Other Than Mexicans

Are terrorists entering the United States through Arizona's border with Mexico? This question is getting a lot of media attention--so we sent Leo W. Banks to the border to find out what the buzz is all about.

Al-Qaeda is coming! ... Al-Qaeda is coming!

It sounds like a Carl Reiner movie. It could be a real scream.

Remember The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!? The 1966 comedy was about a Russian sub that grounded off the coast of New England, and all the goofy characters who showed up to have a look.

You could film the modern version along the Arizona-Mexico border today, because some observers believe al-Qaeda really is coming.

It brings a chill to think these quasi-human Islamo-Facists could be in our midst in Southern Arizona, even for a short time, as they make their way to assigned stations around the country.

You head down to the Arizona-Mexico line to learn what's happening, and what you see and hear is funnier than anything Carl Reiner could dream up.

First, a cautionary note: For those not inclined to find any of this humorous, you're absolutely right. It isn't. But you'll laugh anyway, because the situation along our southern border is too serious and too preposterous to do anything else.

It's been a summer of media whispers that keep getting louder.

· In early August, the Washington Times reported that al-Qaeda is allying with Mexican organized crime groups to infiltrate the United States via Mexico.

· In late July, ABC News reported that the Border Patrol had arrested a woman named Farida Goolam Mohamed Ahmed. The arrest was made at McAllen-Miller airport in South Texas, where Ahmed was attempting to board a flight to New York. She acknowledged that smugglers brought her across the Rio Grande from Mexico; the FBI declared Ahmed a "person of interest."

· Congressman Solomon Ortiz, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, was quoted in the Brownsville Herald as saying that Mexicans with possible terrorist ties have been detained after entering the country from Mexico, but are being released for lack of jail space. "It's very, very scary," said Ortiz.

· On Los Angeles radio station KFI AM's John and Ken Show, Congressman John Culberson, a Texas Republican, said federal prosecutors had told him that Middle Eastern men with al-Qaeda links are adopting Hispanic names, acquiring fake Mexican ID cards and mixing with the stream of illegals coming across our southern border. They're choosing this route, he said, because the screening process for incoming airline passengers is increasingly effective.

· The Chicago Tribune recently reported on the arrest of Salim Boughader Mucharrafille, a Tijuana, Mexico café owner, on charges of smuggling Arabs into this country. The Tribune wrote that the case set off alarm bells among U.S. security officials, because it illustrated the vulnerability of the U.S.-Mexico border.

· Two Arab men, Ali Safia and Can Azif--whose names scored hits on U.S. watch lists--arrived in Mexico City in the winter of 2003 on one-way tickets from Europe, reported the Dallas Morning News. While in Europe, they also had purchased one-way tickets for a flight from the western Mexican city of Culiacan to Los Angeles. The pair failed to show up for the flight and have not been seen since, the paper said.

· In mid-August, the Arizona Daily Star reported that officials had issued an alert for al-Qaeda cell leader Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, who they thought might cross from Mexico into the United States through Arizona or Texas. Two days later, the alert was jerked back. Maybe he's not coming after all, but Shukrijumah is still missing. A reward of up to $5 million is out for his capture.

You can't help but hear the chatter. You try to keep it in perspective; all of it could be meaningless.

But it still brings a shudder.

Down on the border, where folks live with hordes of sometimes-aggressive intruders every day, they're accustomed to shuddering.

"I've been saying for a long time that in your next Sept. 11 hit, you're gonna find out how many of them came across this border right here," says Gary McBride, a rancher who lives 35 miles north of Douglas. "I feel like I'm living in a big ol' train station, and here comes one train, and here comes another, and here comes another, and they just never stop, people from every country you could name. Nothing has changed since Sept. 11. If anything, it's worse. It's a goddamn three-ring circus down here."

Are terrorists part of the circus? Impossible to confirm. Middle Easterners? Yes. Nationals from terrorist-inclined countries? Yes.

First, a quick analysis of the numbers: Everyone knows that the vast majority of those arrested are Mexicans. In the first nine months of fiscal year 2004 (September-June), for example, the Border Patrol's Tucson sector and the Arizona office of the Yuma sector apprehended 438,519 illegals from Mexico.

But what about numbers for what are known as OTMs--other than Mexicans?

For national security reasons, the Border Patrol won't release a country-by-country breakdown of illegals they arrest. But a top agency source provided the Weekly with such a breakdown. It includes countries the government considers likely to breed terrorists; the latest list, as of July 8, 2003, includes 32 nations--from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan, Yemen and Qatar, to Algeria, Somalia and Malaysia. When the Border Patrol arrests nationals from these countries--known as SIAs, special interest aliens--they're turned over to the FBI.

How many SIAs have been arrested in the Tucson sector and the Arizona office of the Yuma sector in the first nine months of fiscal 2004? Answer: 11. They came from Egypt (1); Eritrea (2); Indonesia (2); Iraq (1); Lebanon (2); Pakistan (2); and the Philippines (1).

For fiscal 2003? Answer: 13. They came from Afghanistan (1); Eritrea (1); Indonesia (2); Iran (1); Iraq (1); Malaysia (1); Philippines (2); Qatar (2); Somalia (1); and Yemen (1). But that total of 13 for 2003 doesn't include nationals from six countries that were dropped from the danger list as of July 8, 2003.

Factoring in nationals from those dropped countries, the apprehension number for the first nine months of fiscal 2003 jumps to 1,738. Remember, these arrested nationals were from countries that were on the danger list during that nine-month period ending in June.

Here's the 2003 breakdown for those six countries: Brazil (1,709); Argentina (17); Venezuela (8); Uruguay (2); Panama and Paraguay (0).

The corresponding numbers for fiscal 2002 are 28 and 702, the bulk of the latter again coming from Brazil.

After all that, a depressing caution about Border Patrol apprehension numbers: They're almost meaningless. The number caught isn't important; the number of "gotaways"--those who weren't caught--is, and nobody, in government or anywhere else, has any idea how many of those exist. But it's always greater than the number arrested, sometimes much greater.

That leaves a lot of illegals from high-risk countries on the loose in our country.

As for Arabs specifically, border residents don't need statistics to know they're sneaking across the line. The evidence lies on the ground.

A year ago, rancher Jim Pyeatt's grandson found a Spanish-Arab dictionary in his pasture; Pyeatt's spread sits outside Fort Huachuca's west gate. Two months ago, an illegal knocked at his door asking to use the phone. When Pyeatt called the operator, he learned it was a toll call--to Libya. Walter and May Kolbe of Hereford found a backpack hooked to the barbed wire fence behind their house; it contained a diary written mostly in Arabic. Between 1999 and 2001, three Muslim prayer rugs were found around Douglas, according to area activist Larry Vance. He still has one of them, found in an airline-style carrying case. Also inside was a pair of fine men's slacks and dress shoes with the backs removed, making it easy to kick them off before kneeling for prayer.

Vance runs a company called Border Observation Photography. He sits on hills overlooking the border and videotapes what he sees. He's sold tapes to CNN, Fox and ABC. You want to see hundreds of illegals walking unmolested into the country? He's got it. You want to see Border Patrol agents processing a captured group? Just slip in the tape and grab a bag of chips. Vance even has video of what he claims are Mexican Army troops, in uniform, stealing from a group of illegals just south of the border.

For Ben Anderson, finding prayer rugs and other such items means nothing.

"The illegals with prayer rugs pay $1,500-$2,000 to get across," he says. "These aren't the terrorists. The terrorists, al-Qaeda and others, pay between $30,000 and $50,000, and you'll never know they were here. It's very hard to catch someone of that caliber.

"Your first hint will be some big explosion, then the lights will go on in people's heads. Aha, they came up through here. Cochise country is the Arab-terrorist corridor."

Anderson spent 30 years in the Army, retiring as a colonel. In Vietnam, he commanded two rifle companies with the American division, winning numerous medals, including two purple hearts and two silver stars. He has three master's degrees, has worked in Egypt and at the Pentagon, and has taught at West Point. Anderson publishes an online political newsletter called the Anderson Report. He bases his certainty that al-Qaeda is infiltrating Arizona on anonymous sources in Washington and elsewhere around the world.

"It's nothing we can lay out in black and white for several reasons," Anderson says. "It's very hard to document, because the sources don't want to lose their jobs. And they will. But it's been going on a long time. Tucson is a staging area, and people have been trying to make believe it isn't happening. Nobody is going to give you confirmation. The U.S. government sure won't. But I know it's happening."

Not so, says Border Patrol spokesperson Andrea Zortman. "We realize individuals in the community are scared that terrorists have jumped the border. But the Border Patrol is part of a large intelligence network, and if this were happening, we'd know about it."

A series of roads and trails snake back from the border on the west side of State Route 191. They rise into the hills, going south to north across Davis Road and High Lonesome Road, through Gleeson and north toward Pearce/Sunsites. The residents along the route call it "Arab Road."

So does Tom Tancredo, a Republican Congressman from Colorado. He's a loud conservative voice against illegal immigration, who has visited Arizona several times.

The Border Patrol's Zortman says she's never heard of Arab Road.

Rev. Robin Hoover, president of Humane Borders, finds Anderson's arguments about al-Qaeda way overblown.

"Ben Anderson is a retired military person with no standing in the government. It's all hearsay. There's no data to support the argument. It's fear-mongering." For the same reason, Hoover also blasts KVOA-TV for its report on the subject, aired Aug. 13.

Humane Borders puts water in the desert for illegals to drink in their walks north. When they encounter a group, Hoover's people don't call the Border Patrol unless the illegals ask them to. He says it isn't their job to enforce immigration law. But with these water stations, isn't he aiding and abetting people in breaking the law?

"That's the most loaded question on the face of the Earth," Hoover says. "We're not aiding and abetting any activity. We're putting out passive, humanitarian assistance. The argument that we're making it easier for someone to get into the U.S. is the most bogus and fatuous logic I've heard." (He gets angry, and says no reporter has ever asked these questions before.)

Isn't it possible he could be giving water to a terrorist?

"Yes, it's theoretically possible," Hoover says. "But it has nothing to do with aiding and abetting. By that same logic, Interstate 19 is aiding and abetting, because people might use the highway to get up here. Should we tear it up? Are we going to move Miami because Haitians might use the lights at night to get ashore?"

Hoover believes that these questions are outrageous; on the subject of al-Qaeda members coming across the boarder he says, "Anything is possible. Martians could be landing tomorrow."

Retired Border Patrol supervisor Dave Stoddard, who lives five miles from the border, says water stations endanger more lives than they save.

"The coyotes brief these illegals, telling them, 'Don't worry; you'll find water stations and friendly gringos who'll take care of you.' The illegals know they're about to do something very dangerous, and the coyotes use those water stations to allay their fears of dying in the desert.

"By doing that, these so-called good Samaritans are putting human lives at risk, because the odds of finding a water station are pretty minimal."

Humane Borders has 53 water stations; the Arizona-Mexico border is roughly 350 miles long.

Rumors fly around border country like birds. There's one about the Middle Easterners spotted in Bisbee. Another has 20 Pakistanis getting arrested in a rancher's backyard in Rucker Canyon.

July 22: The Tombstone Tumbleweed gets tongues wagging with a report on the Border Patrol's capture of 53 Middle-Eastern males in the Chiricahua Mountain foothills. The Tumbleweed's sources: anonymous Border Patrol agents.

The paper's owner, Chris Simcox, runs the Civil Homeland Defense Group. They stake out smuggling trails and call the Border Patrol when they encounter illegals. In 22 months, Simcox claims his group has turned more than 3,400 illegals over to authorities. He says most of his members carry guns, but that their policy is only to report and retreat.

"We've never un-holstered a weapon, even though we've had a knife pulled on us and been shot at three times," Simcox says.

Eight days after the June 13 arrest, the Tumbleweed reports that 24 additional Arab-speaking males were stopped east of Pearce/Sunsites. But half of them took off, sprinting safely into the United States.

On the first arrest, the agent tells the Tumbleweed he isn't even allowed to finish his paperwork on the Middle Easterners before they're spirited into the hands of the FBI and disappear. The story makes a splash in border country, and beyond. Simcox gets calls from Fox and ABC wanting him to set up interviews with the anonymous agents. The TV people are willing to go covert--muffled voices, shadowy figures. Simcox says the agents fear for their jobs and are leery of talking. He's still working on them.

But don't bet on seeing those interviews any time soon. The Border Patrol's Zortman "guarantees" that everyone arrested in those busts was Mexican. Saying additional sources have come forward to confirm what he published, Simcox stands behind the story.

The Tumbleweed's coverage of this issue has brought Simcox a lot of attention. He gets interviewed on national radio shows; reporters seek him out. He says he even turned down a Hollywood screenwriter's offer of $150,000 to make a movie about his life.

When asked for the screenwriter's name and number, Simcox says he'll try to find it, but never calls back.

Jerry Sanders doubted the Tumbleweed, too. His ranch was alluded to in the story, and he was one of Simcox's sources.

"That ol' boy made himself a good story," says Sanders.

Illegals usually steer clear of the Sanders ranch. Instead of illegals, he's got Johnny Ringo fanatics tramping over his property.

Ringo was a bad guy around Tombstone in the Wyatt Earp-era, who rode with the anti-Earp cowboys and committed suicide--or was assassinated by Wyatt, depending on your pet theory--in July 1882. Ringo's grave, a pile of boulders and a little white headstone, sits in Sanders' backyard. Every year, 1,000-2,000 people come to visit Ringo. A military officer from Fort Huachuca once landed a helicopter nearby and jumped out to inspect the site; a dying, 17-year-old girl came with her mom, stretched out on the grave and told Ringo she'd be with him soon; and Sanders expects 50 people on Sept. 4 for a steak fry at the grave.

Sanders' mom, Ethel, lives with him. She's 92 years old, sweet as pie and tough as nails. But she's had it with this Ringo stuff.

"I hope the rattlesnakes bite 'em," Ethel says.

Sanders is sitting in his easy chair, blowing cigarette smoke at the ceiling.

"Sometimes, they just walk in on us," he says. "They come from all over--England, the Netherlands."

Ringo's cowboy gang made money stealing cattle in Mexico, and smuggling them into Southern Arizona to sell to ranchers. Nothing ever changes on the border.

You drive on a dirt road into Rucker Canyon to check out the Pakistani rumor.

It's beautiful country--stalwart mountains frame the horizon; hawks soar. You can't dream of a bluer sky over postcard desert.

A dust billow rises above the road ahead. A pickup truck approaches. You flag it. Two men in ranch clothes speed past, mash the brakes and back up. They lean over to listen.

You repeat the rumor. They shake their heads grimly. They're not what you'd call gabby.

You try the same question different ways. You get a few syllables back, nothing more. Something's off here. These guys act like they have cottonmouth.

You keep pressing. The driver, realizing you're not going away, gets a loopy grin. "We're undercover agents," he says, "U.S. Customs."


The rumor turns out to be baloney.

As the day lengthens, you drive by the Customs guys a couple more times. You grin and wave. They don't wave back.

You never know what you'll find on border roads and trails. Anna Magoffin, a rancher near Douglas, found cans of Russian food on her property. McBride came across a Guatemalan Air Force pilot, part of a larger group stopped by Border Patrol. The pilot still wore his dog tags. Rancher Tommy Kuykendall came upon a Border Patrol agent detaining a group of 30 illegals, which included a handsome, clean-cut fellow, probably college educated, wearing designer glasses that had to run $300-$400. Tommy thought he might be Middle Eastern.

"I kept watching him," Tommy said, "and he was watching me just as hard. I pointed him out to the agent, and the agent said, 'Yeah, I see him.'"

Tommy says he asked, "What is he?," and that the agent had shrugged, and said, "I'll be damned if I know what he is."

You hear that kind of conversation on Star Trek reruns.

Later, Tommy asked about the man, and the agent said he was Mexican.

"That guy was no more Mexican than I am," Tommy scoffed. "Even if he was Middle Eastern, the Border Patrol would never admit that to ranchers."

To show how easy it is, two members of Glenn Spencer's private group, American Border Patrol, smuggle a simulated WMD across the border into Arizona near Sierra Vista. In a backpack.

It makes good summer story for the media, but they don't cover the postscript.

After the story appears, a producer for ABC's Nightline calls Spencer. He wants to shoot a story on the WMD stunt. So the two men begin a bizarre negotiation. The producer ups the ante, saying he'd be "impressed" if ABP could bring the WMD up from Mexico into Arizona, make it to a major highway, then into a city. But it has to be a major city--Nogales and Sierra Vista don't cut it as targets of destruction. Tucson would be super.

"We do things on a rather grand scale here," Spencer says the producer boasted.

No problem, Spencer says. We planned to do that anyway.

So ABP's tricksters haul the WMD across the Mexican line, walk it north five miles along the San Pedro River without difficulty, and easily meet a waiting vehicle on Highway 92, beyond the Border Patrol's checkpoint. Then they drive merrily to Tucson.

They approach the front door of the federal building. One has the WMD in his backpack; the other starts videotaping the federal building.

A guard rushes out and orders them to quit filming. After all, al-Qaeda likes to film targets before they blow them up. The guard checks the tricksters' IDs, seems satisfied, then the three have a nice chat. The guard never asks to inspect the backpack. He's not even a teeny bit curious.

If it had contained an actual WMD, bye-bye federal building.

Spencer calls the Nightline producer, who says he's interested but never calls back. Spencer thinks the idea went to corporate and got killed.

"They don't want it because there'd be an enormous hue and cry to do something about the border," he says.

Dave Stoddard says that at least four smuggling trails--used to move both illegals and narcotics--go right through Sierra Vista's Fort Huachuca. The fort is headquarters for the military's intelligence training. So while our forces fight overseas, often securing other country's borders, the home base where many of them train is wide open.

You call Fort Huachuca. The public information officer says it's not their job to chase illegals. Call Border Patrol.

You call Border Patrol.

"It's possible Stoddard's correct," says spokesperson Zortman. "There are smuggling trails everywhere."

There used to be a sign off the road between Bisbee and Naco. It read: "If this were Scottsdale, the National Guard would be here."

Mention illegal immigration to your average Tucson yuppie, and what do you hear? Hey, I got a great deal on my flagstone patio. Cheap labor: That's the sum of their understanding of the issue.

Here's how Gary McBride is forced to live for your cheap flagstone: He carries a walkie-talkie with him at all times; about 30 ranchers are on the same network. To protect their property--and possibly save their own lives, as well as the illegals' lives--they trade sightings of groups. He rarely leaves his wife alone in the house at night, and, like almost all ranchers, McBride carries a gun for self-defense. While watching TV, he keeps his gun by the chair, because the illegals sometimes bang on his window, scaring him half to death. An illegal once walked into his house and refused to leave.

"The night's the worst," he says. "You never know what's gonna happen."

Here's how Anderson is forced to live for your cheap flagstone.

His 89-year-old father is ill and needs constant care. When he has a spell, Anderson doesn't load his father into the car and rush him to the Sierra Vista Regional Health Center; he calls an ambulance--for a drive of five blocks. He does that because the emergency room at the Health Center is often filled with illegals, he says, and he'll have to wait, watching his dad suffer. Ambulance patients have priority.

"If I have one bit of paperwork out of place when I go there, they bounce me out the door," says Anderson. "But the law says they have to treat illegals."

The situation is worse in Bisbee. In just the past two years, the Copper Queen Community Hospital has run up a $500,000 in debt from treating illegals--an enormous burden for a rural operation with only 14 beds. It's tough on the staff. They treat everyone who comes in, and they want to treat everyone, but doing so risks the future of the hospital and their own jobs.

Many hospital staffers are second-generation Mexican Americans.

"You think they'd be pro illegals," says May Kolbe, the hospital's director of administrative services. "But some aren't, because their people did the right thing by coming here legally and getting their citizenship."

Josie Mincher manages the emergency room at Copper Queen. She's Hispanic, and feels as if she has a split personality.

"I went into nursing to fix people, and I feel really bad for these people," she says. "But if the hospital goes belly up, where do I take my own family? I think we should send the bills to Mexico. If it affected them financially, they might do something about all these people coming across."

Like other hospital employees, Mincher has had her hours cut because of the crisis. She has to take a second job to make ends meet.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform estimates that illegal immigration costs Arizona $1.3 billion a year, for education, medical care and incarceration. That's with the estimated tax contribution of illegal workers subtracted. Total annual cost per Arizona household: $700.

Anderson has had enough.

"The entire illegal immigration issue is a fraud on the public, a national disgrace and the most dangerous threat to America. It undermines every aspect of society. Health care is just one. It undermines voting, the economy, law enforcement, prisons, education.

"It's more dangerous than the drugs coming across and more dangerous than terrorism and Osama bin Laden. Drugs and terrorism are byproducts of illegal immigration. They're sharing the same smuggling corridors."

It's hard to talk about these issues separately, because they bleed together.

Anderson says the only way to control the border is with the military.

Douglas Mayor Ray Borane says illegal immigration will never change.

"I view this border as like a line of scrimmage in a football game," he says. "Only thing is, if you get past the line, you're gone. There's no linebackers and no secondary. The ones who manage to get through, the ones who don't die in the desert, or turn over on the highway, or suffocate in a u-haul, might make it up here.

"If we really want to get serious, let's go round these people up where they're working. But the factories and entrepreneurs will not let that happen. So we put a big face up along the border, this façade, and spend all this money, and it's a lot of bullshit."

Anderson says that Middle Eastern terrorists infiltrating America from the south usually start out in Cairo, then go to Madrid or London, and from there directly to Mexico City, or the Tri-Border Area in South America. (The Tri-Border area encompasses portions of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, with Asuncion, Paraguay located roughly in its center.) He says this shadowy region is home to training camps for al-Qaeda and other terror groups.

Notice that the three Tri-Border area countries were among those taken off the federal government's dangerous-country list.

"On a geo-political intelligence level, this is absolutely insane," says Anderson. "I mean, really, really stupid."

Anderson isn't along in warning of these countries.

In 2002, Vanity Fair magazine also reported that al-Qaeda has training camps in the Tri-Border area. In a speech in December of 2001, Francis X. Taylor, then the State Department's coordinator for counter-terrorism, said the region, which includes more than 15,000 people from the Middle East, is South America's outlaw zone--for money laundering, document forgery, contraband smuggling, and weapons and drug trafficking.

Dave Stoddard agrees. "The American public doesn't know it, but there are a huge number of Muslims in South America, and they're coupling with the ones in this Tri-Border area. This is somewhat scary when you consider that we're getting a huge number of Brazilians sneaking into Mexico and the U.S. I've witnessed it. The U.S. government knows it's occurring."

Stoddard is right about the Brazilians, as the Weekly's earlier country-by-country shows. How might al-Qaeda be infiltrating our southern border?

Possibly in crop dusters, Stoddard says, which can fly below 100 feet and not show up on any radar. Or in railroad cars with phony seals on them, indicating they've already been inspected by customs. Or as imposters, presenting a border-crossing card to pose as Mexicans.

"Failing those methods, there are also places on our border where they can simply walk 200-300 yards or less and be picked up by bus or motor home," says Stoddard.

Borane, the Douglas mayor, is sick of these al-Qaeda rumors.

"We've had so many calls from the media; you know, 13 Libyans were found over here, 10 armed Egyptians over there. They never prove true. Everyone has such a case of the jitters that any tidbit gets blown out of proportion.

"Sure, al-Qaeda gets your attention, but al-Qaeda couldn't do anything spectacular in Douglas. But if they passed through here and did something in one of the major cities, I'd feel bad about that."

Remember the Arabic diary Walter and May Kolbe found?

It's a Sunday, 9 p.m. Walter decides to alert Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever. But May has another idea: She e-mails Walter's brother Jim, the congressman.

Turns out Rep. Kolbe is on his computer in Washington and responds immediately.

"Call the FBI first thing in the morning," he advises. "They'll be on your doorstep faster than you can hang up the phone."

At 8:05 a.m., Walter calls the FBI in Sierra Vista. After being on hold for six minutes, an agent answers and Walter explains what he's found.

The agent says, "Oh, well, that's nice. You can bring it in to the office."

Dumbfounded, Walter says it isn't his responsibility to deliver it.

"That's OK," the agent says. "Just bring it in at your convenience."

Walter hangs up and hollers to May, "You won't believe this shit! He's telling me to bring it in at my convenience!"

Again, they contact Jim. He asks for an e-mail with every detail of what happened. Fifteen minutes after Jim gets it, at 11 a.m. Tucson time, Walter receives a call from the agent.

"Ah, we kind of think we'd like to take a look at that diary."

"Well, no shit," says Walter.

The agent says he'll be there sometime between 1 and 2 p.m.

Five minutes later, the agent calls back on a cell. "We're leaving Sierra Vista right now."

Two agents arrive. Walter is so mad he makes them show IDs at the door. They look at the diary, sign a receipt and start to leave.

Walter stops them. "Aren't you at all interested in the backpack?"

They stammer around, finally say yes. Walter shows them the backpack; they add it to the receipt and again start to leave.

Again Walter stops them.

"Aren't you interested in where I found it?" he asks.

They say, "Oh, that'd be a good idea."

Walter takes them down to his barbed wire fence. The agents sniff around for a while and leave. Walter calls his wife at work.

"'I think I'm gonna sign up for the FBI, May, because I'm doing all the investigating!'" he says. "My God, they're a bunch of doofuses!"

Here's the kicker: The episode occurred in late February 2003, right after the Department of Homeland Security had bumped the terror threat to its second-highest level--and it still took a congressman's clout to get those agents to move.

But the diarist, it turns out, isn't a terrorist, but a lovesick mook pouring his heart out about a failed romance. The Sierra Vista Herald has a portion translated. It says: "You stayed there, your eyes fooled with glittery deception, my lady. It burned in my memory, but you became planted in my side."

So the human surge across our southern border includes lousy Iranian poets.

You'd think things would've changed at the FBI since the Kolbes' fiasco. Don't count on it.

Last month, Josie Mincher finds 27 discarded backpacks on her parents' property between Huachuca City and Whetstone. One contains coins she thinks might be Middle Eastern, possibly Israeli.

From work, Mincher calls the FBI in Sierra Vista. She's kept on hold five minutes, and finally hangs up. She says she'll call again later.

Out on the Geronimo Trail, a wild ribbon of dirt that earns its namesake, an Iranian man from nearby Douglas sits in his truck, hour after hour, staring blankly into Mexico.

The trail is heavily crossed by illegals.

Folks see this gent, but usually keep going. One day, rancher Matt Magoffin stops and asks what he's doing. The Iranian explains that he misses his country terribly, and likes to stare at the landscape because it reminds him of home.

Matt and wife Anna sometimes wonder about this mysterious man, but he doesn't keep them up nights.

It probably means nothing, right?

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