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Thursday, August 24, 2006

U.S. "Pleased" by Creation of South American Intelligence Center

Center at Brazil-Argentina-Paraguay border targets transnational crime

By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The United States is "pleased" by the creation of a new South American regional intelligence center designed to fight transnational crime and corruption emanating from the tri-border region of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, says the U.S. State Department.

In an August 16 statement, the department said the regional center will operate in the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguacu, on the border with Argentina and Paraguay.

A State Department official said the facility in Foz do Iguacu had been created by Brazil almost a year ago, but has expanded to become a “regional” operation when Brazil’s government offered positions in the center to the governments of Argentina and Paraguay. The regional center is an initiative of the Brazilian government, “to its credit,” the official said.

The State Department said Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and the United States comprise the "3+1 Group on Tri-border Area Security,” established in 2002 to improve the capabilities of South American nations to fight cross-border crime and thwart money laundering and potential terrorist fund-raising activities.

While the United States is not a financial sponsor of the regional facility in Foz do Iguacu, the department said it "looks forward" to working with its partners in the 3+1 security group "on many important aspects of security in the tri-border area.”

An official with the Brazilian Embassy in Washington said in an August 22 interview with the Washington File that Brazil expanded the center in order to share intelligence information with its two neighbors in South America’s “Southern Cone” region. One of the center's purposes, said the official, is to watch for any suspected terrorist activity in the tri-border region.

Enhanced anti-crime cooperation in the tri-border region is needed, as indicated by the May 11 U.S. congressional testimony of Henry Crumpton, the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism. Crumpton, discussing a State Department report on terrorism, told the House International Relations Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation that cooperation among the tri-border nations in fighting transnational crime is "uneven," but that "there is some progress."

Crumpton said the United States needs to "encourage" more cooperation among the three Southern Cone countries regarding sharing intelligence, and “we need to help them think across the board to get to where they all understand that they need to be.”

The department’s Country Reports on Terrorism, released April 28, said the governments of the three nations “have long been concerned with arms and drugs smuggling, document fraud, money laundering, and the manufacture and movement of contraband goods through this region.”

The report added that the United States remained concerned that two different terrorist groups, Hezbollah and Hamas, were raising funds among the sizable Muslim communities in the tri-border region, “although there was no corroborated information that these or other Islamic extremist groups had an operational presence in the area.”

The U.S. Library of Congress said in a July 2003 report that the three South American nations in 1996 established a “Tripartite Command of the Tri-Border” in an effort to better control commerce and a large transient international population in the region. That command was augmented in 1998 with a security agreement among the three countries to intensify their fight against terrorism, smuggling, money laundering and drug trafficking.

But the report, Terrorist and Organized Crime Groups in the Tri-Border Area of South America, said that despite this joint force, efforts by the tri-border governments to counter organized crime and terrorist groups “have been hindered by institutional problems of corruption, inadequate funding and investigative capabilities,” among other obstacles. The report (PDF, 90 pages) is available on the Library of Congress Web site.

The Western Hemisphere overview of the report on terrorism is available on the State Department Web site.

Crumpton’s testimony is available on the House subcommittee’s Web site.

For more on U.S. policy in the region, see Brazil and the Southern Cone.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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