Exploitation of Border Security by MS-13 in Aiding Al Qaeda's Agenda for Domestic Terrorism in the United States

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Criminal Justice

First Advisor

Thomas E. Payne

Advisor Department

Criminal Justice


The researcher began by conducting a comprehensive review of literature addressing two criminal conspiracies: the Islamic cult al Qaeda and the Salvadoran gang Mara Salvatrucha, more commonly known as MS-13. The review was conducted to discover the extent to which congressional testimony, public documents, published scholarship, and media sources suggested a linkage between the two organizations that might facilitate al Qaeda's stated goal to infiltrate the international borders of the United States and kill four million of its citizens. Available information on al Qaeda was found to be sufficient for the purpose of the study, clearly establishing the strategic goal of the Islamic cult as well as its linkages with organized criminal elements in Latin America, and a number of literary sources suggested a degree of collaboration between al Qaeda and MS-13. Available information on MS-13, however, was found to be far less instructive, and none of it authoritatively established either the willingness or the operational capacity of the Salvadoran gang to facilitate al Qaeda's strategic goal. Al Qaeda thus emerged as the constant in the research equation, MS-13 as the variable, the principal target of inquiry. The researcher found that virtually all extant literature on MS-13 was presented in an intellectual vacuum, without due reference to the considerable amount of published scholarship that addresses gang subcultures, organized crime, and the modern phenomenon of transnational syndicated crime. The researcher therefore consulted these sources and correlated the information within them with known facts about MS-13 in a vastly expanded review of literature. Thereafter the researcher prepared a survey instrument that was designed to fill the most essential informational gaps revealed by the review of literature and employed purposive sampling to identify 44 agencies that were likely to have operational knowledge of MS-13. Twelve of the agencies agreed to participate in the study, and the researcher administered the survey instrument using semi-structured interviews with representatives of the participating agencies between August 2006 and September 2006, thus adding to the inquiry the perspectives of parties with pertinent professional knowledge. The findings of the suggest (1) that the goals, likely tactical capabilities, and organizational fecklessness of MS-13 combine to make the Salvadoran gang capable of providing the assistance necessary for the realization of al Qaeda's stated strategic goal, (2) that said assistance could be provided most effectively by the oldest and most sophisticated cliques of MS-13 operating in southern California and other southwestern areas of the United States that have brokered the smuggling of illegal aliens and proscribed consumer goods across the nation's international border for over twenty years, (3) that indirect evidence of collaboration between MS-13 and al Qaeda exists, and (4) that other transnational criminal syndicates are more or less capable of offering a1 Qaeda a measure of the same tactical assistance MS-13 might provide.