that those above them in the criminal “food chain” can be identified and evidence vital to the successful prosecution of these criminals can be gathered. In such instances the benefits to such plea bargains are generally fairly obvious.
Sometimes prosecutors decide that it is simply easier to offer a plea deal to dispose of a criminal prosecution with the expenditure of minimal resources. Trials are often time and resources consuming, making appropriate plea bargains cost-effective and therefore advantageous. However, there are times when a plea bargain is not a “bargain” for law enforcement nor for the public interest.
Plea bargains are compromises but our national security should never be compromised. Although I am reluctant to second-guess the prosecutors, today I am compelled to disagree with the the plea bargain that will set Khan free in just 31 months.
According to the ICE press release, a plea bargain agreement was reached between federal prosecutors and Khan in which he agreed to plead guilty to a single count of alien smuggling in exchange for a 31-month prison sentence. In reality, he smuggled dozens of illegal aliens into the United States.
Khan’s crimes endangered the lives of the aliens he smuggled, but, first and foremost, his crimes created a significant threat to U.S. national security and public safety. The illegal aliens he smuggled in were citizens of countries that are associated with terrorism, specifically, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. According to evidence and intelligence gathered by a group of U.S. law enforcement agencies including Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); the Joint Terrorism Task Force; FBI-Miami; and the U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), at least one of the smuggled aliens had a direct nexus to terrorism. That individual was a citizen of Afghanistan who authorities said was involved in a plot to conduct an attack in the U.S. or Canada and had family ties to members of the Taliban.
To conduct his scheme, Kahn acquired immigrant status in Brazil, the country through which he smuggled those aliens and in which he created “safe houses” along with additional holding sites in other Latin American countries. Of extreme significance is face that the Tri-Border Region of Brazil is notorious for its terror training camps. This threat is laid out in an important paper, Islamist Terrorist Threat in the Tri-Border Region, that was published by Jeffrey Fields a research associate for the Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
Furthermore, as reported by the Washington Times, when Khan stood before the federal judge to plead guilty plea to the single count of alien smuggling, Khan demonstrated the unmitigated chutzpah to ask the judge to grant him political asylum, claiming he was a “poor person.” In asking for political asylum, a request summarily dismissed by the judge, Khan was simply following the same advice he gave to the aliens he smuggled, telling them to claim political asylum if they were caught by the Border Patrol.
It is important to note that according to the Washington Times, the federal investigation disclosed that Khan smuggled at least 80 aliens into the United States between May 2014 and June 2016, charging each alien as much as $15,000 each. So much for his claim of “poverty.”
The investigation into the case also determined that the aliens smuggled by Khan’s enterprise utilized a sophisticated and highly circuitous route often linked to other smuggling rings. As the Washington Times describes,
He (Khan) would get migrants from Pakistan to Dubai and then to Brazil, where they would stage their journey north. They would travel through Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico before being reaching the U.S. border. The journey could take up to nine months and involved trekking for days through jungles in Colombia and Panama, on foot, with little water.
The U.S. was able to track the route some of them took from Brazil northward because local immigration authorities often encountered them along the way.
Like other networks, Khan relied on local smugglers to recruit clients in his target countries and ship them to Brazil. He then used other smugglers in the Americas to get the clients from Brazil to the U.S. and stashed them in safe houses along the way.
Khan, with the alias “Dr. Nakib,” used the WhatsApp smartphone application to keep in contact with his customers while they were en route. But he told them to delete the conversations when they were caught at the U.S.-Mexico border.
In some of the cases, Khan counted on lax U.S. enforcement to ensure his clients could gain a foothold. He instructed them to show up at a port of entry and turn themselves over to border agents to make claims of asylum.
Sharafat Ali Khan is 32 years old. He will spend less than three years in jail and then face deportation back to Pakistan where he can continue to use his smuggling skills to enable illegal aliens to enter surreptitiously into the United States without inspection and without detection. He will only be in his mid-30s upon his release and more than ready, willing and able to compromise U.S. national security.
I am compelled to quote the very first paragraph of the preface of the report, “9/11 and Terrorist Travel”:
It is perhaps obvious to state that terrorists cannot plan and carry out attacks in the United States if they are unable to enter the country. Yet prior to September 11, while there were efforts to enhance border security, no agency of the U.S. government thought of border security as a tool in the counterterrorism arsenal. Indeed, even after 19 hijackers demonstrated the relative ease of obtaining a U.S. visa and gaining admission into the United States, border security still is not considered a cornerstone of national security policy. We believe, for reasons we discuss in the following pages, that it must be made one.
The three key “take aways” from these foregoing facts are that our borders must be made secure, the adjudications process for immigration benefits such as political asylum is a matter of national security and that, given the particulars in the Khan case, defendants whose crimes impact national security should not be able to plea bargain away jail time that should be used to keep them from posing a threat to national security in the future.
Khan should have been charged with every possible count of alien smuggling and made to serve the sentences sequentially, not concurrently.
The punishment must fit the crime. Khan should not have been provided with plea bargain deal he was given. For criminals and terrorists, time in prison is viewed the same way a hockey player views time in the “penalty box.” Khan needed to be taken off of the “playing field” and out of action for much more time.