Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

U.S. Widens Role in Mexican Fight

Sunday, August 28, 2011 |

By Mark Mazzetti and Ginger Thompson
The New York Times

The Obama administration has expanded its role in Mexico’s fight against organized crime by allowing the Mexican police to stage cross-border drug raids from inside the United States, according to senior administration and military officials.

Mexican commandos have discreetly traveled to the United States, assembled at designated areas and dispatched helicopter missions back across the border aimed at suspected drug traffickers. The Drug Enforcement Administration provides logistical support on the American side of the border, officials said, arranging staging areas and sharing intelligence that helps guide Mexico’s decisions about targets and tactics.

Officials said these so-called boomerang operations were intended to evade the surveillance — and corrupting influences — of the criminal organizations that closely monitor the movements of security forces inside Mexico. And they said the efforts were meant to provide settings with tight security for American and Mexican law enforcement officers to collaborate in their pursuit of criminals who operate on both sides of the border.

Although the operations remain rare, they are part of a broadening American campaign aimed at blunting the power of Mexican cartels that have built criminal networks spanning the world and have started a wave of violence in Mexico that has left more than 35,000 people dead.

Many aspects of the campaign remain secret, because of legal and political sensitivities. But in recent months, details have begun to emerge, revealing efforts that would have been unthinkable five years ago. Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderón, who was elected in 2006, has broken with his country’s historic suspicion of the United States and has enlisted Washington’s help in defeating the cartels, a central priority for his government.

American Predator and Global Hawk drones now fly deep over Mexico to capture video of drug production facilities and smuggling routes. Manned American aircraft fly over Mexican targets to eavesdrop on cellphone communications. And the D.E.A. has set up an intelligence outpost — staffed by Central Intelligence Agency operatives and retired American military personnel — on a Mexican military base.

“There has always been a willingness and desire on the part of the United States to play more of a role in Mexico’s efforts,” said Eric L. Olson, an expert on Mexico at the Woodrow Wilson Center. “But there have been some groundbreaking developments on the Mexican side where we’re seeing officials who are willing to take some risks, even political risks, by working closely with the United States to carry out very sensitive missions.”

Still, the cooperation remains a source of political tensions, especially in Mexico where the political classes have been leery of the United States dating from the Mexican-American War of 1846. Recent disclosures about the expanding United States’ role in the country’s main national security efforts have set off a storm of angry assertions that Mr. Calderón has put his own political interests ahead of Mexican sovereignty. Mr. Calderón’s political party faces an election next year that is viewed in part as a referendum on his decision to roll out this campaign against drug traffickers.

Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns walked into that storm during a visit to Mexico this month and strongly defended the partnership the two governments had developed.

“I’ll simply repeat that there are clear limits to our role,” Mr. Burns said. “Our role is not to conduct operations. It is not to engage in law enforcement activities. That is the role of the Mexican authorities. And that’s the way it should be.”

Officials said Mexico and the United States began discussing the possibility of cross-border missions two years ago, when Mexico’s crime wave hit the important industrial corridor between Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo. To avoid being detected, the Mexican police traveled to the United States in plain clothes on commercial flights, two military officials said. Later the officers were transported back to Mexico on Mexican aircraft, which dropped the agents at or near their targets.

“The cartels don’t expect Mexican police coming from the U.S.,” said one senior military official. None of the officials interviewed about the boomerang operations would speak publicly about them, and refused to provide details about where they were conducted or what criminal organizations had been singled out.

They said that the operations had been carried out only a couple of times in the last 18 months, and that they had not resulted in any significant arrests.

The officials insisted that the Pentagon is not involved in the cross-border operations, and that no Americans take part in drug raids on Mexican territory.

“These are not joint operations,” said one senior administration official. “They are self-contained Mexican operations where staging areas were provided by the United States.”

Former American law enforcement officials who were once posted in Mexico described the boomerang operations as a new take on an old strategy that was briefly used in the late 1990s, when the D.E.A. helped Mexico crack down on the Tijuana Cartel.

To avoid the risks of the cartel being tipped off to police movements by lookouts or police officials themselves, the former officers said, the D.E.A. arranged for specially vetted Mexican police to stage operations out of Camp Pendleton in San Diego. The Mexican officers were not given the names of the targets of their operations until they were securely sequestered on the base. And they were not given the logistical details of the mission until shortly before it was under way.

“They were a kind of rapid-reaction force,” said one former senior D.E.A. official. “It was an effective strategy at the time.”

Another former D.E.A. official said that the older operations resulted in the arrests of a handful of midlevel cartel leaders. But, he said, it was ended in 2000 when cartel leaders struck back by kidnapping, torturing and killing a counternarcotics official in the Mexican attorney general’s office, along with two fellow drug agents.

In recent months, Mexico agreed to post a team of D.E.A. agents, C.I.A. operatives and retired American military officials on a Mexican military base to help conduct intelligence operations, bolstering the work of a similar “fusion cell” already in Mexico City.

Meanwhile the Pentagon is steadily overhauling the parts of the military responsible for the drug fight, paying particular attention to some lessons of nearly a decade of counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. At Northern Command — the military’s Colorado Springs headquarters responsible for North American operations — several top officers with years of experience in fighting Al Qaeda and affiliated groups are poring over intelligence about Mexican drug networks.

One officer said, “The military is trying to take what it did in Afghanistan and do the same in Mexico.”

That’s exactly what some Mexicans are afraid of, said a Mexican political scientist, Denise Dresser, who is an expert on that country’s relations with the United States.

“I’m not necessarily opposed to greater American involvement,” Ms. Dresser said. “But if that’s the way the Mexican government wants to go, it needs to come clean about it. Just look at what we learned from Iraq. Secrecy led to malfeasance. It led to corrupt contracting. It led to torture. It led to instability. And who knows when those problems will be resolved.”

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting, and Barclay Walsh contributed research.

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17 Borderland Beat Comments:

pueblo said...

i hope the Americans do better in Mexico than what they are doing in Afghanistan. the DEA has been compromised before by drug traffickers. and the CIA, forget about it. they are too busy selling jets to Chapo or allowing traffickers to smuggle into the U.S.

Anonymous said...

Texcoco Mex said.

I'm happy about the help U.S is giving Mexico. The U.S help will always be welcome, but I'm not happy about private contractors to much corruption with this people.
Mexican corruption is already bad enough and we don't need private contractors to teach Mexican how to be more corrupted. In my own personal opinion FBI, CIA, DEA, ICE is O.K. ATF I'm not 100% sure, and private contractors I'm not happy about.

Anonymous said...

Wait wait wait let me get this straight - Mexico is afraid of a widened roll of the united states because of a war from 150 years ago??? Wow. Id call that a decision that has done more harm than good.

Anonymous said...

U.S military allows 100% Heroin production in Afghanistan, a U.S jet the CIA was using for renditions turns up with tons of coke in it.

Wake up you sheep!!

"L"B said...

i don't like this at all ..now we have NWO looking black uniformed foreign "police" on our soil..how long before these guys are used against US citizens...

even though i accept the fact that Mexico is too incompetent and corrupt to be able to plan and execute a police operation from their own territory

it seems creepily convenient to have foreign "police " operating on/from /out of US soil


build a wall... guard our borders... no contraband in ...no contraband out... this cat an mouse shit is not working

Anonymous said...

Well, my opinion is this:
"After what Caldaron said about the US and the fire at that casino, fuck Mexico! US should get the hell out and stop sending them any fucking money for anything! Let them deal with their own shit with their own money! I know this sounds bad but why is this asshole blaming the US for anything bad that happens in mexico? I really want to see what he does with no physical or financial help from the US! Let's see how much shit he talks then!"
Now this is just my opinion so take it for what it's worth!

Anonymous said...

Build a big wall!! Like these police from Mexico on missions are not going to use this as a tool for smuggling themselves and family into the USA? What a joke.

If I was a migrant, I'd make myself a very real looking uniform, sell it to my compadres and walk right into the US.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Dresser is full of shit. What does she want them to do? Tell everything about the operations ahead of time? Be more "transparent" so the narcos know what's going on? I think she get paid by the narcos like a lot of "journalists" in Mexico.

pueblo - are you worried about Mexican sovereignty? Don't want those nasty old gringos around? Great, we'll leave, ask us. You think Mexicans can "do a better job" than they've been doing in their own country?

Anonymous said...

@ August 28, 2011 9:04 AM "After what Calderon said about the US and the fire at that casino, fuck Mexico! U.S should get the hell out and stop sending them any fucking money for anything! Let them deal with their own shit with their own money!
I really want to see what he does with no physical or financial help from the US! Let's see how much shit he talks then!"

Well Anon Mexico does appreciate the help from U.S. But you are wrong about U.S sending money, we will receive 1.3 billion dollars from U.S in 4 years in used equipment and training.
Mexico is spending 3.5 to 4.8 billion dollars a year so I think we will be O.K. and we will manage without the U.S financial help. I think some of the best help Mexico gets from U.S is the intelligence gathering and some training. REMEMBER THIS WE DON'T GET MONEY FROM U.S, NO DINERO, NO EFECTIVO, SOLO EQUIPO USADO, Y ENTRENAMIENTO.

"L"B said...

now due to calderons comments ..not only are Americans gonna be hated by the narcos ..who think we are all DEA..but now the law abiding Mexicans are gonna blame us for the drug war mess as well ...all the while we donate in many ways to a generally ungrateful population ..we are guilty ..we are innocent ..we are to blame ...great job senor presidente..way to go...spreading division between the two countries , and alienating the only true friend Mexico has

Anonymous said...

"Had not resulted in any significant results"

Ardent said...

What the US government wants is for the Mexican police and military to act as American mercenaries against their own people in the US government mandated and directed 'drug war' there. Mexican government officials who try to allow this to happen are real traitors to Mexico and the Mexican people, perhaps even more this is so than with even the drug traffickers themselves? Selling your own country out to a foreign power (treason) is the ultimate political crime.

ajulio said...

I'm okay with this. if the intentions are good, then the U.S. and mexico should work together. the U.S. can teach mexico a lot of things and mexico can teach the U.S. more about mexico and the cartels.

slowly the U.S. is creeping into mexico. that'll make the cartel leaders sweat a little.

but now the mexicans and ardent are going to say that the U.S. is being evasive.

Anonymous said...

Mexican government officials be they law enforcement or military or any other who are acting against the well being of their own citizens and country all under some guise of combating drugs and U.S directives should be judged in the plazas all over Mexico, mob justice.

"L"B said...

anyninnysez : " Mexican government officials be they law enforcement or military or any other who are acting against the well being of their own citizens and country all under some guise of combating drugs and U.S directives should be judged in the plazas all over Mexico, mob justice."
August 28, 2011 7:48 PM

sounds like this ninny moufs is advocating mob attacks against American citizens in Mexico..

is that what you are saying ninny moufs?

Think Tank said...

Mexican sovereignty? Sovereignty over what??? You guys are sitting in a big landfill full of your own excrement. You have nothing to be proud of. Nothing to protect. Best thing that could happen to Mex is that the US takes it over. A lot of Mexicans wish this would happen. It wont though. You better look for all the help you can get if you want a future for your people. From the looks of things, Mexico may very well drag America down with it, just by being so close to the sewer, America is starting to stink too.

Ardent said...

'Think Tank', you are just the latest of the Right Wing hate mongers to be posting at this site. YOu guys make all the rest of us sick having you dumb idiots around us constantly. You hate America just as much as you hate all the rest of the world, too.

'Mexican sovereignty? Sovereignty over what??? You guys are sitting in a big landfill full of your own excrement. ...Mexico may very well drag America down with it, just by being so close to the sewer...'

You duh scat man, Dude! So full of shit that's all you talk about though you project your own shit on to Mexico and Mexicans. Talk about idioto-illlogical SEWAGE? You wallow in it. How does BB get you nuts here in mass to mass?

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