Note: As often stated, the relative safety of U.S. border cities is
primarily due to very heavy concentrations of law enforcement. U.S.
rural areas do not enjoy the same resources.
Report: Mexican drug cartels adopting military tactics
by Diana Washington Valdez \ El Paso Times
Posted: 08/07/2011 03:39:13 PM MDT
Mexican drug cartels are using military weapons and tactics while
also recruiting Texas teenagers to carry out their operations, which
are evolving into full-blown criminal enterprises, experts said.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven C. McCraw said last
week in a report given to Congress that the cartels "incorporate
reconnaissance networks, techniques and capabilities normally
associated with military organizations, such as communications
intercepts, interrogations, trend analysis, secure communications,
coordinated military-style tactical operations, GPS, thermal imagery
and military armaments, including fully automatic weapons, rocket-
propelled grenades and hand grenades."
McCraw, an El Pasoan and former FBI official, testified about his
findings before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight, Investigations
and Management. He was joined by Arizona Attorney General Thomas C.
Horne, Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez Jr., and McAllen
Police Chief Victor Rodriguez. The committee wanted to shed light on
the latest trends among Mexican drug-trafficking organizations.
McCraw testified that the cartels are recruiting youths in high
schools to commit crimes for them.
"The border region constitutes 9.4 percent of the state's population
and now has nearly 19 percent of the juvenile felony drug and gang
referrals," he told the committee without elaborating.
Four years ago, U.S. federal agents arrested a high school graduate
and accused him of belonging
to a student-led drug-trafficking ring in east El Paso County. Agents
said that 15 to 20 students were recruited and paid about $1,500 to
drive vehicles across the border from Juárez and $3,500 more to drive
loads to Oklahoma City.
Earlier this year, U.S. border officials intercepted a 16-year-old El
Paso boy who was driving a vehicle from Juárez that had a hidden
compartment packed with illegal drugs.
"While conditions are substantially similar, we have
noticed a disturbing trend where the cartels have been increasing
threats to U.S. law enforcement officers," McCraw said Wednesday.
Nearly all of the experts who testified before Congress said that the
Zetas cartel is the most dangerous group and that cartel disputes
pose grave dangers for the U.S. border.
Mexican Consul Roberto Rodriguez Hernandez said that while he does
not downplay the dangers cartels have created in cities like Juárez,
the U.S. side of the border remains relatively safe.
"Some of these reports out of Texas are exaggerated and without
basis," Rodriguez said. "U.S. law enforcement statistics show that
U.S. border communities have not become less safe."
Last week, President Barack Obama signed an order authorizing new
sanctions against the Zetas, which has spread its influence in the
United States, Central America and Europe.
The order gives U.S. law enforcement officials extra tools to go
after the Zetas and its financial empire. The U.S. government
considers the cartel a global threat to public safety and political
stability, along with mafias from Italy and other countries.
In fact, Italian government officials recently announced that the
Zetas were working with Italian mobsters.
U.S. officials have said the Zetas changed the modus operandi for
drug-traffickers in Mexico through brutal violence and a military-
type discipline that its founders employed. Some of the early Zetas
were former Mexican Army special forces soldiers.
U.S. officials have reported the presence of Zetas in the El Paso-
Juárez and Columbus-Palomas regions, most recently in relation to
alleged branches smuggling and stockpiling military-grade weapons.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is
investigating arms-smuggling allegations involving the Zetas between
Dallas and the El Paso border area, said Tom Crowley, a spokesman for
the ATF in Texas.
"We cannot provide details at this time because it is an ongoing
investigation," Crowley said.
The Zetas are also training recruits on both sides of the border.
"Cartel-run training camps are typically located in Mexico,"
testified Zapata County Sheriff Gonzalez. "However, in 2008, law
enforcement authorities discovered a training camp in South Texas
that was operated by members of the Gulf cartel's (former)
enforcement arm, Los Zetas."
The Sinaloa cartel, which is waging a bloody battle against the
Carrillo Fuentes cartel for control of the Juárez-El Paso corridor,
also employs a military-type approach.
According to another U.S. government document, "the Sinaloa cartel
uses military-style training camps high in the Sierra-Durango
This cartel ordered a series of terrorist activities, including
orders to "assassinate an SSP (federal public safety) colonel in
Nogales, Sonora ... in an effort to replace that colonel and install
a person controlled by the Sinaloa cartel," the document states.
McAllen's police chief said there is a war going on between drug-
trafficking organizations. "It has taken the form of direct
challenges and firefights with authorities in Mexico," Rodriguez
said. "If they, the drug trafficking organizations, were forces from
another country, Mexico could be seen as being at war and not winning."
Horne, the Arizona attorney general, testified that the best symbol
of the cartels' militarization is the armored-tank-like vehicles that
Mexican soldiers seized in Reynosa, Tamaulipas. He prefers to refer
to the cartels as "criminal enterprises," or CE's, because of their
"The societal impact of the CE's campaign of terror is well
encapsulated in the presence of .50-caliber machine guns mounted in
CE SUVs patrolling the streets of Mexican border cities," Horne
testified. "This weapon, in the hands of a CE, is a brazen
assassination about to happen.
"The 'war wagon' is a rolling advertisement that business must
capitulate -- or else -- and that investment in Mexico includes the
associated risks," Horne added.
According to the experts, the activities of Mexican criminal
enterprises now include the thefts of petroleum, agricultural crops
and cargo, counterfeiting and piracy, kidnapping and extortion, and
"These all require substantial business-directed infiltration,
subversion, and corruption in the target industries," Horne testified.
Horne praised approaches like "Todos Somos Juárez," which seeks to
provide youths with alternatives to joining the cartels through
sports and other positive community activities.
Juárez officials said this week that creating jobs for young people
is at the top of the list of priorities to rebuild the city ravaged
by unprecedented drug violence.
Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org;
Border at risk
From Texas DPS Director Steven C. McCraw's congressional testimony
regarding border vulnerabilities:
"Operation Border Star" led to seizures of $7.9 billion worth of
drugs between 2006 and May 2011.
Drug cartels are involved in immigrant smuggling and other illicit
enterprises. A Texas federal investigation found that 300 Somali
immigrants were smuggled into Texas and California through Brazil,
Guatemala and Mexico between 2006 and 2008.
A smuggler who overtook the Somalis told U.S. authorities he also
moved seven jihadists, most of them through the Southwestern Border.
Six of the seven major Mexican cartels have established command and
control networks in Texas cities.