Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Sunday, August 7, 2011

U.S. Widens Role in Battle Against Mexican Drug Cartels

By Ginger Thompson
The New York Times 
Mexican federal police agents training in Mexico City. The United States has trained nearly 4,500 new federal police agents.

The United States is expanding its role in Mexico’s bloody fight against drug trafficking organizations, sending new C.I.A. operatives and retired military personnel to the country and considering plans to deploy private security contractors in hopes of turning around a multibillion-dollar effort that so far has shown few results.

In recent weeks, small numbers of C.I.A. operatives and American civilian military employees have been posted at a Mexican military base, where, for the first time, security officials from both countries work side by side in collecting information about drug cartels and helping plan operations. Officials are also looking into embedding a team of American contractors inside a specially vetted Mexican counternarcotics police unit.

 The United States is assisting Mexican police forces in conducting wiretaps, running informants and interrogating suspects.

Officials on both sides of the border say the new efforts have been devised to get around Mexican laws that prohibit foreign military and police from operating on its soil, and to prevent advanced American surveillance technology from falling under the control of Mexican security agencies with long histories of corruption.

“A sea change has occurred over the past years in how effective Mexico and U.S. intelligence exchanges have become,” said Arturo Sarukhán, Mexico’s ambassador to the United States. “It is underpinned by the understanding that transnational organized crime can only be successfully confronted by working hand in hand, and that the outcome is as simple as it is compelling: we will together succeed or together fail.”

The latest steps come three years after the United States began increasing its security assistance to Mexico with the $1.4 billion Merida Initiative and tens of millions of dollars from the Defense Department. They also come a year before elections in both countries, when President Obama may confront questions about the threat of violence spilling over the border, and President Felipe Calderón’s political party faces a Mexican electorate that is almost certainly going to ask why it should stick with a fight that has left nearly 45,000 people dead.

“The pressure is going to be especially strong in Mexico, where I expect there will be a lot more raids, a lot more arrests and a lot more parading drug traffickers in front of cameras,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a counternarcotics expert at the Brookings Institution. “But I would also expect a lot of questioning of Merida, and some people asking about the way the money is spent, or demanding that the government send it back to the gringos.”

Mexico has become ground zero in the American counternarcotics fight since its cartels have cornered the market and are responsible for more than 80 percent of the drugs that enter the United States. American counternarcotics assistance there has grown faster in recent years than to Afghanistan and Colombia. And in the last three years, officials said, exchanges of intelligence between the United States and Mexico have helped security forces there capture or kill some 30 mid- to high-level drug traffickers, compared with just two such arrests in the previous five years.

The United States has trained nearly 4,500 new federal police agents and assisted in conducting wiretaps, running informants and interrogating suspects. The Pentagon has provided sophisticated equipment, including Black Hawk helicopters, and in recent months it has begun flying unarmed surveillance drones over Mexican soil to track drug kingpins.

Still, it is hard to say much real progress has been made in crippling the brutal cartels or stemming the flow of drugs and guns across the border. Mexico’s justice system remains so weakened by corruption that even the most notorious criminals have not been successfully prosecuted.

“The government has argued that the number of deaths in Mexico is proof positive that the strategy is working and that the cartels are being weakened,” said Nik Steinberg, a specialist on Mexico at Human Rights Watch. “But the data is indisputable — the violence is increasing, human rights abuses have skyrocketed and accountability both for officials who commit abuses and alleged criminals is at rock bottom.”

Mexican and American officials involved in the fight against organized crime do not see it that way. They say the efforts begun under President Obama are only a few years old, and that it is too soon for final judgments. Dan Restrepo, Mr. Obama’s senior Latin American adviser, refused to talk about operational changes in the security relationship, but said, “I think we are in a fundamentally different place than we were three years ago.”

A senior Mexican official, speaking on condition of anonymity, agreed. “This is the game-changer in degrading transnational organized crime,” he said, adding: “It can’t be a two-, three-, four-, five- or six-year policy. For this policy investment to work, it has to be sustained long-term.”

Several Mexican and American security analysts compared the challenges of helping Mexico rebuild its security forces and civil institutions — crippled by more than seven decades under authoritarian rule — to similar tests in Afghanistan. They see the United States fighting alongside a partner it needs but does not completely trust.

Though the new United States ambassador to Mexico was plucked from an assignment in Kabul, Afghanistan, the Obama administration bristles at such comparisons, saying Mexico’s growing economy and functioning, though fragile, institutions put it far ahead of Afghanistan. Instead, administration officials more frequently compare Mexico’s struggle to the one Colombia began some 15 years ago.

Among the most important lessons they have learned, they say, is that in almost any fight against organized crime, things tend to get worse before they get better.

When violence spiked last year around Mexico’s industrial capital, Monterrey, Mr. Calderón’s government asked the United States for more access to sophisticated surveillance technology and expertise. After months of negotiations, the United States established an intelligence post on a northern Mexican military base, moving Washington beyond its traditional role of sharing information to being more directly involved in gathering it.

American officials declined to provide details about the work being done by the American team of fewer than two dozen Drug Enforcement Administration agents, C.I.A. officials and retired military personnel members from the Pentagon’s Northern Command. For security reasons, they asked The New York Times not to disclose the location of the compound.

But the officials said the compound had been modeled after “fusion intelligence centers” that the United States operates in Iraq and Afghanistan to monitor insurgent groups, and that the United States would strictly play a supporting role.

“The Mexicans are in charge," said one American military official. “It’s their show. We’re all about technical support.”

The two countries have worked in lock step on numerous high-profile operations, including the continuing investigation of the February murder of Jaime J. Zapata, an American Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.

Mexico’s federal police chief, Genaro García Luna, put a helicopter in the air within five minutes after receiving a call for help from Mr. Zapata’s partner, the authorities said. Then he invited American officials to the police intelligence center — an underground location known as “the bunker” — to work directly with Mexican security forces in tracking down the suspects.

Mexican officials hand-carried shell casings recovered from the scene of the shooting to Washington for forensics tests, allowed American officials to conduct their own autopsy of the agent’s body and shipped the agent’s bullet-battered car to the United States for inspection.

In another operation last week, the Drug Enforcement Administration and a Mexican counternarcotics police unit collaborated on an operation that led to the arrest of José Antonio Hernández Acosta, a suspected drug trafficker. The authorities believe he is responsible for hundreds of deaths in the border city of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, including the murders of two Americans employed at the United States Consulate there.

While D.E.A. field officers were not on the scene — the Mexicans still draw the line at that — the Americans helped develop tips and were in contact with the Mexican unit almost every minute of the five-hour manhunt, according to a senior American official in Mexico. The unit, of about 50 officers, is the focus of another potentially ground-breaking plan that has not yet won approval. Several former D.E.A. officials said the two countries were considering a proposal to embed a group of private security contractors — including retired D.E.A. agents and former Special Forces officers — inside the unit to conduct an on-the-job training academy that would offer guidance in conducting operations so that suspects can be successfully taken to court. Mexican prosecutors would also work with the unit, the Americans said.

But a former American law enforcement official familiar with the unit described it as one good apple in a barrel of bad ones. He said it was based on a compound with dozens of other nonvetted officers, who provided a window on the challenges that the Mexican police continue to face.

Some of the officers had not been issued weapons, and those who had guns had not been properly trained to use them. They were required to pay for their helmets and bulletproof vests out of their own pockets. And during an intense gun battle against one of Mexico’s most vicious cartels, they had to communicate with one another on their cellphones because they had not been issued police radios. “It’s sort of shocking,” said Eric Olson of the Woodrow Wilson Center. “Mexico is just now learning how to fight crime in the midst of a major crime wave. It’s like trying to saddle your horse while running the Kentucky Derby.”


  1. “Mexico is just now learning how to fight crime in the midst of a major crime wave. It’s like trying to saddle your horse while running the Kentucky Derby.”

    LMAO....yep that's Mexico...

  2. "New efforts have been devised to get around Mexican laws that prohibit foreign military and police from operating on its soil," Wow. Seems its illegal for us to step foot on their side, but they can drive over our side in the middle of the night? My good friend is in charge of the UAV program that monitors the AZ/MEX border, and he has told me multiple stories of watching Mexican Police and Army trucks drive over to protect drugs. We cant step foot in their country, but they can in ours. And thats nothing compared to seeing executions, mass burials, and other horrific scenes. And guess what! He has to report to the Pentagon, and not say anything to the local police! And as far as us training them, it's just another great opportunity for the cartels to choose better trained people. Either let us do your job and do it right, or take up arms and clean up your own mess! Oh yah, guns are illegal in Mexico, meaning only the criminals can protect themselves! Problem is, if Mexico EVER gets cleaned up, the party who did it will become corrupt and steal all the money and screw the Mexican citizens over just like EVERY SINGLE PRESIDENT THEY HAVE EVER ELECTED!!! Why is it that I know so many honest, hard working Mexicans who are the greatest people I have ever met, but the country is corrupt and as shady as the worst of the African nations? God help those great Mexican people who are dodging bullets and being killed by their own people looking to find a better life!

  3. Isn't this how the Zetas were formed? If it was Teddy Rosevelt he would just send in the Rough Riders and be done with it. This thing has been dragging on for far too long.

  4. Texcoco Mex said

    ManWhore Seems its illegal for us to step foot on their side, but they can drive over our side in the middle of the night? My good friend is in charge of the UAV program that monitors the AZ/MEX border.

    Is this real or you just talking shit? Every now and then I read on blogs about Mex Military and Police protecting loads of drugs on this side of the border but until today I have not seen any Mex Military or Police personal arrested for protecting loads on this side of the border. Now did you know about the Mex Military helicopter that landed in Texas airport yesterday full of soldiers and weapons? Was that helicopter protecting loads? Has your friend ever told you about the U.S military plane that landed on Pensacola Florida military base with 10 tons of cocaine. If I was a criminal I will ask the corrupt police on this side to protect my loads not the ones from the other side and don't tell me U.S has not corrupt officials because they do.

  5. Its heartening to know that both these Govt. have taken and pland taking more serious efforts on taking these ruthless bunch of rogues to their task, while giving bad name to people of Mexico.

  6. Is this a US ploy to down play their supplying the Sinaloa Cartel with weapons through "Fast and Furious." It is certainly how we operate and the timing is right.

  7. Texcoco Mex said

    Well I'm glad to know they are doing things like this for the benefit of the people. U.S and Mexico keep up the good work.

  8. Best news I heard on this site.

  9. I love it. Send in the contractors and anyone else we can use to stick it to the cartel clowns. If it was up to me, I would round them all up and put them in a tent city in Arizona. Let them sew doggy sweaters in the hot sun for 12 hours a day... Or put them on treadmills connected to generators, and get some free power out of these dorks. That, and seize all of their assets and pay society a dividend for all of their suffering caused by the acts of cowardly cartels.

  10. Dont front Mexico, there are already americans embedded in your units. And our CIA is running rampant in your country. I love it

  11. Both the US and Mexico are breaking their own laws here in their joint 'drug war' done supposedly to enforce the laws of Mexico. Increasingly both countries' governments do not abide by their own legal regulations yet somehow think that when their own military and policing agencies break the law that that somehow reinforces respect for the laws! Actually though it has the complete opposite effect. Both societies are increasingly becoming police states and their respect for basic democratic and basic human rights both sides of our joint border is negligible.

  12. " U.S WIDENS ROLE IN BATTLE AGAINST DRUG CARTELS" What they are really saying is that arming and protecting chapo is not enough, we want more of the drug market for ourselves? Why is it anywhere there is mass murders and social unrest the good old boys (c.I.a) aren't very far away...and who cares about some police, troops that accidently cross over the country line, we care about the illegals that cross over on purpose. This whole article says...darn, the ametican people caught us with our pantss down...quick..look busy...divert their attention from our criminal and illegal activity of arming our boy chapo.

  13. Good news - bad news...
    The bad news is "contractors" - in what war-like situation has the US brought in contractors that don't end up out of control and killing (and covering-up)the killing of innocents?

    Presidente Calderon (the PAN puppet) is ending his presidential career as the US' boot licking chihuahua.

  14. great job u.s., train the federal police who will in 6 months to a year leave and join the cartels!! try getting the border under control to stop the flow of money to the cartels- tis the only solution but i guess we can't since our country is being run by the u.s.chamber of commerce!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. I wonder how things are going to turn out.

  16. ardent found a new word to use in his off-topic rants. "increasingly" it sounds good, it's very dramatic and you don't have to provide any backup information or statistics. ardent loves to use dramatic, inflammatory words and he never bothers with any real support info.

    increasingly the US and mexico don't abide (another good word) by their own laws. HOW IRONIC. ardent has a deep and abiding appreciation of irony.

    "...increasingly becoming police states..." as compared to what? using what criteria?

    " has the complete opposite effect..." as opposed to the partial opposite effect?

    My take on this article is that the US is AGAIN going to get tied up in another expensive war it can't win like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. NO BOOTS ON THE GROUND IN MEXICO.

  17. a bunch of naive sheep, arm the cartels, let the weapons flow in like water, let Mexico fall into chaos, keep our shipments of drugs coming in, we will be seen as saviors when we intervene! Those oil reserves make my mouth water! a toda madre o un desmadre

  18. Read The Cobra, Frederick Forsythe's latest novel on how to eliminate the drug busines once and for all. Most fascinating. It can be done.

  19. Obama (you recall, the 1st black president who brought hope and change?) wanted to sell guns to the insurrectionists, oops I mean the drug cartels, because he sees himself as a leftist dictator of the US and Mexico. He and his AG knew about F&F and were/are ok with it.

    He wants to be like his friends Chavez, Correa, Castro and Morales.

    Now the US is working more with Mexico to defeat the criminals? Watch out Mexico. You will never get rid of them.

  20. more expensive cat and mouse...where are the efforts directed at stopping the flow into Mexico...

    i mean if it can't make it into Mexico..then it dosen't get transported through Mexico...and if it can't make it across the Mexico Us border ain't worth shit

    last night i crossed at Laredo..and while clearing customs etc...not one car was pulled over to the tables and searched..

    the little tap the side of the car ..use the mirror to half way look under the rear of the car ..the halfass trunk guy had to open his hood ...flashlight ..thats it close the hood... the sniffer dog got occupied by a piece of some shit on the ground...Taco?...bubble gum?....i mean for real ..i am thinking ..shit... if it is that easy ..why am i riding a hot ass crowed bus...

    no effort on the Mexican side embarrassingly incompetent one on the US side

    the whole thing is a charade

    im mexican and i know what goes on in mexico and TRUST ME MY FRIENDS when i say this is all under da table business on helping chapo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  22. Anonymous 11:17, I'm so sorry that you got yourself all hot under the collar because I used the word 'Increasingly' to describe the lawlessness that our government is chronically engaged in. Funny though how you don't seem to get worked up about the INCREASING overt use of US government torture and illegally funded warfare around the globe, yet can get yourself into such a huff about me! Is the US government really in such need of 'defenders' such as yourself?

    And in regards to me being supposedly 'off topic' with my comments???? I thought that the report was about how the US was illegally getting involved in the domestic affairs of a foreign country. What in the world did you think was being discussed instead?

    'The United States is expanding its role in Mexico’s bloody fight against drug trafficking organizations, sending new C.I.A. operatives and retired military personnel to the country and considering plans to deploy private security contractors in hopes of turning around a multibillion-dollar effort that so far has shown few results.'

    See? Here is the topic again. It's about the US government illegally subverting the internal affairs of Mexico by promoting warfare there. Got it? (Good grief!)

  23. they need a remote prison like guantanamo

  24. Good point mexican millitary chopper. And a mexican army convoy all crossed Into laredo wats happenin no news on borderlandbeat somethings fishy in the sister cities I smell corruption up the arse on both sides we need the new york times down here to investigate if ur reading this article new york times come to the border ull be received with open arms concerned laredo citizen

  25. What if the Mexican Military and Federal Police reduced the CDG, CDJ, ABO, TJ, Zetas, LFM or whatever they are now, and any other DOT in Mexico except CDS to a mere plaza retailing organization. And then the US sent special forces in to train and work with their Military and Feds to take out El Chapo and El Mayo. What would be left? I'll tell you.

    President Calderon could take credit for significantly impacting all the drug cartels in Mexico. The US could boast about it's significant assistance in combating DTOs in Mexico and how it has made great strides in the war on drugs. What would be left? I'll tell you.

    The largest DTO in the world. One very well armed with leaders involved and connected with several governments. One so powerful that no one speaks of it and no one knows who the leader is. It is located in Sinaloa, has a panel of leaders directly connected with the Mexican Government, CIA, DEA, ICE, USBP, Mexican Military, Mexican Federal Police, all the Columbian DTOs, and of course the Columbian Government.

    It could operate below the radar because it owns the radar. It would be so powerful that it could dictate drug trade throughout the world. Incidentally, it would have total control of the poppy fields of Afghanistan also giving it much of the worldwide heroin market.

    Remember, Great Britain became a superpower but controlling the opium trade worldwide for more than a century.

  26. Texcoco Mex said

    Today I found this on the news.

    A history of corruption

    This isn't the first time that U.S. agencies have been enmeshed in drug trafficking activities. Official documents and testimonies from the Iran-contra scandal proved that such activities date back at least to the 1980s. In 1990, then-DEA agents Wayne Schmidt and Hector Berrelez wrote a secret report that referenced the assassination of Mexican journalist Manuel Buendia in 1984.

  27. Texcoco Mex said

    A well-known columnist, Buendia possessed information about what was believed to be training camp of "Guatemalan guerrillas" in the southeastern state of Veracruz, which in fact turned out to be a breeding ground for mercenaries of the Nicaraguan Contra. Between 1981 and 1986, during the first five of its eight years in office, Ronald Reagan's Republican administration waged a clandestine war against the Nicaraguan Sandinista regime, led by Daniel Ortega. That campaign was made possible by the financing and training of the Contras, a guerrilla group that was fuelled by profits from the narco- trade.

  28. Texcoco Mex said

    "In exchange for getting money for the Contra, the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] created a relationship with the Medellin Cartel and with mid-sized Mexican drug dealers. Thanks to that connection, the Mexicans grew… from being [small-time] sellers, they entered the big cocaine market," Anabel Hernandez, Mexican journalist and author of the recent explosive best-seller 'Los Señores del Narco' (The Drug Lords), told IPS. In 1977, Miguel Caro, Ernesto Fonseca and Miguel Felix Gallardo, leaders of the Guadalajara Cartel – the seed of the Sinaloa Cartel – were introduced to the Honduran Ramon Mata Ballesteros, the human link with the Colombian drug traffickers. Together, they began to transport the powder from South America to the U.S., an activity that earned them millions of dollars.

  29. Texcoco Mex said

    Several years later, Mexican kingpins entered the 'Irangate' equation. The Guadalajara Cartel distributed the Colombian cocaine. The money was used to buy arms and military equipment from Iran and to free U.S. hostages in Iran and Lebanon, and the weapons ended up in the hands of the Contras. Pablo Escobar, the deceased head of the Medellin Cartel, gave 10 million dollars to the Nicaraguan mercenaries. The Kerry Committee report, the final document detailing the hearings sponsored by Democrat Senator John Kerry, concluded in 1989 that the "narcos" gave airplanes, arms, money and logistics support to the Contras.

  30. No ardent, the US govt subverting the internal affairs of Mexico is your topic. You haul it out to bludgeon BB readers at every article regardless of the topic. It's your main beef with the country that feeds you and protects you and provides you with more opportunity than any other. If you know of a better place you should tell me so I can go there.

    Don't flatter yourself that you get anyone in a huff. You can never rise to that level. You make me laugh. Read the last line of the post dimwit.

  31. LOL so funny.

    War on drugs Fail. Drugs will never go away silly fools. They know it and you should know it but you are probably like all the other american sheep out there who get herded in whatever direction they want to take you. Government doesn't care about drugs blah blah just do enough to look good in the public eye, make a few busts, skim a few off the top, meanwhile funding a war that they know can never be won. The sad thing is the cops and police in the line of duty, they believe in their cause and they believe together they can help take down drug cartels and lead the war on drugs. Stupid fools. Your government knows your efforts are fruitless.

    If it wasn't mexican cartels it would be some latin american cartel blah blah who gives a shit. I kinda like the way it was before all this military bullshit in mexico.

    just cut your losses (huge loss of human life/ruining the future of children who will be set back because of violence.

    FFS How can you blame mexico? We blame mexico drug cartels but are hypocrites because at the end of the night we still packing our nose with coke ...
    okay blame mexico, but i got $100. hypocrites.

  32. Yes File Host it's important that we identify hypocrisy wherever we find it. You, of course, have no conflicts in your behavior. You find no paradox in your life.

    Now that you have zeroed in on the stupid fools and the hypocrites you must feel very smug and self-satisfied. According to your analysis the answer is there is no answer and there is no reason to resist the criminals/govt. because you can't win - right?


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