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Friday, June 17, 2011

The TCO Question

Tim Stellar in the Señor Reporter blog of the Arizona Daily Star has a helpful review of some of recent discussion about the new usage of the term transnational criminal organization (TCO). What's so shocking is that DHS along with its CBP and ICE agencies, together with the State Department, has started to use this term without defining it. But we shouldn't be surprised, since it uses so many other strategic terms like border security without saying what it means. No wonder Americans don't know what's going on at the border.

From Señor Reporter:

"The discussion about what to call drug-trafficking groups is taking some interesting turns.

"In recent weeks, at least two others have weighed in on the question of what you call the groups that move illegal drug from points south into the United States. (You may recall this was the topic of a blog item and a story I wrote in recent weeks) Should you call them Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs), Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) or cartels?

"While researching the recent story, I interviewed Shannon O'Neil of the Council on Foreign Relations, who made a compelling point about why it matters what you call them. She said the way you define these groups guides how you respond to them.

"They’re quite sophisticated. But using the word ‘cartel’ gives it a structure, hierarchy and image that isn’t there," O'Neil said. "Using a word like cartel doesn’t lead you to think what we need is more streeetlights and soccer at night for young people. Or even community policing."

"Drug-war analyst Sylvia Longmire, whom I interviewed for my "cartel member" story, has decided to use TCO, or transnational criminal organization. Her upcoming book is called "Cartel," but she's not completely comfortable with the word.

"Tom Barry, a senior analyst at the Center for International Policy in Washington, also considered the nomenclature issue in a recent item. He said TCO has the advantages of emphasizing the international nature of these groups and their involvement in multiple criminal activities.

"However, Barry said, TCO has disadvantages. For one, it de-emphasizes the centrality of drug prohibition in the rise of these criminal groups. For another, it bolsters undue alarmism about the threat these groups may pose the United States, he said.

"Indeed, it's been an ongoing theme of reporting on Mexico's drug wars that most of these criminal groups are fragmenting, and that is contributing to the increase in violence. In a recent analysis by Eduardo Guerrero Gutiérrez (in Spanish), he charts the splintering in Mexico's "cartels" from 2006 to 2010. (Here's asynopsis in English.)

"The six cartels present in 2006 became 12 criminal groups in 2010, Guerrero Gutiérrez writes. The notorious Sinaloa Cartel, he argues, broke into two groups around 2008, and by 2010 had become four. He refers to them all as "cárteles," but you have to wonder at what point the groups are too small or disorganized to merit even that imprecise label.

"On the other hand, Tony Coulson, the recently retired head of the DEA's Tucson office, told me he considers the Sinaloa Cartel, run by Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzman, the only true "cartel" left.

" 'Chapo Guzman is in fact the only cartel in Mexico right now,' Coulson said. 'The Mexican government has helped him get there by taking off competition.'"

Also see:

Rhetorical Rise of TCOs

The Coming Invasion But Who Knows the Name of Our Enemy (review of Cartel by Sylvia Longmire)

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