Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sylvia Longmire: The Drug War Consultant Who Knows Everything

Sylvia Longmire is a former fusion-center analyst, counterintelligence agent, and self-described “intelligence professional.”  

Former Air Force captain Longmire has successfully and rapidly leveraged her security credentials to gain some prominence as a drug-war analyst in the U.S. media.

Her analysis of the drug-related violence in Mexico and of the purported threats to U.S. national security comes not from any extensive personal experience in Mexico or in the U.S. borderlands. 

Rather, typical of the new wave of computer-bound pundits, Longmire sifts through news reports and commentary, mostly from U.S. media, to produce a stream of  blog posts, online news articles, op-eds, and a new book titled Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars.

The horrific violence in Mexico together with the alarm about inadequate “border security” have opened new career opportunity for Longmire, who, like many others is now profiting from the homeland security and border security booms.

In late 2010 she created Longmire Consulting, whose bold motto is:

 “Everything you need to know about Mexico’s drug war.”
Superior Drug War Products

Ms Longmire identifies herself as a “[medically] retired Air Force captain and former Special Agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.”  During her eight years in Special Investigations, Longmire says she “worked extensively in the fields of counterintelligence, counterespionage, and force protection.”
Immediately prior to becoming a drug war consultant, Longmire was a “senior intelligence analyst” at the California state fusion center, one in an array of information clearinghouses created and funded by the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11.

Currently in the drug-war consultancy business, Longmire assures clients that she has “the expertise to create a superior product for you or your agency to further your understanding of Mexico’s drug war,” and she offers the following services:

·        *** “Detailed threat assessments, talking points, briefing slides, training packages, and travel preparation for individuals, groups, or businesses with interests in Mexico.

·        *** “Situation analysis to breaking news stories.”

·      ***  “Expert witness services,” specializing in “legal cases where Mexican nationals in the United States facing deportation are requesting either asylum or withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture.”

For those needing professional intelligence about an underworld that has proved largely impenetrable to reporters and scholarly researchers, let alone government intelligence analysts, Longmire offers “everything you need to know.” It’s no wonder that Fox News, CNN, BBC Radio, and other media outlets are seeking her intelligence.

Security Business is Always Profitable

The 9/11 terrorist attacks and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (with its annual $55 billion budget) sparked a proliferation in homeland security consultancies and service providers, including new largely online media outlets serving these new security companies. This includes such boosters of the homeland security industry as Homeland Security Today, which publishes Longmire’s analysis of border security and the drug war.

HSToday regularly tracks homeland security grant opportunities and the fortunes of the homeland security industry – of which border security is an increasingly important subset.

An April 4, 2011 HSToday article on the top 25 homeland security contractors, was subtitled “Border Drives Business.   HSToday’s  “Market Monitor” columnist Phillip Finnegan, reported:

As programs have moved ahead to tighten US borders, contractors have taken notice of the business opportunities. This year’s list shows the priority government contractors are placing on broadening their footprint within the federal government to include DHS. Of the six largest US-based defense firms (Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing Co., Northrop Grumman Corp., General Dynamics Corp., Raytheon Co. and L-3 Communications), all now rank as top 25 homeland security contractors. 
The sudden rise of Longmire as an expert on Mexico, the border, and the drug-related related in Mexico, as evident in frequent media interviews and the publication her op-ed on marijuana legalization by the New York Times, comes as part of this new national interest and concern about “border security” and the drug wars in Mexico.  

First there were homeland security business, then border security services, and now Longmire is breaking new ground as a Mexico drug war consultant.

She brings to these security issues her credentials as an “intelligence professional,” giving her a credibility and a standing that the media find attractive and reassuring. Not to mention the intriguing “spooky” handle in her email address.

What is more, Longmire has demonstrated an uncanny – although eminently unprofessional – ability to shape her analysis to match the sympathies of the media and other online outlets that interview and publish her.

Spillover Senselessness

The issue of “border security” and the related alarm about “spillover violence” from Mexico has done wonders for the media prominence and careers of a raft of politicians – notably Governors Rick Perry and Jan Brewer, Senators John McCain and John Cornyn, and border Sheriffs Paul Babeu, Larry Dever, Arvin West, and Sigifredo Gonzalez.

In her recent alarmist writing about the “invasion” and the national security threat of the drug trafficking organizations, Longmire has joined this community of political opportunists, fear-mongers, and rabid nationalists.

After all, if it worked for their careers, why not for her?

In Cartel, Longmire offers a bounty of threat assessments that the border security hawks and immigration restrictionists will surely echo, noting that they come from an intelligence professional.

Listen to the raving of this intelligence professional:

“The debate over border-violence spillover is a thing of the past; not only does spillover exist, it’s affecting every corner of the country.”

“We need to start appreciating the threat posed to our national security by Mexican cartels operating right under our noses.”

“Today cartels are the current major threat to our national security.”

“Tens of thousands of violent Mexican cartel members are living and operating in our cities, communities, and public lands.”

“Mexico’s drug war is not just a border security problem, or a drug smuggling problem, or a southbound weapons problem. It is a national security problem that is quiet and insidious.”

“Mexican cartels…are selling poison to Americans, taking their money, buying their guns, kidnapping their citizens – all on American soil and often in America’s heartland, far from the border. The drug war as officially arrived on U.S. soil, but it seems like no one has noticed.”

“In the Mexican-American War in the mid-1800s, almost 1,200 Americans were killed in action…All those attacks [Mexican-American War, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11] were met with a swift and overwhelming response.”

Longmire’s yellow journalism – shamelessly on exhibit in Cartel– is perhaps best seen in her treatment of spillover violence and lack of border security. Relying almost exclusively on tidbits of “information” culled from news reports, Longmire makes the case that border security needs to be a funding priority.

While a “swift and overwhelming response” by the U.S. military in Mexico is probably not likely – as much as Longmire may want and advocate – her border security alarmism is contributing to a wasteful, misdirected, and politically popular border security buildup.

Her cases of border (and “heartland”) spillover violence are variously mythical, absurdly exaggerated, and bizarre extrapolation. Various stories, without any substantiation, of incursions of Mexican military units across the border on drug smuggling missions; false reports of numbers and extent of kidnappings; conjured images of vast drug plantations managed by Mexican cartels on U.S. forests and public lands, and assertions that the long-existing networks of drug traffickers and street vendors are manned by “tens of thousands of violent Mexican cartel members.”

Leap of Faith

These threat assessments come from her new book. An “Author’s Note” in Cartel,  Longmire assures readers that “the events in this book are true” but …:

Some names and details have been changed to protect the privacy or security of real people. In a few situations, the realities of the drug wars are described but are presented as hypothetical situations using composite characters.

In other words, Longmire asks her readers for a leap of faith.  

Close observers of the drug wars in Mexico and of the drug business in the U.S. -- and all but the most highly politicized residents of the border -- will not take this leap.

The leap of faith requested by Longmire would require abandoning sober, historically grounded assessments of the causes and consequences of the illegal drug trade as criminal justice challenge, and then jumping to the conclusion that the Mexican-based drug trade is “the current major threat to national security.”

Not dissimilar from the leap of faith that President Bush asked us to take when he -- without offering any real evidence of weapons of mass destruction -- took his fellow Americans into two wars. All in the name of combating threats to our soil, our heartland, and our national security.

Shifting Analysis

Longmire chameleon -like shifts in analysis is stunning, discrediting her as a professional intelligence analyst and drug war expert.

Her most recent HSToday article (June 21), provocatively titled “The Implications of Mexican Terrorists in Our Backyards,” makes this expert conclusion:

Mexican TCOs have definitely moved beyond the label of mere criminals. They exhibit several aspects of terrorist groups, insurgencies throughout history and organized crime groups. A renaming at the federal government level is definitely in order because it could definitely result in more effective strategies and resource allocation to combat them.

However, going the route of labeling them as pure terrorists is inaccurate, currently too politically and diplomatically sensitive, and takes away from the significance of acts committed by traditional terrorist groups.

Yet only a few years ago, in the first line in a 2008 essay in the Journal of Strategic Study, Longmire wrote: “Mexican drug traffickers are more than criminals. They are terrorists.” She then goes on to explain why the U.S. and Mexican governments should redefine them as terrorist organizations.


Just two weeks ago Longmire had another analytical revelation -- in a June 3 blog post in which she stated she would be referring to the Mexican cartels as TCOs: “So, from now on, I'll be referring to them as TCOs, instead of DTOs.” Longmire says she was persuaded to change terminology because that is the new preferred designation used by the U.S. Northern Command.


In Longmire’s assessment, the transnational criminal organizations are just that, namely crossborder organizations that have thousands of members in Mexico and in “our communities, our cities, and our public lands.”

As Longmire portrays it, wherever we can identify drug transport corridors, traffickers, and vendors, we are witnessing the penetration of the drug cartel members with their hierarchies and command structures.  

This view of the drug trafficking world contrasts with the perspective of most law enforcement officials, especially those directly involved in counternarcotics investigations.

While manifestly true that the drug-trafficking organizations in Mexico rely, to a large extent, on U.S. drug markets and the income from the sales, it doesn’t mean that they are directly involved (let alone actually present) in the entire smuggling and sales chain. 

As a Department of Justice-commissioned evaluation of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) observed in 2002, the concept of organized crime in illegal drugs doesn’t often match the reality of the drug trade. 

According to the study, HIDTA officers believed that: “With the exception of certain gangs operating in retail dealing, organizations today are better thought of as a confederation or network of free-lance traffickers, or small trafficking groups, than a tight-knit unit.”

A Reckless Voice

Apparently, the New York Times was hoodwinked by her intelligence and fusion-center credentials. In her June 18 op-ed, “Legalization Won’t Kill the Cartels,” Longmire contends that the legalization of marijuana won’t “stop the violence in Mexico.”

Longmire disingenuously argues that is what “a growing number of American policy makers, politicians and activists” are saying that it will end the violence. But Longmire makes her case against a set of fictitious characters – strawmen invented by Longmire, similar to the characters and scenes she constructed for her book.

There aren’t any drug-policy or Mexico experts who are saying that marijuana legalization would completely shut down the violence. But many are saying, as Jimmy Carter did (only days before) in his June 16 NYT op-ed, that it’s time to “Call Off the Global Drug War,” pointing out its legacy of violence and human rights abuse:

This approach entailed an enormous expenditure of resources and the dependence on police and military forces to reduce the foreign cultivation of marijuana, coca and opium poppy and the production of cocaine and heroin. One result has been a terrible escalation in drug-related violence, corruption and gross violations of human rights in a growing number of Latin American countries.

Perchance, the New York Times editors intended to offer readers a constructive contrast: on one day, a respected voice of reason, justice, and humanity; two days later, a reckless voice of full contradictions, reflexive analysis, and opportunism.

If that contrast was their purpose, the NYT editorial page editors did well. But more likely they, like other media and her book publisher, were blinded by Longmire’s boast that she is an intelligence professional and security expert.

What we are getting from Longmire is not intelligence but rather counterintelligence – a field of apparent genuine expertise.


Sylvia said...

Mr. Barry,

Well...I just finished reading your last blog post, and I really have to ask. Why do you have such a huge problem with me? And moreover, considering your position as a senior policy analyst for the CIP, surely you've disagreed with people in the profession before. Do you really think it's professional to rip somebody a new one in a blog post just because you disagree with their message? There are plenty of people who follow the drug war whose views I vehemently disagree with, and many in that group who vehemently disagree with each other. But we all have a professional respect for each other's work; honestly, I have never seen anyone at any serious level of professional caliber go to so much trouble to try to discredit someone in a public manner. I think it's completely tasteless, and I honestly don't know what you're trying to accomplish or why.

I'm sorry that you don't feel my experience or writing is up to snuff with your standards. However, I'm not sorry that people are interested in what I have to say. I don't believe I'm being alarmist at all. I believe I'm sharing information that Americans want to know more about, and should know more about. If you disagree with it, that's entirely your right. But you should allow others the right to read whatever information they want - mine included - and make up their minds for themselves.

Believe it or not, I don't take this personally. You've never met me, don't know anything about me as a person, so why would I? I do take it professionally, which is why I'm stunned that someone who has gone through the process of putting a book together (several times) and navigated the waters of research and writing would do something so mean-spirited and, again, unprofessional.

Mr. Barry, I'm just very disappointed in you.

By the way, you should know that at least one person likes my work for Homeland Security Today magazine. I just won an ASBPE award for journalistic excellence for my contribution to a feature series on the National Guard. How their work eradicating marijuana being grown in our taxpayer-funded national parks and forests is alarmist is beyond me.

Sylvia Longmire

Tom Barry said...

I asked myself the same question, wondering if you were worth the several hours I spent writing the last post. And I decided you were. I have traveled the border, and increasingly find folks who talk about invasions and security threats, citing so-called intelligence reports and legends about military and terrorist incursions. The type of analysis that permeates your book animates their alarmism and retrograde populism, giving rise to dangerous right wing politicians like Perry and Brewer, and their henchmen like Steve McCraw.

Words have consequences, and the kind of consequences you are apparently unwittingly inciting preempt solutions.

I do appreciate all the work it takes to put together a book, having done so more than a dozen times. You did cover many aspects of the drug war and I know the long hours and late nights involved, but the book made a mockery of both scholastic and journalistic standards. I started the book with an open mind, not knowing who you were but was astounded time and again by your analytical recklessness and ahistorical perspective.

I find that so annoying; hence, I suppose, the condescending tone you detect. You obviously have many talents, admirable energy, and ambition. These are grave issues that deserve serious research and analysis -- not the kind of compiled bits and pieces that's Cartel, not the kind of hyper threat assessments about an occupation of the heartland and a coming invasion of the drug war.

Gunther217 said...

I'm intrigued. I plan to buy a copy of Sylvia Longmire's book to judge for myself.

Chuck Pergiel said...

I didn't read your whole post, I read a couple of paragraphs, I am just not that interested in Sylvia. I was sorry to see Jimmy Carter quoted. What I have heard about him lately hasn't impressed me. I hope Sylvia is making a living off of being a pundit, at least that way some good is coming out of the our war on drugs. If I were King, I would legalize all drugs, but neither of those things are going to happen. Too many people are making too much money off of drugs and the war on drugs for any change to be possible.

Anonymous said...

Ms Longmire in her reply doesn't try to refute anything Mr Barry wrote. Sometimes that means a person can't, sometimes it means they are using a different approach.

I am surprised however that she doesn't even try. Often a person under attack will single out one thing they can refute and try to give the impression that everything can be refuted. (My ex used that approach quite successfully.)

But Mr Barry is trying to create an impression, too. It may have been beyond the scope of his article but it would have been nice to see his claims of her "variously mythical, absurdly exaggerated, and bizarre extrapolation" accompanied by a few more examples, in her own words. For someone with my background, I think he's probably right, but even the facts presented could have been arranged a little more forcefully. A charge, a fact, a charge, a fact. It looks like a time contraint thing. He says he spent several hours on the article and maybe a few more would have been in order.

But I agree nonetheless that people in Ms Longmire's business need to be looked at critically. Any profession has to devote part of its efforts to creating the impression that they are necessary. She does that for her own, and is being paid to do that for the professions she serves.

With budgets under attack anyway, and now the very need for the drug war being questioned by mainstream figures, her services are going to be in demand for awhile.

Frank Conway
Albuquerque, NM

Doolittle said...

This example of one-upmanship leaves hardly a trace of anything to commend it. I have read other criticisms of Sylvia, that she thoughtfully responded to item by item. Her response here seems equally valid. Criticism by one's competitor only reveals a desire to prove the validity of the critic's defense of his own existence. Sylvia Longmire is fully entitled to her opinions whether she writes from the basis of her computer and reading researches, or actual country and border experience. Crowing about multiple publications and lengthy experience hardly bolsters credibility, and hurling invectives such as "know it all," indicates naivete a la the ivory towers of academe. Critical evaluation has little to do with personal criticisms, and I, for one am patiently awaiting my pre-ordered copy of Cartel, in anticipation of her contributions.

Diego said...

the expert witness service ”for “legal cases where Mexican nationals in the United States facing deportation are requesting either asylum or withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture.” by Ms. Longmire are provided for FREE by Amnesty International USA country experts.