Tom Diaz

Archive for June, 2009|Monthly archive page


In Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Latino gangs, Mexico, Transnational crime on June 24, 2009 at 11:29 am
Jesus Malverde

Jesus Malverde

Sometimes I wonder how I will die, by the bullet wound or a knife in my side.

Give my heart peace so I won’t have to fight. Heavenly father, please hear me tonight.

Sarah Garland, “In a Suburban Gangland, Young Lives Cut Short,” The New York Times, June 19, 2009.

It seems odd and vaguely disconcerting to consider that Latino gangsters who practice the cruelest imaginable violence (drive-by shootings, throat-slashing, mass beat-downs, etc.)  also believe in and attempt to communicate with God.

They do.  After a fashion.  In their own way.

The plaintive doggerel quoted above is reportedly a prayer in favor with the gangsters of Salvadorans With Pride (S.W.P.), a rival of MS-13, in suburban New York.  Jesus Malverde (illustrated above) is a cult religious figure in favor among the ruthless ranks of the Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

This intersection of criminal thuggery and religion strikes one as a great research project for a theologian and a gang expert.  (Hey, a new book idea!) Is this religiosity just so much cognitive dissonance in the gangster’s minds?  (“Dear Lord of Peace, please help me cut this throat just so, and forgive me for murdering this pendejo“?)

Or does it reflect genuine human longing for a redemptive connection with the eternal?

If, as many believe, personal redemption is the ultimate purpose of religion, gangster piety makes a certain sense.  One can understand it in the same way that one can understand how aggressively religious politicians–the ones who, like so many oppressive regimes in history want to make their beliefs enforceable by law–are so often exposed as adulterers, philanderers, and poly-sexual transgressors of their publicly professed and state-enforced morality.  Their spirit is willing, but their flesh is weak.

On the other hand, it could all just be a cynical front, or frightened whistling in the dark alley of human imperfection, greed, and lust. The agnostic’s prayer comes to mind: “O, God, if there is a God, save my soul, if I have a soul.”

Here’s another example.  The Christian Science Monitor has one of the better articles on the burgeoning use by drug traffickers of semi-submersible vessels, each of which is reported to be capable of carrying a load of cocaine worth $250 million.  The crews of these vessels are apparently well-paid but expendable.  They are not fairly described as “gangsters,” but their situations are similar to that of many of the mopes who make up the rank and file of your typical Latino street gang, i.e., exploited workers in the sweatshops of the drug industry.  Here is a telling paragraph from the June 23, 2009 article:

“I don’t think anything will change, because the organizations take advantage of the poverty in Colombia to lure crew members to make the trip for $10,000 or $20,000,” says Mr. Montoya, a Mexican physician who was involved with Colombian and Mexican drug cartels until 2004. Montoya says the four- or five-man crews he met in the secret jungle shipyards went through a ritual the night before they set off. “They would pray to the Divine Child and to the Virgin. Then, they would be given a hearty meal. It was like they were on death row,” he says, adding that it was a well-known secret that many crews never returned.

In my latest book, No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press, 2009), I describe and remark on the pious expressions of several members of a Mexican Mafia–18th Street gang combine involved in taxing drug traffic in Los Angeles, meanwhile merrily whacking each other with paranoid abandon.  Several of the principals in this criminal enterprise make reference to such things as “trusting God,” and putting oneself in the hands of the “big man above us all.”  This juxtaposition is amusing–in a chilling sort of way–but more basically illustrates the fundamental moral emptiness of the gang culture.

It will all remain a conundrum until someone invents the human soul reader, a Kindle of religiosity.  (Someone, please, stop this metaphor before it kills again!)


In Drugs, Obama, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, Transnational crime on June 23, 2009 at 8:49 pm

My position coming into this office has been that the United States has core national security interests in making sure that Iran doesn’t possess a nuclear weapon and it stops exporting terrorism outside of its borders.

President Barack Obama, Press Conference, June 23, 2009

One of the principal tools by which Iran has exported — and continues to export — terrorism is through its Lebanese surrogate, the terrorist para-state Hezbollah.

The Shiite organization has often been described as the “A-team” of terrorism because of its ability to inflict mass casualties in synchronized, rolling bomb attacks on multiple targets.  Some experts believe that Osama bin Laden learned the concept of synchronized shock and awe terror attacks from Hezbollah’s late terrorist-in-chief, Imad Mugniyah.

According to Richard A. Falkenrath Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism, New York Police Department, Hezbollah ranks at the top of the NYPD counter-terrorism worry list—just a notch below the predominantly Sunni al Qaeda.  Speaking at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy on Tuesday (June 23, 2009) Falkenrath said that Hezbollah has more or less decided not to attack the United States directly.  But, he warned, “our assessment is that if they changed their mind they have the capacity to inflict terrible damage on the United States.”

Since at least the early 1990s Hezbollah’s leaders — most particularly its secretary general, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah — have assiduously constructed an infrastructure-in-place in the Western Hemisphere.  My co-author and I described that infrastructure and the bloody history of Hezbollah in Lightning Out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil (Random House 2005).  We focused on the operations of a Hezbollah support cell in Charlotte, North Carolina, but also describe in some detail Hezbollah’s terror bombing attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets in Argentina.

In the years since Lightning‘s publication, Hezbollah’s operations and capabilities in the Western Hemisphere have grown even stronger, according to widespread public reports.  For example, last year the Los Angeles Times reported on one particularly troubling aspect of Hezbollah’s growth–its deepening alliance with the anti-American regime of Venezuelan caudillo Hugo Chavez:

As part of his anti-American foreign policy, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has established warm diplomatic relations with Iran and has traveled there several times. The Bush administration, Israel and other governments worry that Venezuela is emerging as a base for anti-U.S. militant groups and spy services, including Hezbollah and its Iranian allies.

“It’s becoming a strategic partnership between Iran and Venezuela,” said a Western anti-terrorism official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue is sensitive.

Building infrastructure and ties with governments like that of Chavez and perhaps others in the Andean region is important to the terrorist para-state Hezbollah.  Perhaps equally important is its criminal fund-raising efforts.  We reported in Lightning on the vast sums Hezbollah raised through illegal cigarette trafficking from North Carolina to Michigan.  We also described a panoply of schemes for raising funds in the so-called Tri-Border Area.

In recent years, it appears that Hezbollah has also moved into the drug trade.

According to a report in The New York Times on October 22, 2008, “Colombian authorities said…that they had broken up a drug and money-laundering ring in an international operation that included the capture of three people suspected of shipping funds to Hezbollah guerrillas.” (See also, Agence France Presse report in English on October 22, 2008, “Colombian authorities have arrested three men with alleged links to the Shiite militant group Hezbollah as part of an international drug sting that has netted close to 100 suspects.”)

On the same date as these two snippets, the Los Angeles Times provided a much more complete description of the operation and Hezbollah’s involvement:

Chekry Harb, who used the alias “Taliban,” acted as the hub of an unusual and alarming alliance between South American cocaine traffickers and Middle Eastern militants, Colombian investigators allege.

Authorities accuse Harb of being a “world-class money launderer” whose ring washed hundreds of millions of dollars a year, from Panama to Hong Kong, while paying a percentage to Hezbollah, which is designated as a terrorist group by the United States and Israel. Harb was charged with drug-related crimes in a sealed indictment filed in Miami in July, but terrorism-related charges have not been filed.

The suspects allegedly worked with a Colombian cartel and a paramilitary group to smuggle cocaine to the United States, Europe and the Middle East. Harb traveled extensively to Lebanon, Syria and Egypt and was in phone contact with Hezbollah figures, according to Colombian officials.

“The profits from the sales of drugs went to finance Hezbollah,” said Gladys Sanchez, lead investigator for the special prosecutor’s office in Bogota, in an interview. “This is an example of how narco-trafficking is a theme of interest to all criminal organizations, the FARC, the paramilitaries and terrorists.”

These reports are the tip of an iceberg of evidence of Hezbollah’s growing presence, according to more or less well-informed U.S. officials.  New York City has hands-down the best counter-terrorism structure of any city in the United States, and its experts worry that these developments have only enhanced Hezbollah’s ability to project power into the United States.

Generally, when Hezbollah decides to flip the switch and exercise its power, things explode and people die.

Asked what he thought might prompt Hezbollah to attack the United States directly, Falkenrath suggested a direct U.S. attack on Hezbollah or an attack on Iran.  Both of these seem most unlikely.  But, unlikely or not, Hezbollah’s ability to attack the United States with bloody effect remains an Iranian pistol to America’s head.

One wild card remains.  Hezbollah has not yet apparently retaliated for the assassination last February of its late terrorist-in-chief, Imad Mugniyah.  It is a well known fact that Hezbollah always extracts revenge for such killings.  The only open question is when and where will it strike.


In Corruption, politics, Terrorism and counter-terrorism on June 16, 2009 at 2:49 pm

If you have an opinion about President Barack Obama’s speech to the Muslim world, you should also read the following report, posted by the kind permission of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.  It can be found in the original at this link:

PolicyWatch #1534: Special Forum Report

Strategic Challenges in a Changing Middle East

Featuring Moshe Yaalon

June 12, 2009

On June 9, 2009 Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Moshe Yaalon of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) delivered the second annual Zeev Schiff Memorial Lecture on Middle East Security at The Washington Institute. General Yaalon is vice prime minister and minister of strategic affairs in the government of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. From 2002 to 2005, General Yaalon was IDF chief of the general staff.

The Washington Institute established the Zeev Schiff Memorial Lecture to honor the late Israeli journalist and longtime Institute associate Zeev Schiff, who passed away in 2007. The inaugural Zeev Schiff Memorial Lecture was delivered by IDF Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Amnon Lipkin-Shahak in June 2008.

Once mainstream media believes something to be true, it becomes extremely difficult for anyone thereafter to question the veracity of the purported “fact.” This phenomenon is manifest in Middle East news coverage in the Iranian issue, the tensions between pragmatists and radicals, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Iranian Issue

The way in which the media frames the Iranian issue is problematic. First, the media portrays the problem as primarily a conflict between Iran and Israel.

Second, there is a recurring suggestion that sincere dialogue and nonmilitary sanctions will persuade the Iranians to peacefully give up their military nuclear program. The media does the world a disservice by framing the issue as such, because failure of dialogue and nonmilitary sanctions may necessitate a military solution.

Third, although the media treats Iran as a rational actor whose primary concern is American behavior, Iran has a completely different agenda and motivations, many of which are very troubling to the West. Key Iranians consider the destruction of Israel as just the first step on the way to changing the entire American-led world order. Tehran is interested in turbulence and instability, since stability characterizes the very world order it wants to replace.

Israel does not claim that the military option should be the first to be exercised — if anything, it should be the last. Effective political isolation and economic sanctions are big steps before any realistic military option and were successful in pressuring Libya to suspend its nuclear programs following the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Moderates vs. Radicals

The media has almost unanimously adopted two flawed approaches in addressing the tension between radicals and pragmatists in the Middle East: the dramatically nonempirical notion that the vast majority of Muslims embrace the same principles of peace, prosperity, and coexistence that the West exalts; and that the Western policy of confrontation has weakened the pragmatists, leaving radicals as the true representatives of Middle Eastern society.

This second notion errs by suggesting that radicals are ascendant primarily because of Western behavior and therefore can be stopped through engaging them in dialogue while granting pragmatists concessions. Both radicals and pragmatists take full advantage of the Western response to avoid accountability and expect more money and concessions, especially those that come at Israel’s expense.

Therefore, it is counterproductive for the West to “regretfully” make more concessions, since this plays into the hands of the radicals and strengthens their claims. The West expects that concessions and apologies will lead to reciprocal moves on their part. In the Middle East, it just strengthens their convictions of victimhood and their resolve to restore honor.

One case that illustrates the dangers of this media-promoted approach is the claim that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the most important issue for Middle Easterners and must be solved to convince pragmatists to overcome radicals and help the West and Israel in confronting Iran. A serious look at that claim shows that radicalism in the Middle East predates the establishment of Israel and has always been characterized by anti-Western feelings.

Iran is the main reason for instability in the region. The strengthening of radicals and progress on the Iranian nuclear project are the main threats to Israeli and American security and regional interests. As long as radicals feel that they are marching toward victory, there can be no signs of weakness. This would only make the job more difficult.

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is again a set of so-called facts that have gone largely unchallenged: that the issue is primarily a territorial conflict and that a solution can therefore be achieved within a short period of time through conceding territory; that the only possible solution is a two state solution; and that Israeli “occupation” and settlement activity are major obstacles for moving toward this inevitable solution.

These assumptions were the basis of the Oslo process, and its failure indicates that they deserve reexamination. While the Israelis were ready for this kind of solution, the Palestinians did not accept that the two-state solution refers to two states for two peoples. In their view, Israel should remain undefined, so that in the future it can become a Palestinian state as well. The Palestinians refuse to accept Israel as a Jewish state because for them this is not a territorial dispute, but an existential conflict. The media’s failure to report this most basic point creates a dangerously misleading portrayal of the situation and the prospects for its resolution.

The Palestinians have yet to remove the real obstacles to peace: accepting Israel as a Jewish state, stopping terror activity and incitement, and addressing the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) lack of preparedness to assume the responsibilities of a state — governability, monopoly over the use of force, security, and economic stability. Unless these issues are fully addressed, the creation of a Palestinian state will lead to the establishment of an unstable terror entity that will threaten not only Israel but the stability of moderate regional states.

The goal of substantial progress toward a Palestinian state in two years is not realistic. If there is a political settlement in two years, there will be a “Hamastan” in the West Bank. Israel will not allow a repeat of the terror attacks after Oslo or a launching pad after the disengagement plan.

When the previous Israeli government engaged in talks with Syria, it spoke with now deceased president Hafiz al-Asad, who was clear about severing the relationship with Iran, dismantling all the militias in Lebanon, and prohibiting any Palestinian terrorists to operate from Damascus. But his son and current president, Bashar al-Asad, has honored none of these commitments. He will not commit to cutting the relationship with Iran or Hizballah, and he has made the status of Palestinians part of the deal. In addition, Bashar has said that even if there is peace, there will not be normalized relations.

Bottom-Up Approach

Israel has no intention or will to govern the Palestinians, and is ready to consider ways to disengage and contribute to the ability of the PA to control the territories under its responsibility. The top-down approach that characterized the Oslo and Annapolis processes should be replaced by a performance-based, bottom-up approach, focusing on building the necessary infrastructure for peace.

This approach should include five reforms within the Palestinian authority, which at this stage can be performed only in the West Bank:

* educational reform, whereby the PA stops educating its people to deny any connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel;

* economic reform that would focus on strengthening the role of the private sector and fight corruption;

* political reform that would promote an adequate governing culture by strengthening civil society and emphasizing universal values;

* law and order reform, which should lead to the implementation of the concept of “one authority, one law, one weapon” ; and

* security reform, under which there will be a unification of the security apparatus and a full range of activities against terrorism.

Success depends primarily on the Palestinian leadership, which until now has failed to establish an accountable political entity. It could take two, three, or five years; it is up to them. But once they reach it, final status issues can be discussed. The international community should encourage the Palestinians to make progress in this direction through the use of carrots and sticks and not by unconditional economic aid and blanket political support. Only when Palestinians give up the hope of destroying Israel and accept Israel’s right to live in peace as a Jewish state will there be a chance to have a lasting peace.

This rapporteur’s summary was prepared by Max Mealy.

© 2009 The Washington Institute for Near East Policy


In bad manners, Cultural assassination, politics on June 12, 2009 at 3:20 pm

The Jerk

The Jerk

The sexualization of girls and women in the media is reaching new lows these days — it is exploitative and has a negative effect on how all women and girls are perceived and how they view themselves. Letterman also joked about what he called Palin’s “slutty flight attendant look” — yet another example of how the media love to focus on a woman politician’s appearance, especially as it relates to her sexual appeal to men. Someone of Letterman’s stature, who appears on what used to be known as “the Tiffany Network” (CBS), should be above wallowing in the juvenile, sexist mud that other comedians and broadcasters seem to prefer.

National Organization for Women “Hall of Shame”

Not Harry S Truman

Not Harry S Truman

David Letterman’s now notorious emission of what can only be accurately described as hate speech has generated quite a bit of comment — from everyone it seems but Todd Palin, Alaska’s “current First Gentleman (self-styled ‘First Dude’).”

At the risk of perpetuating Letterman’s crudity and further polluting the world, here is the gist of what has happened to date, from the venerable Associated Press:

NEW YORK (AP) — Sarah Palin says David Letterman owes an apology to young women across the country for his joke about her daughter.

The Alaska governor appeared on NBC’s “Today” show Friday, continuing a feud with the CBS “Late Show” funnyman over his joke earlier this week that Palin’s daughter got “knocked up” by New York Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez during their recent trip to New York.

Target of Letterman's Hateful "Humor"

Target of Letterman's Hateful "Humor"

I don’t agree with the Palin camp on a lot of things.  But, as a father, there is nothing political or partisan about this shameful behavior on the part of Letterman, a true jerk.

Now, there was once long ago and far away a President of the United States who had what some of us might call “cojones.”  He never rode on a snow mobile, but he sure as hell knew how to respond when his daughter Margaret was — in his judgment — unfairly maligned by the Washington Post‘s music critic.  Here is the text of a note that Harry S Truman — the Last Great Democratic President — penned and sent to Paul Hume, the critic at the Post (quote from Wikipedia, chronicler of the 21st Century):

I have read your lousy review of Margaret’s concert. I’ve come to the conclusion that you are an eight ulcer man on a four ulcer job … Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes and perhaps a supporter below.

* Letter to critic Paul Hume, as quoted in TIME magazine (18 December 1950)

Now, that was an outraged father.

Harry S Truman Had a Charming Way With Words

Harry S Truman Had a Charmingly Direct Way With Words


In Crime, Gangs, Latino gangs, Mexico, Transnational crime on June 10, 2009 at 1:02 am

Here is the top of  a new post I have written on The Crime Report (

Could Latino Street Gangs Transform Themselves into Transnational Drug Mafias?

By Tom Diaz

Tom Diaz, author of a new book, “No Borders: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement,” looks at the potentially ominous future of criminal street gangs in the U.S.

In the 1980s, few law enforcement officials had heard of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) or the 18th Street gang. Yet within two decades, these gangs metastasized from local urban-based organizations in Los Angeles and other California cities into transnational criminal enterprises operating throughout the Western Hemisphere, including El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, the United States, and Canada. As Mexico’s violent drug-fueled turf wars threaten to spread north of the border, many wonder whether the gangs have become integrated with Mexican drug cartels.

You can read more of this post here, and you can order the book from here.

Here is a description of The Crime Report from its “about” page:

The Crime Report (TCR) is independent and non-partisan, and it advances no single view or approach – except to promote informed discussion and debate. It is a collaborative effort by two national organizations that focus on encouraging quality criminal justice reporting: The Center on Media, Crime and Justice, the nation’s leading practice-oriented think tank on crime and justice reporting and Criminal Justice Journalists, the nation’s only membership organization of crime-beat journalists.


In Crime, Gangs, Latino gangs, Transnational crime on June 6, 2009 at 1:46 pm

You knew it was bound to happen.  Sex, lawyers, and publicity almost always equal = goofy idea.

Found Dead In Closet

Found Dead In Closet

Kung Fu actor David Carradine was found hanging in a Bangkok closet, tied up in an…unusal…configuration of rope.

“This certainly was not a natural cause of death,” Nantana Sirisap, the chief coroner, was quoted as saying in what was perhaps an unintentional masterpiece of understatement.

Now comes celebrity lawyer to the stars and other famous people accused of criminal wrongdoing Mark Geragos, telling CNN host Larry King that Carradine’s family wants the FBI to help the Bangkok police investigate the actor’s bizarre death:

BANGKOK (AP) — The family of American actor David Carradine has asked the FBI to help investigate his death after his body was found in a hotel closet in Thailand’s capital with a rope tied to his neck, wrist and genitals.

Carradine’s family does not believe he committed suicide and is troubled by conflicting accounts about the circumstances of his death, Mark Geragos, an attorney for brother Keith Carradine, told CNN’s Larry King late Friday.

“They want an investigation,” Geragos said. “I would think that the people in Bangkok would want to support an investigation and allow the FBI to go over there and assist in the investigation so we can get the answers to the questions.”

Thai police said Saturday they have not been contacted by the FBI.

In the unlikely case that it’s slipped your mind who Geragos is, here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia, chronicler of the 21st Century:

Mark John Geragos (born October 5, 1957) is an American criminal defense attorney best known for defending the musician Michael Jackson, actress Winona Ryder, politician Gary Condit, and Susan McDougal, who was involved in the Whitewater scandal. He also represented Scott Peterson, in another trial that received widespread media attention. He’s currently representing Paul and Kuhlbir Dhaliwal, two brothers injured after a tiger escaped in San Francisco Zoo, and pop superstar Chris Brown, accused of assaulting Grammy award winning entertainer Rihanna. He is considered a “celebrity lawyer”.

Larry King and Mark Geragos, Two Prominent Planetoids Whizzing About the Celebrity Constellation

Larry King and Mark Geragos, Two Prominent Planetoids Whizzing About the Celebrity Constellation

No doubt the Carradine family is shocked and grieved about the case.  But not every celebrity death is a federal case.  And some lawyers — I am sad to report — have been known to use this kind of spectacularly publicized request as a way to boost their profile.

Thai authorities have welcomed the idea with a whiff of, again, perhaps unintended humor, leavened with a dash of Police Academy put-down, according to this blog post:

Bangkok officials, who have since reneged on their initial theory that the 72-year-old’s committed suicide, said that the FBI would be welcomed simply as observers—the only position allowed for a foreign body under Thai law.

“If the FBI wants to get involved, we will do our best to cooperate,” Thai police Maj. Gen. Amnuay Nimmano told reporters at a press conference today. “We have nothing to hide.”

Meanwhile, The — as the site is wont to do — has posted a salacious excerpt from a court filing by Carradine’s ex-wife, knotting up the mysterious circumstances  even more.  Here is The Smoking Gun’s take, and the excerpt is here:

Carradine’s “Deviant Sexual Behavior”
Ex-wife accused actor of “potentially deadly” acts in court filing

JUNE 5–As investigators try to determine how actor David Carradine wound up hanging naked and dead in a Bangkok hotel closet with a rope tied around his genitals, a review of divorce court filings shows that his most recent ex-wife once accused the actor of “deviant sexual behavior which was potentially deadly.” Additionally, Marina Anderson alleged in a sworn declaration that Carradine engaged in an “incestuous relationship with a very close family member.” Anderson’s declaration, an excerpt of which you’ll find below, was filed in mid-2003 in Los Angeles Superior Court (the document was supposed to be filed under seal but was mistakenly placed in the public court file, where TSG found it). The declaration does not detail Carradine’s alleged “deviant sexual behavior.” As for the incest charge, Anderson reported that Carradine and the unnamed relative admitted the taboo relationship, but that her “pleas for him to get counseling in regards to this matter were ignored and he wanted no part in the healing process the other person needed in order to get closure.” In a phone interview today, Anderson, who was married to Carradine for four years, said she stands by the allegations in her court filing, but declined to further discuss her charges. A Bangkok police official told reporters that investigators were examining whether Carradine accidentally suffocated while engaging in an autoerotic sex act.

The authorities claim to have ruled out participation by another person in the bizarre drama:

Col. Somprasong Yenthuam, who is heading the investigation, said police have interviewed all staff at the hotel where Carradine was staying and reviewed surveillance footage outside his room. Based on that, they have found no evidence that anyone was in Carradine’s room before he died which they said all but ruled out foul play.

The inference has been drawn by some, perhaps many, that Carradine was thus obviously  a victim of an attempt at an act of auto-erotic asphyxia gone awry.  Here’s an excerpt from an old article in Britain’s The Independent that explains how this can happen:

Auto-erotic asphyxia is a method of increasing sexual excitement by restricting the oxygen supply to the brain, usually by tightening a noose around the neck. Although usually associated with hardcore sexual masochists it often arouses interest among the less experienced – curious schoolboys and young men keen to experiment with masturbation in the belief that the practice heightens sensation at orgasm. While rumours about how and why to do it abound in all-male locker rooms and dormitories, what is not passed on is the fact that it can be fatal.

‘When pressure is put on the vagus nerve in the neck, instantaneous death can happen,’ explains Dr (Peter) Dean, a coroner in Essex (England). ‘The sudden increase in pressure sends a message to the heart to shut down and a sudden cardiac death will result. This is why this practice is immensely hazardous and extremely dangerous.’

The vagus nerve plays a major role in the human nervous system, travelling from the brain-stem to all the major organs. Pressure on it can slow down the heart-beat and even stop it completely.

Vagus_nerves“Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” some might say. But, leave the vagus nerve out of it, seems to be the message.  According to ABC News, “The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates there are between 500 and 1,000 such deaths in the United States annually, mostly among young men. Many more may be falsely ruled as homicides or suicides.”  They keep statistics on the oddest things.  This may be worse than Swine Flu, or H1N1. or whatever it’s called now.

Be that as it may, Mark is ramping it up:

Carradine’s brother Keith met Friday with the FBI and filed reports that could lead to the agency opening its own inquiry, said Geragos, who represents Keith Carradine. The family will also seek a private autopsy by famed forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden to determine whether another person could have been involved, Geragos said.

But TMZ has found an expert who pooh-poohs the theory that another person would have to be involved to tie the knots:

David Carradine’s hands were tied above his head when he died — turns out, in the world of auto-erotic suspension, it’s an easy task to master.

Brent Turvey, a forensic scientist and criminal profiler who has studied auto-erotic asphyxiation, has examined the photo of Carradine’s body published in a Thai newspaper. The photo shows the body with a rope around his neck hanging in a closet … Carradine’s hands were tied above his head.

Turvey says it’s simple for someone to tie rope around his/her hands, by loosely tying the hands in front — then raising them up to tighten.

Turvey says undoing the knot is easy as well, allowing for a quick escape.

Turvey says, “By tying his hands above his head, and bending his knees in a sitting position, he can easily stand up and untie his hands with his teeth. Choking in this position is an accident that usually results from the rope being left on the neck a few seconds too long.”

Making A Slip Knot

Making A Slip Knot

The case is Gordian, but, please, Director Mueller, can we  just leave the FBI out of the investigation of this one?

You may have better things to do with your not inexhaustible supply of special agents.  Investigating gangs, for example, that threaten the safety of the rest of us non-celebrity commoners, right here at home, in the U.S. of A., a land far, far away from exotic, erotic Bangkok.

“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “

—Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

“Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from

Here is a timely media release, issued by the FBI just this past week, on its activity in that area:

Highlighting Recent FBI Gang Investigations

The U.S. is seeing a rise in gang membership across the country and as membership spreads from urban to suburban areas, so does the associated criminal activity. Gangs are involved not only in auto theft, assault, home invasions, armed robbery, and extortion, but also in fraud, identity theft, drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, alien smuggling, and murder.

“As our communities are exposed to higher levels of crime and violence, the FBI, along with local, state, and federal partners, are responding with an even greater measure of significant law enforcement action,” according to Assistant Director Kenneth W. Kaiser, FBI Criminal Investigative Division. “The goal is to take these violent offenders off the streets and make our neighborhoods safer.”

A selection of recent press releases from 2009 listed below reflects how law enforcement is disrupting and dismantling these violent gangs:

* On 01/12/2009, 10 members and associates of the Florencia 13 (F13) street gang were convicted on federal criminal charges, including racketeering and narcotics distribution. They were among 102 defendants named in four indictments in 2007 as part of Operation Joker’s Wild.

* On 02/13/2009, Operation Keys to the City led to 36 defendants charged with federal racketeering conspiracy, firearm offenses and drug trafficking violations. The year-long investigation targeted the criminal activities of the Mexican Mafia, Hispanic street gangs with ties to the Mexican Mafia, and the Mexico-based Arellano-Felix drug trafficking organization.

* On 02/17/2009, a “G-Mob” gang member pled guilty in a nationwide, million-dollar bank fraud scheme.

* On 02/25/2009, 15 individuals were indicted in a Charlotte-area drug conspiracy arising from their participation in an organization with ties to the United Blood Nation.

* On 03/07/2009, over 500 law enforcement personnel executed 29 search warrants, arrested 30 gang members and associates, and seized drugs, firearms, and vehicles in a massive sweep targeting the violent East Palo Alto/Menlo Park-based Taliban gang.

* On 04/01/2009, the National President of the Devil’s Diciples [sic] Motorcycle Gang was indicted for being a violent felon in possession of body armor, and 17 other members were charged in related criminal complaints.

* On 04/08/2009, 12 alleged members of the Puro Lil Mafia (PLM) street gang operating in Wichita Falls, Texas, were indicted on federal weapons and/or narcotics charges. More Weeks later, PLM gang leader Mauricio Diaz indicted on federal weapons and narcotics charges.

* On 04/16/2009, the ringleader of a gang conspiracy to import and distribute multi-kilo quantities of methamphetamine from California to Louisiana received a life sentence in Lafayette, Louisiana.

* On 04/22/2009, Oscar Omar Lobo-Lopez was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering activity, murder in aid of racketeering activity, and use of a firearm during a crime of violence causing death.

* On 04/22/2009, two dozen individuals associated with the Mexican Mafia and other Hispanic street gangs were charged federally for their roles in a narcotics distribution ring operating in the San Fernando Valley.

* On 04/23/2009, Raza Unida prison gang members and associates were indicted on drug trafficking and firearms charges in Operation Lunar Eclipse.

* On 05/14/2009, Bloods Street Gang members and criminal associates were arrested for narcotics and weapons violations.

* On 05/14/2009, 74 members and associates of the Highwaymen Motorcycle Club were charged in a superseding indictment with participating in the affairs of a corrupt organization through a pattern of racketeering activity (RICO), committing violent crimes in aid of racketeering, distributing controlled substances, and committing various federal gun violations.

* On 05/20/2009, Michael Vasquez was sentenced to 111 months in federal prison for his role in a gang-related shooting that left a toddler seriously injured.

* On 05/21/2009, approximately 1,400 law enforcement officers participated in the nation’s largest-ever gang sweep, arresting 88 individuals named in a federal RICO indictment that describes a war against the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, as well as systematic efforts to rid the community of African-Americans with a campaign of shootings and other attacks. The investigation into the Varrio Hawaiian Gardens gang began after the fatal shooting of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Jerry Ortiz. The action was part of Operation Knock Out, which has led to the indictments of 147 defendants to date.

* On 05/29/2009, eight Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation gang members pled guilty to a variety of charges, including drug conspiracy and weapons trafficking.

* On 06/01/2009, eight Bloods Street Gang members were charged in a federal indictment with conspiring to organize a sect of the Bloods in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The charges allege that, in furtherance of the conspiracy, they committed robberies affecting interstate commerce, carjacking, and weapons offenses.

Man, those FBI cats have been kung-fu fightin‘!

Can we please just let them keep doing that?

Not FBI Agents

Not FBI Agents--Foo Fighters


In Nuclear Weapons, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism on June 2, 2009 at 4:50 pm

Last refuge of All Desperate Arguments

If you’re worried that the Taliban or some other equally malevolent group of half-baked nitwits are going to seize power and stuff a suitcase full of Pakistani nuclear weapons, you can relax.

Pakistani Army Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, chief of army staff

Pakistani Army Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, chief of army staff

According to Lawrence Korb, writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Pakistani armed forces have the situation well under control.  Korb was Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration from 1981-1985 and is now senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.  Here is an excerpt, or you can read the whole article here:

Pakistan has a great many political, economic, and social problems that prevent it from achieving its full potential. But the majority of the population wants the duly constituted government to fulfill its responsibilities to promote the general welfare and provide for the common defense. They aren’t looking to some outside force such as the Taliban to assume control of the country and solve these problems. Unlike Afghanistan in the 1990s, the Taliban in Pakistan isn’t seen as a group capable of imposing order on a chaotic situation. Rather, the Taliban is seen as an organization trying to upset the existing order. For instance, the majority of the Pakistani population urged the government to take forceful action against the Taliban when it reneged on its agreement in the Swat District.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen reviews Pakistani troops during a ceremony honoring Mullen's arrival to Islamabad, Pakistan, Feb. 9, 2008.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen reviews Pakistani troops during a ceremony honoring Mullen's arrival to Islamabad, Pakistan, Feb. 9, 2008.

Moreover, at this time, the Pakistani Army has no desire to seize political power, nor will it let the Taliban take control of Pakistan proper or seize Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. The Pakistani Army jealously guards its reputation. In fact, it places a higher priority on its reputation and its interest than that of the country. The army knows that if it staged a coup at this time, it would become responsible for all of the country’s economic and social problems.

Likewise, the Pakistani military, which numbers about 1 million soldiers, has enough brute force to prevent the Taliban from breaking out of the rural areas of the frontier provinces and into the heart of Pakistan, even if it keeps a large contingent on the border with India. Since the army knows that the collateral damage–including creating refugees–would be significant if it uses force, it won’t take action until ordered to do so by the prime minister and the Parliament.

The security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal By Lawrence J. Korb, 19 May 2009

There.  Feel better?

Not Convinced -- More Waterboarding!

Not Convinced -- More Waterboarding!


In Corruption, Crime, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Mexico, Transnational crime on June 2, 2009 at 11:08 am
Axis of Corruption: U.S. - Mexico Border

Axis of Corruption: U.S. - Mexico Border

[For background on corruption of U.S. officials at the border, see Mexico: Crimes at the Border, PBS Frontline / New York Times Report.]

In addition to the complexity brought about by the multiple jurisdictions, agencies and levels of government involved, there simply is not one single agency that can be tasked with taking care of the corruption problem. It is just too big and too wide. Even the FBI, which has national jurisdiction and a mandate to investigate public corruption cases, cannot step in and clean up all the corruption.


A Counterintelligence Approach to Controlling Cartel Corruption

May 20, 2009

Global Security and Intelligence Report

By Scott Stewart and Fred Burton

Rey Guerra

Rey Guerra

Rey Guerra, the former sheriff of Starr County, Texas, pleaded guilty May 1 to a narcotics conspiracy charge in federal district court in McAllen, Texas. Guerra admitted to using information obtained in his official capacity to help a friend (a Mexican drug trafficker allegedly associated with Los Zetas) evade U.S. counternarcotics efforts. On at least one occasion, Guerra also attempted to learn the identity of a confidential informant who had provided authorities with information regarding cartel operations so he could pass it to his cartel contact.

In addition to providing intelligence to Los Zetas, Guerra also reportedly helped steer investigations away from people and facilities associated with Los Zetas. He also sought to block progress on investigations into arrested individuals associated with Los Zetas to protect other members associated with the organization. Guerra is scheduled for sentencing July 29; he faces 10 years to life imprisonment, fines of up to $4 million and five years of supervised release.

Guerra is just one of a growing number of officials on the U.S. side of the border who have been recruited as agents for Mexico’s powerful and sophisticated drug cartels. Indeed, when one examines the reach and scope of the Mexican cartels’ efforts to recruit agents inside the United States to provide intelligence and act on the cartels’ behalf, it becomes apparent that the cartels have demonstrated the ability to operate more like a foreign intelligence service than a traditional criminal organization.

Fluidity and Flexibility

For many years now, STRATFOR has followed developments along the U.S.-Mexican border and has studied the dynamics of the cross-border illicit flow of people, drugs, weapons and cash.

One of the most notable characteristics about this flow of contraband is its flexibility. When smugglers encounter an obstacle to the flow of their product, they find ways to avoid it. For example, as we’ve previously discussed in the case of the extensive border fence in the San Diego sector, drug traffickers and human smugglers diverted a good portion of their volume around the wall to the Tucson sector; they even created an extensive network of tunnels under the fence to keep their contraband (and profits) flowing.

Likewise, as maritime and air interdiction efforts between South America and Mexico have become more successful, Central America has become increasingly important to the flow of narcotics from South America to the United States. This reflects how the drug-trafficking organizations have adjusted their method of shipment and their trafficking routes to avoid interdiction efforts and maintain the northward flow of narcotics.

Over the past few years, a great deal of public and government attention has focused on the U.S.-Mexican border. In response to this attention, the federal and border state governments in the United States have erected more barriers, installed an array of cameras and sensors and increased the manpower committed to securing the border. While these efforts certainly have not hermetically sealed the border, they do appear to be having some impact — an impact magnified by the effectiveness of interdiction efforts elsewhere along the narcotics supply chain.

According to the most recent statistics from the Drug Enforcement Administration, from January 2007 through September 2008 the price per pure gram of cocaine increased 89.1 percent, or from $96.61 to $182.73, while the purity of cocaine seized on the street decreased 31.3 percent, dropping from 67 percent pure cocaine to 46 percent pure cocaine. Recent anecdotal reports from law enforcement sources indicate that cocaine prices have remained high, and that the purity of cocaine on the street has remained poor.

Overcoming Human Obstacles

Customs Agents at Work Checking Cars from Mexico

Customs Agents at Work Checking Cars from Mexico

In another interesting trend that has emerged over the past few years, as border security has tightened and as the flow of narcotics has been impeded, the number of U.S. border enforcement officers arrested on charges of corruption has increased notably. This increased corruption represents a logical outcome of the fluidity of the flow of contraband. As the obstacles posed by border enforcement have become more daunting, people have become the weak link in the enforcement system. In some ways, people are like tunnels under the border wall — i.e., channels employed by the traffickers to help their goods get to market.

From the Mexican cartels’ point of view, it is cheaper to pay an official several thousand dollars to allow a load of narcotics to pass by than it is to risk having the shipment seized. Such bribes are simply part of the cost of doing business — and in the big picture, even a low-level local agent can be an incredible bargain.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), 21 CBP officers were arrested on corruption charges during the fiscal year that ended in September 2008, as opposed to only 4 in the preceding fiscal year. In the current fiscal year (since Oct. 1), 14 have been arrested. And the problem with corruption extends further than just customs or border patrol officers. In recent years, police officers, state troopers, county sheriffs, National Guard members, judges, prosecutors, deputy U.S. marshals and even the FBI special agent in charge of the El Paso office have been linked to Mexican drug-trafficking organizations. Significantly, the cases being prosecuted against these public officials of all stripes are just the tip of the iceberg. The underlying problem of corruption is much greater.

A major challenge to addressing the issue of border corruption is the large number of jurisdictions along the border, along with the reality that corruption occurs at the local, state and federal levels across those jurisdictions. Though this makes it very difficult to gather data relating to the total number of corruption investigations conducted, sources tell us that while corruption has always been a problem along the border, the problem has ballooned in recent years — and the number of corruption cases has increased dramatically.

In addition to the complexity brought about by the multiple jurisdictions, agencies and levels of government involved, there simply is not one single agency that can be tasked with taking care of the corruption problem. It is just too big and too wide. Even the FBI, which has national jurisdiction and a mandate to investigate public corruption cases, cannot step in and clean up all the corruption. The FBI already is being stretched thin with its other responsibilities, like counterterrorism, foreign counterintelligence, financial fraud and bank robbery. The FBI thus does not even have the capacity to investigate every allegation of corruption at the federal level, much less at the state and local levels. Limited resources require the agency to be very selective about the cases it decides to investigate. Given that there is no real central clearinghouse for corruption cases, most allegations of corruption are investigated by a wide array of internal affairs units and other agencies at the federal, state and local levels.

Any time there is such a mixture of agencies involved in the investigation of a specific type of crime, there is often bureaucratic friction, and there are almost always problems with information sharing. This means that pieces of information and investigative leads developed in the investigation of some of these cases are not shared with the appropriate agencies. To overcome this information sharing problem, the FBI has established six Border Corruption Task Forces designed to bring local, state and federal officers together to focus on corruption tied to the U.S.-Mexican border, but these task forces have not yet been able to solve the complex problem of coordination.

Sophisticated Spotting

Efforts to corrupt officials along the U.S.-Mexican border are very organized and very focused, something that is critical to understanding the public corruption issue along the border. Some of the Mexican cartels have a long history of successfully corrupting public officials on both sides of the border. Groups like the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) have successfully recruited scores of intelligence assets and agents of influence at the local, state and even federal levels of the Mexican government. They even have enjoyed significant success in recruiting agents in elite units such as the anti-organized crime unit (SIEDO) of the Office of the Mexican Attorney General (PGR). The BLO also has recruited Mexican employees working for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, and even allegedly owned Mexico’s former drug czar, Noe Ramirez Mandujano, who reportedly was receiving $450,000 a month from the organization.

In fact, the sophistication of these groups means they use methods more akin to the intelligence recruitment processes used by foreign intelligence services than those normally associated with a criminal organization. The cartels are known to conduct extensive surveillance and background checks on potential targets to determine how to best pitch to them. Like the spotting methods used by intelligence agencies, the surveillance conducted by the cartels on potential targets is designed to glean as many details about the target as possible, including where they live, what vehicles they drive, who their family members are, their financial needs and their peccadilloes.

Historically, many foreign intelligence services are known to use ethnicity in their favor, heavily targeting persons sharing an ethnic background found in the foreign country. Foreign services also are known to use relatives of the target living in the foreign country to their advantage. Mexican cartels use these same tools. They tend to target Hispanic officers and often use family members living in Mexico as recruiting levers. For example, Luis Francisco Alarid, who had been a CBP officer at the Otay Mesa, Calif., port of entry, was sentenced to 84 months in federal prison in February for his participation in a conspiracy to smuggle illegal aliens and marijuana into the United States. One of the people Alarid admitted to conspiring with was his uncle, who drove a van loaded with marijuana and illegal aliens through a border checkpoint manned by Alarid.

Like family spy rings (such as the Cold War spy ring run by John Walker), there also have been family border corruption rings. Raul Villarreal and his brother, Fidel, both former CBP agents in San Diego, were arraigned March 16 after fleeing the United States in 2006 after learning they were being investigated for corruption. The pair was captured in Mexico in October 2008 and extradited back to the United States.

‘Plata o Sexo’

When discussing human intelligence recruiting, it is not uncommon to refer to the old cold war acronym MICE (money, ideology, compromise and ego) to explain the approach used to recruit an agent. When discussing corruption in Mexico, people often repeat the phrase “plata o plomo,” Spanish for “money or lead” — meaning “take the money or we’ll kill you.” However, in most border corruption cases involving American officials, the threat of plomo is not as powerful as it is inside Mexico. Although some officials charged with corruption have claimed as a defense that they were intimidated into behaving corruptly, juries have rejected these arguments. This dynamic could change if the Mexican cartels begin to target officers in the United States for assassination as they have in Mexico.

With plomo an empty threat north of the border, plata has become the primary motivation for corruption along the Mexican border. In fact, good old greed — the M in MICE — has always been the most common motivation for Americans recruited by foreign intelligence services. The runner-up, which supplants plomo in the recruitment equation inside the United Sates, is “sexo,” aka “sex.” Sex, an age-old espionage recruitment tool that fits under the compromise section of MICE, has been seen in high-profile espionage cases, including the one involving the Marine security guards at the U.S Embassy in Moscow. Using sex to recruit an agent is often referred to as setting a “honey trap.” Sex can be used in two ways. First, it can be used as a simple payment for services rendered. Second, it can be used as a means to blackmail the agent. (The two techniques can be used in tandem.)

It is not at all uncommon for border officials to be offered sex in return for allowing illegal aliens or drugs to enter the country, or for drug-trafficking organizations to use attractive agents to seduce and then recruit officers. Several officials have been convicted in such cases. For example, in March 2007, CBP inspection officer Richard Elizalda, who had worked at the San Ysidro, Calif., port of entry, was sentenced to 57 months in prison for conspiring with his lover, alien smuggler Raquel Arin, to let the organization she worked for bring illegal aliens through his inspection lane. Elizalda also accepted cash for his efforts — much of which he allegedly spent on gifts for Arin — so in reality, Elizalda was a case of “plata y sexo” rather than an either-or deal.

Corruption Cases Handled Differently

When the U.S. government hires an employee who has family members living in a place like Beijing or Moscow, the background investigation for that employee is pursued with far more interest than if the employee has relatives in Ciudad Juarez or Tijuana. Mexico traditionally has not been seen as a foreign counterintelligence threat, even though it has long been recognized that many countries, like Russia, are very active in their efforts to target the United States from Mexico. Indeed, during the Cold War, the KGB’s largest rezidentura (the equivalent of a CIA station) was located in Mexico City.

Employees with connections to Mexico frequently have not been that well vetted, period. In one well-publicized incident, the Border Patrol hired an illegal immigrant who was later arrested for alien smuggling. In July 2006, U.S. Border Patrol agent Oscar Ortiz was sentenced to 60 months in prison after admitting to smuggling more than 100 illegal immigrants into the United States. After his arrest, investigators learned that Ortiz was an illegal immigrant himself who had used a counterfeit birth certificate when he was hired. Ironically, Ortiz also had been arrested for attempting to smuggle two illegal immigrants into the United States shortly before being hired by the Border Patrol. (He was never charged for that attempt.)

From an investigative perspective, corruption cases tend to be handled more as one-off cases, and they do not normally receive the same sort of extensive investigation into the suspect’s friends and associates that would be conducted in a foreign counterintelligence case. In other words, if a U.S. government employee is recruited by the Chinese or Russian intelligence service, the investigation receives far more energy — and the suspect’s circle of friends, relatives and associates receives far more scrutiny — than if he is recruited by a Mexican cartel.

In espionage cases, there is also an extensive damage assessment investigation conducted to ensure that all the information the suspect could have divulged is identified, along with the identities of any other people the suspect could have helped his handler recruit. Additionally, after-action reviews are conducted to determine how the suspect was recruited, how he was handled and how he could have been uncovered earlier. The results of these reviews are then used to help shape future counterintelligence investigative efforts. They are also used in the preparation of defensive counterintelligence briefings to educate other employees and help protect them from being recruited.

This differences in urgency and scope between the two types of investigations is driven by the perception that the damage to national security is greater if an official is recruited by a foreign intelligence agency than if he is recruited by a criminal organization. That assessment may need to be re-examined, given that the Mexican cartels are criminal organizations with the proven sophistication to recruit U.S. officials at all levels of government — and that this has allowed them to move whomever and whatever they wish into the United States.

The problem of public corruption is very widespread, and to approach corruption cases in a manner similar to foreign counterintelligence cases would require a large commitment of investigative, prosecutorial and defensive resources. But the threat posed by the Mexican cartels is different than that posed by traditional criminal organizations, meaning that countering it will require a nontraditional approach.


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