GOP lawmaker calls for Trump's border wall, warns nuclear weapons may be hidden in marijuana

Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks told CNN he worries about terrorists using bales of marijuana to smuggle nukes

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published February 23, 2017 3:48PM (EST)

Trent Franks      (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
Trent Franks (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks defended President Donald Trump's proposed border wall by claiming it could prevent a nuclear weapon from being smuggled into the United States concealed in a bale of marijuana.

The outlandish theory was brought up in a Wednesday discussion with CNN's Brianna Keilar about Trump's proposed $21 billion border barrier.

“Well, part of the panic here is the media overstating and confusing some of the things that are actually happening here,” Franks told Keilar. “If you look at what the Trump administration’s actual policies are, I don’t think the media is accurately portraying what the real situation is.”

He continued: "The reality, Brianna, is that we have to measure all of the costs, ancillary and otherwise, and make the best decision that we can. But I can suggest to you that there are national security implications here for a porous border. We sometimes used to make the point that if someone wanted to smuggle in a dangerous weapon, even a nuclear weapon, into America, how would they do it? And the suggestion was made, 'Well, we'll simply hide it in a bale of marijuana.'"

Franks went on to blame former President Barack Obama for making the U.S. border so porous, arguing that Obama did not enforce immigration laws and "just kind of stood by and let whatever would happen happen, that it endangered this country." But the Obama administration more than doubled the number of Border Protection agents from 10,000 in 2004 to more than 21,000 in 2011.

Keilar challenged Franks, asserting that Obama "deported more people than [former President] George W. Bush." According to data from the Department of Homeland Security analyzed by ABC News, Obama did deport more people than any previous president at 2.5 million between 2009 and 2015.

Franks also failed to explain why presumed nuke-smugglers would choose to try to hide their weapon in something the U.S. Border Patrol is already looking for, although The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Franks’s suggestion is one that has been floated by at least one nuclear weapons expert and Democratic congressman in the past.

“Missile defense is OK politically, but remember you can smuggle a nuclear weapon inside a bale of marijuana,” Rep. Brad Sherman, D-California, said at a congressional hearing about North Korea earlier this month. But as Sherman acknowledge himself in 2007, nuclear bombs are the “size of a person,” so it would be nearly impossible to smuggle such large objects.

David Kay of the International Atomic Energy Agency told "Frontline" in 1996 that concealing a nuclear weapon in a bale of weed would be his “preferred method” of nuke smuggling.

In 2014, he said that the militant group ISIS had operations running in Ciudad Juarez, a claim that a senior U.S. law enforcement official said had no basis in reality. As his website notes, he also raised the specter of Hezbollah smuggling marijuana nukes into the U.S. back in 2012.

"Specifically imagine for a moment, Mr. Speaker, the scenario of Hezbollah, one of Iran's terrorist proxies, gaining possession of just two nuclear warheads and bringing them across the border into the United States concealed, say, in bales of marijuana," he said, "then transporting them into the heart of two different, crowded, unnamed cities. Then calling and telling the White House exactly when and where the first one will be detonated, and then following through 60 seconds later."

For his part, Franks appeared less concerned with being ridiculed for suggesting such an implausible nightmare scenario than being stereotyped for his support of Trump's wall.

“This notion that everybody that is committed to border security is somehow racist or hates other people is a disgrace and it’s just not true,” he said, adding that he is married to an immigrant.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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