Aug 202012

Mexican Drug Trafficking (Mexico’s Drug War)


New York Times
June 12, 2012




Although Mexico has been a producer and transit route for illegal drugs for generations, the country now finds itself in a pitched battle with powerful and well-financed drug cartels.

In January 2012, the Mexican government reported that 47,515 people had been killed in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderón began a military assault on criminal cartels soon after taking office in late 2006.

The official tally, provided by the attorney general’s office, included data only through September 2011, and it showed that drug-related killings increased 11 percent, to 12,903, compared with the same nine-month period in 2010. Still, a government statement sought to find a silver lining, asserting that it was the first year since 2006 “that the homicide rate increase has been lower compared to the previous years.”

But that was unlikely to calm a public scared by the arrival of grisly violence in once-safe cities like Guadalajara and in the region around Mexico City. 

In May 2012, the Mexican government detained three high-ranking Army generals, including a former second in command at the Defense Ministry, suggesting the depths to which drug cartels have gone in trying to infiltrate one of the primary forces Mr. Calderón has counted on to combat them.

The three generals, Mexican officials have said, played a role in facilitating drug trafficking, and the accusations against the third general include that he ignored a tip by American drug agents about an imminent airplane delivery of a drug cartel’s cocaine in December 2007.

One of the men arrested, Tomás Ángeles Dauahare, a general who retired in 2008, was the second-highest-ranking official in the Defense Ministry during the first two years of Mr. Calderón’s offensive against drug violence and had been mentioned as a possible choice for the top job. In the early 1990s, he served as the defense attaché at the Mexican Embassy in Washington.


Drug Money Hidden in Horse Racing, Say U.S. Authorities

A top drug trafficker’s brother —  José Treviño Morales — was behind a U.S. horse breeding operation, called Tremor Enterprises, that officials say laundered millions of dollars in drug money.

Mr. Treviño’s younger brother, Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, is second in command of Mexico’s Zetas drug trafficking organization. The cartel’s lead enforcer — infamous for dismembering his victims while they are still alive — Miguel Treviño is one of the most wanted drug traffickers in the world.

The Trevino brothers’ company, Tremor, bought a sprawling ranch in Oklahoma and an estimated 300 stallions and mares. The brothers might have kept their operation quiet, given the criminal connection, but their passion for horses and winning apparently proved too tempting. In the short span of three years, Tremor won three of the industry’s biggest races, with prizes totaling some $2.5 million.

On June 12, 2012, the Justice Department moved against Tremor, dispatching several helicopters and hundreds of law enforcement agents to the company’s stables in Ruidoso and its ranch in Oklahoma. Jose Treviño and several associates were taken into custody and were expected to be charged later in the day, authorities said.

An affidavit prepared before the raids said the drug cartel Zetas funneled about $1 million a month into buying quarter horses in the United States. The authorities were tipped off to Tremor’s activities in January 2010, when the Zetas paid more than $1 million in a single day for two broodmares, the affidavit said.

The brothers’ activities on either side of the border made for a stark contrast. One week in May began with the authorities pointing fingers at Miguel Ángel Treviño for dumping the bodies of 49 people — without heads, hands or feet — in garbage bags along a busy highway in northern Mexico. The week concluded with José Treviño fielding four Tremor horses in a prestigious race at Los Alamitos Race Course, near Los Angeles.

The New York Times became aware of Tremor’s activities in December 2011 while reporting on the Zetas. The Times learned of the government’s investigation in May 2012 and agreed to hold the story until the June 12 arrests.

**** Related Article:  The Case Against José Treviño


Presidential Election Promises a Shift in Strategy

Mexico’s next presidential election is July 1, 2012. The top three candidates — Enrique Peña Nieto, Josefina Vázquez Mota and Andrés Manuel López Obrador — have all promised a major shift in the country’s drug war strategy. They are placing a higher priority on reducing the violence in Mexico than on using arrests and seizures to block the flow of drugs to the United States.

The candidates have all vowed to continue to fight drug trafficking, but have said they intend to eventually withdraw the Mexican Army from the drug fight. They are concerned that the army has proved unfit for police work and has contributed to the high death tollThe front-runner, Mr. Peña Nieto, does not emphasize stopping drug shipments or capturing drug kingpins as he enters the final weeks of campaigning for the election. He has suggested that while Mexico should continue to work with the United States government against organized crime, it should not “subordinate to the strategies of other countries.”

United States officials have been careful not to publicly weigh in on the race or the prospect of a changed strategy, for fear of being accused of meddling. Still, the potential shift, reflecting the thinking of a growing number of crime researchers, has raised concern that the next president could essentially turn a blind eye to the cartels.

Although drug consumption is rising in Mexico, drug production and trafficking are seen primarily as American problems that matter less than the crime they spawn.

To shift the drug war toward combating violence, the next president faces a costly and exceedingly difficult job of cleansing and rebuilding poorly trained police agencies and judicial institutions rife with corruption, a job Mr. Calderón began.

The focus on arresting top traffickers and extraditing them to the United States has weakened several organizations, the Mexican and American authorities have insisted, but the bloodshed caused by newly emergent and splintering groups has overwhelmed the local and state authorities and left the impression that the antidrug forces are losing ground.


Violence on the Border

The violence has slackened in many areas along the border, including Ciudad Juárez, the bloodiest city, where homicides have been declining. Mexican officials say the decrease is proof that they are making headway, but analysts say it may have more to do with one rival group’s defeat of another, reducing competition and the bloodshed that comes with it.

The shift in the center of violence may reflect the shifting contours of the fights between criminal organizations. Analysts say the battle is increasingly coming down to a fight to the death between the Sinaloa cartel, a more traditional drug-trafficking organization widely considered the most powerful, and Los Zetas, founded by former soldiers and considered the most violent as it expands into extortion, kidnapping and other rackets in regions far off the drug route map. A third, the Gulf Cartel, remains well armed and rises to attack from time to time.

With Mr. Calderon leaving office in November 2012, in fall 2011, he moved to lock in the militarized approach to drug cartels that has defined his tenure. He stepped up calls for Mexico’s Congress to approve stalled initiatives to remake state and local police forces, codify the military’s role in fighting crime and broaden its powers, toughen the federal penal code and tighten laws to stop money laundering.

To many Mexicans, the rising count of gruesome drug-related murders is evidence that the government’s strategy has failed. The violence has been fueled in part by the splintering of drug organizations under siege, which led to escalating rounds of bloody infighting over territory and criminal rackets.

In February 2011, the Pentagon began flying high-altitude, unarmed drones over Mexican skies in hopes of collecting information to turn over to Mexican law enforcement agencies.

A Homeland Security drone was said to have helped Mexican authorities find several suspects linked to the Feb. 15, 2011, killing of Jaime Zapata, a United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Immigration agent.

In March 2010, gunmen believed to be linked to drug traffickers shot a pregnant American consulate worker and her husband to death in the violence-racked border town of Ciudad Juárez. The gunmen also killed the husband of another consular employee and wounded his two young children.

The killings followed threats against American diplomats along the Mexican border and complaints from consulate workers that drug-related violence was growing untenable, American officials said. Even before the shootings, the State Department had quietly made the decision to allow consulate workers to evacuate their families across the border to the United States.

The inability to control the violence, with fresh horrors nearly every week, has rattled even some admirers in the United States Congress, who have begun to question publicly whether Mr. Calderón’s strategy — supported by the $1.4 billion in anticrime aid the United States is providing through the multiyear Merida Initiative — is making progress.

In response to critics, Mr. Calderón has said his government was the first one to take on the drug trafficking organizations. But Mexicans wonder if they are paying too high a price and some have begun openly speaking of decriminalizing drugs to reduce the sizable profits the gangs receive.


Strengthening Civilian Law Enforcement

While Mr. Calderon dismissed suggestions that Mexico is a failed state, he and his aides have spoken frankly of the cartels’ attempts to set up a state within a state, levying taxes, throwing up roadblocks and enforcing their own perverse codes of behavior.

Responding to a growing sense that Mexico’s military-led fight against drug traffickers was not gaining ground, the United States and Mexico set their counternarcotics strategy on a new course in March 2010 by refocusing their efforts on strengthening civilian law enforcement institutions and rebuilding communities crippled by poverty and crime.

The $331 million plan was at the center of a visit to Mexico at that time by several senior Obama administration officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and  Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

The revised strategy had many elements meant to expand on and improve programs already under way as part of the so-called Mérida Initiative that was started by the Bush administration including cooperation among American and Mexican intelligence agencies and American support for training Mexican police officers, judges, prosecutors and public defenders.

Under the revised strategy, officials said, American and Mexican agencies would work together to refocus border enforcement efforts away from building a better wall to creating systems that would allow goods and people to be screened before they reached the crossing points. The plan would also provide support for Mexican programs intended to strengthen communities where socioeconomic hardships force many young people into crime.


Documenting the Turmoil

In September 2010, the newspaper El Diario Ciudad Juárez published an open letter to the city’s drug lords and the authorities it believed had failed to protect the public. It ran the day after the funeral of Luis Carlos Santiago, 21, a photography intern at the paper who was shot dead on Sept. 16, 2010, while leaving a shopping mall after lunch.

All along the border, news organizations had silenced themselves out of fear and intimidation from drug trafficking organizations, but El Diario had a reputation for carrying on — and paying a price. One of its reporters had been gunned down several years before.

While its editorial called for a truce between crime groups and the media — noting that “even in war there are rules” that “safeguard the integrity of the journalists who cover them” — the paper insisted that it would not back down.

Acts against news organizations in 2010 included the kidnapping of four journalists, who were released after one station broadcast videos as demanded by that their abductors. In August of the same year, a car bomb detonated outside a regional office of Televisa, the leading national network.


The U.S. Builds a Network

As the United States has opened new law enforcement and intelligence outposts across Mexico in recent years, Washington’s networks of informants have grown there as well, current and former officials said. They have helped Mexican authorities capture or kill about two dozen high-ranking and midlevel drug traffickers, and sometimes have given American counternarcotics agents access to the top leaders of the cartels they are trying to dismantle.

Typically, the officials said, Mexico is kept in the dark about the United States’ contacts with its most secret informants — including Mexican law enforcement officers, elected officials and cartel operatives — partly because of concerns about corruption among the Mexican police, and partly because of laws prohibiting American security forces from operating on Mexican soil.

In recent years, Mexican attitudes about American involvement in matters of national security have softened. And the United States, hoping to shore up Mexico’s stability and prevent its violence from spilling across the border, has expanded its role in ways unthinkable five years ago, including flying drones in Mexican skies.

The efforts have been credited with breaking up several of Mexico’s largest cartels into smaller crime groups. But the violence continues, as does the northward flow of illegal drugs.

While using informants remains a largely clandestine affair, several recent cases have shed light on the kinds of investigations they have helped crack, including a plot in which the United States accused an Iranian-American car salesman of trying to hire killers from a Mexican drug cartel, known as Los Zetas, to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington.

American officials said Drug Enforcement Administration informants with links to the cartels also helped the authorities track down several suspects linked to the case of Mr. Zapata, who is alleged to have been shot to death by members of Los Zetas in central Mexico.


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Aug 202012

Police in Arizona arrest 20, dismantle drug trafficking cell of Sinaloa Cartel


by Michael Martinez
July 7,2012


Three tons of marijuana, fifty pounds of meth and over two million dollars are just some of the items confiscated during a drug cartel bust in Arizona.


Authorities in Tempe, Arizona, dismantled a drug trafficking cell associated with Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, arresting 20 people and seizing three tons of marijuana, 30 pounds of methamphetamine and $2.4 million in cash, police said.

A six-month investigation by Tempe police and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency also concluded with the seizure of an airplane, 10 vehicles and 14 firearms, police said Friday.

17 arrested in Philadelphia drug case

The cartel delivered illegal drugs in Tempe and branched out to customers in New York, Alabama, California and other states, police said.

“This operation demonstrated a collaborative effort by state and federal law enforcement agencies,” Tempe Chief of Police Tom Ryff said in a statement.

The drug trafficking “stretched across the Mexico border and into Arizona and beyond,” said Doug Coleman, special agent in charge of the DEA’s Phoenix office.

On the border: Guns, drugs — and a betrayal of trust

In small-town USA, business as usual for Mexican cartels

The Sinaloa Cartel is one of Mexico’s most powerful drug-trafficking groups, and cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera is widely known as Mexico’s most-wanted fugitive. Forbes magazine has placed him on its list of the world’s most powerful people, reporting his net worth at $1 billion as of March.


** Related Article:  The Reach of Mexico’s Drug Cartels


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Jul 112012

2 arrested, 4 on loose in case of slain border agent Brian Terry



By Steve Stout

By Breann Bierman

Jul 09, 2012 
Brian Terry was killed in a 2010 shootout with suspected drug smugglers and illegal immigrants.


Two people have been arrested and four people remain on the loose in the murder investigation of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Border Patrol Agent.


>>>> News Video Segment #1


>>>> News Video Segment #2







The FBI said at a news conference Monday that five suspects have been indicted on charges related to agent Brian Terry’s death.

According to the indictment which was unsealed Monday morning, Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga, Ivan Soto-Barraza, Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes and Lionel Portillo-Meza are charged with crimes including of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, attempted interference with commerce by robbery, use and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence, assault on a federal officer and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.

A sixth suspect, Rito Osorio-Arellanes was arrested and charged only with conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery.

FBI announced Monday they are offering a $1 million reward for information leading to the arrests of the four suspects they are still searching for, who they believe are in Mexico.

Agent Brian Terry was killed during a shootout with suspected illegal immigrants and drug smugglers in December 2010 in the desert near Naco.

Guns involved in the botched federal gun-walking case known as Fast and Furious were found at the scene.

The family of agent Brian Terry said Monday that they are pleased that progress has been made in the murder investigation.

The family’s attorney, Patrick McGroder said, “The Terry family once again asks that the Attorney General and the Department of Justice comply with the request for documents made by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee so that all Americans can know who approved of the operation in order that those individuals can be held accountable for their decisions. Agent Terry died as a hero protecting this country; he and his family rightly deserved a full and thorough explanation of how Operation Fast and Furious came to be.” Click here to read full statement from the family.

Stay with and CBS 5 News for updates on this developing story.


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Apr 022012

DHS Uses Wartime Mega-Camera to Watch Border



By Spencer Ackerman

April 2, 2012



The Department of Homeland Security wants to mount a powerful camera on a Raven Aerostar blimp like this to spy on miles of border at once. Photo: Raven



One legacy of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has arrived on the southern border of the United States. The Department of Homeland Security recently completed tests of a powerful camera, one that cut its teeth in the war zones, that captures video of entire miles of border in a single frame. DHS thinks mega-cameras on blimps and aerostats might be the future of border security — if its analysts can only keep up with the glut of data they’ll gather.

The system itself, a wide-area surveillance camera suite known as Kestrel, earned its stripes during the wars. That got DHS interested. “You had this imager flying that was able to archive and save imagery and reconstruct [bomb] emplacement so troops could go after [insurgents] later,” John Applebee, who manages the border camera program for DHS, tells Danger Room. “It also was used for other things every day, like troop protection or perimeter protection, just as we imagine its uses along the continental borders of the United States.”

So for a week of tests, the department mounted Logos Technologies’ Kestrel imager on a 75-foot long Raven Aerostar aerostat tethered 2000 feet above the Arizona desert. DHS reports in a statement that Kestrel helped spot “more than 100 illegal attempted entries and alleged illicit activities in progress.”

“We can see miles from this with a single image frame,” Applebee enthuses. “Within every pixel, you have high-resolution, good, detailed resolution, like high-d-caliber imagery. In every frame, across the frame.”

This is hardly the first time that wartime surveillance technology has made its way home from the battlefield. DHS flies unarmed drones above the northern and southern U.S. borders, snapping pictures. (They carry an “excellent camera system,” Applebee allows, but unlike Kestrel, “you need to know where to point it.”) Police departments nationwide have started using smaller spy drones as well. Earlier this year, DHS expressed interest in camera systems that can spy on four square miles at once, well within the range of the military’s new mega-cameras. Kestrel’s 360-degree camera suite is a step in that direction.

But the migration of those military tools comes the migration of some of the military’s problems. Specifically: the “persistent” video taken by the powerful cameras creates a fire hose of data that analysts struggle to interpret.

And if the glut of video overwhelms the military, DHS — whose annual budget is under $60 billion, an order of magnitude less than the Pentagon’s — is in deep trouble. Applebee is up front about it. “They have the people,” he says. “We do not.”

The answer, he hopes, will come from software. “We’re looking closely at the developments in the military and intelligence communities for ways the software and analysis can be automated, so can we use software tools as a tripwire to signal us and call agent to attention once [the camera observes] a movement has occurred in a given region,” Applebee says. Darpa, the Pentagon’s blue-sky researchers, for instance, are interested in something akin to a “thinking camera” that pre-sorts imagery according to an algorithm based on what an analyst hopes to find.

And perhaps after those pre-selecting imagery tools come online for the military, it won’t take long before civilian law enforcement puts them to use. Applebee certainly hopes so. He sees the wide-eyed Kestrel as a huge help for “securing large areas from illegal intrusion.” Imagine what the next generation of cameras will let him see.


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Jan 222012



Mexico’s Drug War Bloodies Areas Thought Safe

The New York Times

January 18, 2012



A man with a relative’s body found last year in Acapulco, now Mexico’s second most violent city.

Pedro Pardo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


The Mexican drug war that has largely been defined by violence along the border is intensifying in interior and southern areas once thought clear of the carnage, broadening a conflict that has already overwhelmed the authorities and dispirited the public, according to analysts and new government data.

A forensic worker photographed bodies found last week in a vehicle in Mexico City. Carpeting, in foreground, covered two heads.  Victor Rubio/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Last week, two headless bodies were found in a smoldering minivan near the entrance to one of the largest and most expensive malls in Mexico City, generally considered a refuge from the grisly atrocities that have gripped other cities throughout the drug war.

Two other cities considered safe just six months ago — Guadalajara and Veracruz — have experienced their own episodes of brutality: 26 bodies were left in the heart of Guadalajara late last year, on the eve of Latin America’s most prestigious book fair, and last month the entire police force in Veracruz was dismissed after state officials determined that it was too corrupt to patrol a city where 35 bodies were dumped on a road in September.

The spreading violence, believed to largely reflect a widening turf war between two of the biggest criminal organizations in the country, has implications on both sides of the border, putting added pressure on political and law enforcement leaders who are already struggling to show that their strategies are working.

“It is a situation ever more complicated and complex,” said Ricardo Ravelo, a Mexican journalist who has written several books on criminal organizations. “Resources are and will be stretched to deal with this.”

American officials here acknowledge that the mayhem is unpredictable but contend that they have a way to help tackle it, spreading word that the $1.6 billion Merida Initiative, Washington’s signature antidrug program, will step up training and advising for the Mexican state and local police and judicial institutions this year, rather than emphasizing the delivery of helicopters and other equipment.

In a year in which President Felipe Calderón’s party, in power since 2000, may struggle to hang on to the presidency in July elections, the expanding violence is giving political rivals, all promising a more peaceful country, much to run on.

Discerning patterns of violence in the drug war can be perilous; it is often like a tornado skipping across terrain, devastating one area while leaving another untouched.

But government statistics released last week showed a surge in deaths presumed to be related to drug or organized crime in Mexico State, which surrounds the capital and is the nation’s most populous state, in the first nine months of last year. The government data also show that violence has now afflicted 831 communities nationwide, an increase of 7 percent.

Although questions have emerged about the government’s tally, many analysts agree that the violence is widening.

“There has been a definite shift of violence away from the border and back to the interior states,” said David A. Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego, who closely tracks drug crime.

In a way, he said, the shift is a stark reversal of the trend of six years ago, when violence exploded in more southerly states and migrated north along drug-trafficking routes, accelerating a drug war that has now left more than 47,000 people dead, according to the government.

In response, the Mexican government deployed its military and the federal police, arresting and killing more than two dozen cartel leaders and splintering or dismantling several groups. Their push has been backed by American aid in the form of helicopters, remotely piloted drones and the deepening involvement of American drug agents in investigations and raids.

The violence slackened in many areas along the border, including Ciudad Juárez, the bloodiest city, where homicides have been declining. Mexican officials say the decrease is proof that they are making headway, but analysts say it may have more to do with one rival group’s defeat of another, reducing competition and the bloodshed that comes with it.

As for the violence in other areas — Acapulco, in the south, is now the second most violent city — that, too, may reflect the shifting contours of the fights between criminal organizations.

The drug war, Mr. Shirk and other analysts say, is increasingly coming down to a fight to the death between the Sinaloa cartel, a more traditional drug-trafficking organization widely considered the most powerful, and Los Zetas, founded by former soldiers and considered the most violent as it expands into extortion, kidnapping and other rackets in regions far off the drug route map. A third, the Gulf Cartel, remains well armed and rises to attack from time to time.

Many of the clashes have been in central or more southern areas where the two main rivals have not previously fought each other so violently, analysts say. George W. Grayson, a longtime researcher of Mexican violence and co-author of a coming book on Los Zetas, said the group had spread to 17 states from 14 a year ago.

Though experts have said that Mexico City’s size, complexity and police force, considered better trained than many others, make it unlikely to fall into the mayhem of other locales, there have been alarming signs that violence is encroaching on the capital.


Police officers filing past Mexican Marines after the Veracruz police were disbanded.
Felix Marquez/Associated Press



At the mall where the bodies were found, a banner proclaiming it was the work of the Sinaloa cartel appeared nearby, though experts say the killings could have been carried out by any number of offshoots operating in the region.

The murders were not the first in or near the capital to bear the signature of a cartel; in October two human heads were found on a busy road near the Defense Ministry headquarters.

But as the government, buttressed by United States drug agents and military advisers, deploys its armed forces and the federal police to dismantle criminal organizations and causes them to splinter, it has grown difficult to determine which criminal group is doing exactly what.

The conflict has undergone “Zetanification,” as all manner of criminal outfits copy the cartel’s brutal tactics and claim its name, said Mr. Grayson, a professor at the College of William and Mary.

Mexican officials continue to assert that they are getting the upper hand. In Washington last week, Mexico’s public safety secretary, Genaro García Luna, warned that violence would probably not decrease significantly for five more years. But he insisted that progress was being made, saying the rate of increase in homicides believed related to organized crime was showing signs of slowing. “You have to give the process more time to measure its efficiency,” he said.

At the mall in Mexico City, in the high-end Santa Fe district, known for its financial buildings and apartment towers, shoppers said they were worried but growing accustomed to gruesome violence in the country.

“We are living in a terrible situation,” said Jasia Grinberg, 65, who runs a hair salon at the mall, Centro Santa Fe, “and meanwhile, we are getting used to it.”