Thursday, May 3, 2012



Note: This is the flip side to AZMEX SPECIAL 1-5-12. Suggest both
be carefully read. Once again until something is done about the
"american" doper, all this will continue. The following from Tucson

Losing the Drug War
Two newly retired experts on the border speak freely about the status
of the Arizona/Mexico dividing line
by Leo W. Banks

Dan Wirth (left) and Keith Graves: "We have a porous border."

Dan Wirth and Keith Graves spent significant portions of their
careers working on the Arizona-Mexico border. They know these
troubled lands inside and out. Both have reputations as straight-
shooters, and both retired last December.

Now able to speak freely, they agreed to talk to the Tucson Weekly
with only one topic off-limits—the murder of Border Patrol agent
Brian Terry in Peck Canyon on Dec. 14, 2010. At his retirement,
Graves promised the Border Patrol he wouldn't discuss what he knows
about the case.

Graves was the Nogales district ranger for the Coronado National
Forest from 1998 to 2010. When he left that post, he was named a
liaison between the Forest Service and the Secure Border Initiative,
focusing on strategies for dealing with the dramatic impact that
illegal crossings were having on the forest, from fires to trash to
illegal trails.

Wirth was a senior special agent for the Department of Interior. He
coordinated the department's law-enforcement activities across the
Southwest, giving frequent briefings to the secretary of the
interior, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Department
of Defense, the White House Homeland Security Council and members of

We met at a quiet Mexican restaurant in Barrio Hollywood, on Tucson's
westside. The discussion began with a dust-up last May, when Homeland
Security Secretary Janet Napolitano appeared before the Senate
Homeland Security Committee. Sen. John McCain asked her about cartel
scouts, or spotters—armed men who sit on mountaintops in Arizona to
guide loads around law enforcement.

The senator wanted to know how Napolitano could call the border
secure when there are 100 to 200 cartel spotters working in our
state. Napolitano disputed his assertion, saying she asked the Border
Patrol, "Where are the spotters that I keep hearing about?" She said
the agency told her there are a couple of hundred mountaintops from
which a spotter could work, "But there are not, sitting there, 200

The truth is that McCain greatly understated the problem.

Prior to the hearing, Wirth and McCain flew over the Interstate 8
smuggling corridor. This route crosses the Tohono O'odham Nation;
goes through the Sonoran Desert National Monument in the Vekol
Valley, or crosses farther east through the Bureau of Land
Management's Ironwood Forest National Monument; and jumps Interstate
8 into Phoenix—a trek of more than 150 miles, given that it cannot be
traveled in anything close to a straight line.

Wirth told McCain there were 75 to 100 scouts working this smuggling
corridor alone. Based on that, the senator calculated there are 100
to 200 scouts working along the entire Arizona border.

"But that's a gross underestimate," Wirth says. "There are many more
than that."

And the secretary? "Napolitano doesn't want to admit it, but there
are drug scouts all over the high ground," Wirth says.

Dan, estimate the number of scouts working in Arizona right now.

WIRTH: I can't, because they fluctuate. They move when a load moves.
After the hearing, I called McCain's chief of staff and used the
example of the Coronado National Memorial near Sierra Vista, which is
very small. It has 3 1/2 miles of border with Mexico. ... There are
18 sites these scouts occupy when they move a load. We have them
GPS'd. Extrapolate out across Arizona, and we're talking
significantly more than 200.

GRAVES: There used to be three good drug corridors through the
memorial. And there are at least six on the Coronado National Forest.
In the Peloncillo Mountains on the Arizona-New Mexico line near
Douglas, there have to be at least that many more. Each probably has
100 scouts to get a load up to Interstate 10. They need line-of-sight
capability, because there is no good cell coverage out there.

WIRTH: They have campsites, stoves, night-vision gear.

GRAVES: If they're coming back carrying weapons and money, they have
the same scouting capability. If you're bringing a load up, they
might tell you to wait for a day after it's picked up, because
someone is coming to give you money to return south.

WIRTH: The cartels have a logistics network running all through the
state of Arizona. People buy supplies at Walmart and hike it in—food,
batteries for radios, whatever they need.

GRAVES: They have better communications than Border Patrol.

WIRTH: They keep eyes on the load the whole time it moves. They hand
it off from one scout to the next, communicating by radio, and they
say when to stop, when to go, where law enforcement is. It's very
strategic, very organized.

Are these men dangerous?

GRAVES: Only if I walk up to one, reach for a weapon, and say, "Drop
what you've got; I'm taking over." Yes, they would kill me.

WIRTH: They work for an international business. And they do what's
good for business. They're under orders not to shoot at citizens or
law-enforcement people who come up on them, because they can't afford

How do we explain the Rob Krentz murder?

WIRTH: That was an isolated incident, the exception. He ran into an

Do you suspect it was a scout? Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever
says he has evidence it was a drug scout, and I believe Dever.

WIRTH: It's very probable.

Are these resupply people from Mexico or this country?

WIRTH: Both.

GRAVES: The last time I had intel from Homeland Security, they
informed me that more people work for the cartels inside the United
States than in Mexico.

When Napolitano acts surprised and says, "Gee, where are all these
spotters I keep hearing about?" is that political, or does she really
not know?

WIRTH: She has to know.

Why is it so difficult to run these scouts off and keep them off?

WIRTH: They have the high ground and see us coming. In the '90s, I
used to go up and kick down those rock forts at the memorial all the
time. But they'd build them right back up again. When we go up there
to arrest them, they just run back down the hill into Mexico. And if
we do catch them, it's very difficult to tie them to a load and get a
prosecution. All we can do is deport them.

Are you saying law enforcement on the border is under surveillance?

WIRTH: Constantly, 24/7. As soon as we move into an area, that
information is radioed to people or loads in the area. That's why
getting to these sites covertly is difficult.

They sometimes use small loads as decoys for big loads. Correct?

WIRTH: Yes. They plan to lose a certain amount as a cost of doing
business. Once you let Border Patrol take a load down, everybody in
that area gets sucked in, so you can ship a more-valuable load
through on the flanks. Or they send illegal aliens first, and
everybody jumps them, and the dope comes later. They use the people
as decoys. Say someone wants to move coke, a much-more-valuable
commodity than marijuana. They'll spend a lot more money ensuring
that load gets through. They'll creep through the terrain and stop if
law enforcement gets close. Sometimes, they'll camouflage the truck.
Then they'll proceed again and move very slowly. Sometimes it'll take
over a week to get all the way to Phoenix.

Instead of walking all the way to Phoenix, why not just get picked up
on Highway 86 near Three Points or out on the rez?

WIRTH: They want to get around the highway checkpoints. By walking
straight up through the desert, you miss all of Border Patrol's

Are you saying the smugglers can get across whatever they want?

Yes. It's a porous border.

These mules walking across the Tohono O'odham Nation, through the
Vekol Valley and into Phoenix: How many miles are we talking about?

WIRTH: It's 100 miles up to Interstate 8, then you have to go another
75 miles.

GRAVES: As the crow flies, but on foot, add at least a third more.
They have to stay hidden so it isn't a straight line.

How can they go that far and not be seen?

WIRTH: Start hiking up through there, and you'll see. It's not that

GRAVES: There are people along the way that let them lay up and rest.
A lot of people enjoy aiding and abetting.

WIRTH: There are safe houses and layup sites, camping areas that are
already supplied.

Border-crossing arrests in the Border Patrol's Tucson sector are way
down. We had 616,000 arrests in 2000 and 129,000 in 2011. How has
that been accomplished?

GRAVES: I'll tell you two things. In 2009, before SB 1070 passed, it
was getting highlighted in the news, and that frightened them away.
And the economy crashed. Nobody is hiring, and the greatest number of
arrests is illegal workers.

But arrests have been going down just about every year since 2000.

GRAVES: In 2008, the Tucson sector had the highest activity in the
nation. The Coronado National Forest had the highest in the nation.
Not arrests, but activity. After the economy and SB 1070, the numbers
dropped drastically.

What do you mean by "activity"?

GRAVES: Signs of people crossing. It might be tracks or sensor hits.
Or Border Patrol sees them on cameras, but they disappear into the
badlands and can't make the apprehension.

WIRTH: When you quadruple Border Patrol, yeah, they're going to be
more effective. The pedestrian fence is highly effective; cameras and
technology towers are highly effective in areas where they can see
people. Remember what was going on at the Buenos Aires wildlife
refuge before the fence? There were 1,000 people a night going
through there. We did an assessment and found 1,400 miles of illegal
trails—just denuded, dirt trails, 300 acres where all vegetation was
simply gone. We had five homicides on the refuge in 2005, two rapes,
39 armed robberies, 35 auto thefts, nine deaths from exposure and 60
emergency medical responses. It was unbelievable.

These were crossers murdering each other?

WIRTH: Yes. We had tremendous violence. It was really a very
dangerous situation.

GRAVES: They were breaking into the refuge headquarters and into
homes there. And they were stealing federal vehicles from there.
Smuggler vehicles were abandoned in creeks, and when the monsoon
came, they'd flood all that oil down the creeks. It was just a mess.

WIRTH: The environmental damage there and elsewhere on the border was
massive. There's still a lot of environmental damage, but not as much
as before the fencing and tower technology. When we put in the
pedestrian fence at the refuge, the change was immediate and drastic.
Environmentally, it is really good, because the vegetation is back
now at Buenos Aires.

But the fence didn't stop the traffic. It moved it elsewhere.

GRAVES: Yes. That's the purpose of the fence. But it did stop illegal
vehicle activity.

Why do environmentalists hate the fence?

GRAVES: They assume the fence will stop special wildlife, like jaguars.

WIRTH: The wildlife will go around the end of the fence just like
people do.

Last summer's Monument Fire, on the border at the Coronado Memorial,
burned 30,500 acres, destroyed 62 homes and forced the evacuation of
one-third of the community around Sierra Vista. Dan, the memorial is
Department of Interior land, and when we talked earlier, you said you
were 90 percent certain it was a smuggler fire.

WIRTH: It's probably closer to 95 percent. Think of the alternatives:
There were no visitors because the park was closed. No hunters, no
recreationists. The only people who might be out there were park
rangers, and I checked with them. They weren't there. Border Patrol
was there, but not right there. Who's left? Only one other entity
visits the area regularly, and that's the smugglers. And we know the
fire was human-caused.

GRAVES: There are no hiking trails there, no infrastructure there for
the public to use for a legitimate purpose.

WIRTH: The fire started in that area where, as I said, there are 18
scout sites in 3 1/2 miles. Now, can we say absolutely it was a
smuggler? No, because we didn't see him. But common sense tells you
who it is.

GRAVES: There were six smuggling trails that were very active through
there before the fire. I used to do fire investigations. I was a
Homeland Security-trained wild-land fire investigator.

Your percentage of probability the Monument Fire was a smuggler fire?

GRAVES: I put it at 95 percent, too.

What about the Horseshoe 2 Fire in the Chiricahuas? It burned 223,000
acres and cost about $50 million to fight.

GRAVES: I would definitely put Horseshoe 2 at 100 percent. There was
no evidence of anyone camping in the area, no place where a person
could've gone to get to a vehicle to leave. Let me retract that: I'll
say 99 percent. Maybe there was someone out there who ended up dying,
and nobody cared. There always could be something. Still, if it was a
local person who just got stupid, he would've been found. Whoever did
it knew how to get away and never be seen again.

Border Patrol was chasing illegals up that trail right before it
started. And it was started at a drug-smuggler camp at Burro Springs.

GRAVES: And there's a scout site not too far above that. On the
Murphy Fire over here near Nogales, they actually found the person
who started it. He admitted starting it and was rescued. But when
they turned him over to Border Patrol, someone, some place, told him:
If you say you started it, you'll be held accountable. Border Patrol
agents know that isn't true. If you're in distress, fire is a legal
means of getting rescued. Between the time they rescued him and got
him to the hospital, someone told him he'd be held accountable if he
admitted it. He thought he'd have to pay for it, so all of a sudden,
he reneged and said he didn't do it.

I wrote about this last September. He was an illegal from Toluca,
Mexico, and I'm told they deported him pretty quickly after his
release from the hospital. Can we expect more fires this season?

GRAVES: Yes. The fuel load is very high. All we can tell the public
is: We have the skills to help you protect your home by proper
management of vegetation around it. Your rural fire department can
protect your house. But we can help you protect the environment
around it.

After last summer's fires, the U.S. Government Accountability Office
reported that of 77 fires in Southern Arizona, 30 were suspected of
being started by illegal crossers. That's 39 percent. How about
stopping the illegals and smugglers at the border and eliminating
that 39 percent?

WIRTH: Well, yes. But, again, we have a porous border, and you can
have fences and vehicle barriers, but that doesn't mean you can stop
everybody coming across. On the Monument Fire, the guys who started
it most likely ran back into Mexico.

One of the theories of the Monument Fire is the smugglers wanted to
burn out the two EITs—National Guard entry identification teams—that
were on memorial land.

WIRTH: It's one theory of many. But the fire backfired on them,
burning way too much.

GRAVES: A lot of times, people start a fire to get material through
an area quickly, because it impacts the ability of Border Patrol to
get there, shuts down flights because you put up flight restrictions,
and completely destroys sensors in the area. The sensors can't pick
anything up, and they come right through the hot smoke at night.

Fire is a tactic?

GRAVES: Yes, sometimes. In 2007, I remember fighting the San Antonio
Fire right on the border at Lochiel, east of Nogales. Our scout plane
was flying back for refueling at Fort Huachuca when the pilot saw
drug-backpackers starting fires on a trail as they went north, to
keep Border Patrol from catching them. I was the fire investigator on
the San Antonio, and I was talking on the radio to base camp, and
base camp was talking to the scout pilot.

I said, "Do you see the people starting the fire?" Yes. I said, "Is
the scout plane leading a tanker?" Yes. I said, "Use the tanker to
put the fire out." They said, "But the torch is in a person's hand."
I said, "Put the fire out!" Permission denied. It's against policy to
drop retardant on a human being. Put the cotton-picking fire out!
They wouldn't do it. Yet the two Border Patrol agents chasing him
were put in serious harm's way.

What happens if you drop retardant on him? He gets wet?

WIRTH: It would kill him. It's a tremendous amount of weight.

GRAVES: You're talking about dropping retardant on a person that can
weigh 9 pounds per gallon, and that can seriously hurt.

We risked the lives of two agents for this shmuck?

GRAVES: I call it asymmetrical ethics. The smugglers will do anything
to get drugs into the United States, to the people who want them. But
we have an ethic that says, "We'll do this, but we cannot do that."
We'll only go so far. The agents finally had to back off because of
the fire. I got into trouble on that one.


GRAVES: Because I said to do something against policy. My response
was: We have two agents who might get trapped by this fire. Sorry,
policy. I joked that at least this guy would be painted when we found
him, so we'd know who did it. And they didn't like that, either.

Were you told not to talk publicly about the fires last summer?

GRAVES: There were a couple of people down here going berserk because
we were saying the fires were started by people coming across. We got
direction from the Washington office telling us: Do not comment on
how many fires you think are caused by illegal immigration. Human-
caused, yes. Illegal immigrants and drug-smugglers, no.

Why not?

GRAVES: Too political. In some regions, Hispanics are considered the
most-important voting block now.

WIRTH: Completely political. It happens with different subjects all
the time. Plus, you have the State Department wanting to maintain
good relations with Mexico.

Even though we have a pretty good idea who started these three huge
fires last summer in Southern Arizona, they'll remain human-caused,
under investigation, forever?

GRAVES: Forever.

Republicans in the Arizona Senate have given preliminary approval to
SB 1083 to set up a special-missions unit of 300 volunteers to patrol
the border. Your reaction?

WIRTH: It's political to get votes from people who aren't educated
about the border.

GRAVES: Stupid. That's like trying to take care of the border, and
the border is an 8-foot rattlesnake, and the way you take care of it
is giving it mouth-to-mouth.

WIRTH: We're at record levels of law enforcement on the border now.
I'm all for citizens being able to carry guns for self-defense, but
having people out patrolling would be very dangerous.

GRAVES: That's why we got really upset with (Maricopa County) Sheriff
(Joe) Arpaio, who wanted to bring down a bunch of civilians with
weapons to do what Border Patrol couldn't. ... I said: If you're a
deer hunter, and all you want to do is hunt deer in a canyon at
night, these guys won't be able to tell the difference between you
and a possible rip-off team.

Take the Peck Canyon Corridor, in the Atascosa and Tumacacori
mountains north and west of Nogales. Bandits are assaulting, robbing
and raping crossers in there regularly. We had three execution-style
murders there in November. Is that public land safe for us to use?

GRAVES: In all my years on the border, the only time I was threatened
was by two U.S. citizens who didn't want me to drive down a road.
(Another) incident was when I was walking down a trail in a Forest
Service uniform and ran into a guy who opened his jacket to show me a
Mac-10 under his arm. He tapped his hand on it. I waved at him and
showed him I didn't have a gun, and he waved back. And I went my way,
and he went his.

What do you suppose he was doing?

GRAVES: Probably leading people. This was eight years ago down near
Arivaca, in California Gulch. Last year, I was doing training for the
(U.S. Department of Agriculture) on border security, and I said, "How
many of you will get into camp, open your sleeping bag, go hiking for
the day, come back, and get into your sleeping bag without checking
it first?" That would be stupid. Going down to the border is the same
thing: You need situational awareness. Don't challenge people you
have no legal right or capability to challenge. If you're going
camping and see a Border Patrol agent, ask how things are out there
today. Sometimes they'll say, "Ah, not so good."

So it's like going to Las Vegas and rolling the dice?

GRAVES: No. Go back and look at records, and find a citizen who has
been assaulted.

WIRTH: Oh, we have them.

GRAVES: Well, not many.

WIRTH: But it happens. Not a great deal, but the fact that it's
occurring is troubling. That's why most of Organ Pipe Cactus National
Monument is closed to the public. It's not safe for people to be
wandering around the desert by themselves.

GRAVES: It happens because people get into a drug-smuggler's face.

WIRTH: There are carjackings because they want vehicles.

GRAVES: It's more dangerous for you to be driving down I-19 from
Tucson into the Peck Canyon area than it is to hike there. In my
years here, only once to my knowledge was someone recreating on the
Coronado National Forest assaulted by individuals hijacking a car.

WIRTH: I'm aware of two carjackings of park visitors: one at the
Coronado Memorial, and one at Organ Pipe. There were many vehicles
stolen from the San Bernardino and Buenos Aires refuges. And there
were several attempted carjackings at Organ Pipe that weren't

Keith, I talk all the time to the folks living out in the mountains
west of Nogales, and I can tell you they're worried.

GRAVES: They live out there, so people passing through can always
impact them. Everybody living out in the country has concerns about
property damage and being broken into. And those are legitimate
concerns. But when you park your car and put up your tent, you're
pretty much left alone. They don't care about you.

WIRTH: It's a wrong-place, wrong-time thing. If you know the place is
wrong, the more time you spend in the wrong place, the higher the
probability of having a wrong time.

Dan, would you go hiking in the Peck Canyon area?

WIRTH: No. I'd go somewhere else. Why tempt fate?

What is the risk to law enforcement on the border?

GRAVES: Very high. I'd say the only place more dangerous would be a
city like Los Angeles. Because if you run into someone on the border,
it's your job in law enforcement to confront them and find out why
they're there.

WIRTH: That's the difference between us and civilians. Our job is to
go out and find them and stop them.

Has this huge federal footprint on the border impacted drug flows at

WIRTH: Not really. Even though seizures are increasing, the price of
drugs hasn't gone up. And that's the economic factor you look for:
When the price goes up, that shows your enforcement is doing a better
job, and you're impacting the cartels' profit margin. But we're not.

Napolitano tells us the border is as safe as it's ever been. Is that

WIRTH: It's probably true. You could argue that. But there's been a
major change on the border because of the number of agents, the
technology, the cameras and sensors.

But we just established the cartels can get in whatever they want.

WIRTH: They always could.

We just established the amount of drugs coming across hasn't dropped.
We just established that the potential for violence against law
enforcement is huge.

GRAVES: But we've taken away the massive risks to the urban areas of
Nogales and Douglas, places like that. It has been dumped off into
the backcountry, so we're still getting the environmental damage, but
we aren't having the public threat we used to have.

Now we have backcountry folks with shotguns by their doors to guard
against home invasions. Dever says the Cochise County backcountry has
never been more dangerous.

GRAVES: But everyone out in those areas knows you don't go out and
confront the scouts and smugglers and tell them to get off your land.

People minding their business get their homes broken into by mules.
Rob Krentz was checking waters on his own land, and he knew the rules
you're talking about.

GRAVES: Like Dan says, that was probably wrong place, wrong time.

So is the border secure or not?

WIRTH: Look, what do you mean by secure? Is our border like Israel's?
We don't have that kind of society. We don't have a wall built around
our country. Even if we did, they'd still get through. You can't make
it secure because of the geography of the border.

Keith, is the border secure?

GRAVES: No, it's not secure. I've told Border Patrol, and they don't
disagree: If you know the border, you can bring across anyone you
want to and not get caught. If you're not worried about time or
ethics, and you'll do whatever it takes, you'll make it.

WIRTH: The big impact now is on the (Tohono O'odham) Nation. In the
'90s, the Coronado was much more prominent. After we had
infrastructure and fencing put in on the Coronado, it shifted over to
Organ Pipe. There's a tremendous amount of drugs moving through
there. They use the Ajo Mountains between the T.O. Nation and Organ
Pipe. They go back and forth over that ridgetop. But the smugglers
have really infiltrated the T.O. Nation. They only have vehicle
barriers out there, not pedestrian fences, by their own choice, and
they don't have the technology that exists on both sides of them.
That leaves them open as a funnel to move drugs straight up to Phoenix.

In 2009, O'odham Chairman Ned Norris testified that 30 percent of the
drug prosecutions out there are of tribal members.

GRAVES: With so many people living in the middle of nowhere, when
they get pressure from smugglers, all they can do is say OK. I've
been told cartel people go up to people on the reservation and say,
"We know where your kid gets the school bus in the morning. Can you
help us out?"

Is the drug war a failure?

GRAVES: It has benefits, because there are people now who won't risk
getting caught up in it. People who have backed off and said, "I used
to do this, but I won't anymore."

WIRTH: It's a tremendous waste of the country's resources. We've
spent billions fighting that stuff and haven't made a dent. And the
violence escalates. This is unusual for somebody in law enforcement
to say, but we're never going to win the drug war. We need other

What other approaches?

WIRTH: Legalization is one. The biggest problem is the violence
associated with the marijuana trade—tremendous violence on both sides
of the border. It's ruining Mexico, utterly destroying the culture
and the country. Something has to change. The worst component is the
cartels make billions, and their primary tool is violence. You need
to take that out of the equation.

What's the answer?

WIRTH: Diminish demand by education and treatment. Will we ever be
able to diminish it altogether? Never. Humans have always wanted
alcohol and drugs.

Keith, is the drug war a failure?

GRAVES: Yes, because of our appetite for drugs. They'll always find a
way around us.

WIRTH: Are our social values more important than the safety of our
citizens and having a stable government to our south? That's
something that needs to be more seriously and openly discussed,
instead of immediately saying that our social values say we're
against drugs, so we're going to fight it. Nixon began the war on
drugs, and nothing has changed with our country's consumption. Where
there is a demand, there will always be a supply.

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