The new administration of president Enrique Pena Nieto recently announced that there will be changes in open access arrangements (also called direct access relationships) between Mexican and U.S. security agencies. The government contends that the new rules will consolidate security operations, centralize communications between Mexican and U.S. security agencies, and eliminate overlap among Mexican law enforcement agencies. Yet there is a turn-about-is-fair-play element in the administration’s new rules. U.S. security agencies will have to be vetted by Mexico’s Interior Ministry. Since Pena’s election U.S. security agencies have expressed concern that his government would restrict or curtail what is called the vetted unit program. The new rules may make reliable lateral communications between U.S. security personnel and their Mexican counter-parts more difficult.
May 9, 2013: Security officials announced that three Interpol policemen and one federal investigator have been reported missing. The four men are Mexican citizens and were engaged in a special investigation in Chihuahua state (northern Mexico, U.S. border). They were last seen in a vehicle on the road between Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez.
May 8, 2013: The U.S. Treasury Department has designated eight senior Sinaloa drug cartel leaders as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers. The men are Sinaloa sub-commanders (deputies of Sinaloa drug lord Joaquin Guzman). In drug smuggling jargon, they are plaza bosses. Each plaza boss is tasked with operating a specific trafficking corridor between the U.S. and Mexico. The Treasury designation freezes all assets the individuals may have in the U.S. and bans U.S. citizens from doing business with the cartel members. Three of the men receiving the designation are already in jail in Mexico.
May 5, 2013: Eleven people died in three firefights between drug cartel gunmen and security forces in Tamaulipas state (northeastern Mexico, Texas border). One of the people killed was a soldier. The state prosecutor’s office reported two gunmen were killed in the town of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz. Six were killed in a shootout in Matamoros (across the border from Brownsville, Texas). The soldier was killed in a gun battle in Guemez. Two gunmen were killed in that incident.
May 4, 2013: Suspected cartel gunmen in Chihuahua City (Chihuahua state) murdered the sons of two leading Mexican journalists. The young men were the sons of a financial writer and television commentator (father) and the editor of a major newspaper (mother). The cartels have targeted critical journalists and their families in order to silence them.
April 30, 2013: The rumors that Mexican cartels were buying operations from Colombian drug gangs apparently had a basis in fact. U.S. security agencies have noted an increase in cocaine trafficking traceable to Mexican cartels. EUROPOL has also reported that the Mexican cartels are now smuggling more Colombian cocaine. Colombian narcotics traffickers have not disappeared. However, the Colombian government has succeeded in reducing the power of the guerrilla groups and paramilitary gangs that became key players in the Colombian cocaine operation. The government has done this by either defeating the groups militarily or convincing their leaders (in some case aging leaders) that making a political deal was preferable to defeat and arrest. Many of these gangs began with political agendas, but over time they began providing security for coca growers and cocaine cartelistas.
April 29, 2013: The government announced that it is revising the terms of its open access policies with U.S. security agencies. The change will affect how Mexico-U.S. security agencies share intelligence and operational information. It also affects the way Mexican and U.S. security agencies will conduct joint and cooperative operations. To what degree will cooperation change? That is unknown. The effects on anti-crime and anti-terror efforts could be very significant, though the Pena government insists that it just wants to consolidate and centralize communications and security operations between Mexico and the U.S. U.S. security and intelligence officers, however, are worried that the new Mexican administration is fundamentally changing the operating procedures of the Mexican security personnel with which they work most closely. These Mexican personnel work in what U.S. security agencies generically call vetted units. The more official sounding Vetted Investigative Unit (VIU) also crops up. Vetted units are special elements (units) composed of screened personnel who work for the U.S. security agencies, foreign counterpart agencies, or institutions. Personnel serving in vetted units have been thoroughly investigated and have been found to be highly reliable and trustworthy professionals. To put it simply, these people are not corrupt. The U.S. agencies want to avoid penetration by criminal organizations. The U.S. agencies do not want U.S. personnel compromised and U.S. methods compromised. They do not want sensitive U.S. intelligence disseminated to unauthorized individuals – like drug cartels. U.S. agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have used the vetted unit process with several foreign countries. The DEA has worked with several in Colombia, which is no surprise. An unclassified 2007 DEA inspector general report said that many DEA agents had told the inspector general that vetted units were critical to accomplishing DEA foreign operations. That same report listed examples of several operations where DEA worked with vetted units: “conducting investigative operations, surveillance, and wiretaps, checking on investigative leads, destroying drug production laboratories, and interdicting drug shipments.” Sometimes vetted units operate from offices which are completely separate from those of their specific agency or government institution. For example, a vetted Mexican intelligence unit might operate from a U.S. intelligence facility in Mexico. The U.S. and Mexico began using vetted units to share sensitive intelligence and operational data in the 1990s (1997 according to one source). Why would the new administration change the relationship? The new administration is run by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The PRI has always cast itself as the party which defends Mexican sovereignty against the colossus of the north. Though the U.S.-Mexico vetted unit program began during a PRI presidency, it expanded enormously after December 2006, when the Calderon administration went to war with the drug cartels. Mexican and U.S. military commands were exchanging real-time intelligence. Vetted personnel worked in the U.S. NORTHCOM headquarters in Colorado Springs and at a smuggling interdiction and surveillance task force headquarters in Key West, Florida. U.S. intelligence also flows to vetted personnel in the Mexican intelligence command center in Mexico City (so called Platform Mexico). Though no U.S. political leader or security official has said it in public, Pena’s decision sure looks like a signal that the bad old days PRI corruption have returned. (Austin Bay)
April 24, 2013: The government has closed a criminal case against two associates of the former Coahuila state governor Humberto Moreira Valdez. Moreira was at one time the head of the PRI. He was governor of Coahuila from 2005 to 2011. The two accused associates faced corruption charges. Over $3 billion dollars in public money disappeared when Moreira served as governor (one source said the money consisted of bank loans). One of the accused served as state treasurer under Moreira. Federal prosecutors in the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) concluded that they did not have jurisdiction and turned the case over to state prosecutors. Critics accused the government of dropping the federal case because the new president, Enrique Pena Nieto, is a member of the PRI and the entire scandal demonstrates that the PRI remains corrupt. The current governor of Coahuila is Humberto Moreira’s brother.
April 23, 2013: U.S. security officials believe the Zetas have expanded their contacts with U.S. drug gangs. The Zetas have a significant presence in Atlanta, Chicago, and Houston.
April 17, 2013: Mexican media are alleging that the decline in drug-related murders in Ciudad Juarez is not due to better policing. Rather, the Sinaloa cartel has defeated its rivals. Residents have told reporters that they are glad the violence has subsided, whatever the reason.
April 15, 2013: EUROPOL released a report which claimed that Mexican drug cartels are now involved in many illegal drug trafficking rings in Europe. Los Zetas cartel has increased its operations in Europe. EUROPOL said that the Mexican cartels help coordinate operations, particularly cocaine sales and some synthetic drugs (amphetamines).