Tom Diaz

Archive for the ‘Corruption’ Category


In bad manners, Corruption, Crime, Cultural assassination, Drugs, Marijuana Debate, politics on October 23, 2009 at 12:48 pm
Inhaling the Smoke of This Weeds Is Supposed to be Good for What Ails You?  Or Are its Dispensers Just a Front for More of the Same Criminal Trafficking in a Banned Drug?

Inhaling the Smoke of This Weed Is Supposed to be Good for What Ails You? Or Are its Dispensers Just a Front for More of the Same Criminal Trafficking in a Banned Drug?

This piece from Charles Lane’s Washington Post blog provides a nice, cold-eyed summary, making [my words here] the point:  “Medical marijuana” is a fraud and the Obama administration is ducking the issue:  Should we flat-out legalize this drug, or should we tolerate and maybe even encourage (as do the Holder guidelines on weed) the continued hypocrisy of phony “medicinal” uses.

I originally thought the new Obama/Holder weed guidelines were an elegant solution:  stand back and let the states develop policy and reach a national consensus.  I now see them as a political base-holding confection.  The states, if California is an example, and it is, are developing neither policy nor consensus.  They are waddling along with a sick and corrosive system that is partially legal and overwhelmingly criminal, following a lobby that intensely wants every American to light up and enjoy, meanwhile rewarding criminal gangsters with a facade of legality.

Attorney General Eric Holder Announces Obama Administration's "Medical Marijuana" Tolerance Guidelines

Attorney General Eric Holder Announces Obama Administration's "Medical Marijuana" Tolerance Guidelines

And where is the Washington “law enforcement establishment” — the suits di suits — on this?  Neutered and silent, complicit, reminding one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Dereliction of Duty when another Democratic President, Lyndon B. Johnson, used his forceful political persona to send “American boys” to fight a war he said they never would.  Nice backdrops for media conferences.

The original Post blog site from which this excerpt is taken contains data on medical surveys about how phony the so-called “medicinal” properties, at least as administered through a cigarette with no production standards, are.

‘Medical marijuana’ is a Trojan horse

…decriminalization of marijuana is worth debating. I have no objection to letting AIDS patients and other truly desperately ill people smoke marijuana if it makes them feel better. I have no objection to the administration of THC, pot’s active ingredient, in properly tested and dosed pharmaceuticals. What I do object to, strongly, is the claim that smoked marijuana is some sort of wonder cure with a multiplicity of proven, but officially repressed, therapeutic uses.
Why does this bug me so much? It always bugs me when some group of true believers tries to foist its views on the public in the guise of science (e.g., “creation science”). This is especially pernicious when it involves selling phony remedies for real diseases (or real drugs for phony diseases)…
“Medical marijuana” is obviously a Trojan horse for legalization of pot as a recreational drug. In a democracy, people should pursue their policy objectives openly, not under false pretenses. In that respect, I thought that the attorney general created a certain amount of inevitable confusion when he announced his non-prosecution policy toward consumers and sellers of pot under state “medical marijuana” laws, while continuing to pursue large-scale traffickers and growers. Is marijuana a sometimes-therapeutic substance, as the AG implied by referring to “medical marijuana” smokers as “patients,” and those who provide pot to them as “caregivers” following “treatment regimens?” Or does pot have “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” as federal law provides — and, I would add, the evidence suggests? To be sure, the Justice Department’s directive to prosecutors focused on individuals with “cancer or other serious illnesses” who are complying with state law. But since many people who don’t have cancer or anything close to it are getting high under medical pretenses, plenty of ambiguity remains.

What Lane does not get into here is how the present phony, runaway “medical marijuana” system simply drives up demand — “patients” are pouring out of the woodwork because, “Hey, dude, it’s legal!” — which demand is met not by doctors and laboratory technicians in white coats ensuring a uniform product free of impurities, but criminal networks large and small selling illicitly grown, insecticide-laced, who-knows-what weed.  Fairly Civil was told during a visit to California that the bigger criminal networks, including the Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations, are cranking up to help meet the supply, and even forcing out those beloved hippy pot farmers whose righteous sense of  “serving” the self-medication community disappears into a liquid stream down the leg when confronted with DTO or gangster firepower.

Weed and Weapons In Oregon

Weed and Weapons In Oregon

Nothing stops a small-time farmer like looking down the barrel of a Kalashnikov clone.

Here’s another point I heard from the parent of a 16-year old boy.  Yes, he’s smoking, and guess where he gets his weed?  From the children of other parents who procure their “legal” drugs at “medical marijuana” shops on jacked-up licenses, and then dispense it to their own medically-needy children.  These aren’t East L.A. stereotypes, these are whatever passes for upper middle class in L.A.  See, they would rather “know” where their kids are getting their drugs (i.e., from their own trendy parents) than worry about some “dealer” seducing them.  How sick and disgusting is that?  The parent-victim of this system that I talked to doesn’t want her son smoking, but she is caught right smack between the do-gooders and the traffickers.

This is exactly an example of the kind of evil some state and local law enforcement personnel understand and want to shut down.  But, for some reason, many politicians in California want to actually encourage and expand this criminal shambles and resist cleaning it up.  Cui bono?

Ironic, but this state may fast be sliding into No Country for Either Old Hippies or Old Values….If you like your budget system, you’re gonna love where this is going.

Let's See:  Smoking Tobacco is a Public Health Hazard.  Smoking Marijuana is Medicinal?  Oh-h-kay...

Let's See: Smoking Tobacco is a Public Health Hazard. Smoking Marijuana is Medicinal? Oh-h-kay...


In bad manners, Corruption, Crime, Drugs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Obama, politics, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on October 8, 2009 at 8:35 pm
"You've been putting it up your whole life, you just didn't know it...You stand to win everything."

"You've been putting it up your whole life, you just didn't know it...You stand to win everything."

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned.

“The Second Coming,” William Butler Yeats.

The book and film of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men ought to have scared the hell out of you.

If it didn’t, with all due respect, you just don’t get it.

The ruthless evil of the narcotraficantes that this story portrays is not just the fancy convention of an extremely talented writer.  It is as close to real as you might get, short of submerging oneself in the hell of the real thing.

Cold-blooded killer Anton Chigurh, the role for which Javier Bardem won his Oscar, is as pure a distillation of evil as anything not capped off tightly in a vial behind the wires at Ft. Detrick, MD.

When you get the Chigurh bug, you’re dead.

Thailand About to Spring Merchant of Death Viktor Bout -- No Time for U.S. Diplomats to Equivocate

Thailand About to Spring Merchant of Death Viktor Bout -- No Time for U.S. Diplomats to Equivocate

The movie’s infamous “call it” scene comes to mind today thinking about another pure distillation of evil, international arms merchant Viktor Bout.

Bout exploded out of the cold war as a well connected Merchant of Death.  He played a pivotal role in the arming of children as warriors in Africa and the continuing agony of that continent.  He was brought down by a brilliant U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sting, overseen by  supervisory agent Michael Braun.

Arrested in Thailand, Bout seemed to have been on the way to justice in the United States.  But our “friends” in Russia leaned on the Thais, who now seem to be close to springing Bout.

Here is how the Russian news agency Novosti summed up the case last month:

Former Russian army officer Bout, 42, was arrested in Thailand in March 2008 during a sting operation led by U.S. agents.

The Bangkok Criminal Court refused in August to extradite Bout to the United States, where he is accused of conspiring with others to sell millions of dollars’ worth of weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), among other illegal arms deals, and “threatening the lives of U.S. citizens.”…

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it will give Viktor Bout all the support he needs. The ministry said it hoped Thailand would not reverse its initial decision of not extraditing Bout to the United States.

“All the support he needs” seems to be working.  Thailand is about to unleash this evil upon the world again, Braun warned in today’s The Washington Times newspaper:

An appellate court in Thailand appears primed to uphold a recent lower court ruling that will unleash Viktor Bout, universally known as the “Merchant of Death,” back on the global community. To say that Bout is upset with the United States after spending more than a year in a Thai prison would be a gross understatement.

Bout exploded onto the international scene shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union, when he effectively leveraged his high-level former Soviet military and intelligence contacts and pounced on a capitalistic opportunity to sell a limitless assortment of Soviet arms that had been stockpiled during the Cold War. I’m talking about everything from AK-47 assault rifles by the millions to such advanced heavy weapons as Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships, tanks and Igla surface-to-air shoulder-fired missiles that can knock down commercial airliners as easily as a sawed-off shotgun could blast ducks in a barrel.

His clientele were the potpourri of modern-day scum: global terrorists, ruthless dictators, merciless drug kingpins and other transnational organized criminal groups. However, it is the mark that Bout left on Africa that qualifies him as the world’s deadliest “shadow facilitator.”

Bout flooded the continent with hundreds of thousands of AK-47s and other modern weaponry before his arrest. Those arms replaced machetes and other archaic weapons wielded by heavily exploited and drugged young boys, who made up the ranks of several insurgent groups, and instantly transformed them from random murderers into perverse, mindless killing machines operating with assembly-line efficiencies. A million or more innocent Africans were slaughtered.

Read the entire article here.

Braun’s article apparently caused a panic of puckered pants at the State Department.  The Attorney General himself may have been galvanized into action.

Here’s the point: the Russians have tossed the coin and it’s up to the Obama administration to call it.  Bout is not just some guy who sells guns.  He is part of a chain of evil than spans the world:  drug traffickers, terrorists, ruthless and heartless.

The question may be this for the Attorney General:  Is letting Viktor Bout back into the world to sell more death and destruction to terrorist groups like the Colombian narcoteroristas FARC less important than getting admitted pervert and child abuser Roman Polanski back on our soil to serve his time?

When you stand to win everything, you also stand to lose everything.

"Call it!"

"Call it!"


In Corruption, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, Mexico, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on July 14, 2009 at 3:21 pm

MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

Since the early 1980s when they were a fledgling gang, to this very day, MS-13 has been a blight on every street where they exist.  Whether house to house, street to street, or city to city, MS-13 has spread like a cancer.  These indictments, arrests and warrants represent one success in an ongoing effort to rid the community of an element that lacks a single redeeming quality.

Chief William Bratton, Los Angeles Police Department, June 24, 2009

Gangbuster:  LAPD Chief William Bratton

Gangbuster: LAPD Chief William Bratton

A 16-count federal indictment unsealed June 24, 2009 in Los Angeles contained two shocking allegations — a plot to kill a well known cop, and a double life lived by a prominent anti-gang activist.  The pleadings also provided a handy window into the history and unrelenting violence of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.  I wrote at length about the genesis and depredations of this transnational Latino gang in my recently released book, No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement.

As Chief Bratton was careful to note in his statement quoted above, the strike against the gang is “one success” in what will be a long, bitter struggle to excise this cancer.  The case is in fact only the latest in a series of federal RICO (anti-racketeering) cases against street gangs that began with the successful 2002 prosecution of members of the Mexican Mafia and the Columbia Little Cycos, an 18th Street gang clique, detailed in No Boundaries. More cases are certain to unfold, and not just in Los Angeles.  The federal government, working with state and local authorities, has brought enormous resources to bear on these gangs, using “sophisticated techniques” of investigation such as informants, domestic and international wiretaps, and possibly undercover agents. The U.S. Department of Justice is determined that no Latino gang morph into another Mafia.

Gangbuster: U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien, Central District of California

Gangbuster: U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien, Central District of California

That said, the indictment is a portent:  it represents the maturity of an intensive joint federal and local effort, not only in Southern California, but all over the United States.   The U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, Thomas O’Brien, has set his teeth into these gangs, reeling out a string of indictments against several notorious cliques.

The back story of sources, methods, and accumulated evidence here is yet to be revealed.  You can be sure the governments involved did not bring this case lightly, and they will have a truckload of evidence to present, if and when it goes to trial.  But for now, the public is dealing with a skeletal public record:  The 66-page indictment, statements of officials at a press conference, the media’s reports of background interviews, and a number of documents filed by defense counsel. Anyone who has delved into such cases in detail — including defense counsel — knows that this is the tip of an iceberg.  Prosecutors say the case has been open for three years.  Since the  case builds on earlier investigations, that is plenty of time to accumulate a mountain of detail.

Do not be surprised if further indictments spin off from this and related cases, possibly including charges based on federal public corruption statutes.  One aspect only hinted at in public is that the investigation is being aided by a person or persons — i.e., a well-placed “rat,””informant,””cooperating witness,””asset,” etc. — with long-term and intimate knowledge of MS-13 players and activities.

MS-13 and The Mexican Mafia (La Eme)–Joined at the Hip in Southern California

The indictment in this case (U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Docket No. CR09-00466), and a long filing by defense counsel seeking the anti-gang activist’s release on bail are well worth reading.  They each lay out the long, painful history of Mara Salvatrucha’s ascent into the grisly transnational criminal consortium it has become.

Here are selected paragraph’s from the indictment.  They describe a key relationship  between MS-13 and the dominant prison gang in California, the Mexican Mafia (also known as La Eme):

14.  In Los Angeles, each clique contributes a portion of its profits towards a tax paid by MS-13 to the Mexican Mafia.  Like all gangs associated with the Mexican Mafia, MS-13 is required to pay a specified sum of money on a regular basis to a member of the Mexican Mafia.  Members of the Mexican Mafia are commonly referred to as “big homies,” “tios” (Spanish for “uncles”), “carnals” [sic] (Spanish slang for “brothers”), and/or “senors” ( a Spanish title of respect for a man).  In return for the tax payments, the Mexican Mafia provides protection to all MS-13 members incarcerated in county, state, and federal prisons and jails in California.  Failure to pay the tax will result in a “green light” being placed on MS-13, that is, a general order from the Mexican Mafia to assault or kill any incarcerated MS-13 member in any facility controlled by the Mexican Mafia.  Also in return for these tax payments, the Mexican Mafia ensures that no other gang operates in MS-13’s territory or otherwise interferes with the criminal activities of MS-13.

15.  Since the mid-1990s, when MS-13 became associated with the Mexican Mafia, a single powerful MS-13 member in Los Angeles has been appointed to act as MS-13’s representative to the Mexican Mafia (“the EME representative”).  The EME representative works as a “soldier” for the Mexican Mafia and is responsible for, among other things, ensuring that MS-13 pays its tax; setting policies to manage and discipline MS-13 members and associates; organizing and conducting meetings among MS-13 shot callers on a regular basis; resolving disputes between MS-13 cliques and members; organizing MS-13 cliques to generate money through, among other things, narcotics trafficking; and providing support to, and requesting assistance from, MS-13 leaders in El Salvador.

16.  In addition to the tax paid to the Mexican Mafia, MS-13 utilizes the profits obtained through its illegal activities by sending money to MS-13 members in prison in El Salvador, purchasing weapons and narcotics, paying attorney’s fees for gang members who have been charged with committing crimes, contributing to funeral costs for gang members who have been killed, and putting money on [sic] the prison accounts of MS-13 members incarcerated in the United States.

I wrote in No Boundaries about a little known but extraordinarily powerful and complex man, who likely was the first “EME representative,” Nelson Comandari.  The U.S. media completely missed the boat on Comandari, and his full story is yet to be told, but I have a good part of it in the book.

The Plot to Whack a Cop

Los Angeles Police Department Detective Frank Flores is a nationally-recognized expert on MS-13.  No Boundaries tells Flores’s life story as an example of the conundrum of gang recruitment. Why are the gangs irresistible to a minority of Latino youth, while other kids from the same barrio climb out of adversity to become part of the great American dream? Flores grew up in Boyle Heights, a gang-infested neighborhood, the child of a single parent. His uncles belonged to White Fence, one of the oldest gangs in L.A.

Yet all Frank Flores can remember ever wanting to be was to be an LAPD cop, even though as a child he had on occasion felt the LAPD’s famous “muscle.”

I first interviewed Flores in March 2007, and talked to him or communicated by email several times since. I had no idea that just months before I met him he had been the target of an assassination plot by MS-13. I learned of the scheme only when it became public after the indictment was unsealed. The government charges that in December 2006 “shot-callers” (leaders) of the gang’s Hollywood “clique” set in motion a plan to whack Flores, designating a hit-man and even providing a handgun to do the job.

Here, for the record, are the allegations in the indictment, which give the bare outlines of the plot:

(138) On or about December 21, 2006, defendants LOPEZ and MELGAR had a phone conversation with each other and with other MS-13 members during which LOPEZ, MELGAR, and others discussed a plot to kill LAPD Detective Frank Flores.

(139) On or about December 23, 2006, defendants LOPEZ and MELGAR had a phone conversation during which they discussed a plot to kill LAPD Detective Frank Flores.

(140) In or about late December 2006, defendants CUENTAS and MELGAR ordered another MS-13 member to follow through with defendant LOPEZ’S orders to kill LAPD Detective Frank Flores.

(141)  In or about late December 2006, defendants MORALES and SALAZAR showed another MS-13 member a handgun that the MS-13 member was ordered to use to kill LAPD Detective Frank Flores.

The plot to murder Frank Flores was derailed. But the story epitomizes the stakes in the ongoing struggle against Latino gangs like MS-13.

The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the Latino Gang World?

Alex Sanchez--Subject of a Grossly Mistake Charge or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the Gang World?

Alex Sanchez--Subject of a Grossly Mistaken Charge or the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the Gang World?

The indictment contains another shock that has rocked circles concerned with gangs like a 7th magnitude earthquake.

Among 24 defendants is Alexander (Alex) Sanchez, probably the most well-known anti-gang activist in the Latino gang world. Federal officials claim Sanchez, executive director of Homies Unidos – a group dedicated to saving kids from the gang life— led a double life. They allege that he has been a secret shot-caller posing as an anti-gang activist. The indictment charges that Sanchez conspired in May 2006 to murder an MS-13 member (who was executed weeks later in El Salvador). Here are relevant excerpts:

(108) “On or about May 6 and 7, 2006, defendants CENDEJAS, FUENTES, PINEDA, and SANCHEZ had a series of phone conversations with each other and with other members of MS-13, during which they conspired to kill Walter Lacinos, aka “Cameron.”

(109) On or about May 15, 2006, an MS-13 member shot and killed Walter Lacinos, aka “Cameron,” in La Libertad, El Salvador.

Scores of prominent figures have filed letters with the court attesting to Sanchez’s character and good works. All are convinced that Sanchez could not have faked his anti-gang efforts while operating as a shot-caller.

But he is held without bond at this writing.

“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


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 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.

Are Drug Legalizers Smoking Dope? A Range of Strong Opinions on What to Do

In Corruption, Crime, Mexico, politics, Transnational crime on May 7, 2009 at 9:09 pm
Should This Be Legal?  And What Else?

Should This Be Legal? And What Else?

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has done what many politicians in Washington only do off-the-record and preferably alone in a sail boat thirty miles off-shore:  suggest a national debate about legalization or decriminalization of some currently illegal drugs (in this case, marijuana).

The subject is percolating, perhaps because of the hurricane of drug violence battering Mexico.  Mark Kleiman wrote a long piece in The American Interest two years ago that is worth reading now.  Here is an excerpt:

…the first step toward achieving less awful results is accepting that there is no one “solution” to the drug problem, for essentially three reasons. First, the potential for drug abuse is built into the human brain. Left to their own devices, and subject to the sway of fashion and the blandishments of advertising, many people will wind up ruining their lives and the lives of those around them by falling under the spell of one drug or another. Second, any laws—prohibitions, regulations or taxes—stringent enough to substantially reduce the number of addicts will be defied and evaded, and those who use drugs in defiance of the laws will generally wind up poorer, sicker and more likely to be criminally active than they would otherwise have been. Third, drug law enforcement must be intrusive if it is to be effective, and enterprises created for the expressed purpose of breaking the law naturally tend toward violence because they cannot rely on courts to settle disputes or police to protect them from robbery or extortion.

More recently, Moises Naim  wrote a short, provocative article titled “Wasted” for Foreign Policy magazine in which he stated:

As a result of this utter failure to think, the United States today is both the world’s largest importer of illicit drugs and the world’s largest exporter of bad drug policy.

I was curious what thoughtful people think about our drug policy and its results.  So I sent the link to a bunch of serious people I know.  I would estimate that about half replied.  (Some no doubt thought that the better part of a career is not putting any views about drugs in writing.) I assured my correspondents that I would not attribute their remarks.  So no names are attached to any of what follows.  But the diversity of their views is impressive, at least to me.  (I made only a few minor edits to correct misspellings and the written equivalents of “you know” and “uh…”):

Health professional

This parallels an article in The Economist a few months back, which made the case that alcohol prohibition entrenched the mafia into US society and that the global drug lords are a modern version of the ‘untouchables’.

The worldwide shortage of Morphine should be included in any analysis of Afghanistan’s heroin industry, though it’s seldom mentioned.

Scholar at a Defense Institute

In general I think that we have to continue with some level of drug trade suppression, but that if we define it as a war it will never be won….The drug war has to be divided conceptually according to the various drugs because they are so distinct in terms of source, shipment variables and toxicity…

Legalization or degrees of permissiveness in use are generally bad ideas in spite of my tendency to believe in the power of the free market.  This is because of the power of the free market.  Although the government could make heroin use legal, for instance, it could not keep people from suing the makers and distributors of such a substance in tort, thus forcing it back to a black market anyway, etc.

In a society wherein cigarettes are being made illegal slice by geographic slice, it is tough to envision a successful movement to make more dangerous substances legal. Additionally, the drug trade fuels other organizations, most of which are bad, so suppression is not just about keeping a kid in Kansas safe, its is about Chavez not having quite as much money with which to screw us.  More or less there it is in a nutshell.

Former Senior Federal Law Enforcement Official

Our government should have been spending far more money for demand reduction for many years, and most anyone you talk to in DEA will agree with that statement.  However, the author alludes to legalization as the answer, and I could not disagree more.  The worst period in our nation’s history for drug abuse and addiction was the 30-40 year period after our Civil War.  One in every 200 Americans were addicted to cocaine or heroin/morphine/opium, and far more were abusing one or more of those drugs.  Those drugs were unregulated and could be purchased off the shelf of any drug store in the country.  ‘Legalization’ didn’t work then and I don’t believe it will now.  The Netherlands’ parliament is now routinely debating the success of their lax drug policies/laws, after they’ve experienced continually rising crime rates and declining quality of life in their city parks, etc.  The bottom line—you can’t control the actions of people under the influence of powerful stimulant and depressant drugs; people simply don’t act responsibly while under their influence.  That’s why there are countless examples of cocaine, meth, GHB, PCP, etc. addicts shooting their next door neighbor or siblings, because they thought they were going to kill them.

Legalizers will often say that alcohol prohibition didn’t work, so drug prohibition will never work.  The numbers of Americans treated for alcoholism and liver disease decreased significantly during the prohibition years, as did the numbers of alcohol related highway deaths.  The vast majority of Americans who use alcohol, do not abuse alcohol.  When I mow the lawn on a hot summer day, I thoroughly enjoy a cold beer or two when I’m done, but I do not drink those beers to alter my behavior.  When my wife cooks my favorite Italian pasta dish, I enjoy complementing the meal with a glass or two of red wine.  I do not drink the wine to alter my behavior in any way.  However, those who use the drugs I mentioned earlier, or any other illicit mind altering drugs, including marijuana, are doing it for one reason and one reason only—to seek a sense of euphoria and ultimately an alteration of their behavior.

No responsible nation has ever decriminalized drugs that did not eventually re-criminalize them, because they experienced skyrocketing addiction and abuse rates, workplace accidents, highway deaths, insurance rates, etc.; at the same time experiencing significant decreases in school equivalency/efficiency test scores, workplace output, etc.  And what drugs would we legalize, and who/what would regulate their manufacture (to pharmaceutical standards), marketing, distribution, taxation, etc.?  The federal government (you’ve got to be kidding me)?  Will we legalize PCP, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, GHB (the date-rape drug), ecstasy?  How about 3-methyl fentanyl, a synthetic form of heroin 1,000 times more potent then heroin?  Do we allow the user of cocaine hydrochloride to ‘crack’ it up on the kitchen stove with basic household products?  By the way, what’s the age limit we attach to drug use?  Is it 21?  Is it 18?  And do we really want the traffickers, after we legalize drugs, to suddenly prioritize their focus on our fellow citizens under the designated legal age—our kids?

The reality of the situation is that we do a pretty damn good job of keeping a lid on our drug problem here in the U.S.  We did not experience over 6,000 drug related deaths on our streets last year; we did not have over 200 drug related beheadings in the U.S. last year; we did not have our Deputy Attorney General arrested for taking multi-hundred thousand dollar payoffs from drug lords; we did not have to throw our military into the fight domestically because our federal, state and local law enforcement community had become so corrupted by drug cartels that they could not be trusted; etc.  This should at least be considered as one of the ways we measure success against drug abuse and trafficking in our country.  There are somewhere between 40% to 50% fewer Americans abusing illicit drugs today than in 1979 at the height of the most recent era of drug abuse in our country.  If some medical research team had reduced the number of cases of diabetes by 40% to 50% since 1979, someone would be getting a Nobel prize.

Finally, we’re not winning the War on Domestic Violence.  Should we legalize it?  We’re not winning the War on Racism?  Should we legalize it?  We’re not winning the War on Corporate Fraud.  Should we legalize it?  We’re not winning the War on Child Pornography.  Should we legalize it?    The only thing we accomplish by legalizing drugs, is that we provide our kids and other citizens with greater access to cheaper, more potent and powerful mind-altering, addictive substances.  Don’t we have enough problems to deal with?

Lawyer in criminal division of a federal law enforcement agency

Very interesting – it does seem clear that the war is a failure, and we are losing.  The new ONDCP Director (Kerlikowski) will focus on demand reduction as well, but it certainly seems reasonable to explore ways to take the vast criminal profit out of the drug trade.  Unfortunately, no one can say that politically – though, who knows, maybe Arlen Spector will lead the charge as a Democrat?

Personal friend, retired from government, lives in Colorado

I totally agree with this article. In fact, I believe that failed US policies are largely responsible for the Mexican drug wars and their spillover here. If we 1) legalized marijuana and 2) had the same gun policies as Mexico itself, where it is very hard to buy guns, then much of the drug-fueled violence would cease. But what are the chances that either of those things could happen? Even Obama seems afraid of the NRA!

Retired gang investigator, California

…seems logical, but a few things I observe:  Yes, we are losing the war on drugs, just like Viet Nam, and in some respect Iraq.  We have no real political spine for wars.  Our congress has no general consensus on either.  The ideological lock that is occurring in Congress prevents anything meaningful from passing.  I agree we need prevention and treatment, but we also need border control and to toughen the import routes.  Narcotic crimes are not victimless, we have a lot of violence associated with it, and legalizing it is not an acceptable answer.  We have many murders not related to narcotics, in fact, more than those that are.  Should we legalize the murder of wives by irate husbands, or soiled daughters like the Taliban advocates?  The obvious answer if NO, absolutely not.  Let us seal the borders against the importation of human traffickers and narcotics.  It could be done with minimal legislative change, and with the support of Congress.  That is unlikely, so we will probably be having this same argument 10 years from now.

Congressional staff member

I’ve long believed that the “war on drugs’ (another asinine “contribution” to our national lexicon from the guy who gave us the suffix “gate”) has been more than a colossal failure; it has inflicted great harm on the nation, and on other nations (see e.g. Mexico at the moment).  Would the drug gangs in the US and Mexico (and Colombia, Afghanistan, etc.) have that much money and influence if RJ Reynolds sold grass in the corner bodega for $5 a pack?  Hardly.  What would happen to the shooting war?  When was the last time someone got wasted over a shipment of bathtub gin?  When was the last time someone went blind drinking bathtub gin?  Do our kids even know what bathtub gin is?  Prohibition made local gangs into the modern mob, and we’ve done the same with the war on drugs.  Public opprobrium, and the war on drugs lobby, which includes everything from prison industrial complex to the guys who make those idiotic “DARE” t-shirts, are substantial impediments to a more rational policy.  It is also the case that many illegal drugs are extremely harmful.  The only question for policy makers is whether the current legal regime is the best, or at least the least bad, way to deal with those harms.  Decades of experience tell us no.  We can’t even get a consensus for treatment on demand, or guaranteed treatment for people ready to get clean.  I had the experience in [New York]  of trying to get junkies who showed up in my office looking for treatment.  Even calling from an Assembly office I couldn’t get them in.  Our way of treating these people is with prison.  We also make the richest guy in the neighborhood the pusher.  That may be self-satisfying for some people, but it’s not really a solution. We get the problems associated with drug use, plus a failure to help addicts, and we create significant deleterious associated problems.  Not terribly helpful.

Prominent criminal defense lawyer

…we pay a tremendous price for the legalization of alcohol—drunk drivers, alcoholism, etc. I am not advocating abstinence, but in reality we suffer greatly for legalization.  We will pay a much higher price if drugs are legalized.

I agree the war on drugs has not been won, but continuing to fight the war is better than giving up.  The “war” has saved lives, other social ills in our society and will continue to so even if we never achieve anything close to total victory.  If we legalize say even marijuana it will become a slippery slope to much more.  I am more concerned about what I believe will be a drug pandemic in our country— is far more important than angst caused in Afghanistan, etc.

Moreover, if we give up—what does it say about our resolve in other areas when the going gets tough?  Another black hawk down maybe of which Ben Laden took note.

If when we can not fully control something, we surrender, what a sorry state that will be.

Retired senior federal law enforcement official

1. Just like with wine allow every family to have two pot plants for personal use
2. Provide drug addicts amnesty with free drugs
3.Increase penalty for all drug traffickers to death – send special ops teams to other countries to bring ‘em back dead or alive if needed.

I wonder what you think?


In Corruption, Crime on May 6, 2009 at 11:49 am

Luis Molina (William Hurt): The nicest thing about feeling happy is that you think you’ll never be unhappy again.

Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)

The worst thing about petty corruption is that you think you’ll never get caught.

So you move up to grand corruption.

And maybe murder.

As Fairly Civil explored in Part One and Two of this series, the illicit drug trade and the prison gangs that control it behind bars drive much of the corruption in prisons.  But drugs are not always the prime mover.  Correctional officers simply yield sometimes to the temptation to exploit the relatively weak and vulnerable position of their inmate charges for sex and money.

A shocking 2006 shootout at the entrance to a federal woman’s prison in Florida pulled back the curtain on a long-running scheme in which six federal corrections officers were exploiting female offenders.  The male guards were trading privileges and contraband for sex and cash, using threats to cover up their corrupt acts.

Federal Agents At Scene After 2006 Shootout at FCI near Tallahassee, Florida

Federal Agents At Scene After 2006 Shootout at FCI near Tallahassee, Florida

After a federal grand jury handed up a secret indictment of the guards, FBI and U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) agents set out to make arrests.  The agents arrived at the Federal Correctional Institute (FCI) near Tallahassee, Florida early on the morning of June 21, 2006.  It appears that the arrest team did not expect resistance because the indictment was supposedly secret — although the fact of the investigation seems to have been known — and guards were not allowed to bring guns into the prison.

U.S. Department of Justice OIG Special Agent William "Buddy" Sentner Was Shot to Death By Indicted Prison Guard

U.S. Department of Justice OIG Special Agent William "Buddy" Sentner Was Shot to Death By Indicted Prison Guard

Guards were not searched, however.  One of the indicted federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) officers, Ralph Hill, had smuggled in a personal gun.  Hill must have known something was up, as he had retained counsel.  In any event, he opened fire on the arresting agents.  Hill shot OIG Special Agent William “Buddy” Sentner to death, and was himself killed in the melee.  Another correctional officer assisting in the arrests was wounded.  The DOJ shooting report on the incident has not been publicly released, at least to my knowledge.

Three of the accused officers pleaded guilty and two other were convicted of various charges after trial.

Alfred Barnes was among those who pleaded guilty.  The “Factual Basis For Plea” filed in his case (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Docket # 4:06cr36-RH) lays out the whole scheme in dry, prosecutorial, but nonetheless sordid detail.  Because it is Barnes’ admission, it probably is about as reliable a first-hand description as one can get from this record:

During the period alleged in the indictment, there existed among defendants a tacit agreement to use and help one another to use their positions as correctional officers for personal gratification and financial gain, contrary to the law and the public’s best interest. This agreement included the understanding that certain defendants would have sexual contact with inmates, would introduce contraband into the prison to sell and use as bribes, and would have inmates and others send money via the U.S. Postal Service and other means of payment for contraband.

Barnes’ statement lays out several specific examples of how the scheme operated.  Here is one from among them:

Defendant Barnes…accepted bribes in the form of payments and sexual favors from Inmate #1 in exchange for providing her with contraband. Inmate #1 would have associates outside of FCI Tallahassee mail money or contraband to him using a name different than his own to…[an] address in Thomasville, Georgia, that defendant Barnes provided. Defendant Barnes received money and sexual favors as compensation for bringing the contraband into FCI Tallahassee. The contraband…that defendant Barnes brought into FCI Tallahassee pursuant to this scheme consisted of alcohol, cosmetics, clothing, jewelry, and cigars.

The admission also describes how Barnes and the others sought to cover up their criminal conduct:

It was understood that to facilitate and conceal these unlawful activities, certain defendants would take steps to discourage inmates from reporting defendants’ illegal conduct.  These steps included threatening to plant contraband among the inmates’ belongings, threatening to have inmates shipped to institutions far from their friends and family, monitoring inmates [sic] telephone calls, directing inmates not to cooperate with Department of Justice investigators, and displaying the BOP computer tracking system to inmates to show how defendants could monitor the whereabouts of the inmates even if they were transferred to another institution.  Contrary to their duty as correctional officers, it was also understood that defendants would keep silent and not report the conduct and violations described above.

This sleazy scheme brings the “women in prison” movie genre to life.  But in real — as opposed to “reel” — life, the corruption undermines the whole system.  One former female inmate told the Tallahassee Democrat (June 21, 2007) after the case was concluded that officials “brushed everything under the carpet.”

“It just dies down for a while,” she said.  “All the officers watch their steps, and they watch what they do.  But then when they think it’s cool, they slack, and they start doing it again.”

“We have zero tolerance for any abuse towards an inmate,” said a BOP spokesman.



In Corruption, Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs on April 22, 2009 at 8:17 am

I woke up this mornin’,
There were tears in my bed.
They killed a man I really loved
Shot him through the head.
Lord, Lord,
They cut George Jackson down.
Lord, Lord,
They laid him in the ground.

“George Jackson,” Lyrics by Bob Dylan, sung here.

[Metropolitan Transition Center Guard Musheerah] Habeebullah is quoted as saying it used to be that just one officer on a shift might smuggle contraband.

“Now you got, like, seven, eight people,” she said. “Soon it’s the whole [expletive] shift.”

Henri E. Cauvin, “Inmates, Md. Prison Guards Face Drug Smuggling Case,” Washington Post, April 17, 2009

George Jackson Founded the Black Guerrilla Family in a California Prison.  His Book -- "Soledad Brother" -- Was a Cultural Icon for Some During the Racial Turmoil of the 1970s

George Jackson Founded the Black Guerrilla Family in a California Prison. He and His Book -- "Soledad Brother" -- Were Cultural and Political Icons for Some During the Racial Turmoil of the 1970s

A task force of federal, state, and local law enforcement agents fanned out at the crack of dawn one day last week in Maryland and arrested a singular mix of miscreants: Black Guerrilla (also spelled “Guerilla” in some sources) Family prison gang members — and some of the correctional officers charged with guarding them.  The case — led by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein — is a current example of the problem of corruption in prison, often (but not always) driven by the corrosive trade in illicit drugs.  (See Part One here for an introductory overview.)  The Washington Post described the scheme:

Prosecutors said the gang known as Black Guerilla [sic] Family recruited prison employees and used hidden compartments in shoes to smuggle heroin, ecstasy, tobacco, cellphones and other contraband into prisons in Maryland and elsewhere.

The gang members sold the drugs to other inmates, prosecutors said. They allegedly used the cellphones to communicate with associates outside, approving targets for robberies and arranging attacks on cooperating witnesses.

There is no doubt that the enormously profitable drug trade is corrupting some prison staff.  The question is, how widespread is the problem?  According to the reported excerpt from a federal wiretap quoted above, Maryland guard Musheerah Habeebullah apparently thinks it is widespread, at least where she works.  She may be right, or she may have been rationalizing her alleged actions — thinking something like, “Everybody’s doing it, so I’d be crazy not to get my share!”

Gary D. Maynard, the head of the Maryland agency that oversees prisons, said at a press conference that, while the allegations in this case are serious, he does not think they are widespread.  “I strongly believe that the majority of our staff are good,” he said, “but it only takes a few bad seeds to make everyone look bad.”

At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General reported last year that it had 238 open cases of alleged misconduct against federal Bureau of Prisons employees.  This is a mere fraction of the agency’s approximately 36,000 employees (of whom about 26,000 are male, and 10,000 are female), supervising about 167,000 inmates in BOP facilities.

But given that many modern prison gangs control a bigger criminal structure outside of the prison walls — as is apparent in this case — even just a few corrupt corrections officers may be “force multipliers.”  Their cooperation is the fulcrum to a lever of violent gang criminality that affects victims in the “free world” as well as in prison.

Power of Prison Gangs

Retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Richard Valdemar explained to me that he only began to understand fully the dimensions of his rookie assignment at the Los Angeles County Jail when an older inmate (a cop-killer, by the way) took him aside to explain the facts of jail life.  The inmate explained that gangs ran the world inside the wall.  From that incident — described in my forthcoming book No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press June 2009) — Valdemar learned that he had to “see” two different worlds inside the walls:  the official world and the gang world.

In the Maryland case, it appears prison authorities would not disagree.  This is from the Washington Post story:

“The BGF runs the prison system when it comes to controlling contraband,” said Capt. Phil Smith, assistant director of the state prison system’s intelligence unit.

This is also confirmed by a tidy description of the power of prison gangs from the web site Into The Abyss: A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs,by Mike Carlie, Ph.D.:

In gang-dominated prisons, gangs rule the roost. Which inmates eat at what times and where they sit in the dining hall, who gets the best or worst job assignments in the prison, who has money and nice clothes, who lives and who dies – all of these things, and others, are determined by gangs in the prison. Their very presence requires special attention from prison authorities.

The Black Guerrilla Family

Corrections officials call prison gangs “security threat groups,” and the Black Guerrilla Family is one of the earliest. Here is a description of BGF from the National Gang Intelligence Center’s National Gang Threat Assessment 2009:

Black Guerrilla Family (BGF), originally called Black Family or Black Vanguard, is a prison gang founded in the San Quentin State Prison, California, in 1966. The gang is highly organized along paramilitary lines, with a supreme leader and central committee. BGF has an established national charter, code of ethics, and oath of allegiance. BGF members operate primarily in California and Maryland. The gang has 100 to 300 members, most of whom are African American males. A primary source of income for gang members comes from cocaine and marijuana distribution. BGF members obtain such drugs primarily from Nuestra Familia/Norteños members or from local Mexican traffickers. BGF members are involved in other criminal activities, including auto theft, burglary, drive-by shootings, and homicide.

Here is another, more historical description from an article by Alfonso J. Valdez, “Prison Gangs 101” in Corrections Today, February 2009:

The Black Guerilla [sic, throughout] Family is the most politically oriented of all the California prison gangs, following and espousing Marxist Leninist Maoist revolutionary philosophies. The Black Guerilla Family was established around 1966 by a Black Panther leader, George Lester Jackson, in San Quentin prison. Jackson established this group because he believed the Black Panther Party was not responding to the needs of black prison inmates. First called the Black Family, prospective members were solicited by suggesting their crimes were a result of white oppression.

Jackson soon changed the name to the Black Vanguard after a sizable membership was established. This name remained with the gang until 1971, when Jackson was killed during an escape attempt. Since that time the gang’s membership has grown and the its name changed to the Black Guerilla Family.

The Black Guerilla Family has a very close relationship with a splinter group of quasi-criminal revolutionaries, the Black Liberation Army. Some prison gang experts believe the Black Guerilla Family is just an extension of the Black Liberation Army.

There are two tattoos that are commonly associated with the Black Guerilla Family. One is a prison watchtower surrounded by a dragon with a quarter moon depicted in its body. The second shows the silhouette of a rifle with a sword lying over it to form an X, and includes the initials BGF.

BGF Tattoo of Watch Tower and Dragon

BGF Tattoo of Watch Tower and Dragon

It is worth noting that although most large, national prison and street gangs are essentially criminal enterprises fueled by the illegal drug trade, many of them profess or were rooted in aspects of political ideology and mythic history.  The touchstone of these ideologies is the perception that the members of the gang are victims — even “political prisoners” — of the dominant culture’s racial or ethnic exploitation.  This is true even of the white gangs, in which case the dominant culture is not perceived as “white” but as an impure mixture dominated by “lesser” groups.

The following excerpt from a long and detailed affidavit filed with an application for a search warrant in the case contends that BGF has a national presence and is seeking to expand its power outside of prison, at least in Maryland.  The excerpt also describes some of the gang’s leadership structure:

During a series of debriefings in late 2008 and early 2009, a reliable confidential informant (CS1)who is a member of BGF advised investigators that BGF is a nationwide prison gang with a presence in every correctional institution in the country. CS1 related that he/she has been in various prisons throughout the country and at each institution there has been a faction of BGF. CS1 related that BGF is violent both inside and outside prison, but that historically BGF has not been well-organized outside of prison. CS1 stated that currently, BGF is attempting to change this within Baltimore, Maryland by becoming more organized and effective on the streets.

CS1 explained that within the prisons, BGF has a group of individuals who are in leadership roles/positions of authority and that this leadership group is known as the “Supreme Bush.” All members who are not in the Supreme Bush are considered “members” of the Bush or Mansion. The only place Bush members hold rank is within the correctional system; once a Bush member is back out on the streets, he or she is considered a regular BGF member.

Also worth noting is the insight this case gives on modern “sophisticated means” of investigation.  The 100-plus page affidavit is a classic for study of how the DEA uses Title III wiretaps to let traffickers fashion handcuffs out of their own words.  These operations were alluded to in the press release issued by the Md. U.S. Attorney’s office:

Mr. Rosenstein added, “Inmates are cautious about using monitored prison phones to run their criminal enterprises and intimidate witnesses, but they have not been as concerned about their smuggled cell phones. We want the inmates to know that we also can listen in on their cell phone calls.”

“This is the first time that DEA Baltimore provided real time inside intelligence information to the Maryland Department of Corrections,” stated Ava A. Cooper-Davis, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Washington Division. “Our joint effort resulted in the seizure of drugs and various contraband by DOC officials.”

Another interesting point about BGF:  Because of their blood rivalry, the two Latino prison gangs in California — the Mexican Mafia (La Eme) and La Nuestra Familia — made allies inside the walls with strange bedfellows.  Thus, the Black Guerrilla Family became an ally of La Nuestra Familia and the white racist gang Aryan Brotherhood lined up with La Eme, confounding usual racial and ethnic distinctions.

The Maryland prison case is by no means the first, last, or only such case of prison corruption driven by the drug trade.  Fairly Civil will examine several more such cases in the next post in this series.


In Corruption, Crime, Gangs on April 19, 2009 at 5:48 pm

An "O.G." (Original Gangster"), "Iron" Felix Dzerzhinksy Was the Intelletcual Architect of the Soviet Secret Service That Became the KGB

An "O.G." ("Original Gangster"): "Iron" Felix Dzerzhinksy Was the Intellectual Architect of the Soviet Secret Service That Eventually Morphed Into the KGB

From their prison cells and with the help of corrections staff, authorities say, members of a violent gang were feasting on salmon and shrimp, sipping Grey Goose vodka and puffing fine cigars – all while directing drug deals, extorting protection money from other inmates and arranging attacks on witnesses and rival gang members.

Justin Fenton , “Indictments reveal prison crime world: Officers, inmates charged in drugs, extortion,” The Baltimore Sun, April 17, 2009

Situatsiya verbovochnaya — Recruitment Situation

The main circumstances which give rise to a recruitment situation include: the target’s psychological state is propitious for exerting influence on him in order to induce him to cooperate secretly; external factors which make it possible to achieve the recruitment covertly; circumstances which compromise the target and put him in a position of dependence vis-a-vis the intelligence or counter-intelligence agencies, thus creating an effective basis for recruiting him; or the availability of data offering a real possibility of a recruitment on an ideological and political basis, or on the basis of a desire to secure material or other personal advantages.

Vasil Mitrokhin, KGB Lexicon: The Soviet Intelligence Officers Handbook , p. 373

What distinguishes a corrupt prison guard from a gangster when he (or she) is working with — or for — an incarcerated gangster?

Probably only that the gangster is making a lot more money than the guard.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Median annual earnings of correctional officers and jailers were $35,760 in May 2006. The middle 50 percent earned between $28,320 and $46,500. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,600, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $58,580. Median annual earnings in the public sector were $47,750 in the Federal Government, $36,140 in State government, and $34,820 in local government. In the facilities support services industry, where the relatively small number of officers employed by privately operated prisons is classified, median annual earnings were $25,050.

Better than pushing cheeseburgers.  But in a case I write about in my forthcoming book — No Boundaries:  Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press, June 2009) — a Mexican Mafia boss running a street gang operation from prison had a box containing half-a-million dollars in cash stored in his girl friend’s closet.  He was also receiving thousands of dollars of income monthly from a street gang operation “taxing” local dealers.

Many cases of corruption in prison are just another facet of the enormously corrosive effect of the modern drug traffic.  The most lucrative business in history is a river of acid at flood stage.  It rolls over obstructions in its path, seeks out alternate courses, and above all eats at the foundations of everything it comes in contact with — from families, to prisons, to governments.

This examination of prison corruption is no “dis'” on the many fine public servants working in our prisons.  It’s just a look at stark reality.  As of September 30, 2008, for example, the U.S. Department of Justice’s  Office of the Inspector General reported to Congress that it had 238 open cases of alleged misconduct against federal Bureau of Prisons employees. “The criminal investigations covered a wide range of allegations, including introduction of contraband, bribery, and sexual abuse.”  That is a very low rate,  considering that the BOP has about 36,000 employees (not all of whom, of course, are in contact with offenders).

Working in a "Correctional" Institution Can Be Stressful and Hazardous

Working in a "Correctional" Institution Can Be Stressful and Hazardous

Prison guards are also known as “correctional” or “detention officers.” Here is how the BLS survey describes the work:

Working in a correctional institution can be stressful and hazardous. Every year, correctional officers are injured in confrontations with inmates. Correctional officers may work indoors or outdoors. Some correctional institutions are well lighted, temperature controlled, and ventilated, but others are old, overcrowded, hot, and noisy. Although both jails and prisons can be dangerous places to work, prison populations are more stable than jail populations, and correctional officers in prisons know the security and custodial requirements of the prisoners with whom they are dealing.

Job prospects in the field are “excellent” according to BLS:

Employment of correctional officers is expected to grow 16 percent between 2006 and 2016, faster than the average for all occupations. Increasing demand for correctional officers will stem from population growth and rising rates of incarceration. Mandatory sentencing guidelines calling for longer sentences and reduced parole for inmates are a primary reason for historically increasing incarceration rates. Some States are reconsidering mandatory sentencing guidelines because of budgetary constraints, court decisions, and doubts about their effectiveness.

The problem is that in the wake of the era of law and order  — “longer sentences and reduced parole” ought to teach them a lesson — there is so little correcting and so much warehousing going on in America’s prisons, the staff are little more than widget production line drones.  Many law enforcement officials refer to prison as a place for higher education in crime.  It is certainly true for gangsters, where a spin in prison is regarded as a prestigious life passage.

Warehouse:  Not Exactly A Stimulating Environment

Warehouse: Not Exactly A Stimulating Environment

Imagine a life in which your job is to move a monotonous series of what “the system” views as so many interchangeable product models from Point A to Point B, then to Point C, then to Point D, then back to Point A — then repeat — at more or less the same time in a monotonous cycle every 24 hours.  Now consider that the products are human beings — or, unfortunately in the view of much of today’s society, humanoid — with actual internal lives and external relationships.

Yes, they think, they feel, they bleed.  And they don’t get to go home between shifts, so imagine the boiling pressure inside your average con.  (I have visited one prison and several jails as a lawyer or journalist, and the sense of regulated confinement I felt even as a visitor was suffocating to the point of claustrophobia.  It’s hard to imagine what it must feel like to actually live or work in such a place.)

On occasion, one of these human inventory products may try to kill or maim you or — more often — another product.

Your work environment is supposed to be sterile — a sanitized place where access to life’s easy pleasures is strictly controlled or prohibited.  No drugs.  No sex.  Even rock and roll is rationed.

But some of the product forms you move about inside the concrete and steel box every day are organized into criminal enterprises — mostly prison gangs.  There is big money to be made in contraband, and the gangsters are making it.  They run prostitution, drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, access, whatever you want, they have it — for a price.  On the outside these mobsters would be driving Cadillac Escalades and sporting diamonds in their teeth.  Every now and then one of them makes a pass, figuratively waving a roll of bills in your face.  The temptation to supplement a middling civil service paycheck is seductive.

Recruiting a prison employee into corruption is not overly different than recruiting a spy.  In fact, one might say that the environment is ideal.  All that remains to be found is the person with — in the KGB’s felicitous phrase quoted above — a “propitious” state of mind.

Sean Connery Was An Incorruptible Space Marshal in Outland

Sean Connery Was An Incorruptible Space Marshal in Outland

A bit of dialogue from the 1981 film Outland comes to mind.  Sean Connery stars as federal marshal William T. O’Neil, one lone man fighting pervasive corruption (drug smuggling) in a futuristic but incisively metaphoric outer space prison colony:

Station Manager Sheppard: If you’re looking for money, you’re smarter than you look. If you’re not, you’re a lot dumber.
Marshal William T. O’Neil: Then I’m probably a lot dumber.

Most corrections officer are, as expressed in this film’s equation, “dumber” rather than “smarter.”

But some significant minority succumb to the wiles of Delilah and take the bait.  And, as the KGB and other such organizations know, once you bite for the little bribe — what could it matter? — you’re hooked for the bigger payoff to whomever is holding the other end of the line.  How does one explain that night with Delilah to a grim-faced administrator?

Delilah's Embrace Can Be Deadly in Prison ("Samson and Delilah," School of Rembrandt, c. 1630, Rijksmuseum)

Delilah's Embrace Can Be Deadly in Prison ("Samson and Delilah," School of Rembrandt, c. 1630, Rijksmuseum)

In succeeding parts, Fairly Civil will examine some examples of corruption inside the Big House.  These cases run the gamut from the recent Maryland case involving the Black Guerrilla Family — one of the oldest prison gangs and mortal enemy of the Mexican Mafia — to corruption instigated by correctional officers themselves.  The latter include a spectacular prison lobby shootout in 2006 that took the lives of a federal agent and an indicted federal  prison guard.

Read Part two here.


In Corruption, Crime, Gangs, Latino gangs, Mexico, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on April 1, 2009 at 7:20 pm
U.S. Marshal Kind of Work

U.S. Marshal Kind of Work

The private intelligence service Stratfor has published a podcast for subscribers  in which analyst Fred Burton discusses the case of Vincent Paul Bustamante, a U.S. Marshal found shot dead in Mexico.

In an earlier report on the incident, Stratfor wrote that Bustamante:

…was found in a canal with what appeared to be multiple gunshot wounds to the head, was identified by fingerprints and an identity document.

A USMS spokesperson said that before his death, Bustamante had surrendered his badge, credentials and weapon, as he had been placed on administrative leave for failing to appear in court on charges associated with criminal theft of public property (possibly a shotgun). According to one account, there had been a warrant out for Bustamante’s arrest since March 18. Such charges could be associated with accusations of corruption.

Little additional information is available at this time, and while there is no evidence yet that Bustamante’s death was linked to organized crime, there is strong reason to believe that this is the case. If so, Bustamante’s death represents a significant development in the cartel war in Mexico, as it would be the first time a U.S. federal law enforcement officer has been killed in Mexico in the last few years.

CNN reported that their law enforcement source said Bustamante was doing a law enforcement version of dipping into the till:  pawning official guns and then buying them back after pay day:

Bustamante, 48, was charged with stealing U.S. government property including Glock and Ruger handguns, a shotgun and a pair of binoculars, according to court documents.

According to the federal source, who was not authorized to speak about details of the case and asked not to be named, a pawnshop owner became suspicious when Bustamante attempted to pawn a shotgun and called the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The source said Bustamante would buy back items he had pawned on his pay days and return them.

Burton, however,  goes beyond this in the podcast to suggest that Bustamante “could have gone rogue, could have gone dirty.”

If so, the consequences could be profound.   “This is just not a dead cop–this is larger,” Burton warns.  Investigators must “unpack” Bustamante’s “knowledge base” to find out what he knew and what he might have given up if he was dirty.

One extremely sensitive area: protected witnesses.  I write about several extremely sensitive transnational gang investigations in my forthcoming book (No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement) in which “flipped” and later protected witnesses were crucial.  (You’ll have to read the book, but two cases contain details never before written about publicly.)

There is an axiom among agents about organized crime cases:  “no informant, no case.”   [OK, another more cynical one is, “No case, no problems.”]

Naturally, the Mexican drug cartels and their affiliates would love to find out who flipped, where they are, and how the U.S. government protects them.  This is true “sources and methods” stuff — not the imagined worries that too many federal law enforcement executives use to keep the American public in the dark.  This is the kind of stuff that gets people killed.

Marshals Service Runs the Federal Witness Security Program

Marshals Service Runs the Federal Witness Security Program

Well…the Marshals Service runs the federal Witness Security Program — often also called the federal “Witness Protection Program.”   Since the program by any name started in 1970, says the Marshals Service, “more than 7,500 witnesses and over 9,500 family members have entered the Program and have been protected, relocated and given new identities.”  The service also states that “No program participant who follows security guidelines has ever been harmed while under the active protection of the Marshals Service.” (Be sure to read the fine print in that statement — warranty voided if you don’t follow the rules or are not under “active protection.”)

But Burton’s warning does not end there.  He argues that the Bustamante case demonstrates that “we have to take control of the corruption on this side of the border.”   This is especially interesting in light of  Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s explosive statement to BBC this week:

There is trafficking in Mexico because there is corruption in Mexico…But by the same argument if there is trafficking in the United States it is because there is some corruption in the United States… It is impossible to pass tonnes of cocaine to the United States without the complicity of some American authorities.

As I wrote in a report on gun trafficking to Mexico released this week, Calderon is not just making this up:

U.S. officials also worry about the potential for corruption of law enforcement officials at all levels of government in the United States. In May 2008, for example, there were reported to be about 200 open cases investigating corruption among U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials working on the border. The agency’s inspector general reportedly saw an increase in cases that it investigated from 31 in 2003 to 79 in the 2007 fiscal year.

“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


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