Mexico Drug Cartels: Fighting Transnationalism with Transnationalism

Particularly in light of the Administration’s recent rollout of its Transnational Criminal Organization program, the NYT’s article on our escalating war in Mexico raises several concerns. As I laid out, that program basically applies a number of GWOT tools–such as freezing of funds–to the fight against completely arbitrarily designated TCOs.

The NYT article shows how a terrorist approach has already been applied against Mexico’s drug cartels.

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.

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.

Let’s unpack this language: The US is operating on Mexican soil at least partly to prevent “advanced American surveillance technology” from falling into corrupt Mexican security agency hands. Any bets on what that advanced technology is, particularly given that we could presumably wiretap extensively from the comfort of our own Folsom Street room or similar? How about drones?

The U.S. government has begun deploying drones into Mexico after Mexican officials requested U.S. aircraft to help them fight drug-trafficking organizations.

Although U.S. agencies remained tight-lipped Wednesday on flying drones over Mexico, the chief of the Mexican National Security Council, Alejandro Poiré, admitted that his government asked for this type of support to gather intelligence.

Poiré in a statement said the Mexican government defines the operations, most of which take place in border areas.

“When these operations take place, they are authorized and supervised by national agencies, including the Mexican Air Force,” Poiré said Wednesday.

Furthermore, Poiré said, the governments were not breaking any national sovereignty laws because they were simply assisting in gathering intelligence. The drones are for surveillance only and are not armed.

So, particularly given Benjamin Wittes’ and my earlier agreement that one of the risks of drones is that some entity–a terrorist organization or a drug cartel–would gain control of one or more of them, reflect on the apparent fact that we’re deploying to Mexico, in part, to make sure that Mexico’s corrupt security agencies don’t have control of the drones we’ve got flying over Mexico.

This feels a lot like Pakistan already: the unreliable partner, the transparent fictions to make it appear as if a military invasion is not a military invasion.

Now add in the mercenar–um, I mean, the “team of American contractors.” A way to put boots on the ground while still pretending we’re not putting boots on the ground (don’t want to get into another one of those spats about what constitutes hostilities, you know).

“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.”

Of course, our past use of mercenaries have shown they are susceptible to the same kind of corruption that we point to, in Mexico, as the reason why we need to station our own people there to keep (presumably) drones safe.

Now compare this report on Mexico from the NYT,

“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.”

With this must-read story about how our night raids in Afghanistan–that get their target over 50% of the time (presumably meaning they hit the wrong target almost as often)–have led locals in the area where the 30 Americans got shot down over the weekend to sympathize with the Taliban.

“There are night raids every day or every other day,” said a second doctor who asked not to be identified because he feared for his safety. He said he lives about 100 yards from the parched riverbed where the U.S. Chinook helicopter crashed.

“The Americans are committing barbaric acts in the area and this is the reason that the Taliban have influence,” he said.

We’ve been using the tactics we appear to be rolling out now in Mexico for a decade already in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And while we’re down to just 50 or so members of al Qaeda, we seem to be destabilizing two already dicey countries.

And that’s the thing–and the reason I keep saying that using drones and mercs maybe isn’t the way to fight these transnational threats.

We’re arguing that the Mexican government is not strong enough right now to fly its own drones, much less defeat the cartels (even putting aside questions of the market we refuse to address here in the US). Yet to combat that, we’re chipping away at Mexican sovereignty.

Why, if these transnational threats are so dangerous to nation-states, do we keep using transnational forces to combat them?

10 replies
  1. noble_serf says:

    Seems the US could help out on the “demand” side by providing drug treatment programs, early counseling & education, vocational training & rehabilitation …..

    That and reforming some of the draconian policy….

  2. Gitcheegumee says:

    Whenever I hear Mexico and the NYT mentioned in the same sentence, I automatically think of Carlos Slim. Remember him?

    He’s the world’s richest man,who happens to be from Mexico,and was from whom the NYT borrowed $250 million a few years back.

    AND paid him back three years early,too!

    Wonder if it had anything to do with this?

    New York Times Silent On Major Carlos Slim…/… –

    Feb 22, 2010 – The New York Times’ lack of coverage on a major lawsuit involving its billionaire shareholder Carlos Slim has at least one writer wondering …

    New York Times to Repay Carlos Slim’s $250 Million Loan Three ……/new-york-times-to-repay-carlos-slim-s-250… –

    Oct 3, 2010 – New York Times Co. , publisher of the namesake newspaper, plans to pay back a $250 million loan from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim three years sooner…

  3. Gitcheegumee says:

    From the Huff Po piece:

    Slim is involved in a lawsuit that includes both JP Morgan and his main telecom rival, as summarized by Reuters’ Felix Salmon:

    JP Morgan took one of its longest-standing clients in Mexico — Grupo Televisa — and tried to hand all of its secrets over to its biggest rival, Carlos Slim. And the way it tried to do that was by selling Slim a loan larded up with covenants which would essentially force Televisa to reveal any and all information to the holder of the debt.

    Ledbetter argues that the size of the trial’s parties, as well as the scandalous details, would merit an article in the New York Times business section (he notes that it was covered by both the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg). And yet, the paper has not covered the lawsuit at all, leading Ledbetter to wonder if Slim’s stake in the newspaper is the reason:

    This is a scandalous story, involving one of the world’s largest banks, a powerful federal judge, and two Mexican telecom giants. Under any other circumstances, the business section of the Times would be expected to cover it, as the Journal and Bloomberg have.(Excerpt)

    NOTE: OY!!

  4. Gitcheegumee says:

    re: Freezing of unds and GWOT paradigm:

    “How Did Gaddafi Bypass US Anti-Money Laundering Rules To Bank With Goldman And JPMorgan?” (by Tyler Durden, Mar. 2, 2011)

  5. Gitcheegumee says:

    Gitcheegumee> Damn, that should have read funds.

    (Just for the record,let’s not forget the Wachovia/Wells Fargo drug money laundry,either.)

  6. newz4all says:

    Mexico Acknowledges USA Intelligence Agents Operating Within The Country But Will Not Discuss

    The Mexican government is acknowledging that USA intelligence agents operate in Mexican territory to help combat drug cartels, but refused to discuss a report they have been posted to a base in northern Mexico and have helped in interrogations, wiretaps and running informant networks.

    Mexico has already acknowledged it allows USA drones to conduct non-piloted surveillance flights over Mexican territory, though it says it “controls” the flights; a Mexican official is present in the drones’ control room.

    The office of Mexico’s federal security spokesman, Alejandro Poire, said in a statement that USA agents do participate in analysis and exchange of information, but don’t carry weapons or participate in operations like raids, or arrests.

    The Associated Press has been able to identify several hundred USA agents working in Mexico.

    According to that tally, the Drug Enforcement Administration has more than 60 agents in Mexico. There are 40 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, 20 Marshal Service deputies, 18 Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents, and dozens more working for the FBI, Citizen and Immigration Service, Customs and Border Protection, Secret Service, Coast Guard and Transportation Safety Agency.

    According to official figures, at least 35,000 people have been killed in drug violence in Mexico since late 2006, when President Felipe Calderon launched his crackdown on organized crime. Other sources, including local media, say the number is closer to 40,000. The federal government has not released an update of its numbers since December.

  7. newz4all says:

    Mexican Army Targets Brutal Los Zetas Cartel In Massive Assault

    The Mexican government has wrapped up a three-week military operation against the brutal Los Zetas cartel in the violence-plagued states along the country’s northeastern border.

    The end of the operation coincides with US acknowledgment that it has expanded its role in Mexico’s drug wars — timing that indicates the US had a hand in the relative effectiveness of Operation Northern Lynx.

    The US operations are being coordinated from a base in northern Mexico, where a team of CIA officials, DEA agents and retired military personnel are collaborating with Mexican security officials to gather intelligence and plan operations against the cartels.

    The Mexican government has so far refused to discuss the NYT report, but has acknowledged that there are US intelligence agents operating on Mexican soil.

    That may be why the Obama administration continues to compare its involvement in Mexico to US counternarcotics campaign in Colombia, despite mounting evidence that suggests the new US strategy in Mexico mirrors the one being used in Afghanistan.

    The new Mexico-based unit has been compared to the “intelligence fusion” centers that monitor militant groups and support local security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, and other bilateral “fusion centers” have been reported in Mexico City and Juarez. There is also no doubt Mexicans have realized that the new US ambassador is fresh off of assignment from Kabul.

  8. Gitcheegumee says:


    Thank you for this post.

    A special thanks for the mention of fusion centers.

    I have been posting about the US fusion centers for some time now.

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