Tom Diaz

Posts Tagged ‘Stratfor’

No Country for Old Men: Why They Are Killing Our Cops and Prosecutors

In bad manners, Bushmaster assault rifle, Corruption, Crime, Cultural assassination, Drugs, Ethics in Washington, Gangs, Guns, Mexico, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION, Police, politics, Running Fire Fight, Semiautomatic assault rifles, The Great Stupid, Tired Old Republicans, Transnational crime on April 4, 2013 at 2:15 pm
"Call it!"

“Call it!”

Sometime between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m., about two dozen LAPD officers faced an angry crowd at the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues. The cops were outnumbered to begin with, the crowd was growing into a mob, and the mob was howling mad at the police. An LAPD lieutenant, Michael Maulin, made a tactical decision that would cost him his career in the orgy of retrospective finger-pointing that followed the riots. He ordered the police officers to withdraw. The hard-charging, in-your-face, proactive thin blue line faded like a gaggle of Las Vega showgirls at curtain time. “It was widely believed in South Central that the LAPD did not want to protect the city’s poor, minority neighborhoods,” journalist Lou Cannon observed. “The shocking reality was that the LAPD was unable to provide that protection.”

Tom Diaz, No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement, p. 96.

Thus was the iron-fisted, mirrored-sun glasses, take-no-prisoners, paramilitary  creation of legendary chief Darryl Gates—the proud Los Angeles Police Department—humbled by the infamous “Rodney King riots” of April 1992.

The LAPD would never be the same.

Just the Expert Facts, Please

The lesson for today is quite simply this: uniforms, badges, tough-guy swagger, ballistic vests, and most of all guns do not protect law enforcement. Respect and the healthy fear of consequence do. When a society surrenders those two foundations of “law and order,” there are not enough guns in the world—not enough good guys with guns—to protect police, prosecutors, and judges from men who are willing to kill them.

Now we are seeing the truth of this implacable maxim, revealed in a prophetic spate of ruthless murders of law enforcement officers.  In Colorado, the state’s prison chief is shot to death on his doorstep. In Texas, two county prosecutors are shot to death in separate incidents. In West Virginia, a sheriff is shot dead in his car.These incidents are but the latest and most recent examples of a growing trend of blatant attacks on law enforcement.

Please note that it is not the quantum, the total of law enforcement officers murdered, so much as it is the growing demonstration of willingness to confront law enforcement with armed violence. And that willingness–that willful disregard of fear and respect–is the inevitable consequence of two long-term currents in the United States.

One is the suppurating wound inflicted on America’s public discourse by the reckless gospel of insurrection that has been promoted by the National Rifle Association and the gun industry that it represents since at least the 1980s. This rotting lesion has consequences that go far beyond the kabuki theater of rhetorical exchange in Washington, a place where both sides need each other for the show, and ritual has displaced action.

Emitted Little Thoughts Compiled in . . . ummmm... WTF?

“The guys with the guns make the rules.” Wayne LaPierre, Orifice-in-Chief of the NRA.

The stinking, hateful matter emitted by the NRA has dangerously infected the minds of many of the dullest and worst of our society. Ideas have consequences, and when the idea that “government is our enemy” is combined in the minds of the unbalanced and the psychopath with easy access to increasingly deadly guns…well, to all but the ideologically intoxicated, the inevitable is clear.

The other factor is the utter collapse of not only moral will, but moral discernment itself, in Washington. This infection at the heart of our political discourse has paralyzed a body politic that might with capable discernment and strong will have cured itself of the hateful wound inflicted by the NRA and its ilk.

What we see today—elaborated at length in my latest book, The Last Gun—is the triumph of Third Way politics, micro-politics that seeks only political success for career politicians and their waddling retinue of mere technicians—pollsters, advisers, spin-masters, lobbyists.

These are people—Democratic party leaders and their fawning servants—who describe in great detail the polling, focus with frightening precision on the tiniest “swing” group, and then define a message that will appeal to that micro-fraction of America.

These “leaders” have, in the end, defined themselves as soulless people, willing to accept only “what we can get” and “what is politically feasible” in place of real change. They are either incapable of—or unwilling to—make grand moral judgments, define causes to lead, and stand up for principle. Reelection for its own sake is enough.

Thus has the powerful chorus of national moral outrage that followed the Moloch’s slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School been pared down to a whimper, to “negotiations” about inconsequential legalisms between the likes of the artfully consummate Third Way deal-maker Sen. Charles (“Chuck”) Schumer and the implacably thick-witted Senator Tom Coburn.

Schumer's Bird

Career politicians bond over a dead bird…

While these career politicians—many of whom have never done anything of substance in their lives other than curry elective favor—nitter and natter around the margins of America’s gun problem, the country is sinking to its gunwales in military-style firearms. Disrespect for law enforcement burgeons among radicals and career criminals alike, fueled by an irrational hatred of compromise and fact-based discourse.

Industry Puppet NRA Calls These Romanian Assault Rifles Just Plain Old Sporting Guns--Are They That Stupid Or Are They Just Liars?

…while the mentally ill, criminals, and extremists bond with the gun industry and its handmaiden, the NRA, over military-style guns.

If this sounds like Mexico, it is.

Conventional wisdom has always been—and still is among conventional “expert” thinkers like those of the hapless private spy agency Stratfor which, not incidentally, failed to protect its vast files from hacking some months ago—that organized gangs and transnational criminals will never attack law enforcement in the United States because the consequences would be too great.

Really?

This is the argument of the smug, the proud, and, oh, yes, by the way,  the grand consultants retired from law enforcement selling their “expertise.”  It can’t happen here because we are so good.

Well it is happening.

09122009_229540It is just as reasonable, and I would argue more reasonable, to conclude that the war for control has begun. We already see one federal prosecutor withdrawn from a major gang and drug prosecution. The drug “cartels” are not stupid. The examples recited above—no matter by whom they are ultimately found to have been perpetrated—make it clear that determined, ruthless men can indeed assassinate law enforcement officers pretty much at will in America today. So much for fear. It doesn’t matter, in the overall sense, who was behind the last four murders.  What matters is the brazen impudence with which they were carried out. That’s straight outta No Country for Old Men.

Do not for one minute think that the chill of necrosis is not creeping into hamlets, counties, towns, cities, states, and  even Washington. A member of Congress who received multiple death threats for simply suggesting that gun owners be required to insure themselves decided, for example, to skip a public ceremony, mindful of the recent near-fatal wounding of another member.

Hysteria?

Vamos a ver.  We’ll see.

devil tray 02

Evil this way comes.

TIMELY STRATFOR ANALYSIS ON HOW TO DETECT GRASSROOTS JIHADISTS

In Afghanistan, bad manners, Guns, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism on November 10, 2009 at 5:24 pm

From Stratfor.com

Counterterrorism: Shifting from ‘Who’ to ‘How’

November 4, 2009

By Scott Stewart and Fred Burton

Stratfor.com

In the 11th edition of the online magazine Sada al-Malahim (The Echo of Battle), which was released to jihadist Web sites last week, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader Nasir al-Wahayshi wrote an article that called for jihadists to conduct simple attacks against a variety of targets. The targets included “any tyrant, intelligence den, prince” or “minister” (referring to the governments in the Muslim world like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen), and “any crusaders whenever you find one of them, like at the airports of the crusader Western countries that participate in the wars against Islam, or their living compounds, trains etc.,” (an obvious reference to the United States and Europe and Westerners living in Muslim countries).

Al-Wahayshi, an ethnic Yemeni who spent time in Afghanistan serving as a lieutenant under Osama bin Laden, noted these simple attacks could be conducted with readily available weapons such as knives, clubs or small improvised explosive devices (IEDs). According to al-Wahayshi, jihadists “don’t need to conduct a big effort or spend a lot of money to manufacture 10 grams of explosive material” and that they should not “waste a long time finding the materials, because you can find all these in your mother’s kitchen, or readily at hand or in any city you are in.”

That al-Wahayshi gave these instructions in an Internet magazine distributed via jihadist chat rooms, not in some secret meeting with his operational staff, demonstrates that they are clearly intended to reach grassroots jihadists — and are not intended as some sort of internal guidance for AQAP members. In fact, al-Wahayshi was encouraging grassroots jihadists to “do what Abu al-Khair did” referring to AQAP member Abdullah Hassan Taleh al-Asiri, the Saudi suicide bomber who attempted to kill Saudi Deputy Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef with a small IED on Aug. 28.

The most concerning aspect of al-Wahayshi’s statement is that it is largely true. Improvised explosive mixtures are in fact relatively easy to make from readily available chemicals — if a person has the proper training — and attacks using small IEDs or other readily attainable weapons such as knives or clubs (or firearms in the United States) are indeed quite simple to conduct.

As STRATFOR has noted for several years now, with al Qaeda’s structure under continual attack and no regional al Qaeda franchise groups in the Western Hemisphere, the most pressing jihadist threat to the U.S. homeland at present stems from grassroots jihadists, not the al Qaeda core. This trend has been borne out by the large number of plots and arrests over the past several years, to include several so far in 2009. The grassroots have likewise proven to pose a critical threat to Europe (although it is important to note that the threat posed by grassroots operatives is more widespread, but normally involves smaller, less strategic attacks than those conducted by the al Qaeda core).

From a counterterrorism perspective, the problem posed by grassroots operatives is that unless they somehow self-identify by contacting a government informant or another person who reports them to authorities, attend a militant training camp, or conduct electronic correspondence with a person or organization under government scrutiny, they are very difficult to detect.

The threat posed by grassroots operatives, and the difficulty identifying them, highlight the need for counterterrorism programs to adopt a proactive, protective intelligence approach to the problem — an approach that focuses on “the how” of militant attacks instead of just “the who.”

The How

In the traditional, reactive approach to counterterrorism, where authorities respond to a crime scene after a terrorist attack to find and arrest the militants responsible for the attack, it is customary to focus on the who, or on the individual or group behind the attack. Indeed, in this approach, the only time much emphasis is placed on the how is either in an effort to identify a suspect when an unknown actor carried out the attack, or to prove that a particular suspect was responsible for the attack during a trial. Beyond these limited purposes, not much attention is paid to the how.

In large part, this focus on the who is a legacy of the fact that for many years, the primary philosophy of the U.S. government was to treat counterterrorism as a law-enforcement program, with a focus on prosecution rather than on disrupting plots.

Certainly, catching and prosecuting those who commit terrorist attacks is necessary, but from our perspective, preventing attacks is more important, and prevention requires a proactive approach. To pursue such a proactive approach to counterterrorism, the how becomes a critical question. By studying and understanding how attacks are conducted — i.e., the exact steps and actions required for a successful attack — authorities can establish systems to proactively identify early indicators that planning for an attack is under way. People involved in planning the attack can then be focused on, identified, and action can be taken prevent them from conducting the attack or attacks they are plotting. This means that focusing on the how can lead to previously unidentified suspects, e.g., those who do not self-identify.

“How was the attack conducted?” is the primary question addressed by protective intelligence, which is, at its core, a process for proactively identifying and assessing potential threats. Focusing on the how, then, requires protective intelligence practitioners to carefully study the tactics, tradecraft and behavior associated with militant actors involved in terrorist attacks. This allows them to search for and identify those behaviors before an attack takes place. Many of these behaviors are not by themselves criminal in nature; visiting a public building and observing security measures or standing on the street to watch the arrival of a VIP at their office are not illegal, but they can be indicators that an attack is being plotted. Such legal activities ultimately could be overt actions in furtherance of an illegal conspiracy to conduct the attack, but even where conspiracy cannot be proved, steps can still be taken to identify possible assailants and prevent a potential attack — or at the very least, to mitigate the risk posed by the people involved.

Protective intelligence is based on the fact that successful attacks don’t just happen out of the blue. Rather, terrorist attacks follow a discernable attack cycle. There are critical points during that cycle where a plot is most likely to be detected by an outside observer. Some of the points during the attack cycle when potential attackers are most vulnerable to detection are while surveillance is being conducted and weapons are being acquired. However, there are other, less obvious points where people on the lookout can spot preparations for an attack.

It is true that sometimes individuals do conduct ill-conceived, poorly executed attacks that involve shortcuts in the planning process. But this type of spur-of-the-moment attack is usually associated with mentally disturbed individuals and it is extremely rare for a militant actor to conduct a spontaneous terrorist attack without first following the steps of the attack cycle.

To really understand the how, protective intelligence practitioners cannot simply acknowledge that something like surveillance occurs. Rather, they must turn a powerful lens on steps like preoperational surveillance to gain an in-depth understanding of them. Dissecting an activity like preoperational surveillance requires not only examining subjects such as the demeanor demonstrated by those conducting surveillance prior to an attack and the specific methods and cover for action and status used. It also requires identifying particular times where surveillance is most likely and certain optimal vantage points (called perches in surveillance jargon) from where a surveillant is most likely to operate when seeking to surveil a specific facility or event. This type of complex understanding of surveillance can then be used to help focus human or technological countersurveillance efforts where they can be most effective.

Unfortunately, many counterterrorism investigators are so focused on the who that they do not focus on collecting this type of granular how information. When we have spoken with law enforcement officers responsible for investigating recent grassroots plots, they gave us blank stares in response to questions about how the suspects had conducted surveillance on the intended targets. They simply had not paid attention to this type of detail — but this oversight is not really the investigators’ fault. No one had ever explained to them why paying attention to, and recording, this type of detail was important. Moreover, it takes specific training and a practiced eye to observe and record these details without glossing over them. For example, it is quite useful if a protective intelligence officer has first conducted a lot of surveillance, because conducting surveillance allows one to understand what a surveillant must do and where he must be in order to effectively observe surveillance of a specific person or place.

Similarly, to truly understand the tradecraft required to build an IED and the specific steps a militant needs to complete to do so, it helps to go to an IED school where the investigator learns the tradecraft firsthand. Militant actors can and do change over time. New groups, causes and ideologies emerge, and specific militants can be killed, captured or retire. But the tactical steps a militant must complete to conduct a successful attack are constant. It doesn’t matter if the person planning an attack is a radical environmentalist, a grassroots jihadist or a member of the al Qaeda core, for while these diverse actors will exhibit different levels of professionalism in regard to terrorist tradecraft, they still must follow essentially the same steps, accomplish the same tasks and operate in the same areas. Knowing this allows protective intelligence to guard against different levels of threats.

Of course, tactics can be changed and perfected and new tactics can be developed (often in response to changes in security and law enforcement operations). Additionally, new technologies can emerge (like cell phones and Google Earth) — which can alter the way some of these activities are conducted, or reduce the time it takes to complete them. Studying the tradecraft and behaviors needed to execute evolving tactics, however, allows protective intelligence practitioners to respond to such changes and even alter how they operate in order to more effectively search for potential hostile activity.

Technology does not only aid those seeking to conduct attacks. There are a variety of new tools, such as Trapwire, a software system designed to work with camera systems to help detect patterns of preoperational surveillance, that can be focused on critical areas to help cut through the fog of noise and activity and draw attention to potential threats. These technological tools can help turn the tables on unknown plotters because they are designed to focus on the how. They will likely never replace human observation and experience, but they can serve as valuable aids to human perception.

Of course, protective intelligence does not have to be the sole responsibility of federal authorities specifically charged with counterterrorism. Corporate security managers and private security contractors should also apply these principles to protecting the people and facilities in their charge, as should local and state police agencies. In a world full of soft targets — and limited resources to protect those targets from attack — the more eyes looking for such activity the better. Even the general public has an important role to play in practicing situational awareness and spotting potential terrorist activity.

Keeping it Simple?

Al-Wahayshi is right that it is not difficult to construct improvised explosives from a wide range of household chemicals like peroxide and acetone or chlorine and brake fluid. He is also correct that some of those explosive mixtures can be concealed in objects ranging from electronic items to picture frames, or can be employed in forms ranging from hand grenades to suicide vests. Likewise, low-level attacks can also be conducted using knives, clubs and guns.

Furthermore, when grassroots jihadists plan and carry out attacks acting as lone wolves or in small compartmentalized cells without inadvertently betraying their mission by conspiring with people known to the authorities, they are not able to be detected by the who-focused systems, and it becomes far more difficult to discover and thwart these plots. This focus on the how absolutely does not mean that who-centered programs must be abandoned. Surveillance on known militants, their associates and communications should continue, efforts to identify people attending militant training camps or fighting in places like Afghanistan or Somalia must be increased, and people who conduct terrorist attacks should be identified and prosecuted.

However — and this is an important however — if an unknown militant is going to conduct even a simple attack against some of the targets al-Wahayshi suggests, such as an airport, train, or specific leader or media personality, complexity creeps into the picture, and the planning cycle must be followed if an attack is going to be successful. The prospective attacker must observe and quantify the target, construct a plan for the attack and then execute that plan. The demands of this process will force even an attacker previously unknown to the authorities into a position where he is vulnerable to discovery. If the attacker does this while there are people watching for such activity, he will likely be seen. But if he does this while there are no watchers, there is little chance that he will become a who until after the attack has been completed.

SHOPPING MALL TERROR PLAN — SAVED FROM CARNAGE BY PLOTTERS’ IGNORANCE OF FIREARMS

In bad manners, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism on October 21, 2009 at 8:38 pm
Would-Be Shopping Mall Terrorist Apparently a Pea Brain When It Comes to Firearms

Would-Be Shopping Mall Terrorist Apparently a Pea Brain When It Comes to Firearms

“Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.”

Note left for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher by Terrorist Group IRA After She Narrowly Avoided Injury in Brighton Hotel Bombing on October 12, 1984.

An affidavit filed by an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force agent in support of an application for search warrants in the Boston jihad terror case demonstrates once again how luck, incompetence, and poor training sometimes frustrate terrorists’ ideas.

Without taking an iota away from the investigative success in the case (read the full affidavit and other filings in the case to see how investigators were onto these characters like ink on print fairly early on), it is clear that the plotters could have wreaked horrific damage had they had a bit more knowledge about the potential lethality of firearms that are widely and easily available on the U.S. civilian market — even in Massachusetts.

An excerpt from the affidavit follows, setting out the would-be terrorists’ idea of attacking a shopping mall in the United States.  They even gave thought to how to deal with first responders.

Washington Beltway Snipers Used Semiautomatic Bushmaster AR-15 Rifle Like This One

Washington Beltway Snipers Used Semiautomatic Bushmaster AR-15 Rifle Like This One

Fortunately, however, these jihadists thought they need machine guns, i.e., fully automatic weapons — hold the trigger down and the gun will fire until ammo is exhausted —  to do the job.  They gave up when they found out they could not obtain machine guns.  However, knowledgeable experts understand that controlled fire from semiautomatic weapons — pull the trigger for each round — is at least as lethal and often more lethal than machine gun fire.

Thank g-d these extremist would-be terrorists were “weaponry pea brains.”

BACKGROUND ON THE THREAT OF SMALL ARMS TERROR ATTACKS

The private intelligence and analytical service Stratfor has written about the potential for small arms terror attacks in several postings.  These follow with links as background:

Observation on threat of armed attacks generally [note: this link may not work for non-subscribers.  Sorry!:

STRATFOR has long held that the United States and Europe are vulnerable to armed attacks against soft targets. In an open society, it is impossible to protect everything. Moreover, conducting attacks against soft targets such as hotels or malls can be done with ease, and can prove quite effective at creating carnage.

In fact, as we’ve previously pointed out,Cho Seung Hui killed more people with handguns in his attack at Virginia Tech than Jemaah Islamiyah was able to kill in Jakarta, Indonesia, in the August 2003 bombing of the Marriott Hotel and the September 2004 bombing of the Australian Embassy combined. Clearly, armed assaults pose a threat.

Observation on automatic versus semiautomatic weapons specifically from a Stratfor discussion of “lone wolf attacks”:

Immaturity and lack of common sense also are significant hurdles for some would-be lone-wolf attackers. For instance, a person who attempts to buy an illicit fully automatic weapon when he could easily — and legally — obtain a less expensive semiautomatic version of the same weapon clearly is influenced by Hollywood and does not understand the effectiveness of controlled, sustained fire versus the spray-and-pray shooting he sees in the movies or on TV. As [Joseph Paul] Franklin and several mentally disturbed shooters have demonstrated, automatic weapons are not needed to inflict carnage.

EXCERPTS FROM AFFIDAVIT

Given the above context, the following excerpts from the affidavit pretty much speak for themselves and demonstrate how we got lucky this time.

Excerpts from Exhibit A, Affidavit of Heidi L. Williams in Support of Application for Search and Seizure Warrant, United District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Case No. 09-120-LTS

46. Because they believed, based on ABOUSAMRA’s experiences there, that Pakistan was not feasible, ABOUSAMRA, MEHANNA, and CW2 began exploring other options, including committing terrorist attacks in the United States.  For example, in 2003, ABOUSAMRA, MEHANNA and CW2 discussed the feasibility of shooting and killing a specific member of the executive branch of the United States government.  In another conversation around the same time, ABOUSAMRA and CW2 discussed targeting a second member of the executive branch of the U.S. government.

47.  While some of these plans involved no more than one or two conversations, at least one involved multiple conversations, discussions, and preparations.  For example, in the latter half of 2003, ABAOUSAMRA, MEHANNA and CW2 discussed a plan to obtain automatic weapons, go to a shopping mall, and randomly shoot people.  They were inspired by the success of the Washington, D.C. area snipers who were successful in terrorizing the public. [Footnote 15: In the fall of 2002, there were a series of sniper shootings in the area of Washington, D.C. (Maryland and Northern Virginia), that received a great deal of media attention and "terrorized" residents of those areas because of the apparent randomness of the attacks.  Ultimately, two men, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, were arrested and convicted of some of the shootings.]  ABOUSAMRA justified attacks on civilians, such as the September 11, 2001 attacks; ABOUSAMRA stated that civilians were not innocent because they paid taxes to support the government, and because they were Kufar (non-believers).

48.  The three men discussed the logistics of a mall attack, including the types of weapons needed, the number of people who would be involved, and how to coordinate the attack from different entrances.  They considered the emergency responses and the attack of those responders.

49.  In furtherance of the plan, CW2 traveled to new Hampshire to meet with Daniel Maldonado, in an attempt to acquire the necessary weapons.  According to CW2, Maldonado was a convert to Islam who, prior to his conversion, had contacts with gang members.  Therefore, CW2 believed that Maldonado would have access to the weapons they needed.  According to CW2, Maldonado told CW2 that he would be able to obtain handguns, but would be unable to obtain automatic weapons.  CW2 told Maldonado not to ask the reason he needed the weapons.  CW2 described Maldonado as someone with extreme beliefs, like ABOUSAMRA and MEHANNA.

50.  After returning to Massachusetts, CW2 told ABOUSAMRA and MEHANNA that Maldonado would only  be able to provide handguns.  Because of the logistical problems of executing the operations with just handguns, the plan was abandoned.

Virginia Tech Mass Shooter Cho Used Handguns

Virginia Tech Mass Shooter Cho Used Handguns

BARRIO AZTECA–BORDER BAD BOYS LINKED TO MEXICAN DRUG TRAFFICKING ORGANIZATIONS — PART TWO

In Crime, Gangs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, Mexico, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on April 16, 2009 at 1:22 pm
Perp Wal in El Paso -- FBI Agents Walked Barrio Azteca Gang Members Jose Martin Garcia (foreground) and John Michelleti (Rear) to U.S. Federal Courthouse from El Paso County Jail.  Michelleti Cut Deal, Flipped, and Testified Against His Carnales

Perp Walk in El Paso -- FBI Agents Walked Barrio Azteca Gang Members Jose Martin Garcia (foreground) and John Michelletti (Rear) to U.S. Federal Courthouse from El Paso County Jail. Michelletti Had Been Working for FBI Since 2005 and Testified Against His Carnales

The Texas prison gang Barrio Azteca (BA) is one of the most violent gangs in the United States.  It is intimately tied into the trans-border drug traffic from its home base in El Paso, and has a counterpart organization across the border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.  (Go here for Part One and here for Part Three of this series on BA.)

A federal RICO indictment resulted in the conviction of six alleged members and associates in December 2008.  Testimony and other evidence in the trial opened a window into the gang’s operations — aided by a “flipped” member, Johnny (“Conejo” or “Rabbit”) Michelletti, who snitched for several years and then testified in open court about BA’s organization and criminal deeds.  These gangsters swear all manner of blood oaths about loyalty and the fabled code of silence.  But when the big federal-prison-time-with-no-parole generator cranks up and starts to hum, somebody usually breaks and starts singing. In addition to Michelletti, who revealed in court that he had been working for the FBI since 2005, another gangster — Gustavo “Tavo” Gallardo — blinked and decided to cooperate and testify at trial against his homies, his barrio, and his gang.  Oh, well.

“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 Amazon.com

Here is the rundown on Barrio Azteca from the National Drug Intelligence Center’s May 2008 West Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Drug Market Analysis:

Barrio Azteca controls cocaine, heroin, and marijuana distribution in El Paso. Because of its connections to Mexican DTOs operating in the El Paso/Juárez plaza, Barrio Azteca has a direct source of supply for heroin and other illicit drugs. However, the gang’s activities have been limited as a result of a “safe zone” injunction initiated in 2003 that prohibits its members from being on the street after dark…Barrio Azteca’s activities may be further limited as a result of the recent arrest and indictment [and since this report was issued, conviction, see] of several of the gang’s key members.

Among details that came out in the trial, according to news reports:

  • Barrio Azteca was heavily into drug dealing and collection of “taxes” or “quotas” from drug dealers.  Such collections are nothing less than old-fashioned extortion, a staple of organized crime in the U.S. for decades.  I write about similar operations run by the Mexican Mafia (with a “clica” of the 18th Street gang) in Los Angeles, and the Chicago “Motherland” Latin Kings in my forthcoming book from the University of Michigan Press, No Boundaries:  Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement.
  • BA supplied cocaine to working women in El Paso area strip joints, who sold the drug to customers.
  • The gang infiltrated the Federal Public Defender’s office in El Paso.  A paralegal there, Sandy Valles New, acted as a “bridge,” forwarding messages from gangsters inside prison to those on the outside.  More importantly, according to federal prosecutors, New also tried through her job to find out about the FBI’s investigation of the gang and to obtain court filings.  These could be used to track down informants within the gang.  Attempted infiltration by female associates of law enforcement offices, public defenders, and public utilities is a common gang tactic in the U.S. and abroad.
  • The BA gang has a paramilitary style structure, with specific ranks.
  • Like most of these fraternal love-ins, the gangsters went at each other in the trench warfare of internal power struggles.  One erstwhile boss, or “capo,” David “Chico” Meraz, was allegedly murdered in a knife attack in Juarez, Mexico after he was forced from power by his beloved homies.
  • BA gangsters turned some of their own over to Mexican gangsters to face charges of skimming drug money or otherwise disobeying cartel rules.  The offending gang members were typically bound, gagged, wrapped in tape, stuffed in a vehicle,  and dropped off in Juarez to be brutally disposed of with several rounds to the back of the head.
New Problems For Old El Paso

New Problems For Old El Paso

Michelletti told the court how he got into Barrio Azteca.  Originally a member of a local gang called “Los Fatherless,” he was sent to prison for assaulting a police officer.  In prison he was approached by a BA “sponsor” who invited him to join the gang.  “He (the sponsor) becomes your representative.  Your padrino, your godfather.  You have to show you are down for the organization.”  Throughout gangland, “being down” for the gang means being prepared to step up and commit brutally violent acts.

In the next part of this three-part series, Fairly Civil will look at a specific case that illustrates the mechanics of physically getting drugs across the border.  In the meantime, the private intelligence and security service Stratfor has issued a truly excellent report and analysis of this drug movement, which can and should be read here.

NOT JUST A DEAD COP–WARNING ON U.S. MARSHAL KILLED IN MEXICO

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 Amazon.com

ANNIVERSARY OF ASSASSINATION OF HEZBOLLAH’S IMAD MUGNIYAH HAS TERROR EXPERTS ON ALERT

In Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism on February 11, 2009 at 11:37 pm
The Late Imad Mugniyah

The Late Imad Mugniyah (Hezbollah Photo)

Israel’s IDF remains on high alert on the anniversary of Imad Mugbniyah’s death.  The following is the full text of private intelligence organization Stratfor’s analysis. (www.stratfor.com).  For background about Hezbollah’s operations in the United States, see the book I wrote with Barbara Newman, Lightning Out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil (Presidio Press, Random House 2005).  For a contemporaneous account of Mugniyah’s death and background on his life see this Times Online story from 2008.   The Weekly Standard blog this week recounts a story floated in an Israeli newspaper that credits information leading to Mugniyah’s assassination to capture of a Hezbollah operative by U.S. forces in Iraq.  According to this report, the operative provided details about the secretive Mugniyah’s routine.  There is no way to confirm this account directly, of course.  But go here for story of capture of Hezbollah operative Ali Mussa Daqduq in Iraq (along with a bonanza of diaries, computer files, and “pocket litter”) and here for background on Mugniyah’s terrorist history and his links to the Mahdi Army in Iraq.  Bottom line: somebody got information that enabled somebody to get to Mugniyah, one of the most cautious men in history.  And what goes around, comes around in the Middle East.

Retribution for Mughniyah: A Dish Served Cold?
February 11, 2009
Global Security and Intelligence Report
By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart

Feb. 12 will mark the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Imad Mughniyah, one of Hezbollah’s top military commanders. The anniversary certainly will be met with rejoicing in Tel Aviv and Washington – in addition to all the Israelis he killed, Mughniyah also had a significant amount of American blood on his hands. But the date will be met with anger and renewed cries for revenge from Hezbollah’s militants, many of whom were recruited, trained or inspired by Mughniyah.

Mugniyah Reported Killed in This Bombing

Mugniyah Reported Killed in This Bombing (Lebanon Times)

Because of Hezbollah’s history of conducting retaliatory attacks after the assassination of its leaders, and the frequent and very vocal calls for retribution for the Mughniyah assassination, many observers (including Stratfor) have been waiting for Hezbollah to exact its revenge. While the attack has not yet happened, threats continue. For example, in a Jan. 29 news conference, Hezbollah General Secretary Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah left no doubt about the group’s intention. “The Israelis live in fear of our revenge,” he said. “The decision to respond to the killing is still on. We decide the time and the place.”

Initially, given the force of the anger and outcry over the assassination, we anticipated that the strike would come soon after the 30-day mourning period for Mughniyah had passed. Clearly, that did not happen. Now a year has passed since the killing, but the anger and outcry have not died down. Indeed, as reflected by Nasrallah’s recent statement, the leadership of Hezbollah remains under a considerable amount of internal pressure to retaliate. Because any retaliation would likely be tempered by concerns over provoking a full-on Israeli attack against Hezbollah infrastructure (similar to the attack in the summer of 2006), any Hezbollah strike would be conducted in a manner that could provide some degree of plausible deniability.

It is important to remember that Hezbollah retains a considerable capacity to conduct terrorist attacks abroad should it choose to do so. In fact, we believe that, due to its high degree of training, vast experience and close ties to the Iranian government, Hezbollah retains a more proficient and dangerous terrorism capability than al Qaeda.

22004838Repeated calls for revenge and Hezbollah’s capabilities have combined to ensure that the Israeli government maintains a high state of awareness. Even though a year has passed, Israelis, too, are waiting for the other shoe to drop. On Feb. 1, Elkana Harnof of the Counterterrorism Bureau in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office told The Jerusalem Post that, “Based on our information, we believe the organization is planning one large revenge attack close to the anniversary of [Mughniyah's] death.” Harnof added, “All we can say publicly is that [Hezbollah] has gone to enormous effort to prepare various kinds of terror attacks, and the big one is likely going to take place soon.” Like Stratfor, the Israelis also believe that the attack will be directed against Israeli or Jewish targets outside of Israel.

Busy Bodies

There are a number of indications that Hezbollah has not been idle in the year since Mughniyah’s death. First, there has been a good deal of preoperational activity by Hezbollah militants in several countries, including the United States. This activity has included surveillance and other intelligence-gathering for targeting purposes. At one point last fall, the activity was so intense inside the United States that law enforcement officials believed a strike was imminent – but it never came. Additionally, there are credible reports that Hezbollah plots to strike Israeli targets in Azerbaijan and the Netherlands have been thwarted. (Although, from information we have received, it does not appear that either of these plots was at an advanced stage of the attack cycle.)

We have no reason to doubt the reports of Hezbollah preoperational activity. It is simply what they do and what they are. Even though the group has not conducted a successful attack overseas since 1994, it does maintain a robust network of operatives who stay busily engaged in operational activities. While many of these operatives are involved primarily in financial and logistical activities, we believe it is worth noting that Hezbollah has never conducted or attempted an attack in a country where it did not have such a support network in place. They use these networks to assist their militant activities in a number of ways, but perhaps the most significant way is in the conduct of preoperational surveillance.

Hezbollah, a creature of the Iranian Islamic Revolution, also has a long history of receiving aid from Iranian embassies in its overseas operations, including its terrorist strikes. Almost inevitably, Hezbollah’s overseas attack plans are found to have murky links of some sort to the Iranian embassy in the country where the attack was to occur, and to the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security or Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officers stationed there.

Hezbollah utilizes an “off the shelf” method of planning its terrorist attacks. This is very similar to the way major national military commands operate, where they make contingency war plans against potential adversaries in advance and then work to keep those plans updated. This style of sophisticated, advance planning provides Hezbollah’s senior decision makers with a wide array of tactical options, and allows them to assess a number of attack plans in various parts of the world and quickly select and update a particular attack plan when they make the decision to launch it. When they do decide to pull the trigger, they can strike hard and fast.

This type of planning requires a great deal of intelligence-gathering, not only to produce the initial plans but also to keep them updated. Because it requires a lot of collection activity, this effort likely accounts for much of the operational activity that has been observed over the past year in the United States and elsewhere. These ongoing surveillance operations are not just useful for planning purposes, but they are also good for sowing confusion, creating distractions and causing complacency. If Hezbollah operatives have been seen periodically conducting surveillance around a facility and no attack has followed that activity, over time it becomes very easy for security personnel to write off all such activity as harmless – even when it might not be this time.

Not Crying Wolf

There are some who argue that the lack of an attack by Hezbollah since the Mughniyah assassination, combined with the fact that the group has not used its terrorist capability to conduct an attack for many years, signifies that Hezbollah has abandoned its terrorist ways and instead focused on developing its conventional warfare capability.

We do not buy this argument. First, it ignores the existence and purpose of Hezbollah’s Unit 1800, which, among other things, recruits Palestinians for anti-Israeli terror operations inside Israel and the occupied territories. Second, if Hezbollah had abandoned its terrorist arm, there would be no need for the preoperational planning activity noted previously, and in our opinion, reports of such surveillance activity are too frequent and too widespread to be discounted as false sightings. Granted, such activities do cause jitters and have some effectiveness as a psychological warfare tool, but we do not believe that those limited benefits justify the time and effort being put into Hezbollah’s intelligence-collection program. There is also that pesky problem of explaining the thwarted attack plots in Azerbaijan and the Netherlands. Because of this, we do not believe that the U.S. and Israeli governments (among others) are crying wolf when they provide warnings of pending Hezbollah attacks.

We continue to believe that if there is an attack by Hezbollah, it will likely come in a country where there is an existing Hezbollah support apparatus and an Iranian embassy. (Although, in a confined geographic area, operations could be supported in a third country that lacked one or both of those elements.) We also believe that such an attack is more likely in a country where there is ready access to weapons or explosives, and where there are poor law enforcement and intelligence capabilities. We wrote an analysis discussing this in some detail during the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. In that piece, we provided a matrix of the places we believed were most likely to be the site of a Hezbollah attack against Israeli targets, and one of the important criteria we considered was the presence of both an Iranian embassy and a local Hezbollah support network. When we discuss these two elements, it is important to note that in past attacks, the attackers were brought in from the outside in order to provide plausible deniability – but they did receive important support and guidance from the network and embassy.

Since we wrote that analysis in July 2006, there has been a significant increase in Iranian influence in parts of Latin America, including Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, and Hezbollah has not been far behind. In addition to claims by the U.S. Treasury Department that Venezuelan nationals and organizations are supporting Hezbollah financially, there have been persistent rumors of Hezbollah militants and IRGC officers conducting training at camps in the Venezuelan jungles.

These reports are especially noteworthy when combined with a recent rise in anti-Semitism in Venezuela and an outright hostility toward Jews demonstrated by pro-Chavez militia groups. A pro-Chavez militia is believed to have been involved in the vandalism of the main synagogue in Caracas on the night of Jan. 30-31, 2008. We are among many who don’t buy the government’s official explanation that the vandalism was motivated by robbery. To us, the fact that the intruders remained in the building for several hours, made the effort to scrawl anti-Israeli graffiti inside the building and stole databases containing personal information on congregational members seems very unusual for a simple burglary. Our suspicion is magnified by the extensive anti-Semitic statements made on the Web sites of some of the pro-Chavez militia leaders. All of this raises serious concerns that the Venezuelan government could turn a blind eye to Hezbollah efforts to conduct an attack on Israeli or Jewish interests in that country.

There are many who believe that the anti-Semitic attitudes of the Argentine government in the early 1990s helped embolden Mughniyah and his followers to attack Israeli and Jewish targets there. The anti-Semitic environment in Venezuela today is even more overt and hostile than it was in Argentina.

In keeping with Hezbollah’s history, if an attack is launched, we anticipate that it will have to be fairly spectacular, given the fact that Mughniyah was very important to Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors – although the attack must not be so spectacular as to cause a full-on Israeli attack in Lebanon. Hezbollah can weather a few airstrikes, but it does not want to provoke an extended conflict – especially as Hezbollah’s political leadership is extremely focused on doing well in the upcoming elections in Lebanon.

Given Hezbollah’s proclivity toward using a hidden hand, we suspect the attack will be conducted by a stealthy and ambiguous cell or cells that will likely have no direct connection to the organization. For example, in July 1994, the group used Palestinian operatives to conduct attacks against the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish nongovernmental organization office in London. Also, as we have seen in prior attacks, if a hardened target such as an Israeli embassy or VIP is not vulnerable, a secondary soft target might be selected. The July 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association in Buenos Aires is a prime example of this type of attack. It should serve as a warning to Jewish community centers and other non-Israeli government targets everywhere that even non-Israeli Jewish targets are considered fair game.

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