The War on Terror-and-Drugs Turns Inward

The Treasury Department named the US-Central American gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) a Transnational Criminal Organization, meaning it can apply terrorist-type financial sanctions against the group and its members.

This strikes me as a worrying new precedent. Previously, Treasury had sanctioned Los Zetas, Brother’s Circle, the Camorra, and two Yakuza groups. While all operated in the US–Los Zetas has significant operations–MS-13 was first formed in the US, in Los Angeles, with close ties to El Salvador. Treasury says Immigration and Customs Enforcement has arrested 4,078 MS-13 gang members, so this affects a significant number of Americans.

In other words, this will repeat and probably escalate what we saw after 9/11–asset freezes of American citizens with little due process–in such a way that disproportionately affects one ethnic or religious group.

I also wonder whether this move intends to give additional legal cover for DEA’s operations in Central America–backed by Special Forces–particularly Honduras. At a time when many of the leaders of the countries that will be targeted are increasingly opposed to the war on drug, we’re ratcheting up the legal framework to make it look just like terrorism.

Maybe this is all very smart law enforcement. But it’s the creeping application of intelligence-based enforcement without much debate about whether such an approach infringes on Americans’ rights.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

10 replies
  1. PeasantParty says:

    Congressional law making went where?

    I thought the US banks were making billions on drug money. Surely Geithner is not getting jealous about that after all these years. Afterall, he will be leaving office in January.

  2. What Constitution? says:

    What are these … “American rights” … of which you speak? We are, surely you recall because you even said so in your headline, at “war on drugs” and Treasury is an Executive branch agency, no? Can’t interfere with the Executive’s “discretion” in a “war”, right? This might be, in the President’s view, a “good idea” — so there you have it. Whattya gonna do, go to court? Besides, who’s harmed if they go detain [drone?] a passel of these obviously bad drug guys somewhere? Part of the “rough men on guard so we can sleep” theory, isn’t it? War is hell — no, wait, under these principles, war now need only meet a “the President considers the situation heck” standard.

  3. Mick Savage says:

    I feel so much safer with tuhtimmy leading the battle, especially with all the capital letters and abbreviations in their edict:
    One of the key goals of the President’s National Strategy is to attack the economic power of TCOs and protect the integrity of international markets and the U.S. financial system from TCO penetration and abuse.

    — What integrity, timmy? That there financial system dun been penetrated and abused like a two dollar bill.

    MS-13’s criminal nature can be seen in one of its mottos, “Mata, roba, viola, controla” (“Kill, steal, rape, control”).

    — sounds like the US gubbernmunt to me

  4. jo6pac says:

    My thought is they’re going after these groups to take the middle man out. The Amerikan govt and its bankster friends hate sharing the profits. Then again look at all the extra $$$$$ raised for govt. treasury or will the banks just disappear the money like they did Libya banks accounts.

  5. OrionATL says:

    joe biden:

    “…it’s about time the republicans took some reponsibility…”

    yes, indeed!!!

    now if we had a president who believed that!!!!

  6. OrionATL says:

    what a good position this country would be in obama were still in the senate

    and joe biden were president.

    obama has not the passion, caring, experience, or ability to articulate political issues.

    his candidacy and nomination in 2008 and presidency in 2009-2012 did the dem party enormous damage – and the sob doesn’t given a damn that that is the case.

  7. OrionATL says:

    i may never have seen a political candidate in my lifetime as intellectually dishonest as paul ryan. he may, if we are a very unlucky nation, be the future of presidential candidates.

    democratic state gubernatorial and senatorial candidates in the south in the decades 1900-1970 provided a model for lying in public that congressman ryan emulates beautifully.

  8. bmaz says:

    Previously, Treasury had sanctioned Los Zetas, Brother’s Circle, the Camorra, and two Yakuza groups.

    But not the Sinaloa cowboys. Go figure, huh?

  9. emptywheel says:

    @bmaz: The list is really funny now. Treasury said they had sanctioned four groups before: Los Zetas, Brothers Circle, Camorra, and Yakuza. It seems they count all Yakuza as one. So they’ve actually got unlike things here.

  10. bmaz says:

    @emptywheel: Heh, no kidding. It might as well read “….. and Japanese gangstas”.

    With all the plants various agencies have in the Sinaloans, and have had for a long time, listing them might be like listing the DEA/CIA.

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