Ever since Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad struck a deal with Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez for weekly air service between the nations' capitals, American officials have worried that Iranian-backed terrorists could reach to the rim of Latin America, pick up fake Venezuelan passports and sneak into the United States.It's estimated that more than 59,000 non-Mexicans hopped the border into the U.S. in 2010. Of those, 11 were identified as Iranians.
Now, with growing talk of a pre-emptive Israeli attack to slow Iran's suspected nuclear arms program, Iran has threatened that it would retaliate across the globe. And its easy access to the Western Hemisphere has the U.S. particularly concerned.
The commercial service between Tehran and Caracas by Iran Air and Conviasa Air Venezuela, including a stop in Damascus, Syria, is so secretive that there's confusion among intelligence agencies about whether the flights are continuing. Israel believes they are; the U.S. isn't so sure.
Nevertheless, American fears are elevated.
"Some Iranian officials - probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei - have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime," James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, warned the Senate Intelligence Committee in his latest threat assessment.
If that attack comes, experts see it being staged by Iranian operatives who have entered the U.S. through Latin America.