Evidence of Los Zetas in Chihuahua was reinforced by the presence of "narco" banners in Ciudad Juarez and the municipalities of Cuauhtemoc and Namiquipa in which Los Zetas deny any role in the massacre of 20 bar patrons in Monterrey this past Friday. Identical banners were hung in Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, Zacatecas and Queretaro. .
Zetas may be smuggling weapons
By Diana Washington Valdez/El Paso Times
The brutally violent Zetas drug organization may be smuggling military-grade weapons through El Paso and Columbus, N.M., to feed its ongoing battles against other cartels and to possibly disrupt the 2012 elections in Mexico.
Phil Jordan, a former director of the DEA's El Paso Intelligence Center and a former CIA operative, said the Zetas have shipped large amounts of weapons through the El Paso area.
A federal law enforcement agency in El Paso said it has no information about the allegations that the Zetas are smuggling weapons through El Paso.
"They are purchasing weapons in the Dallas area and are flying them to El Paso, and then they are taking them across the border into Juárez," said Jordan, a law enforcement consultant and former DEA official who still has contacts in the law enforcement community.
Jordan said the Zetas were flying weapons caches out of the Alliance Airport in Fort Worth, and after they arrive in the El Paso vicinity, the Zetas smuggled them into Juárez.
"What's ironic is that the DEA also uses the Alliance Airport for some of its operations," Jordan said. "The Zetas were working out of a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in the Dallas area to smuggle the weapons to the border."
The DEA has its Aviation Operations Center at Alliance.
Robert "Tosh" Plumlee, a former CIA contract pilot, supported Jordan's allegations and said the Zetas allegedly also purchased property in the Columbus-Palomas border region to stash weapons and other contraband.
He said purchasing property and setting up a weapons-smuggling network suggests that the Zetas were establishing a staging area for their operations.
DEA Special Agent Diana Apodaca, spokeswoman for El Paso's DEA office, said the agency did not have any information about the Zetas allegedly operating in this border region.
No one from the Border Patrol or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives returned calls Tuesday for comment.
Earlier this month, Plumlee had a debriefing with the Border Patrol in Las Cruces about the intelligence he gathered when he accompanied the U.S. military's Task Force 7 along the border. The military, which assists civilian law enforcement in counter-drug operations, was looking into allegations of gun smuggling along the border.
"The military task force became concerned that its information about arms smuggling was being compromised," Plumlee said. "From the intel, it appears that a company was set up in Mexico to purchase weapons through the U.S. Direct Commercial Sales program, and that the company may have had a direct link to the Zetas."
Under the Direct Commercial Sales program, the U.S. State Department regulates and licenses businesses to sell weapons and defense services and training for export. Last year, according to U.S. statistics, the program was used to provide Mexico $416.5 million worth of weapons and equipment, including military-grade weaponry.
The program is different from the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program, which operates on a government-to-government basis.
Plumlee said military-grade weapons were found in a Juárez warehouse two years ago, and some of them were moved later to a ranch elsewhere in Juárez. Arms stash houses have also been reported in places across the border from Columbus and Antelope Wells, N.M.
"They've found anti-aircraft weapons and hand grenades from the Vietnam War era," Plumlee said. Other weapons found include grenade launchers, assault rifles, handguns and military gear including night-vision goggles and body armor.
"The information about the arms trafficking was provided to our U.S. authorities long before the 'Columbus 11' investigation began," said Plumlee, referring to recent indictments accusing several Columbus city officials of arms trafficking in conjunction with alleged accomplices in El Paso and Chaparral, N.M.
Jesús Rejón Aguilar, the number three man in the Zeta's hierarchy, disclosed last week that the Zetas bought weapons in the United States and transported them across the Rio Grande. Mexican federal authorities captured Rejón on July 3 in the state of Mexico, and presented him to the news media the next day. His recorded video statement was uploaded on YouTube.
Jordan agreed with Plumlee's allegations that the Zetas are operating in the Columbus-Palomas border.
Plumlee, who has testified before U.S. congressional committees about arms and drug trafficking, said the roads in Southern New Mexico provide smugglers easy access to Mexico's highway networks.
Recently, Juárez police removed a couple of "narco mantas" (drug cartel banners) allegedly signed by the Zetas that were left in two parts of the city. The message claimed that the Zetas had nothing to do with a July 8 massacre at a nightclub in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon.
Similar banners containing the same message appeared in cities in eight other Mexican states. The messages blamed the Gulf drug cartel for the attack in Monterrey that killed or injured 34 people.
Zetas have been reported in Juárez and other Chihuahua cities, but so far they have kept a low profile.
According to an FBI Investigation Intelligence Bulletin, "Los Zetas activities in the United States to date have largely been limited to the U.S./Mexico border area," but have expanded their reach into the Southeast and Midwestern United States.
Authorities in Arizona previously reported that Zetas dressed up as SWAT officers were implicated in the 2008 murder of a man in Phoenix.
The FBI said the Zetas emerged from an elite Mexican army unit known as Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales, or GAFE, that was created to fight drug-traffickers. Some GAFE members received special U.S. military training.
In 2002, "an unknown number deserted and joined the Gulf cartel, serving as the hired guns for cartel leadership," the FBI bulletin said. "Since that time Los Zetas has grown into a sizeable, semi-independent organization."
The FBI said the organization has been tied to public corruption, immigrant smuggling, kidnapping, assault, murder, extortion and money laundering.
"The group is well-armed, highly trained, and reputed for their brutal tactics as cartel enforcers," the FBI memo said.
Plumlee said most of the military-grade weapons that made their way into Mexico are not showing up at crime scenes where drug violence is rampant.
"Most of the military-type weapons have been found in stash houses, being stored up," Plumlee said. "This is getting into theory now, but I think the Zetas are saving them for the (2012) election season. They probably want to be included in a part of the government."