Small Wars Journal

Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 31: MS-13 East Coast Program Command and Control (C2), Cliques, & Geographic Distribution

Tue, 09/08/2020 - 7:40pm

Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 31: MS-13 East Coast Program Command and Control (C2), Cliques, & Geographic Distribution  

Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan

An MS-13 leader in El Salvador—Armando Eliú Melgar Díaz (a.k.a. “Blue” or “Clipper”)—has been indicted on terrorism charges for his role as the Corredor (Leader) of the gang’s United States East Coast Program. The indictment, by the United States Department of Justice (US DOJ), represents the first ever charging of an MS-13 member for ‘material support to terrorists’ along with other terrorism related offenses in addition to the more traditional racketeering (RICO) and narcotics trafficking charges. It also provides detailed information about the East Coast Program’s command and control (C2) structure and links to El Salvadoran elements of the gang while describing identified US MS-13 cliques and their geographic distribution.  

Devil Horns 12

MS-13 Devil Horns and 13 Tattoos 

Source: Gang Awareness Guide: RecognizetheSigns NJ Office of the Attorney General, Juvenile Justice Commission: pp. 12-13, https://www.state.nj.us/oag/gang-signs-bro.pdf.

Key Information: Mark Hosenball, “U.S. steps up crackdown on MS-13 gang, to seek death penalty of accused leader.” Reuters. 15 July 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-crime-ms13/u-s-steps-up-crackdown-on-ms-13-gang-to-seek-death-penalty-of-accused-leader-idUSKCN24G33G:

…The Trump administration’s Justice Department has vowed to “go to war against MS-13,” also known as Mara Salvatrucha, which started in the 1980s as a Salvadoran street gang in Los Angeles…

…In an indictment unsealed on Tuesday, federal prosecutors in Alexandria, Virginia, charged alleged MS-13 leader Armando Eliu Melgar Diaz with conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, as well as drug trafficking and racketeering.

The Justice Department said this was the first time an MS-13 member has been charged with terrorism-related offenses. Court records indicate a warrant was been issued for Diaz’ arrest in May…

Key Information: “MS-13 Leader in El Salvador Charged with RICO and Terrorism Offenses.” Homeland Security Today. 16 July 2020, https://www.hstoday.us/subject-matter-areas/border-security/ms-13-leader-in-el-salvador-charged-with-rico-and-terrorism-offenses/:

A federal indictment has been unsealed charging an MS-13 leader in El Salvador with a racketeering conspiracy and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists based on his role as a leader of La Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).

The defendant, Armando Eliu Melgar Diaz, 30, is the first MS-13 leader to face terrorism charges in the United States…

According to court documents, Melgar Diaz moved to the United States from El Salvador in 2003, and settled in Virginia. After moving to Virginia, he joined the Gangster Locos Salvatruchas, also known as GLS, a clique of MS-13. In February 2013, Melgar Diaz was deported to El Salvador, but illegally returned to the United States in approximately August of 2013. In November 2016, Melgar Diaz was once again deported to El Salvador. He has resided in El Salvador since 2016…

Key Information: “MS-13 Leader in El Salvador Charged with RICO and Terrorism Offenses.” Press Release. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office Eastern District of Virginia. 15 July 2020, https://www.justice.gov/usao-edva/pr/ms-13-leader-el-salvador-charged-rico-and-terrorism-offenses:

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A federal indictment has been unsealed charging an MS-13 leader in El Salvador with a racketeering conspiracy and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists based on his role as a leader of La Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).

The defendant, Armando Eliu Melgar Diaz, 30, is the first MS-13 leader to face terrorism charges in the United States…

After his return to El Salvador, Melgar Diaz allegedly continued to be an active member of MS-13. In approximately May 2017, Melgar Diaz allegedly became the Corredor, or leader, of the MS-13 East Coast Program. As Corredor, Melgar Diaz oversaw the activities of approximately 20 MS-13 cliques in the United States, including in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, Ohio, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and the District of Columbia.  Melgar Diaz allegedly also oversaw MS-13 activities internationally in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. Melgar Diaz allegedly coordinated financing for MS-13 by collecting dues and drug trafficking proceeds, aided in trafficking cocaine and marijuana, facilitated communications between MS-13 leaders in El Salvador and cliques in the United States, and  authorized acts of violence in the United States, including murder. The money Melgar Diaz allegedly received from members in the United States was used to support MS-13’s violent activities in El Salvador, including by purchasing weapons…

Key Information: “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff, v. ARMANDO ELIU MELGAR DIAZ, a.k.a. ‘Blue,’ a.k.a. ‘Clipper,’ Defendant.” United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division. INDICTMENT. Case 1:20-cr-00103-RDA5, Document 8.  5 May 2020: pp. 1-39, https://www.justice.gov/usao-edva/press-release/file/1294501/download:

Organization of MS-13

17.  MS-13 was organized into groups known as “cliques” that held regular meetings to coordinate gang activities. Each clique was run by a senior leader, who was designated the “Primera Palabra,” or “First Word,’ and the second-in-command, who was designated the “Segunda Palabra” or “Second Word.” The other members and associates of the clique took their orders from the First Word or Second Word. The leaders of the respective cliques attended larger general meetings to manage gang operations on a regional and international level…

21. MS-13 cliques often banded together for support under umbrella groups, called “Programs.” Several MS-13 cliques located on the East Coast of the United States banded together under and MS-13 umbrella group called the “East Coast Program.” Cliques in the East Coast Program included, but were not limited to:

  1. MELGAR Diaz’s clique, the Gangster Locos Salvatruchas, also known as GLS, located in Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia, North Carolina, and Texas;…

Key Information: Parker Asmann, “5 Times the MS13 Tried — and Failed — to Become Drug Traffickers.” InSight Crime. 11 August 2020, https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/ms13-tried-failed-drug-trafficking/:

The US indictment of an MS13 leader in El Salvador chronicles the latest failure of the infamous street gang to transform itself into a more sophisticated, transnational drug trafficking organization.

US authorities allege Armando Eliu Melgar Díaz, alias “Blue” or “Clipper,” was the head of the MS13’s East Coast Program, according to an indictment unsealed on July 14. In that role, prosecutors say he oversaw the criminal activities of 21 MS13 cliques operating across 13 states and the District of Columbia, all while he lived in El Salvador…

By InSight Crime’s count, Melgar Díaz is at least the fifth gang leader who has failed to corral the MS13 into a united front across the United States to sell drugs on a massive scale. Of course, the gang sells drugs on a local level, but efforts to depict them as a drug trafficking organization, as US authorities want to describe them, are simply hyperbole…

Key Information: Jorge C., “FGR asesta duro golpe a la “MS” al ordenar captura de “Corredor general de programa” que opera en Los Estados Unidos.” Fiscalía General de la República (El Salvador). 9 November 2018, https://www.fiscalia.gob.sv/fgr-asesta-duro-golpe-a-la-ms-al-ordenar-captura-de-corredor-general-de-programa-que-opera-en-los-estados-unidos/:

Costa Este

Source: La Fiscalía General de la República (FGR)

La Fiscalía General de la República (FGR), dio a conocer que este viernes se hicieron efectivas las órdenes de captura contra Armando Eliú Melgar Díaz, alias “Blue de Gangster”, quien está perfilado como “Corredor general de Programa Costa Este de la Mara Salvatrucha”.

Además, otros cuatro integrantes de esa organización criminal han sido aprehendidos.

Estas capturas representan un duro golpe a la “Mara Salvatrucha”, por falta de liderazgo y capacidad de organización y se enmarcan en la continuidad de la “Operación Escudo Regional III”, en la cual participan Guatemala y Honduras.

De acuerdo al informe, Melgar Díaz, aparte de dirigir a esa agrupación terrorista, era responsable de ordenar y autorizar gran cantidad de delitos como homicidios, tráfico de drogas y extorsiones. Pero además, él recibía dinero ilícito para organizar y fortalecer a las estructuras criminales.[1] 

Third Generation Gangs Analysis

The indictment of Armando Eliú Melgar Díaz is of interest for the information that it provides concerning MS-13’s East Coast Program in the United States. Specifically, the indictment details the gang’s command and control (C2) structure and the cliques involved with the Program and their geographic distribution, with additional leadership levels identified in El Salvador. Additionally, the filing of a material support to terrorists charge is of some significance for the potentials related to terrorist and gang convergence and/or the politicization of MS-13 for the Trump administration’s narrative purposes.

Organizational characteristics

With regard to the Program’s C2 structure, the US Federal perspective outlined in the indictment is one of MS-13 being a well-defined hierarchical organization (See Fig 1). At the clique level, the Primera Palabra(First Word) and Segunda Palabra (Second Word) have been readily identified in the past literature as has the idea of a general (jumped in) grouping of members—the Homeboys. Having a well-defined associate hierarchy, with three levels of affiliates (Chequeo, 3rd Level;  Observacion, 2nd Level; and Paro; 1st Level), has more of a cartel organizational orientation to it but has existed in Federal court filings against the gang since at least early 2016.[2] The Program—multiple cliques—level of coordination has been identified since at least 2011 in federal documents with those leaders being referred to as corredores de programa (program leaders)[3]—or now simply a Corredor. In one 2011 federal document, Palabreros de Programa (Program Shot Callers)—equivalent to the indictment’s Zone Corredor—are said to exist. They  in turn are subordinate to ‘principle shot callers’ who seem to exist below the Cabecillas Nacionales (National Heads) who are identified as the La Ranfla (National Leadership) of the indictment.[4]  Within this organizational scheme, Armando Eliu Melgar Diaz existed at the Corredor level of responsibility which represents the interface between the US cliques and MS-13’s national leaders in El Salvador.

MS-13’s organizational characteristics have expressed themselves in a range of geographic variations since its initial emergence in Los Angeles.[5]  The transnational gang[6] has local variety in organization among its various nodal clusters (i.e., clicas or cliques).  This variation in network architecture yields a range of power contests throughout the network as various operational hubs (i.e., cliques and programs) seek to expand their reach and influence/degree of control throughout the network at large.[7]

Figure 1

Source: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff, v. ARMANDO ELIU MELGAR DIAZ, a.k.a. ‘Blue,’ a.k.a. ‘Clipper,’ Defendant.” United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division. INDICTMENT. Case 1:20-cr-00103-RDA5, Document 8.  5 May 2020: pp. 7-9,  https://www.justice.gov/usao-edva/press-release/file/1294501/download.

Concerning the clique and geographic distribution of the East Coast Program, refer to Table 1. The Program consists of over 21 cliques spanning 11 states and the District of Columbia, though the Santa Maria Little Salvis (SMLS) clique in California (where MS-13 originated) is an outlier (likely a weak sub-clique group out of North Carolina) on multiple levels.[8] This is because an individual clique may also have a presence in more than one state with sub-cliques existing. This causes C2 degradation, with some members at the homeboy level in charge within geographically disbursed locations across multiple states. Also of note are the larger and more established clique clusters in the states of Maryland (9), North Carolina (7), Virginia (7), and Texas (5) and the initial clique penetration of the Program into other regions of the East Coast—District of Columbia (1), Ohio (1), Rhode Island (1), and Tennessee (1) which give us a rough sense of some of the initial gang migration timelines. Further, popular clique names include the monikers ‘locos’ (crazy), ‘criminales’ (criminals) and ‘gangster’ signifying the illicit street orientation of MS-13 culture. 

Table 1. MS-13 East Coast Program Cliques and Geographic Distribution

Table 1

A Specific cliques may have member clusters in multiple states. Source: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff, v. ARMANDO ELIU MELGAR DIAZ, a.k.a. ‘Blue,’ a.k.a. ‘Clipper,’ Defendant.” United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division. INDICTMENT. Case 1:20-cr-00103-RDA5, Document 8.  5 May 2020: pp. 7-9, https://www.justice.gov/usao-edva/press-release/file/1294501/download.

Material support to terrorism and terrorism in the indictment

The ‘material support to terrorists’ and related terrorism charges found in the indictment are specifically as follows:

Count 2: Conspiracy to Provide and Conceal Material Support to Terrorists (18 U.S.C.§2339A(a)) (Found on p. 32)

Count 3: Conspiracy to Kill or Maim Persons Outside the United States (18 U.S.C.§ 956(a)(1)) (Found on p. 33)

Count 4: Conspiracy to Commit Acts of Terrorism Transcending National Boundaries (18 U.S.C. §§ 2332b(a)(l), 2332b(a)(2),and 2332b(c)) (Found on p. 34)

Count 5: Conspiracy to Finance Terrorism(18 U.S.C.§ 2339C(a)) (Found   on p. 35)

Count 6: Narco-Terrorism Conspiracy (21 U.S.C.§960a(a)) (Found on p. 36)

Count 2—“Provide and Conceal Material Support to Terrorists”— is predicated on Counts 3-6.  Those later counts argue that Melgar Díaz as the recognized East Coast Program leader directed the MS-13 cliques under his control (as well as coordinated the activities of other MS-13 members in Mexico and Central America) in transnational acts that constituted ‘terrorist activity,’ ‘the funding of that activity,’ and ‘narco-terrorism.’ Such federal charges de facto characterize (but do not designate) MS-13 as a terrorist organization—since its members are the ones committing the terrorism related acts (as interpreted in the indictment). This is due to the fact that the indictment is focused on Armando Eliú Melgar Díaz, as an individual, and not on MS-13, as a group, which is not found on the US State Department’s Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) list.[9] Though since 2012 MS-13 has been sanctioned as a transnational criminal organization (TCO) by the US Department of Treasury (per E.O. 13581).[10]      

The debate surrounding the Melgar Díaz indictment thus revolves around its significantly degrading the ‘red line’ between TCOs and FTOs in US federal statutes. The Trump administration may be using these charges as a trial balloon in this regard. Further, concern exists that the Trump administration has ‘politicized’—or rather demonized MS-13—for re-election narrative purposes related to the strict immigration controls it is promoting.[11] On the flipside of this debate, a sizeable amount of literature has existed concerning narcoterrorism—an older construct that has fallen out of favor—which may or may not characterize some of MS-13’s activities.[12] Narcoterrorism perceptions track better with the cartels—such as Los Zetas in Mexico or the Medellín Cartel in Colombia—rather than transnational gangs. More recent perceptions related to the convergence construct, however, argue that organized criminal and terrorist organizations are increasingly joining forces and even blending together in their attributes.[13]

Outlier views have also developed which postulate that “The MS13 is a social organization first, and a criminal organization second”[14] which, at face value, would seem to warrant their removal as a US Treasury sanctioned TCO. From a counterfactual view, this may actually make the gang far more dangerous. MS-13 would be akin to a deviant and barbaric form of semi-networked ‘social and political organization’—representing vicious bandas (bands) or clicas (cliques) of street and prison predators who engage in illicit activities as an integral component of their mara cultura (gang culture).

Concluding thoughts

Employing terrorism statues against a gang leader is a controversial approach under US law.  In this case, the US DOJ charged Armando Eliú Melgar Díaz with terrorism charges in addition to traditional RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act; 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961–1968) charges.  Melgar Díaz, who oversaw over 20 clicas in the US, is currently in custody in El Salvador.[15]  The charges against Melgar Díaz  address acts conducted in the Northern Virginia/Washington, DC, National Capital Region.  These crimes include authorizing the murder of a 14-year-old girl in Houston, TX, narcotics trafficking, and kidnapping.[16]

This case, which according to Attorney General Barr is a capital case, is controversial on a couple of grounds.  First, there is no domestic terrorism statute in the United States and the majority of the acts under indictment involve crime in the United States.  The exceptions are contained in Count 3: Conspiracy to Kill or Maim Persons Outside the United States (18 U.S.C. § 956(a)(1)) (Found on p. 33) and Count 4: Conspiracy to Commit Acts of Terrorism Transcending National Boundaries (18 U.S.C. §§ 2332b(a)(l), 2332b(a)(2), and 2332b(c)) (Found on p. 34).  Second, is Mara Salvatrucha a ‘terrorist’ organization engaging in terrorism for political purposes or is it merely a transnational gang?  Within these questions resides the underlying question about the degree of the mara’s political activity.[17]  Some, like Paker Asmann, argue the political component is weak.[18] For others, the question is less clear and the political dimension may be stronger—especially at subnational/municipal levels, where the maras interact with and influence political activity while exerting territorial control, “Gangs control an undefined number of informal settlements and urban outskirts all over the country.”[19] Recent allegations of government pacts with the maras elevate this alleged political nexus.[20]  Similar controversy exists regarding the designation of Mexican drug cartels (criminal cartels) as terrorist organizations; a step not yet taken by the US government.[21]

Further complicating the discussion is the status of Mara Salvatrucha and its activities under Salavadoran law.  On 23 August 2015, MS-13 was designated as a terrorist group by the Salvadoran Supreme Court (Sala de lo Constitucional de la Corte Suprema de Justicia [SCCSJ]/Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice).[22]  Specifically, El Salvador’s Supreme Court “held that MS-13 and Mara 18 are terrorist groups, as are any other gang or criminal organization that seeks to usurp the powers belonging to the state or systemically and indiscriminately violate the fundamental rights of the population.”[23] The salient question here is does the designation of a criminal group (like MS-13) as a terrorist entity in a foreign jurisdiction establish that group as a terrorist entity under US law?

The danger in designating gang and other violence as ‘terrorist’ activity is an over-conflation of distinct forms of activity—criminal and political—into one broad category of ‘enemy of the state.’  That over-conflation can impede effective enforcement and trigger human rights abuses.  On the other hand, there is an increasing prevalence of criminal armed groups (CAGs) and territorial gangs engaging in political activity and challenging states.[24]  These challenges can result in both criminal and/or political violence—such as criminal insurgencies or crime wars—that challenge definitions and the balance of power between states and CAGs.[25] This blurring of crime and war, terrorism and criminal violence requires careful consideration of the appropriate policy responses and legal regimes to protect the populace and preserve the rule of law.

Sources

Parker Asmann, “5 Times the MS13 Tried — and Failed — to Become Drug Traffickers.” InSight Crime. 11 August 2020, https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/ms13-tried-failed-drug-trafficking/.

Jorge C., “FGR asesta duro golpe a la “MS” al ordenar captura de “Corredor general de programa” que opera en Los Estados Unidos.” Fiscalía General de la República (El Salvador). 9 November 2018, https://www.fiscalia.gob.sv/fgr-asesta-duro-golpe-a-la-ms-al-ordenar-captura-de-corredor-general-de-programa-que-opera-en-los-estados-unidos/.

Mark Hosenball, “U.S. steps up crackdown on MS-13 gang, to seek death penalty of accused leader.” Reuters. 15 July 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-crime-ms13/u-s-steps-up-crackdown-on-ms-13-gang-to-seek-death-penalty-of-accused-leader-idUSKCN24G33G.

“MS-13 Leader in El Salvador Charged with RICO and Terrorism Offenses.” Homeland Security Today. 16 July 2020, https://www.hstoday.us/subject-matter-areas/border-security/ms-13-leader-in-el-salvador-charged-with-rico-and-terrorism-offenses/.

“MS-13 Leader in El Salvador Charged with RICO and Terrorism Offenses.” Press Release. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office Eastern District of Virginia. 15 July 2020, https://www.justice.gov/usao-edva/pr/ms-13-leader-el-salvador-charged-rico-and-terrorism-offenses.

“UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff, v. ARMANDO ELIU MELGAR DIAZ, a.k.a. ‘Blue,’ a.k.a. ‘Clipper,’ Defendant.” United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division. INDICTMENT. Case 1:20-cr-00103-RDA5, Document 8.  5 May 2020: 1-39, https://www.justice.gov/usao-edva/press-release/file/1294501/download.

Endnotes

[1] In English, the title reads: “FGR deals a severe blow to the ‘MS’ by ordering the capture of [its] ‘General program broker "that operates in the United States.”  The text reads:  “The Office of the Attorney General of the Republic (FGR) [El Salvador] announced that this Friday the arrest warrants against Armando Eliú Melgar Díaz, alias “Blue de Gangster”, who is profiled as “General Corridor of the East Coast Program of the Mara Salvatrucha .” …  “In addition, four other members of that criminal organization have been apprehended.” … “These captures represent a severe blow to the “Mara Salvatrucha,” for lack of leadership and organizational capacity and are part of the continuity of “Operation Regional Shield III,” in which Guatemala and Honduras participate.” …  “According to the report, Melgar Díaz, apart from directing that terrorist group, was responsible for ordering and authorizing a large number of crimes such as homicides, drug trafficking and extortion. But in addition, he received illicit money to organize and strengthen criminal structures.”

[2] See, for instance, Gintautas Dumcius, “The story behind alleged criminal organization ‘La Mara Salvatrucha,’ also known as ‘MS-13.’” MassLive. 29 January 2016, https://www.masslive.com/news/2016/01/the_story_behind_the_alleged_c.html and Dan Morse and Michael E. Miller, “To get promoted in MS-13, two members fatally stabbed and beat homeless man, indictment alleges.” Washington Post20 December 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/to-get-promoted-in-ms-13-two-members-fatally-stabbed-andbeat-homeless-man-indictment-alleges/2017/12/20/93a2a214-e5d0-11e7-833f-155031558ff4_story.html.

[3] “Anti-Gang Effort Leads to Indictment of MS-13 Gang Members.” Press Release. US Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Texas. 11 August 2011, https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/houston/press-releases/2011/anti-gang-effort-leads-to-indictment-of-ms-13-gang-members.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 13: Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) Command and Control (C2) Geographic Variations.” Small Wars Journal. 29 January 2019, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/third-generation-gangs-strategic-note-no-13-mara-salvatrucha-ms-13-command-and-control-c2.

[6] John P. Sullivan, “Transnational Gangs: The Impact of Third Generation Gangs in Central America.” Air & Space Power Journal (Spanish Edition). Second Trimester 2008,  https://www.academia.edu/927368/Transnational_gangs_The_impact_of_third_generation_gangs_in_Central_America.

[7] John P. Sullivan and Samuel Logan, “MS-13 Leadership: Networks of Influence.” The Counter Terrorist. August/September 2010, pp. 48, 50, 52, https://issuu.com/sbradman/docs/ctaugsep2010.final; John P. Sullivan, Juan Ricardo Gómez Hecht and Robert J. Bunker, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 11: MS-503—Mara Fragmentation and Murder.” Small Wars Journal. 10 April 2018, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/third-generation-gangs-strategic-note-no-11-ms-503-mara-fragmentation-and-murder; and Matthew Ormseth, “Suspected MS-13 leader’s capture offers window into gang’s structure.” Los Angeles Times. 13 August 2020, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-08-13/ms-13-nelson-flores.

[8] MS-13 originated in Los Angeles and is under the authority of the prison gang La Eme (M; 13; Mexican Mafia) in California. The West Coast Program is in control of this region so having an East Coast Program sub-clique listed in California would be a challenge to the West Coast Program’s authority. However, the MS-13 leadership out of El Salvador appears to have challenged Mexican Mafia control in the past. See “Figure 3. Los Angeles Regional MS-13 Summit” in Robert J. Bunker, “SWJ El Centro Review Essay – Operation Devil Horns: The Takedown of MS-13 in San Francisco.” Small Wars Journal. 20 June 2020, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/swj-el-centro-review-essay-operation-devil-horns-takedown-ms-13-san-francisco.

[9] US Department of State, Bureau of Counterterrorism, Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs). 4 September 2020 [Access], https://www.state.gov/foreign-terrorist-organizations/.

[10] US Department of the Treasury, “Treasury Sanctions Latin American Criminal Organization.” Press Release. 11 October 2012, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/pages/tg1733.aspx.

[11] See, for instance, Parker Asmann, “US Indictment of MS13 Leader More (Political) Smoke Than (Terrorist) Fire.” InSight Crime. 21 July 2020, https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/us-indictment-ms13-leader/ and

Héctor Silva Ávalos and Parker Asmann, “MS13 East Coast Violence Fails to Consolidate Gang’s US Presence.” InSight Crime. 27 August 2020, https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/ms13-violence-east-coast-presence/.

[12] As examples, Emma Bjonrnehed, “Narco-Terrorism: The Merger of the War on Drugs and the War on Terror.” Global Crime. Vol. 6, No. 3-4, August-November 2004: pp. 305-324, https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/drogue-terreur.pdf and Fernando Celaya Pacheco, “Narcofearance: How has Narcoterrorism Settled in Mexico?” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. Vol. 32, Iss. 12, 2009: pp. 1021-1048.

[13] Jennifer L. Hesterman, The Terrorist-Criminal Nexus: An Alliance of International Drug Cartels, Organized Crime, and Terror Groups. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2013 and Hilary Matfess and Michael Miklaucic, Eds., Beyond Convergence: World Without Order. Washington, DC: National Defense University, 2016.

[14] Steven Dudley et al., MS13 in the Americas: How the World’s Most Notorious Gang Defies Logic, Resists Destruction. Washington, DC: InSight Crime and Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (American University). 2018, https://globalinitiative.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/MS13-in-the-Americas-How-the-World’s-Most-Notorious-Gang-Defies-Logic-Resists-Destruction-InSight-Crim.pdf.

[15] Rachel Weiner, “For the first time, Trump administration uses terrorism charges against an alleged MS-13 leader,” Washington Post. 15 July 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/for-the-first-time-trump-administration-uses-terrorism-charges-against-ms-13/2020/07/15/7079dd70-c6d3-11ea-a99f-3bbdffb1af38_story.html.

[16] Ibid.

[17] See Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Jacob Zenn, “Terrorists, Insurgents, Something Else? Clarifying and Classifying the “Generational Challenge.” Lawfare, 15 January 2017, https://www.lawfareblog.com/terrorists-insurgents-something-else-clarifying-and-classifying-generational-challenge for a discussion of the range of action among Violent Non-state Actors (VNSAs).

[18] Op. Cit., Parker Asmann, “US Indictment of MS13 Leader More (Political) Smoke Than (Terrorist) Fire.”

[19] “El Salvador’s Politics of Perpetual Violence,” Report No 64, International Crisis Group. 19 December 2017, https://www.crisisgroup.org/latin-america-caribbean/central-america/el-salvador/64-el-salvadors-politics-perpetual-violence.

[20] Reuters, “El Salvador Prosecutor Says He Will Investigate Allegations of Government Pacts With Gangs.” New York Times. 4 September 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2020/09/04/world/04reuters-el-salvador-politics.html.

[21] See Eric Halliday and Connor Veneski, “What Happens If the Trump Administration Designates Drug Cartels as Terrorist Organizations?” Lawfare. 8 April 2020, https://www.lawfareblog.com/what-happens-if-trump-administration-designates-drug-cartels-terrorist-organizations and Scott Englund, “Mexican Drug Cartels Are Violent — But They’re Not Terrorists.” War on the Rocks. 24 February 2020, https://warontherocks.com/2020/02/mexican-drug-cartels-are-violent-but-theyre-not-terrorists/.

[22] Karla Martinez, “ ¿MARERO O TERRORISTA? EXAMINING THE SUPREME COURT OF EL SALVADOR'S DESIGNATION OF GANG MEMBERS AS TERRORISTS.” 47 Ga. J. Int'l & Comp. L. 683 (2018-2019). See especially Corte Suprema (Supreme Court), discussion on Case on the Constitutionality of the Terrorism Law, Diario Oficial [D.O.] vol. 408, no. 158, pp. 135-228 (1 Sept. 2015), https://www.diariooficial.gob.sv/diarios/do-2015/09-septiembre/01-09-2015.pdf at p.648.

[23] Ibid. at p. 690 referring to Corte Suprema, supra at p. 175.

[24] See John P. Sullivan, “The Challenges of Territorial Gangs: Civil Strife, Criminal Insurgencies and Crime Wars.” Revista do Ministério Público Militar (Brazil), Edição n. 31, November 2019, https://www.academia.edu/40917684/The_Challenges_of_Territorial_Gangs_Civil_Strife_Criminal_Insurgencies_and_Crime_Wars.

[25] See Robert Muggah and John P. Sullivan, “The Coming Crime Wars.” Foreign Policy. 21 September 2018, https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/09/21/the-coming-crime-wars/; Guilherme Damasceno Fonseca, “The Use of Terrorist Tools by Criminal Organizations: The Case of the Brazilian Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC).” Perspectives on Terrorism. Vol. 14, Iss. 4. 2020: pp. 64-82,  https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/binaries/content/assets/customsites/perspectives-on-terrorism/2020/issue-4/fonseca.pdf; and David Teiner, “Cartel-Related Violence in Mexico as Narco-Terrorism or Criminal Insurgency: A Literature Review.” Perspectives on Terrorism. Vol. 14, Iss. 4. 2020: pp. 83-98,  https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/binaries/content/assets/customsites/perspectives-on-terrorism/2020/issue-4/teiner.pdf.

For Additional Reading

John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, Eds., Strategic Notes on Third Generation Gangs. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2020.

John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 21: 96 MS-13 Members and Associates, Including the Leaders of 9 Cliques, Charged in Long Island.” Small Wars Journal. 9 January 2020.

Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 13: Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) Command and Control (C2) Geographic Variations.” Small Wars Journal, 29 January 2019.

Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13): A Law Enforcement Primer.” National Academy Associate (Quantico, FBI National Academy Associates), March/April 2018.

Categories: El Centro

About the Author(s)

Robert J. Bunker is Director of Research and Analysis, C/O Futures, LLC, and an Instructor at the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy. He holds university degrees in political science, government, social science, anthropology-geography, behavioral science, and history and has undertaken hundreds of hours of counterterrorism training. Past professional associations include Minerva Chair at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College and Futurist in Residence, Training and Development Division, Behavioral Science Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy, Quantico. Dr. Bunker has well over 500 publications—including about 40 books as co-author, editor, and co-editor—and can be reached at docbunker@smallwarsjournal.com.   
 

Dr. John P. Sullivan was a career police officer. He is an honorably retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, specializing in emergency operations, transit policing, counterterrorism, and intelligence. He is currently an Instructor in the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California. Sullivan received a lifetime achievement award from the National Fusion Center Association in November 2018 for his contributions to the national network of intelligence fusion centers. He completed the CREATE Executive Program in Counter-Terrorism at the University of Southern California and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from the College of William and Mary, a Master of Arts in Urban Affairs and Policy Analysis from the New School for Social Research, and a PhD from the Open University of Catalonia (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya). His doctoral thesis was “Mexico’s Drug War: Cartels, Gangs, Sovereignty and the Network State.” He can be reached at jpsullivan@smallwarsjournal.com.

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