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Monday, June 27, 2011

Transnational Criminal Organizations -- In Search of a Definition

Substance abuse rehabilitation center in Agua Prieta/Barry


When speaking about Mexico and the border, federal officials and the U.S. military are increasingly referring to the threat of Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) – but without offering a definition or explaining the purported transnational structure of the drug-trafficking organizations.

In 2003 the United Nations adopted the Convention Against Transnational Crime. Then, in 2004 the UN’s High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change identified transnational organized crime as one of “six clusters of threats with which the world must be concerned now and in the decades ahead.”

Last year, on February 24, the UN Security Council, adopting a statement by the French mission, noted “with concern the serious threat posed in some cases by drug trafficking transnational organized crime to international security in different regions of the world.”

Without a definition of TCOs from DHS, State, DOD, or the U.S. armed forces, a common starting point in defining TCOs comes from the United Nations. In the transnational crime convention, organized crime is defined broadly as:

[A] structured group of three or more persons, existing for a period of time and acting in concert with the aim of committing one or more serious crimes or offenses established in accordance with this Convention, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit.
When does crime become transnational? According to the convention, an offense is transnational if:

(a) It is committed in more than one State; 
(b) It is committed in one State but a substantial part of its preparation, planning, direction or control takes place in another State;
 (c) It is committed in one State but involves an organized criminal group that engages in criminal activities in more than one State; or
 (d) It is committed in one State but has substantial effects in another State.
In other words, just about any group, even if only a few people, can be considered an “organized crime” group -- if structured to commit crimes. An organized crime organization, even if situated in one nation, can be considered transnational if  its criminal operations substantially affect another nation, even if it is not actually located in that foreign nation.

While somewhat useful as a base definition of organized crime and transnational, the UN convention and associated convention documentation offer little help in describing how organized crime, national or transnational, is structured. Nor does the UN Security Council, in its February 2010 declaration about the threat of drug trafficking organizations, offer any definition or explanation of what exactly is a transnational criminal organization, and when it is no longer just a DTO.

Academic literature examining the phenomenon of organized crime is more helpful in providing some perspective about what constitutes transnational crime and how it is structured.

Unlike the U.S. government, which includes terrorist organizations among the types of TCOs, most academics describe organized crime groups, both national and transnational, as entrepreneurial – exclusively interested in profit maximization with no driving political ideology.

One of the first scholars to address the emergence of transnational organizations was Samuel Huntington. The conservative scholar, writing in the World Politics journal (April 1973) argued (as summarized by Phil Williams) that transnational organizations conduct centrally directed operations in the territory of two or more nation states, mobilized resources and pursue optimizing strategies across national boundaries, are functionally specific, and seek to penetrate and not acquire new territories.

If we were to accept that definition, Mexican drug cartels could be accurately described as TCOs because of their presence in Mexico and Central America, where their operations do appear to be centrally directed unlike in the United States, where drugs are marketed through U.S. crime networks and gangs that aren’t centrally directed.

Writing in the Washington Quarterly (1994), Phil Williams observed:

Most transnational criminal organizations are concerned about profit rather than politics, and are unlikely to want to undermine a system that they are able to exploit and abuse for their own purposes. A few other groups, especially those linked to "pariah states" may have more disruptive goals. Treating these very different organizations as part of a single global challenge is not only misleading conceptually, but could encourage a policy response that is as ineffective as it is undifferentiated.
Besides the wide agreement about the profit-seeking character of TCOs, there is also broad agreement that TCOs rely on “strategic alliances” in their cross-border operations. This means that instead of extending their organization structure into other nations or territories, TCOs form alliances with other crime networks and organizations.

CRREDA rehabilitation center in Agua Prieta/Barry

Naming the Problem

The horrific drug-related violence in Mexico – and in Central America – merits the close attention of the U.S. government and the U.S. public as good neighbors, irrespective of assessments about spillover violence and about U.S. national security.


The U.S. government has, of course, demonstrated its concern through its drug war assistance programs (through an array of federal agencies, including DOD, State, DOJ, DHS, military commands, and the intelligence apparatus). Clearly, U.S. assistance and collaboration have not only supported the drug war unleashed by President Calderón) but have also helped Mexico successfully target the top drug cartel bosses.

It is unclear, however, if Washington recognizes the adverse impacts of Mexico’s drug war, especially what it often described in military terms as the “collateral damage.”  What is clear, though, is that the U.S. government is not publicly acknowledging this, at least not adequately given the scope of the related violence and crime in Mexico.

For the State Department, as articulated in its most recent Mexico travel advisory, TCOs It is estimated that 35,000-40,000 people have died in Mexico in the past four years as the result of the drug war, and the State Department says that most of these, including the 15,000 or more killed in 2010, belong to the TCOs.

No doubt that inter-organizational violence constitutes the most vivid manifestation of this violence.
But how does the State Department really know that most of the victims of this four-year drug war are TCO members.

Is it relying on assertions by the Mexican government that nine of ten deaths are criminal-on-criminal violence? How does the Mexican government know this, given that only 5% of the cases are investigated and only 1% result in convictions?

The State Department does tell U.S. travelers that there are also deaths of “innocent people” and of members of the security forces, implying, by simplification of what’s occurring in Mexico, that murders of criminals are murders of TCO members.  

The narrow focus on TCOs implies that a drug war that targets the TCOs will resolve the violence, when in fact there is little hard information about: the number of TCO members, number of drug-related deaths involving TCO members, the extent of direct involvement of Mexican security forces in drug trafficking, or TCO affiliation if any of gang members and others who earn income from local drug markets.

The State Department asserts that TCOs “engage in a wide range of criminal activities” besides drug trafficking. The federal government, however, does not offer any assessment about the impact of the drug war on this diversification of TCO operations.

Nor does the State Department in its linking of TCOs and most violence in Mexico assess to what degree the increased spread of non-drug criminal operations, -- such as kidnapping, car theft, extortion – are the product of the drug war and the work of individuals (usually teenage and young adult males) not directly affiliated with the TCOs.

(Next: Assessing Transnational  Threat of Mexico’s Drug War)


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Drug Cartels, Drug Trafficking Organizations, Organized Crime, Terrorists, Narcoterrorists, Criminal Insurgents, Transnational Criminal Organizations: What’s in a Name?


Seized bundles of marijuana from Mexico/Border Patrol
The increasing use of the term Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) by the federal government and the U.S. military avoids many of the problems associated with the other terms that are variously used to refer to Mexican criminal groups whose business is largely focused on the U.S. market.

The term transnational criminal organization has much to recommend it, including:

  • Underscores these groups are criminal not political – not insurgents, not terrorists with a political agenda.
  • Points to crossborder reach of these groups.
  • Signals that these organizations and their members have other criminal operations besides drug trafficking.
  • Indicates that they are more like transnational corporations than cartels, which (unlike businesses in a competitive market) formally set prices among producers, manufacturers, and distributors.


It’s worrisome, however, that, in their new promotion of the term TCOs, U.S. officials have not bothered to define exactly what they mean by transnational criminal organizations.

One result is that Department of Homeland Security officials now use TCOs to refer a wide range of groups involved in illegal border crossings – from the smuggling operations coordinated by the Sinaloa Cartel to coyotes that charge immigrants to guide them across the border. 

The DHS-organized Alliance to Combat Transnational Threats (ACTT) on the Arizona border operates, for example, using this broad characterization of transnational threats and TCOs.

The implications of the increasingly common usage of TCOs and “transnational threats” by the U.S. government – and to some extent by drug war analysts and the homeland security industry – are not clear.

Certainly, it’s preferable and more accurate than calling them terrorists, narcoterrorsts, and criminal insurgents – a rhetoric common especially among conservatives and anti-immigrant activists, although also used by Pentagon, U.S. military, and State Department officials.

Transnational Threats Emerge after Cold War

If we are to adopt the TCO terminology – complete with the ever-associated “transnational threats” – it would be helpful to know what we are talking about.  While an interesting discussion -- semantically, academically – there is more at stake than scholarly precision. As the term TCOs is inserted into the lexicon of policy, budgeting, and threat assessments, care is needed to define what we are talking about.

While it is unclear what is meant exactly when TCO is used, the provenance of the term is easily identified: in the globalizing economy after World War II and particularly in the post-Cold War policy environment of  the 1990s, when policymakers and scholars began looking at the changing security environment – one no longer dominated by bipolar power dynamics and increasingly shaped by the globalization of the economies and communication. The term transnational corporation or TNC was already in common use, often substituting for multinational corporation or MNC.

As the scope of national sovereignty became increasingly battered by the speed and facility of international economic transactions, transportation, and communications, there was rising concern not only about the global power of TNCs and MNCs but also about organized crime with its increasing global reach.

Accelerating global trade, travel, and outsourcing also gave rise to new concerns about the security and public safety threats – terrorism by nonstate actors, contamination, trade in illegal goods, pandemics, biological contagion, resource scarcity, cyber-attacks – that were increasingly regarded as global in character or transnational.

Within the national security community, there emerged a strong consensus in the 1990s that transnational threats would constitute the central security preoccupation of the coming century – rather than inter-state conflicts or national challenges to U.S. realms of regional and international power projection.

The U.S. war on drugs, officially launched in 1971 by President Nixon, was the main precedent to the new thinking about nonmilitary threats. President Reagan had in the mid-1980s declared in a national security directive that illegal drugs constituted a threat to U.S. national security.

The description of the international drug trade as a threat to U.S. security did open up space for U.S. military involvement in drug eradication, interdiction and counterinsurgency in drug-producing nations, as well as new military presence along the U.S.-Mexico border. But before the end of the Cold War, inter-national rather than trans-national was the dominant security paradigm.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 affirmed the transnational threat paradigm. But rather than focusing on hunting down, arresting, or killing the nonstate actors threatening the United States and its allies, the Bush administration primarily resorted to the inter-national framework of war against nations – Iraq and Afghanistan.

The failure of those wars and the diminishing fear of foreign terrorist attacks have dampened enthusiasm for the “global war on terrorism” and direct military interventions against other nations.  This evolving policy environment has created new political room for a return of the national security paradigm – nation facing an array of transnational threats -- that was consolidating in the 1990s.

Whatever the reasons for the reemergence of discussion of transnational threats to U.S. national security, the more relevant questions are:

If indeed the Mexican drug organizations do constitute a transnational threat to U.S. national security?

Are they truly transnational organizations in the sense that they have, as the name implies, an organizational structure that transcends the U.S.-Mexico border?

Are they diversified organizations that no longer can be accurately described as drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) or drug cartels?

Finally, once we know if they are primarily transnational or national and if they are a threat to U.S. national security or primarily a public safety and drug policy issue, we can better address the threat or problem.  Different questions and different responses must certainly be considered by the people and governments of Mexico and Central America.

Next: In Search of a Definition of Transnational Criminal Organization

Friday, June 24, 2011

Transnational Criminal Organizations and Mexico's Drug Wars


Recent declarations by the Departments of State, Homeland Security, and Defense, along with the U.S. military, routinely characterize the Mexican drug-trafficking organizations as Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs), warning about associated “transnational threats” and endangered U.S. national security.

Neither the government nor the military offers an explanation for the wholesale adoption of the TCO designation. Nor do they provide any definition of transnational criminal organization, or explain why the previously common usage of drug cartels, organized crime organizations, and drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs) no longer suffice.

The use of TCOs clearly represents a higher threat assessment – with respect to U.S. national security and public safety -- of the Mexican crime groups. By using TCO, they imply that these violent criminal organizations are no longer national actors but have a transnational presence and command structure, much like a transnational corporation (TNC).

Washington and the U.S. armed forces have, however, resisted (and rightly so) demands – raised recently by Cong. Michael McCaul (R-Tex) – that these Mexican drug organizations be classified as “foreign terrorist organizations” given their horrific violence and assault on the institutions of governance in Mexico.

While their violence can certainly be described as terrorizing, the Mexican cartels don’t have – in marked contrast to most groups categorized as terrorist organizations – any political ideology or ambition.  Rather, following the usual patterns of traditional organized crime organizations, the Mexican organizations seek income from illegal activities, mainly from those that require an extensive organizational infrastructure.

At a time when post-9/11 fear levels about foreign threats are dropping, the federal government is reconfiguring its description of the main perpetrators of drug-related violence in Mexico, stressing their transnational identity and the associated threats to the United States.

Before examining the origins of the term, its implications, and why the U.S. government has recently adopted TCOs as its preferred term designation for the Mexican drug-trafficking groups,  it is helpful to review the ways the federal government and the military have lately employing  the TCO terminology.

Advising Travelers about TCO Operations

The State Department has been issuing severe travel advisories for Mexico over the past few years, warning U.S. travelers of the dangers of the DTOs in various regions, especially the northern border.

In its annual human rights reports, such as those in 2007 and 2008, the State Department has also warned of the violence issuing from the DTOs – until its last report which inexplicably changed its terminology, referring instead to TCOs. Despite the abrupt switch in terms, the State Department has not offered an explanation for the change or even a definition of TCOs.

In its most recent Mexico travel advisory (April 22, 2011), the State Department describes the country’s pattern of violence as follows:
Since 2006, the Mexican government has engaged in an extensive effort to combat transnational criminal organizations (TCOs). The TCOs, meanwhile, have been engaged in a vicious struggle to control drug trafficking routes and other criminal activity. According to Government of Mexico figures, 34,612 people have been killed in narcotics-related violence in Mexico since December 2006. More than 15,000 narcotics-related homicides occurred in 2010, an increase of almost two-thirds compared to 2009. Most of those killed in narcotics-related violence since 2006 have been members of TCOs. However, innocent persons have also been killed as have Mexican law enforcement and military personnel.
The travel advisory warns: “TCOs, meanwhile, engage in a wide-range of criminal activities that can directly impact U.S. citizens, including kidnapping, armed car-jacking, and extortion that can directly impact U.S. citizens.

U.S. Military Focused on TCOs

The Pentagon is also now routinely pointing to transnational threats and the power of TCOs. Although the DOD and the military have previously used the term, it hasn’t been until the last couple of years that they used TCO instead of, or interchangeably with, the term drug trafficking organizations. In recent briefings and congressional testimony, officials from the Pentagon, U.S. Southern Command (Southcom), and U.S. Northern Command (Northcom) are using TCOs instead of DTOs.

On April 12 William Wechsler, deputy assistant secretary of defense for counter-narcotics and global threats, warned the Senate Committee on Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee:
"TCOs are becoming increasingly networked as they form relationships with each other and at times with insurgent or terrorist groups,” and that “these relationships range from tactical, episodic interactions at one end of the spectrum, to full narcoterrorism on the other.”

According to Wechsler, “It is important to recognize that when we discuss the transnational nature of this threat, this includes criminal activities that take place outside as well as within the United States.  For instance, the influence of Mexican TCOs extends well beyond the Southwest border to cities across the country such as Atlanta, Chicago, and Detroit.”

The Pentagon official told lawmakers that his office is directly assisting Mexico’s military to carry out "counter-narcoterrorism missions." In 2011 DOD provided $51 million in related funding to the Mexican armed forces – up from about $3 million in 2009:
 The Department of Defense’s counternarcotics support to Mexico is implemented primarily through U.S. Northern Command and includes training, equipment, and information sharing as well as indirect support to units of the Mexican armed forces with counter-narcoterrorism missions.  We are also working with U.S. Southern Command and USNORTHCOM to develop a joint security effort in the border region of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. 

In a March 30 briefing, General Douglas Fraser, commander of Southcom, also underscored the transnational threats of the TCOs, saying:
These transnational criminal organizations (TCO) are engaged in illicit trafficking -- illicit trafficking in drugs, arms, money and people -- through the porous borders throughout the regions, to the United States and abroad to Europe and into Africa. 
They don't respect national sovereignty, laws, governments or human life.  Nowhere in my mind is this more evident than in Central America and in Mexico, which are besieged by gangs, transnational criminal organizations and drug traffickers who operate with near impunity.

While adopting the TCO usage, General Fraser was careful to note that TCO operations are primarily a law enforcement not a military issue. At the same time, however, the U.S. military provides training to the region’s armies to help combat TCO presence.
Combating TCOs is now listed as one of the core missions of Northcom

In his March 11, 2010 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Northcom commander General Victor Renuart, Jr, said that the command’s Joint Task Force-North, based at Ft. Bliss outside El Paso, supports the newly created Alliance to Combat Transnational Threats (ACTT), a multiagency task force in Arizona organized by Customs and Border Protection (CBP).


General Renaurt said:

JTF-North facilitated intelligence and operational planning, and provided sensor capabilities during execution of this intelligence-driven operation…. USNORTHCOM’s CN [Counternarcotics] Program is an integral part of the defense and security of our nation. 
It was not, however, until this year that Northcom itself began to routinely call Mexican drug trafficking organizations TCOs.

The new emphasis on targeting TCOs in Mexico and the United States was evident in the first joint U.S.-Mexico declaration on transnational criminal organizations, issued on April 29 by a Merida Initiative consultative group on the issue. According to the joint statement:

The criminality and violence associated with the actions of transnational criminal organizations continue to threaten the security and prosperity of both our nations, and therefore multi-faceted, cooperative efforts to combat and reduce that violence are a priority for both the U.S. and Mexican governments.  


For related discussion, see:


Review: Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico's Drug Wars, at
http://borderlinesblog.blogspot.com/2011/06/coming-invasion-but-who-knows-name-of.html


Rhetorical Rise of TCOs
http://borderlinesblog.blogspot.com/2011/06/rhetorical-rise-of-transnational-crime.html


(Next: What is a TCO?)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Truly Hidden Story of Mexico's Drug Wars


This report from Guerrero by the Fault Lines team at Al Jazeera English shocks you with truth and humanity -- coming directly from the voices of the communities and their leaders. Watch it.

Mexico's hidden war - Fault Lines - Al Jazeera English

Arizona Fires Bring Out the Humanity of Illegal Immigrants




This weekend signs of progress in the border security/immigration debate could be found in the fires of 
Arizona. 


These days, to keep hope alive, one needs to seek signs of progress in the most unlikely places.



Given the level of discourse in the state, where illegal border crossers are widely deigned alien creatures and threats to Americas’ national security, it was a welcome change to see that Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl publicly recognized them as humans.

It took an unprecedented rash of forest wildfires for Arizona leaders to wake up to the human condition of the Mexican border crossers.

McCain and other Arizona Republicans took their cue from the Forest Service. When talking with Senator McCain about the raging Wallow fire – the largest in Arizona’s history – Forest Service officials told the senator that this huge wildfire was of “human origin.”

Among McCain’s supporters, human is a synonym for citizen. But McCain, the seasoned politician that he is, seized this testimony from the Forest Service to advance his most popular talking point: Secure the Border.

Four years ago, commenting on the wildfires in southern California, blamed human-caused climate warming.
But that was before McCain became a border security hawk, and this was his own homeland under siege by wildfires.

No longer any thoughts about climate change, and no words of appreciation for the firefighters on the frontline before the advancing walls of flame. Instead, McCain blamed noncitizen humans.

"There is substantial evidence,” asserted McCain, “that some of these fires have been caused by people who have crossed our border illegally. The answer to that part of the problem is to get a secure border."

Evidence and Speculation

What there is certainly is substantial speculation.  But, thus far, absolutely no evidence.

Earlier in the month, Bill Edwards, lead ranger at the Coronado National Forest, told the New York Times (June 2): “Sometimes you can find the true cause and other times you can’t.” Edwards, told a community meeting in southeast Arizona that the Horseshoe 2 Fire was caused by humans but that investigators had not determined who caused it. “Everything else is speculation.”

According to the NYT article, Edwards cited four other southern Arizona fires, all of them in known smuggling areas, which were found to have been caused by American citizens. One was caused by a rancher whose welding created a spark that ignited the dry underbrush, he said. Another was found to have been caused by target shooters. In two cases, he said, military aircraft engaged in training exercises set off fires.
“The automatic assumption is that it was an illegal immigrant,” Mr. Edwards said, acknowledging that migrants have been found to have caused wildfires by setting campfires to stay warm.
When announcing the closure of the Coronado Forest on June 7, the Forest Service did mention that immigrants, among other humans, were a possible cause of wildfires. According to Jim Upchurch, forest supervisor, officials decided a closure was necessary because "the great majority, if not all the fires, on the Coronado National Forest (this year) have been human-caused. Causes of fires include ricocheting bullets, campfires, welding equipment and possibly ignition by smugglers or illegal immigrants.”

A week before McCain offered his “Secure the Border” solution to forest fires, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell testified in a Senate hearing: “Throughout the country, we’re seeing longer fire seasons, and we’re seeing snowpacks that, on average, are disappearing a little earlier every spring,” he said, as well as devastating droughts. As a result, fire seasons have lengthened by more than 30 days, on average.”

"Our scientists believe this is due to a change in climate," said Tidwell.

Tom Berglund, spokesman for the federal group managing the Wallow fire that McCain toured Saturday, said, according to news reports, that the cause of the fire has been determined as "human," specifically an "escaped campfire," meaning the campfire sparked beyond the confines of the rocks containing it.
Two "subjects of interest" have been spoken to, but as of now, no suspect has been named, Berglund said. When asked if there is substantial evidence that some fires were caused by illegal immigrants, as McCain said at a news conference Saturday, Berglund said: "Absolutely not, at this level."
"There's no evidence that I'm aware, no evidence that's been public, indicating such a thing," he said.
Heidi Schewel, spokeswoman for the Coronado National Forest, when asked about McCain's claim, issued this statement: "The causes of the fires have not been determined. They are currently under investigation. Until investigations are complete we will not speculate on the causes."
Mexican Humans Can Set Fires
It is quite possible that illegal immigrants or Mexican drug smugglers were the cause of one or more of the Arizona fires. Since the mid-1990s and especially since 2005, the remote stretches of mountains and deserts in southeast Arizona have become favored routes for those entering the country illegally, including those carrying backpacks laden with marijuana.

But rather than to recognize that this is another opportunity to seek policy reforms that address the havoc caused by the country’s drug prohibition and immigration laws, as well as our absence of legislation to address climate change, the wildfires have ignited the usual vitriol, conspiracy theories, and scapegoating among border security hawks like McCain and anti-immigration groups like the Center for Immigration Studies.

For many, the Forest Service’s refusal to back up McCain is yet more evidence of a big government conspiracy and the power of the open-borders lobby on the East Coast.

Jerry Kammer of the Center for Immigration Studies lent credence to the conspiracy theorists in his blog post: “Arizona Fires: Too Hot for the Feds to Handle?” Asking that question, Kammer pointed approvingly to the journalism of Leo Banks of the Tucson Weekly:

For at least two years now, Arizona journalist Leo W. Banks has been writing and speaking about the strange silence of the federal government on the connection between forest fires in southern 

Arizona and the smugglers of drugs and human beings.
Banks has contrasted the widespread public belief that the fires are caused by the smugglers – either accidentally or in an effort to distract the Border Patrol – with the refusal of federal officials to address the issue.

"They won't talk about it. They'll say it’s human-caused, under investigation," Banks said at the June 3 luncheon hosted by CIS where he received the Eugene Katz Award for Excellence in Coverage of Immigration.

Addressing the politics of the issue, Banks added, "I think word has come down from Washington not to talk about it. Acknowledging that you have smuggler fires of this magnitude sort of messes up your message of border security."

CIS director Mark Krikorian, also citing the incendiary journalism of Banks, wrote in a National Review online column, titled “Sympathy for McCain”:
But the authorities are unwilling to discuss in public the possibility that a politically favored group (illegal aliens and smugglers) might have caused the fires -- kind of like the unwillingness to identify the religious tradition that Europe’s rioting "youths" belong to.
What the federal authorities are unwilling to do is spread speculation and enter into conspiracy theory world of the border security hawks and anti-immigration policy institutes.

Leo Banks, like Lou Dobbs, a previous winner of the CIS journalism award, specializes in the kind of narrowly focused, exaggerated, and mean-spirited views of the immigration and border issues that are the hallmark of the Center for Immigration Studies.

See, for example, his over-the-top article “Trashing Arizona” in which he reports that trash dumping by illegal immigrants is “devastating the environment.”  Images of the trash dumps “should be beamed around the country so everyone can understand Arizona's crucible.”  

Yes, the trash is ugly and not good for the environment. But environmental devastation and Arizona’s crucible it’s not.

Trash-talking about Mexicans has become a state sport in Arizona. However, by putting immigrants into the same human category as Arizona citizens, McCain’s scapegoating may help elevate the discourse.

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.