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

Monday, December 12, 2011

Drug Wars: This Isn't Your Mother's Cartel

Modern cartels pose one of the biggest threats to law enforcement not just on the southern border, but nationwide.

Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith

In the early 1980s when I was a young narcotics cop — and the first and only female in my unit — all we heard about were the Colombian drug cartels. It was every young narc’s fantasy to get the “big score” that would lead us straight to a Colombian connection. The cartels were famously ruthless, and it took many years and too much bloodshed for them to be dismantled in the late 1980s, but dismantled they were.

Nearly three decades later, the modern-day Mexican drug cartels pose one of the biggest threats to the safety of American law enforcement officers not just on our southern border, but throughout this nation. Recently, I was privileged to speak with crime analyst, author and cartel expert Sylvia Longmire about this complicated and dangerous situation.

First and foremost, Sylvia is truly a role model for any woman in law enforcement or the military. She is a medically retired Air Force captain and former Special Agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. She is an experienced investigator and has worked extensively in the fields of counterintelligence, counterespionage, and force protection. During her last assignment, she worked at HQ AFOSI as the Latin America desk officer, analyzing issues in the US Southern Command area of responsibility that might affect the security of deployed Air Force personnel. For over four years Sylvia worked as a senior intelligence analyst for the California state fusion center and the California Emergency Management Agency's Situational Awareness Unit, focusing almost exclusively on Mexican drug trafficking organizations and southwest border violence issues.

For the last six years, she has regularly lectured on terrorism in Latin America at the Air Force Special Operations School's Dynamics of International Terrorism course. She holds a Master of Arts degree from the University of South Florida in Latin American and Caribbean Studies — this woman knows her stuff! Sylvia is currently an independent consultant, freelance writer, and dynamic public speaker, and like many of you, she balances a busy career with an even busier young family.

Not just a border issue
As I talked with Sylvia, three words immediately came to mind: Passionate, focused and frustrated. As a part-time resident of Arizona, I’m amazed that the violent drug wars on our southern border don’t seem to get the national attention they warrant, and I asked Longmire about that. She shares my frustration.

“Ninety percent of the illegal drugs consumed by Americans come from Mexico,” Sylvia told me. The drug trade in the US is almost entirely connected to the cartels, and it’s no longer just a “border” issue. The U.S. Justice Department's Drug Intelligence Center reported in April of 2011 that Mexican drug cartels were operating in 230 American cities. Longmire estimates that number could now be nearing 1000.

“If you make a traffic stop and you seize a bunch of dope, you’re going to have a cartel problem,” she said, “and someone is probably going to come looking for their dope.” In other words, that drug seizure of a lifetime for a patrol cop is could turn into a security issue for the local police department and maybe even for the community itself. Longmire recently completed her first book, "Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars" to help bring this issue to the forefront, and it’s a must-read for every cop (and concerned citizen) in North America.

There are six or seven primary cartels operating the Mexican drug trade. Longmire cites the brutal drug-related torture and murder of four men in Shelby County, Alabama in August of 2008 and the November 2010, record-breaking methamphetamine seizure in Gwinnett County, GA as only two of countless examples of violent, high-level Mexican cartel criminal activity well north of the US/Mexican border. So what should the average street cop, detective, narc, and even dispatcher be aware of?

Cartels in your community: What to consider
1.) Understand that there is no single drug involved; cocaine, marijuana, and meth are primarily cartel-controlled, and the substances don’t just come from Mexico. The cartels use public lands within the United States to grow massive amounts of marijuana, often exploiting their own people to plant, tend and harvest it.

2.) The cartels are highly organized and although they are often able to hide successfully in Mexican communities intimidated by their financing and their brutality, they often use local street gangs and criminal infrastructure to move their merchandise within the United States. When you find an illegal drug, it’s more than likely cartel-connected. And the “haulers” may not be Mexican; the cartels will use any criminal organization willing to get involved.

3.) There is an increasing willingness for the cartels to engage US law enforcement officials on our own soil. It’s in the criminals’ best interest to avoid the police, but if you make a large seizure, disrupt local operations, or prevent transportation of their product, be prepared. The cartels are extremely brutal and generally without conscience. They have no problem seeking out you, your residence or your family to exact revenge or get you or your agency off of their backs.

4.) Be prepared to see more high-quality black tar heroin from Mexico, and the price is starting to plummet, making it more available. This means that in certain cities, you may start seeing more of it used by middle class teenagers and young adults. Some of the better stuff doesn't even need to be injected anymore, getting rid of that "shooting up" social stigma. Mexican meth is also manufactured in huge quantities using “super-labs” and ingredients often imported from China; some of it may be in gel form.

How can American law enforcement help fight this war? Intelligence and information-sharing are two key weapons. Just like drug dealers have turf wars, so do cops. Longmire admits there are a lot of hurtles that the police culture needs to overcome. Our reporting systems are not well-connected and we tend to be too localized. Most criminals are not going to identify themselves as part of the cartels, so cops have to ask the right questions and document everything said. We need to access fusion centers, talk to each other, and remember that we’re all on the same team…really.

After all, this issue is not just a “war on drugs” and should not be confused with the controversy surrounding illegal immigration. This is a war against the violence being inflicted upon our citizens, our children and on us, and it’s a war we must win!


  1. What BS! Cant believe she believes what she writes herself.

    Well I have a couple of questions to Mrs Sgt. BB Smith:
    1. did the dismantling of the colombian cartels reduce drugs consumption in the US?
    2. do you expect the dismantling of the mexican cartels to reduce drugs consumption in the US?
    3. was the dismantling of the colombian cartels worth all the colombian suffering and spilled blood?
    4. do you expect the dismantling of the mexican cartels worth all the mexican suffering and spilled blood?

    I would be suprised if with an honest heart you could answer "yes" to any of these questions!

  2. With all due respect to Anonymous 2:55 am,

    Some things are worth fighting and dying for. This is one. Can you imagine the price you would pay for surrendering the fight to these violent cartels? Freedom would be non exsistent. No freedom to move about, accumulate wealth, possessions or even food. I read in one article on BLB what happens to women who reject cartel members advances. Now it's someone else's daughter. What happens when it's yours. Mexico has long since accepted the practice of mordida. That is one of the reasons Mexico is in the position it's in now. Another reason is America's, Mexico's and the worlds drug consumption.

    Punishment needs to be strengthened here in the US. No probation, Deferred adjudication or parole for drug offenses. Stiff and lengthy sentences are in order for minor drug possession. It will never stop it but it is a step in the right direction.

  3. She is no expert. Just because she sat behind a desk a read reports makes her an expert. Give me a break.

  4. Border Patrol Agents routinely seize thousand pound drug loads. Reports of retaliation are unheard of.

  5. many expert commenters here. Let's see any of you do anything productive besides pretending you know better. The cartels need to be fought, the United States will go through a change again as the old gangster glorification will come to an end. the new American Youth is VEEERY smart and mature (if not left to be raised by the TV). Kids these days know about pedophiles and make fun of them, Kids these days don't fall for lies as easy anymore. If it was up to some of you useless commenters, kids would be raised in a world where drug use is legal and accepted and would never learn to say 'No' or learn the importance of choices. All you stating drugs should be have serious issues and have missed some education. the majority of americans is NOT using drugs. The Majority of Americans do NOT want to legalize drugs. So you sit there on your ass and do not see the reason or purpose to fight the drug war? Wow, morons, absolute morons. You really have no clue about life in the USA.

    1. the fact that drugs are illegal are the only reason there is a war on them. It's illegal, so where is the "choice"? If these drugs were legal it doesn't mean more people would be on them, if they wanted to be they would already, for they are widely available. We are not all fiends. Drugs are most definitely bad but the fact that they are illegal make them much worse. The day these drugs are no longer illegal will be the day the cartels fall. It's not that hard to see what the war on drugs is doing to the world. Let people do what they want, some will make mistakes and most will learn from them. This has been proven.

    2. I would like to add that many of the drugs in the u.s. come through Mexico but not from Mexico. Cannabis is mainly grown domestically, the majority of cocaine is from south America, heroin from the middle east. Ecstacy has been mostly European but is becoming more domestically manufactured as meth, acid, and other easily manufactured synthetic drugs are also being made right here.

  6. December 13, 2011 10:52 AM

    more Armchair Experts like yourself do nothing
    but spew rhetoric.

  7. I’ve been reading Sylvia Longmire’s articles for a few years now and I agree, she knows her stuff and she’s a great reporter. A lot of times I agree with her analysis of certain situations that occur in Mexico, and sometimes I don’t. However, she’s still a good reporter and I did not waste any time buying her book as soon as it came out.

  8. I live in the USA, I have never and will never do Drugs, however I believe the price is much to high to fight a War against Drugs and I believe they should be legal, however I believe anyone that gives drugs to kids, or commits a crime under the influence of these drugs should be sentenced to prison for life. Stop the War on Drugs and go after the people that commit crimes while using these drugs and we will save many more lives and we will save Billions upon billions of dollars.

  9. @ December 13, 2011 10:52 AM .Mr,i ain't got a clue what you talking about?What is your point?Aside from rambling that is?Story here is about the credentials of this woman,a so-called expert.

  10. I can't believe Sylvia Longmire is presented as an "expert" on the cartel situation in Mexico. What a total joke.

    She hasn't even ever been to Mexico, much less had any education in Mexican sociology.

    Her book is nothing but a bunch of very unlikely possibilities, so crooks like her can make money from "security consulting" for corporations who are even more clueless than Longmire is.

    In her book she presents the Calderon Administration as doing all the right things, when they've caused 50,000 deaths. She's completely clueless about corruption in Mexico, and is so unaware of Mexican history that it's PAINFUL.

    Either Ioan Grillo's "El Narco", or Malcolm Beith's "The Last Narco" are far more informative and offer analysis of what's really going on and how the Mexico arrived at today's situation.

    Instead, Sylvia Longmire has sat at a desk and read a bunch on intelligence reports, drawing erroneous conclusions, because she's missing 99% of the story. How could she have the slightest clue, when she's never talked to the people who matter?

  11. Ms Longmire's assertion that "90 per cent of the illegal drugs consumed by Americans" is the single most ridiculous drug statistic I have ever read.

    Even the DEA's own drug maps show the majority of drugs come through Caribbean Basin countries like the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

    Why we don't read more about these countries is that most of these drugs are "our" drugs, meaning U.S.-approved.

    Just like the first U.S. war on drugs, against the drug called "alcohol," and known as Prohibition, the current war on drugs is a tragic farce.

  12. OSI? All they do is bust USAF Airmen for underage drinking and minor drug use. OSI is a JOKE! I had to be interrogated by them twice! Dude was guilty and they still couldn't get a conviction!

  13. @ 12:10 Even the DEA's own drug maps show the majority of drugs come through Caribbean Basin countries like the Dominican Republic and Haiti.


  14. The majority of drugs do not come from the south eastern Florida corridor anymore, that hasn't been true since the Mexican groups took over US distribution, and stopped muling for the Colombians, and just buying their own product. 90% of the cocaine in the US comes from Mexico. I think the biggest are the Texas, Arizona, and California borders. The Columbians, Domincans, whatever are only relevant on the eastern seaboards, and even there marginalized by Mexican. based TCO's.

  15. @11:43 Trust me, she's been to Mexico. Where'd you get that? You shouldn't just spew false information for the sake of typing something. BB deserves better than that.

  16. I want to make only one point. The Prohibition Act enabled the rise, funding, and power of the Italian mafia in the USA. This is historical fact, but what have we learned from that? Anyone???

  17. Hey 6:42, are you talking to me? I left a comment signed Siskiyou_Kid @ 11:55 AM.

    I'm sure Sylvia Longmire's been to a secure resort or even a police conference in Mexico City with more security than the White House.

    Longmire admits in her book that she did all of her research without talking to anyone in Mexico, and this is a probable reason that her book misses 99% of what's going on. Intelligence reports tell you who and the what, but not the WHY.

    Just a short time anywhere in Mexico, and this ditz would have had a hard time NOT noticing the corruption and social disarray that's endemic.

  18. Sorry, Longmire seems like a nice person but she is no expert and her "qualifications" are so weak and dated. she lives in the midwest and has a home in az. what she knows is not from experience but from reading and research, nothing wrong with that but what she states is largely fluff and no depth and not current. the reason is flies in the states is because few know enough to challenge her contention of being an expert on Mexican issues.

    Her book was panned by those who truly know the drugwar

  19. @7:55 PM, We learned nothing! With the idiot politicians we have in the U.S. love to point the finger at Mexico’s government saying they’re corrupt. Politicians here should look in the mirror while saying that! The so called war on drugs is not winnable and will never be with prohibition in place. It’s the game of supply and demand. Sylvia one said the war on drugs is not a war because it wars have an end. I believe in that and this problem can only be managed. Politicians/lawyers and law enforcement love collecting tax payer (40 billion a year) money to fight a phony war! Since 1914 when cocaine was outlawed they thought it was all over, well…. cocaine is still here.... I wonder why? DUH!!!

  20. Everybody is talking about all the drugs mexico is bringing into this great country of ours, and how jail sentences must be made stiffer.and blahblahblah bl as hblah. Wasn't prohibition caused by illigization of a drug?the american people said the lives it was costing wa snt worth it, so they legalized it. isn't alcohol the number 1 consumed drug in the world, doesn't it have a negative affect on society ? Yet its still legal. Second isn't tobacco widely used in the world? doesn't it destroy the human body? So what's the diffrence? Legalize all illicit drugs and regulate them, tax them. Let the government make a profit not the cartels. But the drug problem really isn't a problem, its there because our government wants it there. Think about it.

  21. Why present her propaganda lies here? Hopefully it's just for the comedy aspect?

    And look at this idiotic comment from a brainwashed poster:

    Some things are worth fighting and dying for. This is one. Can you imagine the price you would pay for surrendering the fight to these violent cartels? "


    Freedom would be non exsistent. No freedom to move about, accumulate wealth, possessions or even food.


  22. Am I the only one to think she's hot looking?

  23. mexico is the number one threat to the security of the american people in the world and our government wil do nothing about it!there must be a lot of government officials making a lot of money from the drug trade,there can be no other reason as to why our government will do nothing about it!

  24. Supply and demand, kill the demand and the supplier will die all by its self.


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