Here is an excerpt from my latest article on Homeland Security Today magazine's website:
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Here is an excerpt from Alexis Okeowo's article in Time:
"Mexican drug cartels appear to have adopted a new technique to avoid military raids and police checkpoints: using Facebook and Twitter. And so now the Mexican government is trying to crack down ... on the use of Facebook and Twitter. Facebook has been on the radar of government officials who believe that it has been used to facilitate the abduction of the relatives of powerful businessmen and politicians, with kidnappers allegedly using the social-networking site to discover the identities of a high-profile person's family members. Meanwhile, authorities, already peeved that ordinary citizens have been using Twitter to alert one another to the locations of Breathalyzer checkpoints via @antiaa_df, are now furious that drug dealers are using Twitter accounts to circumvent dragnets and communicate with one another... Instead of cracking down on Twitter and Facebook use, some analysts say that law-enforcement and intelligence agencies should adapt to the new technology by creating fake identities on the sites to track criminals down instead of seeking to regulate the sites." Link to Full Article
Analysis: I think most of us have learned by now how creative and resourceful Mexican DTOs can be, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that they're utilizing two of the most popular social networking tools in existence right now. Yes, they - along with YouTube, MySpace, and other sites the Mexican government apparently isn't considering cracking down on - are great tools for sending messages, and in this case, those messages are of a criminal or threatening nature.
But what does the Mexican government honestly think it's going to accomplish by cracking down on its use? Will it also start thinking about restricting access to YouTube and MySpace, and to what end? DTOs will resort to more "crude" methods, like texting or using message boards/forums. And such an enforcement strategy tells me that the Mexican government may not be up to speed on how Twitter and Facebook actually work.
First of all, if the locations of people who are VIPs or targets for kidnapping are being found on either, it's because that potential target isn't the sharpest crayon in the box. Both sites have numerous ways for maximizing privacy and allowing only selected people from knowing a user's exact location. Plus, smart potential targets don't put their whereabouts in a status message or send it out in a tweet.
Now, it's a completely different story if DTO members have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts they run and use to communicate messages with criminal intent. Still, the Mexican government should focus on finding AND exploiting those sites in an undercover method, like analysts have suggested in the above news story. Cracking down on private individuals' use of a widespread and entertaining social outlet in a country that has seen better days is a bad idea of Calderón wants to maintain any level of widespread support for his campaign against the DTOs.
Here is an excerpt from Olga R. Rodriguez's article in the Washington Post:
"Three Mexican cartels have joined forces to destroy a gang of hit men that has grown into a feared drug trafficking outfit with reach into Central America, Mexican and U.S. officials said Monday. The shift in allegiances is fueling bloody battles along the Texas border. Intelligence reports indicate the Gulf cartel has recruited its former rival, La Familia, to crush the Zetas gang in the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas, said Ramon Pequeno, the head of the anti-narcotics division of Mexico's federal police. An official with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico's most powerful drug trafficking organization, has also joined the alliance against the Zetas, whose rise to power has come to threaten all three of the cartels... It was the first official confirmation of the pact, which has been rumored since banners appeared throughout the region earlier this year announcing the campaign by 'the cartels of Mexico united against the Zetas.'" Link to Full Article
Analysis: It's not often that an alliance this large between Mexican DTOs happens. This tells me that the perceived threat from Los Zetas to the Federation, La Familia, and the Gulf cartel is pretty huge. Los Zetas have been slowly amassing power, profits, and ego since Osiel Cardenas Guillen's imprisonment in 2003, and much more rapidly since his extradition to the US in 2007. Now that the Zetas are a DTO in their own right and have officially broken off any ties to its former patron - the Gulf cartel - they're thinking it's go time.
I was actually having a conversation about this issue in general with a journalist yesterday, and he asked me which DTO I thought posed the biggest threat to Sinaloa's dominance in Mexico. He suggested Los Zetas, and I had to agree with him. While they don't have the size or sheer territorial control that the Federation has, they have the skills/talent, financial resources, and sheer firepower to dominate new territory quickly. If I were a betting woman and were presented with a fight between Los Zetas and one other DTO - especially one of the smaller ones, I'd put my money on Los Zetas any day of the week.
Where things get interesting is the idea of the temporary alliance for mutual interest. Sometimes these work and sometimes they don't. I find this particular alliance between the Federation, the Gulf cartel, and La Familia rather fascinating for a couple of reasons. First, the Federation and the Gulf cartel have been bitter rivals for several years. You know things have to be bad, or they think they could get really bad, if they're working together in any capacity. Throw in the evangelical and slightly off-kilter La Familia - which is expanding both its territory and capacity for brutality - and you have a really interesting mix of personalities that would fit right in with any Quentin Tarantino production.
All this sounds promising on paper, but I'm curious to see how it plays out in practice. I'm anxious to read reports of any changes in the movement of drugs, changes in kidnapping trends, and body counts in areas where Los Zetas are most active - most likely Tamaulipas. I'm also curious to see if there are any changes or repercussions in Texas, where Los Zetas have both personal representation and by gang proxy.
From the law enforcement side, my sources tell me they're not seeing any major shifts in drug loads that are coming to the border, either in volume or direction. There are rumors floating around about who controls the plaza, but nothing solid. Additional authorities say that Juárez is still open territory and under contention. Also buttressing that stance is the fact that the Mexican federal police haven't confirmed said claim.
On the other hand, the FBI is citing sources and informants who say El Chapo has the upper hand. This may be the case - in fact, some evidence indicates Sinaloa has made huge pushes recently in Juárez - but having the upper hand doesn't imply complete victory. Stratfor put out a memo yesterday that explained how the VCFO will fight to the death, and even more fiercely if backed into a corner. Even if the Federation truly has the upper hand in the Juárez plaza, I expect the VCFO to continue to put up a fight for as along as it can, and possibly solicit the assistance of Sinaloa foes to bolster its capability. This fight definitely hasn't gone the full twelve rounds just yet.
The Laredo Morning Times published an article on this story this morning, but it didn't contain much new information on the attack itself. What it did mention is that the FBI, the ATF, and Mexico's PGR (Attorney General's Office) are all opening an investigation on the incident. Maybe they'll find out who threw the grenade and what the exact circumstances were regarding the fight that led to it being unintentionally thrown into the compound; and maybe they'll never find out. If I hear anything more that's substantial, I'll post it here.
Here is an excerpt from this Associated Press article:
"An attacker threw an explosive device over the wall around the U.S. consulate in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, breaking windows and startling employees inside but causing no injuries, the U.S. Embassy said Saturday. The attack, which took place about 11:30 p.m. Friday, is under investigation, embassy spokesman Claude Young said. Young said the consulate and the consular agency in the border town of Piedras Negras would be closed Monday pending a review of security measures. Mexican federal prosecutors in the capital said they were reviewing evidence from the scene, including video feeds from security cameras at the consulate... U.S. State Department employees in the area had not been victimized until last month. That's when gunmen separately chased down and killed an American woman who worked at the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez along with her husband in their SUV and another man married to a Mexican consulate worker in a similar vehicle. All three had been at the same party. In 2008, two men fired shots and threw a grenade — which didn't explode — at the U.S. consulate in Monterrey. Nobody was hurt in that assault, but the gate was left pockmarked. Five days later gunmen again fired at that consulate." Link to Full Article
Analysis: I'm working to try and get more details from official sources on this incident, so I can only speculate on a couple of things at this point. First, this sort of thing has happened before, as evidenced by the 2008 attack in Monterrey. Given the widespread availability of grenades and other explosive-type devices that can be made in someone's garage, the perpetrator(s) could be cartel-related, gang-related, thugs, punks, or someone who's pissed off that they or a relative didn't get a visa.
While we don't know the significance of this attack yet (if there is any), one thing to be mindful of is our growing role in the drug war. No, we don't technically have boots on the ground, but we're providing military assistance in the form of training and equipment. We're also providing the Mexican government with a lot of money via the Mérida Initiative. It may look like a more-or-less stand-off approach by politicians and diplomats, but it may be just a matter of time before DTOs regard us as a potential - or current - threat to their operations in-country.
More to come, folks...
Here is an excerpt from Alicia Caldwell and Mark Stevenson's Associated Press article, as published in The Houston Chronicle:
"After a two-year battle that has killed more than 5,000 people, Mexico's most powerful kingpin now controls the coveted trafficking routes through Ciudad Juarez. That conclusion by U.S. intelligence adds to evidence that Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's Sinaloa cartel is winning Mexico's drug war. The assessment was made based on information from confidential informants with direct ties to Mexican drug gangs and other intelligence, said a U.S. federal agent who sometimes works undercover, insisting on anonymity because of his role in ongoing drug investigations. The agent told The Associated Press those sources have led U.S. authorities to believe that the Sinaloa cartel has edged out the rival Juarez gang for control over trafficking routes through Ciudad Juarez, ground zero in the drug war. Other officials corroborated pieces of the assessment. Andrea Simmons, an FBI spokeswoman in El Paso, confirmed that the majority of drug loads arriving from Juarez now belong to Guzman. And Mexican Federal Police Chief Facundo Rosas told the AP that while authorities are still working to confirm the U.S. assessment, 'These are valid theories.'" Link to Full Article
Analysis: I'm hesitant to get too excited about this news article because this would be the biggest thing to happen in the drug war (in my opinion) since the death of Amado Carrillo Fuentes. I sent emails out to my federal, state, and local law enforcement contacts to see if I could get some boots-on-the-ground confirmation that this is actually happening. I'll post any relevant updates after I get more info.
For now, suffice it to say that complete Sinaloa Federation control over the Juárez plaza is going to bring some peace and quiet to that city that its citizens haven't known for quite some time. Cuidad Juárez is arguably the busiest and the best drug smuggling corridor from Mexico into the US, which is why it's been the epicenter of the murder and mayhem along the border for so many years. If the battles between El Chapo's people and the VCFO's people are really winding down - at least for now, anyway - then that means that some sort of stability can be established there. And for the newbies, stability = peace.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, it looks like the situation is advancing closer to the megacartel theory that writers like Sam Logan and John P. Sullivan have written about. One huge cartel dominating most trafficking activity means less violence and more peace and quiet for most of Mexico. But it then becomes the six- (or is it seven- ?) headed hydra that the Mexican government is REALLY ill-equipped to do away with. That is, of course assuming the Mexican government would even want to do away with such a megacartel that pours millions of narcodollars into a strapped economy.
More to come, folks...
Here is an excerpt from Sara Carter's article in the Washington Examiner:
"Somalis with ties to a terrorist organization are believed to be plotting to illegally enter the United States after being mistakenly released from custody in Mexico, a confidential federal law enforcement report said. The report, obtained by the Washington Examiner, said that 23 Somalis who entered Mexico illegally earlier in the year were caught there, then released in late January... Included in the group is Mohamed Osman Noor, 35, of Somalia, who U.S. officials suspect has strong ties to Al-Shabaab Mujahideen, an Islamist insurgency group in the ongoing war in Somalia with ties to al Qaeda. The report was written by an intelligence official with the Laredo Sector Border Intelligence Center, a joint federal task force under the Department of Homeland Security that operates on the border... According to the report, 'Five of the subjects are possibly heading towards the Reynosa, Matamoros and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas areas. ... The Laredo Sector should be cognizant of the high possibility that Noor and the other subjects may attempt to enter illegally into the United States through the Laredo Sector area of responsibility.'... A former U.S. government official who worked closely with Mexican authorities on border issues said he is 'legitmately concerned of these suspected terrorists coming into the U.S. through leveraging and exploiting the many gaps along our southwest border.'" Link to Full Article
Analysis: There are so many factual errors in this article that it's difficult to know where to begin. Actually, I'll begin by saying that I have a history of shredding Sara Carter's articles apart, particularly when she was writing for the Washington Times. She seems to only write sensationalist versions of border stories that quote former government officials in her bid to make it sound like terrorists are camped out in Cuidad Juárez and waiting for a sunny day to come pouring into the US. If you'd like to read two other blog posts I've written on her often outlandish claims, please click HERE and HERE.
Moving on to the story at hand, the first thing I did after reading her article was to reach out to my contacts and find out who had a copy of the "confidential federal law enforcement report." I was successful in getting a good summary of the content, and it appears that much of it was either taken out of context or purely misquoted by Ms. Carter. For example, there is no mention in the report that any of the released immigrants had ties to terrorist organizations, and certainly no mention of a Somali named Mohamed Osman Noor.Secondly, the individuals were released in the southernmost Mexican state of Chiapas, and Mexican authorities merely stated their assumption that they were headed towards the US in general, not any specific locations in Texas. The Mexican authorities only stated simple immigration concerns in a "situational awareness" context, and no terror alert or concern was communicated. I can probably figure out the angle Ms. Carter was aiming for. Somalis are one of the three dozen or so nationalities that fall within the US' "special interest alien" category. This means that immigrants from these countries attempting to enter the US illegally get more scrutiny because they come from countries with ties to terrorism. When I worked in California, Somalis and Iraqis always piqued our interest because there is a huge population of both groups in San Diego. That's why I found it strange that any report would say the released Somalis were probably headed to parts of Texas, because they'd be much more likely to head for San Diego.
I was able to get some updated information on the Texas vs. California issue, and I'm being told by trusted sources that there's definitely a shift going on in where certain SIAs are attempting to cross the border. It's not known whether this is by their choice (cheaper, easier to submit asylum requests, etc.) or if it's by force (alien smuggling organizations have new arrangements with DTOs for smuggling SIAs, enforcement efforts are forcing changes, etc.).
Regardless, this is just one more shining example that you can't believe everything you read in the press about Mexico's drug war - especially when it has Ms. Carter's name attached.