The Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Peter King, asserted Wednesday that the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah may have hundreds of operatives based in the United States. He also said Hezbollah, not Al Qaida, poses the greatest terrorist threat to Americans.
King held a hearing Wednesday with former government officials testifying.
"Now, as Iran moves closer to nuclear weapons, and there is increasing concern over war between Iran and Israel, we must also focus on Iran's secret operatives and their number one terrorist proxy force, Hezbollah, which we know is in America," King said.
The Congressman said there are 84 Iranian diplomats in New York at the United Nations and in Washington, including some who are likely to be spies.
One of the witnesses to the panel, Mitchell Silber, is the New York Police Department's director of intelligence analysis. He said since 2005, New York law enforcement officers have interviewed at least 13 people with ties to Iran's government who were seen taking pictures of New York City landmarks. Police consider the activity to be pre-operational surveillance.
A Real Threat
Another witness, former FBI official Chris Swecker, agreed that Hezbollah poses a real threat.
"While al-Qaida has gained attention and notoriety with a series of sensational attacks, Hezbollah has quietly and strategically operated below the radar screen by avoiding overt terrorist attacks in the U.S.," Swecker said. "But, nevertheless, Hezbollah is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. citizens, and including 241 Marines in the bombing of the Beirut barracks" [in 1983].
A former drug enforcement official, Michael Braun, said he fears the confluence of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and global drug cartels. He said Hezbollah and members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are working with cartels.
"They are now operating and working in close proximity and collaborating with Mexican and Colombian drug trafficking cartels, not only in the Western Hemisphere, but other locations such as Guinea Bissau in West Africa," Braun said.
Several witnesses said Tehran may now be prepared to carry out proxy attacks on U.S. soil. They cited a failed plot, allegedly by Iran, to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. last October in a Washington restaurant.