The September 17, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone Magazine ran a deeply flawed story by Guy Lawson on the operations of Mexican Drug Cartels and U.S. law enforcement’s inability to counter the threat on our side of the border. Lawson makes a number of claims that don’t seem to reflect reality. Among Lawson’s more astonishing conclusions is that the DEA “has been a total bust when it comes to nailing top narcos.” According to Lawson, the DEA and other agencies can only grab the low level operators and shooters while the capos elude their grasp. Lawson further claims that law enforcement hasn’t been able to flip operators and develop them into snitches. According to him, the cartels have a far more rigid code of silence than the Cosa Nostra.
These are all falsehoods. The DEA was responsible, by itself or in partnership with law enforcement on both sides of the border, for the arrest of “top narcos” Eduardo Arellano-Felix and Javier Arellano-Felix as well as their upper echelon operators Ismael Higuera-Guerrero, Gilberto Higuera-Guerrero, Efrain Perez, Gustavo Rivera-Martinez, Arturo Paez-Martinez and Jorge Arellano-Felix. These are not the low level “Independent Business Operators” that Lawson claims are the only victories of law enforcement. This was almost the entire upper management of the Arellano-Felix Organization (AFO). And the DEA did it with the help of the snitches Lawson claims don’t exist.
Thanks to an extensive operation of surveillance, radio intercepts and old school infiltration, the DEA nabbed Javier Arellano-Felix on a boat off the coast of California. This significant arrest was made possible, in part, through the use of those very snitches that Lawson claims the DEA can’t seem to develop.
Another Lawson claim is that cartel operators don’t draft U.S. gangsters into their ranks. He claims cartels only use them as bulk buyers and distributors. To support this fallacious claim, Lawson quotes Tom Diaz, a senior policy analyst for The Violence Policy Center. According to Diaz, “American gangs are not integrated into the Mexican drug-trafficking organizations.” The Violence Policy Center, according to its website is a “National educational foundation working to enhance gun control in America.” This is not the group to ask if you want someone well-schooled in the operations of criminal organizations.
The truth is that the AFO, and other cartels, have made strategic alliances with groups like the U.S.-based Mexican Mafia (La Eme). U.S.-born Mexican Mafia members like David Barron, “Bat” Marquez, “Popeye” Araujo and numerous other members and Associates not only operated in the U.S. on behalf of the AFO but some of them actually lived in Tijuana running enforcement and trafficking operations for the AFO. If this doesn’t qualify as integration, then what is?
Barron and Marquez helped kill Catholic Cardinal Juan Ocampo in Guadalajara. Barron was eventually killed in an assassination attempt on Jesus Blancornelas, the editor of a Tijuana newspaper called Zeta. Lawson chooses to ignore this Eme-AFO connection because it apparently doesn’t fit into his pre-conceived opinions of how narcos work.
Based on voluminous evidence I’ve gathered, the AFO, and other cartels, are involved in an active campaign to recruit U.S.-born Hispanic gang members and bring them into the organization. Because they’re American citizens, these street gangsters can easily and legally move across the border and operate all over the U.S. without drawing the kind of attention illegal Mexican nationals would.
One of Lawson’s more startling conclusions is that cartel violence has remained, for the most part, in Mexico and hasn’t migrated into the U.S. Clearly, we haven’t seen the body counts in the U.S. that places like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez have experienced. If we had, there would be major moves to clamp the border shut. And Lawson accurately states that the cartels don’t want that. Bringing the law down at your choke points, the border crossings, is just stupid.
Where Lawson goes off track is his failure to understand that the war is being waged by the cartels deep behind enemy lines. And the cartels aren’t waging it the way they do in Mexico.
For one, we don’t know for sure how many U.S. homicides can be attributed to the cartels. Just because they don’t decapitate U.S. victims doesn’t mean it’s not a cartel hit. As prior events have demonstrated, cartels recruit local U.S. killers. And U.S. gangs and criminal groups don’t dismember and decapitate. They’re clean, efficient, quick hits. Think of the drive-by shooting and the body found in a park with two bullet holes in the head as the templates for U.S. gang rubouts. A number of the homicides I’ve investigated have be ordered up from Mexico but they don’t necessarily reflect the cartel Modus Operandi . No chopped heads. No arms and legs removed.
In the case of Mexican Mafia assassinations, they don’t look much different than a random killing over a wallet or jewelry. They look like routine homicides. In some cases, it took over a decade of investigation to attribute an apparently routine street homicide to a Mexican Mafia hit.
In numerous cases, cartel targets living in the U.S. are lured across the border and killed in Mexico. The simple reason is that the cartels don’t want that homicide investigated in the U.S. The reason is simple. The cartels have a better opinion of U.S. law enforcement’s crime-busting capabilities than Guy Lawson.
Lawson also fails to mention an entire class of crime that law enforcement calls, “The Disappeared.” These are either U.S.-born or Mexican nationals living in the U.S. who mysteriously drop off the face of the earth. The relatives of these disappeared will get a call and are told not to report the missing person. “We know where you live. We know where you work. And you drive a Brown Nissan Altima. So keep your mouth shut.” That’s the kind of cartel violence that never shows up in the statistics because they’re not reported. In more than a few cases, the victims are American citizens who either ran afoul of the cartels or were kidnapped for ransom.
On August 14, 2009, as if to underscore the August 17 Rolling Stone story’s less than complete grasp of reality, “ill-prepared” U.S. law enforcement charged 17 individuals of kidnapping for ransom and murder in San Diego. Nine victims were killed from 2004 to 2007 and bodies were “dissolved in acid at a rented house in San Diego.” This is classic cartel chemical bath MO right here in the U.S. This cartel splinter group, known as the Palillos, operated just as the cartels do in Mexico. They wore police uniforms on their San Diego snatch jobs, unleashed full-auto weaponry on a San Diego cop, worked out of safe houses and killed their victims even after the ransom was paid. Some of the victims were simply well-off civilians with no ties to narco-trafficking. DEA and other law enforcement agencies cracked the case in part through snitches that Lawson claims can’t be flipped.
It would be foolish to attribute any motive to Guy Lawson’s cherry-picking of facts, selective quotes and going to sources like the Violence Policy Center for information on cartel operations. But it’s clear from Lawson’s final comment that he’s convinced U.S. law enforcement is fighting a losing war on drugs. The same thing was said years ago just before the “ill-prepared” cops on the front lines completely shut down the Colombians and established a cordon sanitaire across the entire Gulf coast.