Small Wars Journal

Strategic Note

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 14: Narcocantante (Narco-singer) Assassinated in Mission, Texas

Wed, 05/01/2013 - 2:11pm

Jesus “Chuy” Quintanilla was discovered dead in Mission, Texas, across the border from Reynosa, Tamaulipas.  He was a noted singer of narcocorridos.[1]  Narcomusica (narco-music) plays a key role in shaping the social space of Mexico’s drug war. Narcocorridos are epic folk ballads that extol the merits of the narcos: capos and sicarios alike. Chuy Quintanilla was best known for his narcocorridos:

…depicting the infamous characters and clashes of Mexico’s drug war, and with lyrics that could drop listeners into the thick of a gunbattle, it’d be easy to mistake the singer for a combatant himself.  (Source: [2] The Monitor, 28 April 2013)



Norteño singer Jesus “Chuy” Quintanilla was discovered dead in a pool of his own blood on Thursday, 25 April 2013.  Hidalgo County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the scene.  According to Sheriff Lupe Treviño, Quintanilla had been shot at least twice in the head— the preliminary autopsy report released later stated one shot to the head and one to the neck. While it is too early to determine the motive for the slaying, Quintanilla’s prominent role in narcomúsica and long history of singing narcocorridos make him a prominent figure in Mexico’s narcocultura that shapes the social contours of the drug war.

Jesus “Chuy” Quintanilla appeared to have been shot at least twice in the head and was found near his vehicle, Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino said. Irrigation workers found his body on a roadway north of Mission in an isolated area surrounded by citrus groves, Trevino said. (Source: [3]. El Paso Times, 26 April 2013)

Quintanilla who recorded over 40 albums of corridos was known as La Mera Ley del Corrido — The True Law of the Corrido. His nickname is derived from his serving as a Mexican judicial police officer for 20 years prior to his music career.

Quintanilla’s songs covered topics ranging from horse races to cockfights, but the drug war was prominent on his play list. Further, the dress of this individual and his propensity to be posed in his album covers with assault weapons, expensive cars, and beautiful women added to his mystique as a narcocantante. His repertoire included several songs about drug traffickers on the U.S. side of the border.  These include corridos entitled “Tomy Gonzalez,” “El Chusquis” and “El Corrido de Marco,” that commented on alleged drugs dealers in Weslaco and Rio Grande City who coordinated drug trafficking organizations in Texas and the U.S.:

One of Chuy Quintanilla’s most famous songs involves the fierce battle through the streets of Reynosa as Mexican authorities hunted down the Gulf Cartel leader known as Jaime “El Hummer” Gonzalez Duran.

 Another top hit, called “Estamos en Guerra,” talks about how the Zetas turned on the Gulf Cartel, which in turn would move to eradicate its former enforcers. (Source: [2] The Monitor, 28 April 2013)

Chuy Quintanilla Album Cover

[For additional examples see]


As Sullivan noted in his SWJ–El Centro paper “Criminal Insurgency: Narcocultura, Social Banditry, and Information Operations,”

Music is a key element of transmitting alternative cultural values in the ‘narcoscape.’  Narcomúsica (narco-music) is an integral component of cartel influence operations (information operations) and is instrumental is defining (redefining) the persona of the outlaw.  The tradition of narcocorridos builds from the ranchera tradition of folk ballads (corridos) that extol heroic deeds. The narcocorrido variant of traditional corridos has extended its reach from the narco subculture to mainstream audiences throughout Mexico and the United States. Narcocorridos extol the virtues of the drug lord and describe, apotheosize, comment upon and lament the deeds of the narcos, projecting the image of ‘folk hero.’[4]

According to University of Texas, Brownsville Professor Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, narcocantantes are influential in transmitting narcocultura:

People who sing about these people, drug traffickers are making money from that because there is a captive market and the drug traffickers are going to promote this music,” Correa-Cabrera said. “It promotes, recruits young people presents a life that everyone would like to have and it really serves the purpose of drug trafficking organizations. (Source: [5] Action 4 News, 25 April 2013)

While narcocorridos are popular and bring musical success, they can also bring violent reprisal when the lyrics cross certain gangsters. When the gangsters take exception to the story line, the singers can become targets.  For example, in January 2013, members of the band Kombo Kolombia were found in a mass grave (narcofosa) in Monterrey.  Other narcocantantes killed in cartel-related violence include: Julio Cesar Leyva Beltran of Los Ciclones del Arroyo in Sinaloa

(April 2012); Sergio Vega (aka “El Shaka”) in Sinaloa (June 2010); and Valentin Elizalde in Reynosa (November 2006).[5]  The difference here is that Quintanilla was killed on the U.S. side of the border.


If the investigation determines that Quintanilla was killed because of his narcocorridos it would be the first known assassination of a narcocantante (narco-singer) in the United States.  This would be a significant shift in targeting and the U.S. would be firmly in the operational zone of targeted killings to shape the ‘narcosphere’ or ‘drug war zone.’  

Quintanilla was identified with the CDG: Cartel del Golfo (Gulf Cartel) and had dedicated songs to Tony Tormenta (Antonio Ezequiel Cárdenas Guillén)[6] the CDG capo who died with Mexican marines in November 2010 which resulted in a turf battle with Los Zetas in the city of Mier.[7]  One of his songs, “Estamos En Guerra (Los Zetas Vs. CDG),”chronicled the battles following the Gulf-Zeta split.[8],[9]

It is possible that Quintanilla became a target of one or both of those cartels as a result of his characterization of their activities in the current conflict in Tamaulipas.  Certainly both cartels have a presence in Texas and could operate there as seen in recent reports of narcobloqueos (narco-blockades) in Texas.[10]  It is also possible that he crossed other criminal enterprises (such as U.S. gangs) or was targeted for more mundane criminal reasons.  Nevertheless, the modus operandi or tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) involved in his death are consistent with those of narco-assassinations.

Normally, a single murder (narco or otherwise) would possibly at best warrant a tactical note.  This killing, due to the prominence of the victim, his history of singing narcocorridos, and his alleged links with both the CDG and Los Zetas cartels make this an act of strategic significance.  Even if the death is not a cartel-related hit, the information operations dynamics of his murder exude images of narcocultura.



1. “Asesinan en Texas al cantante de narcocorridos Chuy Quintanilla,” Emeequis, 25 April 2013 at

2. Ildefonso Ortiz, “Slain singer Chuy Quintanilla gained fame for drug war ballads,” The Monitor, 26 April 2013 at

3. Christopher Sherman, “Singer found dead along road in rural South Texas,” El Paso Times, 26 April 2013 at

4. John P. Sullivan, “Criminal Insurgency: Narcocultura, Social Banditry, and Information Operations,” Small Wars Journal, 3 December 2012 at

5.“Narco Corridos: The dark side of the Mexican music world,” Action 4 News, Harlington, TX, 25 April 2013 at

6. Chuy Quintanilla songs about Cárdenas Guillén include “El Corrido De Tony Tormenta,” see

7.“Asesinan a Chuy Quintanilla, cantante de narcocorridos,” Terra, 27 Apil 2013 at,6467775b15a3e310VgnCLD2000009acceb0aRCRD.html.

8. For an analysis of the fissure between the CDG and Los Zetas see Samuel Logan and John P. Sullivan, “The Gulf-Zeta Split and the Praetorian Revolt,” ISN Security Watch, ETH Zurich, 7 April 2010 at

9.  See to hear Chuy Quintanilla, “Estamos En Guerra (Los Zetas Vs. Cartel Del Golfo).”

10. John P. Sullivan, “Spillover/Narcobloqueos in Texas,” Small Wars Journal, SWJ Blog, 1 April 2013 at  See also Texas Public Safety Threat Overview 2013, Austin: Texas Department of Public Safety, February 2013, p. 18 at


Additional Resources:


a. Video: “Narco singer ‘Chuy’ Quintanilla found shot dead in South Texas.” NewsFix, 26 April 2013, at

b. Video: Nadia Galindo, “Preliminary autopsy results released for slain singer Chuy Quintanilla.” Valley Central, 26 April 2013, at

c. Facebook: Chuy Quintanilla (La Mera Ley Del Corrido) at

d. “Narco Singer Chuy Quintanilla Found Slain North of Mission Texas.” Borderland Beat, Thursday 25 April 2013, at

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 12

Thu, 02/16/2012 - 10:32am

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 12:  The Spreading Criminal Insurgencies in Mexico: States With U.S. State Department Travel Advisories

Via: Geoffrey Ramsey, “Mexico Official Admits Some Areas Out of Govt Control.” In Sight: Organized Crime in the Americas. 10 February 2012 [1]:

At a military ceremony yesterday, Mexican Defense Minister Guillermo Galvan Galva described the national security situation in stark terms. “Clearly, in some sectors of the country public security has been completely overrun,” said Galvan, adding that “it should be recognized that national security is seriously threatened.” He went on to say that organized crime in the country has managed to penetrate not only society, but also the country’s state institutions.

Galvan also endorsed the military’s role in combating insecurity, asserting that although they have a responsibility to acknowledge that “there have been mistakes,” the armed forces have an “unrestricted” respect for human rights…

Via U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE, Bureau of Consular Affairs, “Travel Warning: Mexico.” 8 February 2012 [2].

The Department of State has issued this Travel Warning to inform U.S. citizens about the security situation in Mexico.  General information on the overall security situation is provided immediately below.  For information on security conditions in specific regions of Mexico, which can vary, travelers should reference the state-by-state assessments further below.

This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning for Mexico dated April 22, 2011 to consolidate and update information about the security situation and to advise the public of additional restrictions on the travel of U.S. government (USG) personnel…

General Conditions:

…Gun battles between rival TCOs or with Mexican authorities have taken place in towns and cities in many parts of Mexico, especially in the border region.  Gun battles have occurred in broad daylight on streets and in other public venues, such as restaurants and clubs.  During some of these incidents, U.S. citizens have been trapped and temporarily prevented from leaving the area.  TCOs use stolen cars and trucks to create roadblocks on major thoroughfares, preventing the military and police from responding to criminal activity.  The location and timing of future armed engagements is unpredictable.  We recommend that you defer travel to the areas indicated in this Travel Warning and to exercise extreme caution when traveling throughout the northern border region…

State-by-State Assessment:

Below is a state-by-state assessment of security conditions throughout Mexico divided into northern and southern regions.  The accompanying map will help in identifying individual locations.  Travelers should be mindful that even if no advisories are in effect for a given state, crime and violence can occur anywhere.  For general information about travel conditions in Mexico, see our Country Specific Information.

Northern Mexico

Baja California (north): Tijuana is a major city/travel destination in the Northern portion of Baja California…You should exercise caution in the northern state of Baja California, particularly at night…

Chihuahua: Juarez and Chihuahua are the major cities/travel destinations in Chihuahua…You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Chihuahua…

Coahuila: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Coahuila.  The State of Coahuila continues to experience high rates of violent crimes and narcotics-related murders…

Durango: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Durango.  Between 2006 and 2010, the number of narcotics-related murders in the State of Durango increased dramatically…

Nuevo Leon: Monterrey is a major city/travel destination in Nuevo Leon…You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Nuevo Leon, except the metropolitan area of Monterrey where you should exercise caution…

San Luis Potosi: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of San Luis Potosi, except the city of San Luis Potosi where you should exercise caution.  The entire stretch of highway 57D in San Luis Potosi and portions of the state east of highway 57D towards Tamaulipas are particularly dangerous…

Sinaloa: Mazatlan is a major city/travel destination in Sinaloa…You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Sinaloa except the city of Mazatlan where you should exercise caution particularly late at night and in the early morning.  One of Mexico's most powerful TCOs is based in the state of Sinaloa.  With the exception of Ciudad Juarez, since 2006 more homicides have occurred in the state's capital city of Culiacan than in any other city in Mexico…

Sonora: Nogales and Puerto Peñasco are the major cities/travel destinations in Sonora…You should defer non-essential travel between the city of Nogales and the cities of Sonoyta and Caborca (which area also includes the smaller cities of Saric, Tubutama, and Altar), defer non-essential travel to the eastern edge of the State of Sonora which borders the State of Chihuahua (all points along that border east of the northern city of Agua Prieta and the southern town of Alamos), defer non-essential travel within the state south of the city of Ciudad Obregon with the exception of travel to Alamos (traveling only during daylight hours and using only the Highway 15 toll road, aka cuota, and Sonora State Road 162), and exercise caution when visiting the coastal town of Puerto Peñasco…

Tamaulipas: Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, and Tampico are the major cities/travel destinations in Tamaulipas…You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Tamaulipas.  All USG employees are: prohibited from personal travel on Tamaulipas highways outside of Matamoros, Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo due to the risks posed by armed robbery and carjacking; may not frequent casinos and adult entertainment establishments within these cities; and in Matamoros are subject to a midnight to 6 a.m. curfew.  Be aware of the risks posed by armed robbery and carjacking on state highways throughout Tamaulipas…

Zacatecas: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Zacatecas except the city of Zacatecas where you should exercise caution.  The regions of the state bordering Durango and Coahuila as well as the cities of Fresnillo and Fresnillo-Sombrete and surrounding area are particularly dangerous.  The northwestern portion of the state of Zacatecas has become notably dangerous and insecure.  Robberies and carjackings are occurring with increased frequency and both local authorities and residents have reported a surge in observed TCO activity.  This area is remote, and local authorities are unable to regularly patrol it or quickly respond to incidents that occur there.  Gun battles between criminal groups and authorities occur in the area of the state bordering the state of Jalisco.  There have also been reports of roadblocks and false checkpoints on highways between the states of Zacatecas and Jalisco…

Southern Mexico

Aguascalientes: You should defer non-essential travel to the areas of the state that border the state of Zacatecas.  The security situation along the Zacatecas border continues to be unstable and gun battles between criminal groups and authorities occur.  Concerns include roadblocks placed by individuals posing as police or military personnel and recent gun battles between rival TCOs involving automatic weapons.

Colima: Manzanillo is a major city/travel destination in Colima…You should exercise extreme caution when traveling through the areas of the state of Colima that border the state of Michoacán.  You should also exercise caution when traveling at night outside of cities in the remaining portions of the state.  The security situation along the Michoacán border continues to be unstable and gun battles between criminal groups and authorities occur.  Concerns include roadblocks placed by individuals posing as police or military personnel and recent gun battles between rival TCOs involving automatic weapons.

Guerrero: Acapulco, Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo and Taxco are the major cities/travel destinations in Guerrero…You should defer non-essential travel to the northwestern and southern portions of the state (the area west and south of the town of Arcelia on the border with Estado de Mexico in the north and the town of Tlapa near the border with Oaxaca), except for the cities of Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, and Ixtapa.  In those cities, you should exercise caution and stay within tourist areas…

Jalisco Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta are the major cities/travel destinations in Jalisco…You should defer non-essential travel to areas of the state that border the states of Michoacán and Zacatecas.  You should also exercise caution when traveling at night outside of cities in the remaining portions of this state…

Michoacán: Morelia is a major city/travel destination in Michoacán…You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Michoacán except the cities of Morelia and Lázaro Cardenas where you should exercise caution.  Flying into Morelia and Lázaro Cardenas, or driving to Lázaro Cardenas via highway 200 from Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa, are the recommended methods of travel.  Attacks on Mexican government officials, law enforcement and military personnel, and other incidents of TCO-related violence, have occurred throughout Michoacán.

Morelos: Cuernavaca is a major city/travel destination in Morelos…You should exercise caution in the state of Morelos due to the unpredictable nature of TCO violence.  Numerous incidents of narcotics-related violence have occurred in the city of Cuernavaca, a popular destination for U.S. students.

Nayarit: You should defer non-essential travel to all areas of the state of Nayarit north of the city of Tepic as well as to the cities of Tepic and Xalisco.  The security situation north of Tepic and in these cities is unstable and travelers could encounter roadblocks or shootouts between rival criminals…

Veracruz: You should exercise caution when traveling in the state of Veracruz.  In recent months, the state of Veracruz has seen an increase in violence among rival criminal organizations.  In response, the Government of Mexico has sent additional military and federal police to the state to assist State security forces in implementing operation “Veracruz Seguro” (Secure Veracruz) that focuses on combating organized crime.

Analysis: Mexican Defense Minister Guillermo Galvan Galva’s statement that some sectors of the country’s public security have been completely overrun represents a rare and honest appraisal of what is becoming an increasingly threatening situation to Mexican state sovereignty [3]. To place this threat in perspective, the new U.S. Department of State travel advisory for Mexico suggests that the entire Northern half of Mexico is now witnessing criminal insurgencies of such intensity that all of the states within it (except for Baja California Sur) have travel warnings for U.S. citizens. Southern Mexico is faring marginally better with travel advisories for Aguascalientes, Colima, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán, Morelos, Nayarit, and Veracruz while no travel advisories exist for Campeche, Chiapas, Estado de Mexico, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Mexico City (also known as the Federal District), Oaxaca, Puebla, Queretaro, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Tlaxcala, and Yucatan.

To place the U.S. Department of State advisory in geographic context, see the following map of Mexican states with advisories labeled in red:

Mexico City was once considered one of the most dangerous places in the country but increasingly is considered a bastion of stability in an otherwise troubled nation— with over 50,000 deaths attributed to the criminal insurgencies since December 2006. This is to be expected as the political elites and centralized government have expended resources to increase security of the capitol city and surrounding territories.

Of interest are the contradictory trends mentioned in the State Department document. These were picked up by the Washington Post and other major newspapers [4]:

The advisory does note that “millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for study, tourism, and business, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day.” Still, it says, U.S. travelers should be aware of Mexico’s efforts against “TCOs [transnational crime organizations] which engage in narcotics trafficking and other lawful activities” throughout the country.

Mexico is a country of 110 million people, so the odds of running into trouble are low. The number of U.S. citizens reported to the State Department as murdered in Mexico increased from 35 in 2007 to 120 in 2011.

Even the Mexican economy as defined by GDP, while only expected to grow at 3.2% in 2012 (as opposed to 3.8% in 2011), is seemingly doing well with business sentiments appearing optimistic in January 2012 [5].

What these contradictory trends suggest is that the spreading criminal insurgencies taking place in Mexico, while threatening to the legitimate federal government, are not necessarily bad for the overall functioning of the Mexican economy [6]. Similar trends, on a micro level, were noted in Miami, Florida during the Cocaine Wars of the 1970s and 1980s when much of the Miami skyline was built. Ultimately, the illicit economy injected hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more, into the formal economy. The same process is occurring in Mexico except that is taking place yearly at the tens of billions of dollars level and, as an aggregate over time, amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars.

Still, this brings us back to Defense Minister Guillermo Galvan Galva’s statement— Mexican national security is seriously threatened. Or, more accurately, the sovereign state is seriously threatened and is increasingly being decoupled from the globalized economy to which Mexico has structurally reformed itself and acceded to NAFTA and other international trade agreements. Terms used to identify such a scenario—depending on where it exists on a continuum of who is in charge—are Phillip Bobbitt’s ‘market state’, John Robb’s ‘hollow state’, and my own ‘criminal state’ construct.

End Note(s):

1. For the original Spanish article pertaining to the Defense Minister’s remarks see Jorge Ramos Pérez, “Amenazada, seguridad del país: Galván.” El Universal. Viernes 10 de febrero de 2012.


3. For additional analysis see Geoffrey Ramsey, “Mexico Official Admits Some Areas Out of Govt Control.” In Sight: Organized Crime in the Americas. 10 February 2012.

4. William Booth, “U.S. updates travel warning for Mexico.” The Washington Post. 9 February 2012.

5. “Mexico Economic Indicators – February 2012.” CEB Views. February 2012.

6. The GDP projections themselves may be called into question because they were mentioned alongside an unemployment figure of 4.5% in December 2011 which is totally unrealistic. Ibid

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 11

Wed, 12/28/2011 - 4:01pm

Of extreme consternation in this strategic note is that not only has SEDENA recently highlighted its 18 to 1 soldier-to-criminal exchange rates and proclaimed that it is basically unbeatable on the battlefield (akin to what the US did in Vietnam) but that, in the context of the current war in Mexico, the Mexican army is presently irrelevant to the actual fighting (killing) taking place since a total of 19 of 20 (93-95% of) gang and cartel foot soldier deaths can be accounted for by engagements with opposing gang and cartel commando units and/or personnel.

Via: “Hannah Stone, “18 ‘Criminals’ Die for Each Soldier: Mexico.” InSight Crime. Tuesday, 20 December 2011:

Mexico’s Defense Department said that for every soldier who died in clashes with organized criminal groups in the last five years, 18 alleged criminals were killed.

The Defense Department (Sedena) released figures showing that 2,268 “aggressors” had been killed in confrontations with the armed forces since President Felipe Calderon came to power in 2006, reports Proceso.

The authorities define “confrontations” as clashes between the authorities and suspected criminals, or between criminals, while “aggressions” are when the armed forces are attacked, but do not respond.

There have been 1,948 of these “confrontations and aggressions,” involving the army in the last five years, according to Sedena, killing 126 soldiers.

InSight Crime has reported on the dramatic rise in deaths in the confrontations and aggressions over the past few years, which has raised concerns that this could be due to a rise in extrajudicial killings by the army. As one former Mexican intelligence official told InSight Crime, many in the security forces are frustrated by the skyrocketing death toll and inept Mexican justice system, leading some to take the expedient option.

In total, including those confrontations which did not involve the army— either between criminal groups, or criminals and other branches of the security forces— there were 2,099 deaths in clashes last year, according to the government [1].


The recent release of Mexico’s Defense Department (SEDENA) information on soldier-criminal exchange rates on the surface is welcome news. For every 18 gang and cartel foot soldiers killed, 1 army soldier is killed in the process. Hence, 2,268 narcos have been killed to 126 soldiers. Deeper analysis of this information, however, results in quite a few unanswered questions and raises some significant issues of concern, especially when the information is weighed within the broader context of the overall narco related killings in Mexico over the last 4 to 5 years.

These unanswered questions and issues of concern are as follows:

• 1,948 incidents of what are termed  “confrontations and aggressions” have taken place between the Mexican army and the gang and cartel foot soldiers over the last five years. Confrontations are incidents in which the Mexican army, or other gang and/or cartel forces, engage opposing gang and cartel foot soldiers. Aggressions are when the Mexican army is attacked—like in a hand grenade or drive-by attack— but does not respond with counter-weapons fires. If the number of narcos killed (2,268) is divided by the number of these incidents (1,948), then a kill factor of 1.16 is achieved per engagement. This suggests that such incidents are, on average, very minor patrol and check point type encounters, although a number of large scale incidents could be balanced out by many 0 kill factor incidents. Without access to the underlying SEDENA dataset, only speculative insights may be made.

• Within the context of the greater dataset of battlefield deaths taking place in Mexico, the overall significance of 2,268 gang and cartel foot soldier deaths also comes into question. See the following statistics concerning organized criminal killings via

Viridiana Ríos and David A. Shirk, Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2010. San Diego, CA: Trans-Border Institute, Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, University of San Diego, February 2011: 18:

Mexican army involvement in 2,268 potential narco deaths represents less than 6.5% of the overall deaths— probably at about the 5% range but this may be generous. Remember that the 2,268 deaths includes gang and/or cartel on gang and/or cartel confrontations over a 5 year period while the aggregate organized crime killings (via Rios and Shirk) only covers a 4 year period.

Thus, the 18 to 1 soldier-to-criminal exchange rate only accounts for 1 of 20 (5% of) gang and cartel foot soldier deaths. A total of 19 of 20 (93-95% of) gang and cartel foot soldier deaths can be accounted for by engagements with opposing gang and cartel commando units and/or personnel. Some consideration to Mexican law enforcement killings of gang and cartel foot soldiers has been factored into these estimates [2].

If these figures are correct, it would suggest that Mexican army operations against the criminal insurgencies taking place in Mexico may, at least by the narco deaths criteria, be considered ineffectual. Also, from the perspective of peace enforcement and/or keeping operations, the Mexican army has failed because ongoing gang and/or cartel on gang and/or cartel engagements are taking place in Mexico and 95% of the time, when actual killings result, the Mexican army is nowhere to be seen. This would suggest that, after 5 years of Mexican army operations, this institution of the Mexican state can now be viewed as potentially irrelevant to the outcome of the power struggles between the competing gang and cartel groups.

If this were not enough, the Trans-Border Institute (TBI) table shows that 55% of the narco deaths are in some way linked to Sinaloa cartel activities. While Los Zetas— which have about 9% of the killings associated with them— appear to dominate news reports, it is the Sinaloa cartel which appears to be the major belligerent in the ground wars in Mexico.

• Not only is Mexican army effectiveness coming into question here but, in one sense, its deployment may be considered as providing the cartels with additional recruits. This perception can be better understood by viewing desertion data for Mexico.

Via David A. Kuhn and Robert J. Bunker, “Just where do Mexican cartel weapons come from?” Small Wars & Insurgencies. 22:5 December 2011, 819-820:

• In the eight years since the Zetas were organized, more than 120,000 Mexican soldiers have deserted, according to the government’s records. Yet the country’s military officials have made little effort to track their whereabouts, security experts said, creating a potential pool of military trained killers for the drug-trafficking gangs wreaking havoc in the country [June 2007].(42)

• Of the 4,890 soldiers assigned to the federal police force to help combat traffickers during the 2000-06 administration of President Vicente Fox, all but 10 deserted, said Gomez, citing Defense Secretariat figures [June 2007].(43)

• General Ángeles Dahuajare announced that more than 17,000 soldiers had deserted in 2008 [March 2009].(44)

• Some 1,680 Mexican army special forces soldiers have deserted in the past decade, the Milenio newspaper reported, citing Defense Secretariat figures [March 2011].(45)

• Some 50,000 soldiers have been providing security and fighting drug traffickers across Mexico since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon militarized the conflict with the country’s cartels ... The deserters include snipers, paratroopers, survival experts, intelligence analysts and rapid reaction specialists, the newspaper said [March 2011].(46)

• Some 50,000 soldiers have been providing security and fighting drug traffickers across Mexico since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon militarized the conflict with the country’s cartels ... The deserters include snipers, paratroopers, survival experts, intelligence analysts and rapid reaction specialists, the newspaper said [March 2011].(46)

On balance, far more military personnel have defected to the cartels over the years than have been killed by the Mexican army. This would result in some tens-of-thousands of ex-soldiers going over to the cartels vis-à-vis the 2,268 potential narco deaths the SEDENA data highlights. 2,180 gang and cartel members have, however, been arrested by the Mexican army over the last 5 years [3]. This unfortunately, does not significantly mitigate the effects of the military deserters going over to the cartels. Further, conviction rates in Mexico in the past were at about 2% and, additionally, man-for-man a cartel would gladly see the loss of an unskilled teenage lookout in exchange for a military trained young adult joining their organization. 

• Within the context of this conflict, the Vietnam war analogy— Mexico’s Vietnam War?— was brought into the title of this strategic note for a couple of reasons. The first is for US readers to better understand the magnitude of the casualties that have taken place in Mexico in recent years. The Vietnam war took place for the US from 1959 through 1973 (about 15 years) and witnessed 58,000 US deaths. These deaths took place in Vietnam and were primarily of military personnel (combatants). The war in Mexico (i.e. the aggregate of the various criminal insurgencies taking place) has been officially going on since December 2006 (5 years now), though Ion Grillo, author of El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency, would suggest it began as early as the Fall of 2004 with the initial push of the Sinaloa cartel into a Gulf cartel held plaza [4].

Based on the December 2006 starting date, the total number of deaths is presently estimated at about 50,000 with the last official release of information in January 2011 citing 34,612 deaths. The 50,000 deaths took place in Mexico (not “over there” like in Vietnam) and includes non-combatants (including Mexican women and children). Further, these deaths took place in about a third of the time period of the US fatalities in Vietnam and in a country with about two-thirds the population size during the time period in which the fatalities took place. While US citizens ate their dinners watching Vietnam war coverage, many of the citizens in Mexico experience this type of carnage on a routine basis by seeing the bodies hanging on the bridges and on the streets or having to hunker down on the floor while firefights take place outside their homes.

The 50,000 deaths in Mexico are thus far more significant, for the reasons explained, than the 58,000 US deaths in Vietnam [5]. We know what the Vietnam war did to the US via the anti-war protests and the turning of many of the institutions of America upon itself. In many ways, the Mexican citizenry has been far more restrained with regard to protests than a US citizenry that experienced its war under far less threatening circumstances although, in the present Mexican scenario, the simple solution of disengaging from the war by bringing the troops home from overseas does not exist. The war is taking place domestically which tends to place the Mexican government and its citizens in the position of the South Vietnamese rather than in the position of the Americans.

The second reason the Vietnam analogy has been drawn upon is to highlight the type of conflict taking place and its relationship to battlefield deaths. In this instance, however, Vietnam and Mexico may have fewer similarities and more differences. Vietnam was a Maoist inspired insurgency rooted in North Vietnamese nationalism and communist ideology. It represented a political insurgency plan and simple and incorporated elements of terrorism and later conventional ground operations into the conflict. The US, by all accounts, won on the battlefield with its soldier to Vietcong and NVA (North Vietnamese Army) exchange rates. Even the Tet Offensive in January 1968 was a military disaster for the North Vietnamese though, as we know, that conflict (and that offensive) had nothing to do with physical victory on the battlefield or exchange rates. Col. Harry Summers encounter with a NVA Colonel after the war made this succinctly clear:

In July 1974 he returned to Vietnam as chief of the Negotiations Division of the Four Party Joint Military Team (FPJMT). The main task of the U.S. delegation was to resolve the status of those Americans still listed as missing. During one of his liaison trips to Hanoi, Harry had his now-famous exchange with his North Vietnamese counterpart. When Harry told him, “You know, you never beat us on the battlefield,” Colonel Tu responded, “That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.” [6].

Mexico, many of us at SWJ El Centro would argue, is facing multiple criminal insurgencies. We are also seeing glimpses of spiritual insurgencies breaking out, derived from narcocultura and narcosaint worship. While the more dominant criminal insurgencies may not have begun with a political component, they have since defacto broadened to include increasingly politicized gangs and cartels. These threat groups, once in a possession of a town, city or region, gain political power as a compliment to their economic and military (criminal gunmen) prowess.

Of extreme consternation in this strategic note is that not only has SEDENA recently highlighted its 18 to 1 soldier-to-criminal exchange rates and proclaimed that it is basically unbeatable on the battlefield [7] (akin to what the US did in Vietnam) but that, in the context of the current war in Mexico, the Mexican army is presently irrelevant to the actual fighting (killing) taking place since a total of 19 of 20 (93-95% of) gang and cartel foot soldier deaths can be accounted for by engagements with opposing gang and cartel commando units and/or personnel.

As we know, the US military was actively engaged in the Vietnam war as a full battlefield participant and did not understand the type of war that was being fought. Hopefully, the Mexican army engaging in its own counter-insurgency operations, has (or will) learn something from the US failure in Vietnam. Soldier-to-criminal exchange rates (i.e. body counts) are not what this conflict is about and the release of information pertaining to those rates looks especially bad when it is provided by a military force which is not a real battlefield participant (as defined by the percentage of criminal combatant deaths) [8].

End Note(s):

1. See Original Spanish article at “Presume Sedena superioridad; muere un soldado por cada 18 criminales.” Proceso. 19 de diciembre de 2011,

2. Gang and cartel foot soldier deaths at the hands of Mexican law enforcement have been factored into these estimates. Community level law enforcement in much of Mexico is outclassed by cartel commandos/personnel and a significant percentage of it is corrupted (which would once again result in gang and cartel killings attributed to opposing gang and cartel forces). The working assumption is that within the 5% of killings attributed to the Mexican military, Mexican law enforcement (primarily Federal) would account for 1-2% of the killings. Even if we assume total Mexican military and federal police killings (of gang and cartel foot soldiers) were 7% of the total the 19 of 20 (adjusted 93% of/ rounded) gang and cartel foot soldier deaths attributed to opposing gang and cartel would still be a viable estimate.

3. The original Spanish source is as follows “Además de los caídos, se ha detenido a dos mil 180 delincuentes lo que, según la Sedena, significa que se ha dejado fuera de circulación a cuatro mil 448 probables responsables de un delito, entre muertos y capturados.” See “Presume Sedena superioridad; muere un soldado por cada 18 criminales.” Proceso. 19 de diciembre de 2011,

4. Ion Grillo, El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2011: 10.

5. Criticisms may be made that the “innocent” US soldier draftees sent to Vietnam did not deserve to die and therefore those deaths were more significant to their home population vis-à-vis the Mexican gang and cartel members whom represent the majority of those killed in Mexico. A counterargument may be made that the criminals killed in Mexico typically belong to large families and that those deaths are taking place locally which not only traumatizes those families but other members of the Mexican citizenry which are being subjected to the gang and cartel violence taking place around them.

6. David T. Zabecki, “Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr., was a soldier, scholar, military analyst, writer, editor and friend.” The Clausewitz Homepage. n.d.,

7. The original Spanish statement attributed to General Ricardo Trevilla is “El vocero de la Sedena, general Ricardo Trevilla, presumió la “superioridad” del Ejército en la lucha contra el crimen organizado. Afirmó que las estadísticas reflejan que el adiestramiento y no las armas, es lo que importa. En ese rubro no existe punto de comparación entre militares y delincuentes, dijo.” See “Presume Sedena superioridad; muere un soldado por cada 18 criminales.” Proceso. 19 de diciembre de 2011,

8. Of additional interest is the Insight Crime and Human Rights Watch (HRW) concerns over the perceived rise in extrajudicial killings by the Mexican army. While such killings under the auspices of international law are indeed designated as ‘war crimes’ the Mexican army, at best, would account for 5% (or less) of the extrajudicial total if a linear projection of their involvement in criminal combatant fatalities is taken. Analysts, and humanitarian focused non-governmental organizations (NGOs) especially, should consider that the probable 95% (or more) of the extrajudicial killings taking place in Mexico at the hands of the gangs and cartel are not in anyway associated with the Mexican army. This perception is not being offered as a justification for extrajudicial killings conducted by the Mexican army, but rather to convey to HRW and others that they are focusing on what appears to be the lesser offender.

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 10

Tue, 12/13/2011 - 2:36pm

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 10:

Fortified Town (Burgward) Strategy Implemented in Tamaulipas

Via “Mexico Inaugurates Military Barracks in Violence-Plagued Town.” Borderland Beat. Saturday 10 December 2011:

Mexican President Felipe Calderon formally inaugurated a military barracks in the violence-racked northeastern town of Ciudad Mier, where he reiterated that the deployment of army soldiers to battle drug-trafficking gangs is a necessary but temporary measure.

He said the new army base will allow time for authorities to recruit and form their own police forces in that town and other areas of Tamaulipas state, saying that the weakness, vulnerability and, in some cases, complicity, of law enforcement had put people “at the mercy of criminals.”

Calderon said Ciudad Mier, a colonial community in Tamaulipas state near the U.S.-Mexico border that was once known as the “Magic Town,” should be a tourist destination but instead was abandoned by its citizens last year because of the presence of criminal gangs.

In late 2010, nearly all of the town’s 6,300 inhabitants fled to neighboring municipalities and across the border into the United States due to fear of drug-related violence.

Many of them had relocated to a shelter in the nearby city of Ciudad Miguel Aleman.

Ciudad Mier, which is located in the “Frontera Chica” region of Tamaulipas, and many other towns in northeastern Mexico found themselves caught up in the war sparked by the March 2010 rupture of the alliance between the Gulf drug cartel and Los Zetas, the cartel’s former armed wing.

The shootouts between gunmen working for the rival cartels occurred for about six months and sometimes lasted as long as eight hours, leaving the streets covered with bullet casings.

In a bid to boost security, the Defense Secretariat ordered the construction of a “mobile” military barracks to house soldiers deployed to Ciudad Mier, a move Calderon said prompted the return of two thirds of the people who had fled the town.

“Ciudad Mier had started to become a community of empty squares, abandoned houses, of shuttered schools and businesses, of bullet-ridden walls. Faced with that situation, the government couldn’t remain with its arms crossed,” Calderon said.

The presence of the army soldiers, who arrived in the second half of 2011, “is gradually helping the people of Ciudad Mier and all of Tamaulipas regain the tranquility that had been snatched away from them by the criminals,” Calderon said.

He said homicides fell by more than 40 percent between the first and second halves of 2011, although he also acknowledged that “the road is long” and much work still remains.

The mobile military barracks, which the president formally inaugurated on Thursday, are capable of housing 600 troops.

The installations are the first of their type in the country, the Defense Secretariat said, noting that the materials used allow them to be taken down easily and moved to other areas as necessary.

The barracks, which occupy an area of 40 hectares (100 acres), respond to the need for mobile units capable of reacting to the contingencies that may arise in Tamaulipas state….

Source: EFE [1].

Analysis: This is a key new (and underappreciated) strategic component in the Mexican government’s response to the criminal insurgencies taking place in that country. The Mexican federal government is implementing a prototype program to reestablish its authority in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico overrun by the cartels and gangs. Specifically, it is garrisoning an Army unit in a 100 acre modular base in close proximity to the abandoned town of Ciudad Mier. Ciudad Mier had been abandoned in late 2010, with most of its 6,300 residents becoming internally displaced persons (IDPs), due to the conflict raging between the Zetas and Gulf cartels. The establishment of the Army garrison (battalion size/600 soldiers) resulted in about two-thirds of the residents of Ciudad Mier returning back to the town.

The intent of the fortified town prototype in Ciudad Mier is to create an island of Federal authority and stability that can then be expanded to retake the surrounding lands that have been lost (what the Mexican government terms “areas of impunity”). This will be undertaken by the creation of new vetted (and uncorrupted) police forces that will then be established in nearby communities. It is assumed that the Ciudad Mier garrison will patrol the countryside in its area of responsibility (AOR) and function as a rapid deployment force that can then come to the aid of these new police forces when they are threatened by larger cartel commando units. No mention has been made of civilian defense forces (militias) being formed in support of the military garrison and police units— though such potentials exist and the creation of those units would have many benefits.

The fortified town strategy is being gradually expanded by the Calderon administration in selected regions of Mexico that have been lost to de facto cartel and gang political authority:

A second army base is being built in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, where 72 migrants, the majority of them from Central America, were massacred by Zetas in August 2010, and a third base is under construction in Ciudad Mante, another strife-torn part of the state [2].

The intent is to build supporting towns to Ciudad Mier that could be utilized to create their own zones of Federal control, mutually support each other, and, as a system of internal defenses, regain control of regions of Tamaulipas via their own battalion sized Army garrisons and subordinated police forces (See Fig. 1).

Of interest is how the fortified town strategy overlaps with Mexico’s growing internally displaced persons (IDPs) issue. This may become a primary Federal strategy to help mitigate it [3].  Also the establishment of such towns ties into very recent Feral cities analysis which discusses 4th (Purple) and 5th (Black) level cities (fully feral/dead cities and criminalized cities, respectively). This promotes the perspective that dead cities can be recolonized by the state and come back as 1st (Green) or 2nd (Yellow) level cites under its authority [4]. Finally, it is expected that the fortified town strategy will eventually be utilized in tandem by the Mexican federal government with some sort of retaking of the slums strategy in the major cities. Such a strategy was recently articulated by Vanda Felbab-Brown, though not specifically focused upon the criminal insurgencies taking place in Mexico [5].

Grand Strategic Analysis: In essence, fortified towns (garrison towns) are being established by means of recolonizing (and stabilizing existing populations) in a region of Mexico lost to the de facto rule of the criminal insurgents. This is pretty much an unheard of development with regard to mature, stable, and modern states. Rather, it is characteristic of centralized states expanding into frontier areas (those expanding territorially) and such states losing control over expanses of their lands (those being overrun by raiders and barbarians). This is very much reminiscent of Roman, and later Holy Roman, Empire frontier towns (burgwards in Europe during the late imperial and post-Western empire eras. The raiders of those eras, however, were early on based on the Germanic tribes and Huns (Magyars) as opposed to today’s cartel (2nd/3rd phase) and gang (3GEN) groupings [6]. Modern parallels to US firebases in Vietnam may be made but the context and type of insurgency (criminal vs Maoist-inspired) make such contentions highly problematic. The historical parallels to the criminal-soldier threats of the late Roman Empire and Dark Ages appear even more viable in light of the multitude of atrocities committed (torture, mutilations, and beheadings), although in this instance with a post-modern contextual overlay.


Figure 1. Federal Mexican Burward Strategy is not to geographic scale. It is a notional figure of how this new strategy may be conceptualized. Military and police unit symbols will vary. While both Mexican Army and OPFOR units have motorized (& mechanized) capabilities the standard infantry symbol is being utilized for these groups.

1. “Mexico Inaugurates Military Barracks in Violence-Plagued Town.” Borderland Beat. Saturday 10 December 2011, The military unit deployed is the 105th Infantry Battalion. The initial story can be traced back to a SEDENA (Mexican ministry of defense) press release. See Naxiely Lopez, “Mexico's president to visit Ciudad Mier today.” The Monitor. 8 December 2011,

2. EFE, “Troops garrison Mexican border town battered by drug war.” Fox News Latino. 25 October 2011,

3.  See Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 8: 230,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Mexico and ‘Narco-Refugee’ Potentials for the United States,

4. Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Integrating Feral Cities and Third Phase Cartels/Third Generation Gangs Research: The Rise of Criminal (Narco) City Networks and BlackFor.” Small Wars & Insurgencies. Special Issue. Volume 22, Issue 5, 2011: 764-786. See

5. Vanda Felbab-Brown, The Brookings Institution. Bringing the State to the Slum: Confronting Organized Crime and Urban Violence in Latin America. See

6. Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Cartel evolution revisited.” Robert J. Bunker, ed., Narcos Over the Border. London: Routledge, 2011: 30-54.

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 9

Mon, 12/05/2011 - 8:13am

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 9:

 Why Does Napolitano Focus on Al Qaeda Lone Wolves

and Ignore the Mexican Cartels?

Via The Associated Press, 2 December 2011. Circulated in major newspapers including the Washington Post, Miami Herald, and the Denver Post:

Napolitano says lone wolf terror threat growing

PARIS (AP) — U.S. Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano says the risk of “lone wolf” attackers is on the rise as the global terrorist threat has shifted in recent years.

Napolitano is also warning about the need to keep dangerous travelers from reaching the United States and urging European partners to finalize a deal on sharing passenger data.

Napolitano, in an interview with The Associated Press, said the agreement is needed to “make sure these global networks and global systems that we all rely on remain safe.” She spoke on a visit to Paris focused on international security cooperation.

Noting current threats to the United States, she singled out al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and “the growth of the lone wolf,” a single attacker not part of a larger conspiracy or network [1].

Analysis:  While the above statements—some might even say political “sound bytes”— uttered by US Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano were directed at America’s European allies, they convey the ongoing Washington obsession with Al Qaeda to the exclusion of other non-state threat entities. The memory of the 9/11 attacks is still a visceral experience for most of our nation’s financial and political elites.

Napolitano now equates lone wolf (Al Qaeda inspired) attackers, who need to take commercial aircraft to reach the US, as a significant threat to our nation [2]. Such terrorists have extremely limited combat capabilities, both destructive and disruptive, and suffer from lack of training, equipment, and finances. They represent nodal criminal-soldiers (devoid of network support) who at best can engage in sporadic active aggressor (shooter) or IED (improvised explosive device) attacks. Such attackers are not the most pressing US national security threat; even if a few got through, the damage inflicted will be inconsequential to the integrity of American society and the functioning of its governmental system [3]. Yes—even a suicide bomber or two detonating in the Mall of the Americas, on Wall Street, or in a high-end bistro in N.W. DC is a survivable attack for our nation, though the media would replay newscasts of the incident ad infinitum and make quite a bit of money off of the ad revenue in the process.

What is most amazing about Napolitano’s statements is that they ignore a far more significant threat derived from geographic proximity, mass of numbers, training and organization, wealth, and corruptive capability. Mexican cartel operatives do not have to take commercial flights to get to the US and hundreds-of-thousands of personnel exist running the gamut from foot-soldiers through lookouts into narcotics production and distribution, street extortion, human trafficking, kidnapping, and bulk thefts. Tens-of-thousands of these cartel members operate in the US in conjunction with US street, prison, and motorcycle gangs which number well in excess of 1 million individuals. The Mexican cartels control more wealth than Al Qaeda ever had at its disposal—even at Osama bin Laden’s high point— and have specialized commando units on par, if not surpassing, the best Al Qaeda could ever field. Further, the Mexican cartels have taken corruption to an art form and have compromised entire regions of the Mexican state. This corruption is now being used in a targeted manner on the US border— hundreds of documented incidents exist— a capability with which Al Qaeda has never possessed to threaten the US homeland. 

Common sense dictates that we address the real threat next door and already over the border— in excess of 1,000 US cities have Mexican cartel operatives in them. While the Mexican cartel threat to the US is subtler than that of Al Qaeda— the 9/11 attacks were indeed fierce and bloody— it is also in many ways more threatening, especially now that Al Qaeda central is a former shell of itself. While ‘border spillover’ attacks and corruption have been downplayed and wide swaths of Mexico resemble a war zone (with well over 45,000 deaths), we continually hear DHS rhetoric about Al Qaeda being the #1 threat to the United States.

Napolitano’s January 2011 statements concerning the cartels have been half-hearted at best:

"So today I say to the cartels: Don’t even think about bringing your violence and tactics across this border," Napolitano told an audience at the University of Texas at El Paso.

“You will be met by an overwhelming response. And we’re going to continue to work with our partners in Mexico to dismantle and defeat you,” she said [4].

Further, in March 2011:

The perception of Mexican drug cartel violence spilling into U.S. border towns is flat-out inaccurate, U.S. Homeland Security boss Janet Napolitano insisted Friday.

Napolitano, speaking in El Paso, Texas, declared that security along the southern U.S. border is at an all-time high.

“There is a perception that the border is worse now than it has ever been,” Napolitano said Friday in El Paso, Texas. “That is wrong. The border is better now than it ever has been.”

As for crime, the image of Mexican drug violence contaminating U.S. border cities is “wrong again,” she said [5].

This statement is in variance with documents such as 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment [6] and Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment [7] which analyze Mexican cartel penetration throughout the US and increasing incidents of border violence taking place, respectively.

Napolitano’s rhetoric is derived from a myopic focus on the “T” (terrorism) designated threat facilitated by her wearing ‘DHS bureaucratic blinders’. Since the Mexican cartel groups are not accorded the same prestige bestowed upon Al Qaeda, they are considered lesser organized crime, gang, and criminal entities. This is somewhat strange given that Napolitano in September 2010 appeared to support the use of the “T” word to describe the cartels while providing US Senate testimony:

Napolitano’s concession that Mexican drug cartels pose a terrorist threat to the United States came while she was testifying beside FBI Director Robert Mueller who told McCain that violence on the Mexican side of the border increased the “national security threat” to the United States, an assessment Napolitano shared.

“Would you agree that the violence in Mexico has dramatically escalated in, say, the last three or four years?” McCain asked.

“Yes,” said Mueller.

“And would you say that, then, increases the national security threat on the other side of our border?” asked McCain.

“Yes,” said Mueller.

When McCain asked Napolitano if she agree with that, Napolitano said, “I think that’s right. Particularly in some of the state of northern Mexico—Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, for example, homicide rates are up dramatically, attacks on government, and, of course, we saw the paper in Juarez just a few days ago, on a front page editorial saying, ‘What do we need to do?’” [8].

Still, the Mexican cartels have not been elevated to a terrorist designation, so Napolitano has since backed away from any “T” word mention. Further, Obama administration policies also appear to be at work [9]. While such bureaucratic, and possibly executive, logic plays well in Washington, it makes little sense to the rest of the nation. We, the people, need to inject some common sense into Washington threat perceptions— if not, Napolitano, or her successor, will be fixating solely on Al Qaeda for years to come and in the process continue to be preoccupied with what has become the second tier national security threat to our nation [10]. 


1. Longer reports also exist re these statements. See Angela Charlton (AP), “Napolitano Says Lone Wolf Terror Threat Growing.” ABC News. 2 December 2011,

2. To be fair, Napolitano also mentions affinity terrorists radicalized within the US. Such terrorists could immediately engage in terrorist attacks against the US homeland. While a long list of ‘lone wolf’, and even ‘gang of guys’, Al Qaeda influenced terrorist incidents (both successful and interdicted) exist, they are still the second tier threat vis-à-vis that of the Mexican cartels.

3. The author has done extensive work on the radical Islamic use of suicide bombing (including that of projecting body cavity bomb use against high value targets and writing law enforcement suicide bomber response guidance) and has been involved in projects related to active aggressor (active shooter) response. Further, he has worked on projects related to early Al Qaeda doctrine and the early characterization of the Al Qaeda network. During the Summer of 2001 a graduate student, Hakim Hazim, worked with him on a special research project pertaining to the growing Al Qaeda threat.

4. Alejandro Martinez-Cabrera. “U.S. warns Mexican cartels on cross-border violence.” Reuters. Monday 31 January 2011,

5. Larry McShane, “Mexico drug violence not spilling into U.S.; security ‘better than ever’: Napolitano.” New York Daily News. Friday 25 March 2011,

6. 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment. National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC): Washington DC, October 2011,

7. Barry R. McCaffrey and Robert H. Scales, Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment. Alexandria VA: COLGEN, September 2011,

8. Edwin Mora, “Napolitano to McCain: Yes, Mexican Cartels Pose Terror Threat to U.S.” CNS News.  24 September  2010,

9. This is reminiscent of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who stated in September 2010 that the conflict in Mexico was looking much like of what took place in Colombia with its battles against the Medellin and Cali cartels in the 1980s and 1990s. President Obama apologized and retracted her usage of the “I” (insurgency) word to describe the situation in Mexico. See Kevin Spak, “Obama Takes Back Clinton’s Comments on Mexico.” Newser. 10 September 2010,

10. Radicalized Islam, Al Qaeda inspired or otherwise, is recognized as the first tier threat to our allies in Europe. This threat goes beyond that of terrorism and includes the potentials for socio-cultural modification of the laws and norms of European society. For example 2,823 honor attacks took place in the United Kingdom last year. See “‘Honour’ attack numbers revealed by UK police forces.” BBC News. 3 December 2011,





Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 8

Sat, 11/19/2011 - 5:27am

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 8: 230,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Mexico and ‘Narco-Refugee’ Potentials for the United States.

Key Information:

Via the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre’s (Oslo) Internal Displacement: Global Overview of Trends and Developments in 2010:

Drug-cartel violence in Mexico escalated dramatically in 2010, with the violence reaching the highest levels since it broke out in 2006; as many as 15,000 people were killed as a result during the year. In 2010, northern states bordering the United States, where trafficking routes were concentrated, were most affected. While the violence has caused forced displacement, the government has not systematically collected figures to indicate its scale.

In 2010, most IDPs originated from the states most affected by violence, Chihuahua and Tamaulipas. Surveys conducted by a research centre in Ciudad Juárez in Chihuahua estimated that around 230,000 people had fled their homes. According to the survey's findings, roughly half of them had crossed the border into the United States, with an estimated 115,000 people left internally displaced, predominantly in the states of Chihuahua, Durango, Coahuila and Veracruz. There have been few attempts to define the scale of displacement in small rural towns in Tamaulipas and Chihuahua, even though the violence is believed to be even more intense in those rural areas. Furthermore, forced displacement has taken place alongside strong economic migration flows, making it harder to identify and document.

In Tamaulipas, the Cartel del Golfo and another cartel known as the Zetas fought for trafficking routes, terrorising the civilian population as a way to assert territorial control, and also targeting local authorities and journalists. The municipalities most affected were Guerrero, Mier, Miguel Alemán, Camargo and Díaz Ordaz.

In Ciudad Mier, a small locality near the border with the United States, the Zetas issued an open threat to all the inhabitants in November 2010, saying that people who remained in the town would be killed. As a result, as many as 400 people fled to the nearby town of Ciudad Miguel Alemán.

In Chihuahua, where the Cartel de Sinaloa began to challenge the dominance of the Cartel de Juárez and its control of trafficking routes, the large industrial town of Ciudad Juárez also experienced increased violence and forced displacement. The Municipal Planning Institute reported in 2010 that there were up to 116,000 empty homes in Juárez.

In 2010, federal authorities did not acknowledge, assess or document the needs of the people displaced, instead focusing their efforts on fighting the drug cartels. International agencies present in the country with protection mandates, including UNHCR and ICRC, followed events but, in the absence of government acquiescence, they did not establish programmes to provide protection and assistance or promote durable solutions for those forcibly displaced…[1].

Via Dr. Paul Rexton Kan’s Mexico’s “Narco-Refugees”: The Looming Challenge for U.S. National Security:

Since 2006, when Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels, there has been a rise in the number of Mexican nationals seeking political asylum in the United States to escape the ongoing drug cartel violence in their home country. Political asylum cases in general are claimed by those who are targeted for their political beliefs or ethnicity in countries that are repressive or are failing. Mexico is neither. Nonetheless, if the health of the Mexican state declines because criminal violence continues, increases, or spreads, U.S. communities will feel an even greater burden on their systems of public safety and public health from “narco-refugees.” Given the ever increasing cruelty of the cartels, the question is whether and how the U.S. Government should begin to prepare for what could be a new wave of migrants coming from Mexico.

Allowing Mexicans to claim asylum could potentially open a flood gate of migrants to the United States during a time when there is a very contentious national debate over U.S. immigration laws pertaining to illegal immigrants. On the other hand, to deny the claims of asylum seekers and return them to Mexico where they might very well be killed, strikes at the heart of American values of justice and humanitarianism. This monograph focuses on the asylum claims of Mexicans who unwillingly leave Mexico rather than those who willingly enter the United States legally or illegally. To successfully navigate through this complex issue will require a greater level of understanding and vigilance at all levels of the U.S. Government [2:vi].


Most news stories and analyses have concentrated on violence, corruption, illicit narcotics/weapons/monetary seizures, and the arrest/killing of cartel leaders in Mexico as a result of the ongoing criminal insurgencies taking place in that country.  The issue of large numbers of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) now found in Mexico due to the effects of cartel and gang violence has been generally overlooked. Insights provided by the Justice in Mexico Project (Trans-Border Institute, University of San Diego) pertaining to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre report suggest:

The report also stressed that the Mexican government does not compile displacement figures for people who have had to leave their homes because of “turf battles” between drug cartels, which has forced the Centre to rely on information from local researchers. Based on this information, the Centre estimates that as many as half of Mexico’s IDPs may have migrated to the United States.

While Mexico does not account for displaced populations as a result of the drug war, the Mexican Census taken in mid-2010 revealed that two-thirds of the homes in Praxedis G. Guerrero, a town east of Ciudad Juarez, have been abandoned, most likely due to the violence created from the wars between the Sinoloa and Juarez cartels in the area. The Internal Displacement report also indicates that many IDPs in Mexico were forced to move from their places of origins by other causes than drug violence, such as the 1994 Chiapas uprising [3].

Many Mexican security experts who have analyzed the narco wars    were unaware of the IDP issue or at least downplayed its significance. Until last year, the fact that 116,000 empty homes in Juárez existed was not known to many security analysts. This was evident in the RAND Delphi expert elicitation published as The Challenges of Violent Drug-Trafficking Organizations in October 2011.  This issue can be viewed pertaining to Table 4-1 as it relates to the ‘Demographics: Houses significant refugees or internally displaced persons’ scores. The rounded result and unrest score were both ‘0’ [4:43]. The experts participating could conceivably attest to the spirited debates related to this specific issue (Note—the mean score was 0.18 as shown in Table 3.1 [4:33]).

Policies focusing on ‘Narco-Refugees’—individuals who leave Mexico unwillingly and submit asylum claims in the U.S. as political refugees— also need to be further developed. Since cartels and gangs are de facto considered apolitical organizations (even though armed, violent, and increasingly politicized)— individuals who flee from local cartel and gang threats can be caught in a ‘Catch 22 situation’ when seeking political refugee status. Additionally, ‘Mexi-stan’ concerns and the interrelationship of U.S. drug policy vis-à-vis immigration policy and national security as they relate to the ‘narco-refugee’ phenomenon as highlighted by Dr. Kan [2:29] have to be further examined. This later insight was earlier highlighted by Tony Payan in The Three U.S.-Mexico Border Wars: Drugs, Immigration, and Homeland Security published in 2006 [5], though he warned of not conflating these issues [2:5, 5:20]. Still, it is important for SWJ readers to recognize that Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) exist in Mexico due to the criminal insurgencies taking place and that ‘Narco-Refugee’ potentials increasingly exist for the United States.


1. Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Internal Displacement: Global Overview of Trends and Developments in 2010. Oslo: Norwegian Refugee Council, March 2011, [This partial synopsis was taken from “Internal Displacement: Global Overview of Trends and Developments in 2010 – Mexico.” Refworld, UNHCR. 18 November 2011,,4565c2253e,4565c25f49d,4d932e1bc,0,,,MEX.html].

2. Paul Rexton Kan, Mexico’s “Narco-Refugees”: The Looming Challenge for U.S. National Security. Carisle: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, October 2011,

3. Justice in Mexico Project, “Report Indicates 230,000 Internally Displaced Persons in Mexico.” San Diego: Trans-Border Institute, University of San Diego, 28 March 2011, This article in turn cites Mark Stevenson, “Report: 230,000 Displaced by Mexico’s Drug War.” Forbes. 25 March 2011 and “Report: 230,000 Displaced by Mexico Drug War.” Jamaica Observer. 25 March 2011.

4. Christopher Paul, Agnes Gereben Schaefer, and Colin P. Clarke, The Challenge of Violent Drug-Trafficking Organizations: An Assessment of Mexican Security Based on Existing RAND Research on Urban Unrest, Insurgency, and Defense-Sector Reform. Santa Monica: RAND, October 2011,

5. Tony Payan, The Three U.S.-Mexico Border Wars: Drugs, Immigration, and Homeland Security. Westport: Praeger Security International, 2006.

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 7

Thu, 11/10/2011 - 8:02am

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 7: US National Security and the Mexican Cartels: Proceso Magazine Interview with Dr. Robert J. Bunker

Jorge Carrasco Araizaga, reporter on military and judicial issues for, conducted an interview of the author pertaining to various elements of US national security and the Mexican cartels. The interview appeared in Proceso Magazine 6 de noviembre de 2011 (No. 1827). Proceso is a liberal—some would say left-wing— magazine which has shown a willingness to continue reporting on the criminal insurgencies taking place in Mexico. Given the ongoing cartel campaigns to silence journalists in Mexico, and the Sunday 6 November 2011 armed gunmen entry and ensuing arson attack on El Bueno Tono (“The Good Tone”) newspaper in Cordoba, Veracruz which gutted their offices [1], the willingness of Proceso to continue engaging in the freedom of the press (regardless of their politics) has to be respected.

Key Information: Interview Based Article

El imperio busca otros enemigos... en México

Jorge Carrasco Araizaga

2011-11-06 00:01:35 · Comentarios Desactivados


Una vez que su misión en Irak y Afganistán está a punto de culminar, el aparato militar estadunidense reenfoca un objetivo sensible: México. Es el principio de un cambio de prioridades –lo que en términos de la lógica del imperio implica buscar justificaciones para desatar nuevas guerras– en los “imperativos estratégicos” de Washington hacia su frontera sur, asegura a Proceso el experto en temas militares Robert J. Bunker, y advierte: ese cambio “será lento, pero ocurrirá”. Según este analista, las organizaciones delictivas mexicanas “son mucho más que eso. Son delincuentes insurgentes que de facto están ganando poder vía campañas de violencia y corrupción”. (Note—Requires subscription).

The entire interview based article in Spanish is posted at this blogger site:

Initial Interview Questions and Responses:

In order to ensure that the initial interview questions and responses are available to English readers, they are posted below. This will also ensure that the nuances of the responses that were then translated from English to Spanish are archived for researchers and not lost. The questions were submitted by Proceso and then responded to by the author in written form to ensure accuracy of response.

1. What does it mean the information related to the alleged plots against US interest in and from México?

It means either that the Iranian state’s capability to pull off highly successful and complex terrorist bombings has degraded to the point that it requires an Iranian-American used-car salesman operative and Mexican cartel assassins or that the alleged plot itself should be seriously re-examined. I’d go with the later. The best scenario we could come up with would be that of a self-radicalized ‘affinity’ terrorist, Manssor Arbabsiar, seeking to have the Saudi ambassador to the US killed and some embassies attacked. This neither makes him an Iranian state agent nor a member of the proxy Hezbollah terrorist group. We see Al Qaeda ‘affinity’ terrorists arising quite frequently via self and internet influenced radicalization.  The fellow was definitely operating above his terrorist planning skill set. Did Arbabsiar have a renegade Al Quds backer? Was it Gholam Shakuri? This may or may not have some validity and is actually of the most concern—it would mean very hard line factions exist in Iran—a nation bent on developing its own nuclear weapons. Still, it does not mean that this was an Iranian state sanctioned operation nor that the Los Zetas cartel would ever be involved in a high profile attack in Washington DC.

2. What are the facts supporting that versions?

The facts are derived from the filing of a Federal case against Arbabsiar and Shakuri. It is based on recordings of Arbabsiar made by the shadowy  ‘CS-1’, a paid DEA informant, who posed as Mexican cartel member. Much of this analysis is derived from fragmentary information reported in the media and is thus speculative in nature.

3. The Mexican Navy said the alleged report on the Islamic terrorist was a false paper. Who to believe to? Was an American leak to Borderland Beat or is an Mexican government lie?

We have no idea whom to believe. The first rule in something like this is to deny it, deny it, and then deny it again. I’m sure a forensic analysis of the document could be conducted to try to authenticate it. One of the questions to be asked is, if this is a counterfeit document, who would gain by undertaking this action.

4. On the alleged Iranian plot, many did not gave much credibility, because the main goal of the Mexican Cartel is to make money, and no attack to the US, because they are afraid of retaliations. What do you say to our readers?

The alleged Iranian state plot makes absolutely no sense and appeared to be used by some for ‘political coinage’ in Washington DC. Notice how the story has quickly died down. It sounded like a bad movie plot with elements of differing threat groups thrown together. Neither Iran, Hezbollah (a proxy), or Los Zetas want to put themselves in the direct gunsights of the American giant —strategically, it is far better for Al Qaeda to be allowed to remain the major focus of US attentions. And, yes— the threat of massive and overwhelming retaliation still does have some deterrent value.

5. You have asked for a shift in the American strategic imperative from Iraq/Afganistan to México. Are there the political conditions in Washington to do so or it is taking place, already? That means that Mexican cartels are now as dangerous as Al Qaeda for the US national security?

When I testified before a US Congressional Committee in September 2011, a number of congressmen, both implicitly and on the record, agreed with the assessment that the Mexican cartels—rather than Al Qaeda— should now be considered a greater national security threat to the United States. The view that ‘criminal insurgencies’ were taking place in Mexico, ones in which de facto political control was shifting to the cartels in the ‘areas of impunity’, was also discussed and the perception accepted by a number of the congressmen on the committee. With this said, US foreign policy is much like that of an oil supertanker— altering course is a painfully slow process. Bureaucratic inertia and vested agency interests to continue to focus on Al Qaeda as the #1 threat will mean that change will come slowly—but it will come. 

6. How the American experience in Iraq/Afganistan, both military and civilian, can be transferred to México?

The American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan is not something that can be easily transferable to Mexico—nor should it be. Those conflicts encompassed violent radical Islamic groups, tribalism and competing religious Shia and Sunni religious views, the power politics of neighboring states, and the endemic use of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and suicide bombers. Much of the American nation-building experience in those conflicts have no relevance to Mexico. The dominant issues for Mexico focus on basic security, corruption, and the challenge of narcoauthority (and culture) to Mexican state sovereignty.  

7. US soldiers are sharing that experience with Mexico, already?

Where immediate lessons learned will come into play will be with the use of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) for real time intelligence support/targeting identification for Mexican Federal forces. They will not, however, be used for the actual elimination (targeted killing) of cartel personnel. Also the US military has quite a bit of experience in the use of social networking analysis applied to insurgent forces. This would be very useful as an intelligence support function for the Mexican authorities as they analyze the various cartel networks.

8. What kind of contributions can make the US contractors In México?

US contractors can provide logistical, intelligence, analytical, and training support. This would place them in a general contracting role and they would be up against domestic Mexican and foreign corporations also competing to fulfill these services. The Mexican government would probably would keep a strict limit on how many US contractors they might use but private and public Mexican corporations and the multinationals with operations in Mexico will go with the best deals they can cut in a globalized and highly competitive business environment. 

9. One concern in Mexico is the possibility of American mercenaries come dawn to the country via the private security contractors, in order to confront the cartels. Are there reasons to believe that?

As military contracts begin to dry up in Iraq and Afghanistan, it would only be natural for American private military corporations to look at the conflict in Mexico as a new area for business development. I believe private Colombian organizations also have an eye on this emerging market. This is no different than the Blackwater (later Xe) Corporation seeking to provide security services, and providing them, in post-Katrina New Orleans in 2005. I’m guessing that Mexican owned and manned private security corporations are doing a booming contract business already. Given the cost-effectiveness, cultural and language factors, and far greater political acceptability of using local security companies, immense barriers of entry would exist for foreign private security contractors. Also, I don’t think Mexico wants or needs them. This of course assumes that the majority of the Mexican security companies remain uncorrupted by cartel influences. 

10. What is your opinion on the Fast and Furious Operation and the Vicente Zambada criminal case in Chicago, who says the Sinaloa cartel had a deal with the DEA?

a. Opinion on the Fast and Furious Operation:

It appeared to originate at a relatively high management level in the US BATF. It would definitely require authorization much higher than that of the regional level. Apparently, at least eleven BATF Agents and senior managers protested this operation during its earliest stages. This, unfortunately, is a prime case of one or more high level BATF manager(s) being out of touch with tactical and operational realities. Cartel confederates purchased possibly over fifty Barrett .50 caliber rifles and about 2,500 other firearms, including AK-47 semi-automatic rifles. The purported purpose for this operation was to track the path of the weapons once they entered Mexico.  It is extremely difficult to understand from any law enforcement perspective what value, if any, could be realized from such an operation.

b. Opinion on Vicente Zambada criminal case in Chicago, who says the Sinaloa cartel had a deal with the DEA?

He has absolutely nothing to lose by saying this since he is looking at considerable prison time. Possibly he is trying to cut a deal for a reduced sentence. Strategically, if the DEA gave the suppression of the Sinaloa cartel a lower priority in its operations—as opposed to the other cartels— this would make some sense. It would represent a law enforcement triage approach to contending with these threats—this, however, would not mean that the DEA had a hand shake deal with the Sinaloa cartel. Any notion that the DEA is working with that cartel strikes me as a conspiracy theory. The DEA does not inherently like or will favor one cartel over another— the Enrique “Kiki” Camarena saga from the mid-1980s shows the lengths that organization will go to avenge the death of its agents and its inherent loathing for drug trafficking organizations in general.

11. Giving the evolution of the Mexican cartels, it is correct to say that the Mexican intelligence services, both civilian and military, were surpassed?

My estimate is that these intelligence services were initially blindsided by Calderon’s military deployments/initiatives in December 2006 against the cartels in areas of the country over which the state was losing control. They surely were not given much early warning of what was coming via the new administration’s policies. They have since had to recover and have done so fairly well—though they keep facing cartel counter-moves and unintended second order effects of the governmental policies. Cartel movement into parts of Central America to set up safe havens/logistical bases is a prime example of a counter-move. The morphing of the cartels from illicit narcotics based (drug gangs) to multiple illicit revenue streams via street taxation, kidnapping, bulk fuel theft, human smuggling (making them polygot criminal entities) and the development of a larger illicit narcotics market in Mexico represent unintended second order effects. The cartels exist in that ‘blurring between crime and war’ arena—this is maddening from a criminal intelligence (policing) and military intelligence (warfighting) perspective. The cartels, as criminal-soldier based entities, are difficult for intelligence services to contend with because a blended form of intelligence is required to counter them.

12. Could you point out the strategic and tactical errors of the Mexican government fighting the cartels, as well theirs achievements?

The first strategic error is continuing to characterize and respond to the cartels as simple organized criminals—they are much more than that. They are criminal insurgents and are gaining de facto political power via campaigns of violence and corruption —in some regions the local cartel bosses look a lot like medieval warlords. The second strategic error is the ongoing centralization of the effort against the cartels. Eliminating local police forces in favor of state or national level forces only would be a great mistake. While a centralized effort is required and should be coordinated from Mexico City, it has to be blended with a bottom up and local operational area networked response. Strategic achievements have been the targeting and elimination (arrest or killing) of much of the higher level cartel leadership of the various cartels and what appears to be the policy of targeting the most violent cartels—La Familia and Los Zetas—first. This strategy was undertaken in Colombia years ago with first the elimination of the more violent Medellin cartel followed by the elimination of the more subtle Cali cartel. Note— tactical errors are of little consequence. Also— I think, in retrospect historians, will be very kind to President Calderon, but it might take some decades. He saw what needed to be done and did it. The majority of Americans really respect that. He will probably always be considered a failure as a politician—but then great statesmen such as Calderon put the good of their nation above party politics.  


1. From, “Newspaper Office in Vera Cruz Mexico Set on Fire.” Borderland Beat. Sunday, 6 November 2011,

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 6

Tue, 10/25/2011 - 3:24pm

Key Information:

Via 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment – Emerging Trends. National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC): Washington DC, October 2011. (

Gangs are expanding, evolving and posing an increasing threat to US communities nationwide. Many gangs are sophisticated criminal networks with members who are violent, distribute wholesale quantities of drugs, and develop and maintain close working relationships with members and associates of transnational criminal/drug trafficking organizations. Gangs are becoming more violent while engaging in less typical and lower-risk crime, such as prostitution and white-collar crime. Gangs are more adaptable, organized, sophisticated, and opportunistic, exploiting new and advanced technology as a means to recruit, communicate discretely, target their rivals, and perpetuate their criminal activity… 

Gang Membership and Expansion

Approximately 1.4 million active street, OMG [outlaw motorcycle gang], and prison gang members, comprising more than 33,000 gangs, are criminally active within all 50 US states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico (see Appendix A). This represents a 40 percent increase from an estimated 1 million gang members in 2009. The NGIC attributes this increase in gang membership primarily to improved reporting, more aggressive recruitment efforts by gangs, the formation of new gangs, new opportunities for drug trafficking, and collaboration with rival gangs and drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). Law enforcement in several jurisdictions also attribute the increase in gang membership in their region to the gangster rap culture, the facilitation of communication and recruitment through the Internet and social media, the proliferation of generational gang members, and a shortage of resources to combat gangs.

Source: NGIC and NDIC 2010 National Drug Survey Data (For Public Release)

Analysis: The recently released 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment – Emerging Trends is published as a 104 page document in PDF and HTML forms.  This sobering document represents an update to the 2009 assessment. Of specific concern is the increase in active gang membership from 1 million to 1.4 million over a two-year period. This increase is primarily attributed to better reporting procedures, increased gang recruitment and acceptance in some sectors of society, and the illicit economic benefits of gang membership. While not all the gangs profiled in the assessment have links to the Mexican cartels, identified as Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations [MDTOs], six of these cartels have linkages to the following gangs on both sides of the US-Mexican border [pp. 84-85]:

  • Arizona Mexican Mafia (Old & New)
  • Barrio Azteca
  • Border Brothers (California)
  • Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos
  • Latin Kings
  • Los Carnales
  • Los Negros
  • Mexican Mafia (California)
  • Mexikanemi
  • MS-13
  • New Mexico Syndicate
  • Partido Revolutionary Mexicano
  • Raza Unida
  • Sureños
  • Texas Chicano Brotherhood
  • Texas Syndicate
  • West Texas Tangos
  • Wet Back Power

These linkages are even more inclusive on a local level according to the 2010 California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) open source report [See p. 26]. The dominant areas of gang presence in the US, by county, also have some correlation with the South Western region per the attached map, though much of the information for the State of Texas was not included in the assessment.

Further trends (selected) were identified in the key findings section of the assessment and should be noted. These are:

• An average of 48 percent of violent crime in most jurisdictions can be attributed to gang members.

• Some gang members have gone beyond simple involvement with illicit trafficking and are working for the Mexican cartel as enforcers.  

• Gang members, relatives, and associates, are encouraged to join law enforcement and other public agencies for information gathering purposes

• The members of over 50 gangs have been identified in domestic and foreign US military bases. Concern exists regarding such members “…learning advance weaponry and combat techniques.” 

• Gang members are acquiring high-powered military weaponry and equipment including bullet proof vests and various forms of police and official identification.

While gangs are recognized as an increasing threat to US communities, they are viewed as solely a law enforcement problem within the assessment. The growing military-like capabilities of gangs, however, has been noted in the outlook section of the document:

Gang members armed with high-powered weapons and knowledge and expertise acquired from employment in law enforcement, corrections, or the military may pose an increasing nationwide threat, as they employ these tactics and weapons against law enforcement officials, rival gang members, and civilians (p. 45).

This concern appears to be active-aggressor and tactical-unit focused. It is also projected in the assessment that either gang expansion or displacement into new areas will take place as criminal opportunities are identified.

Suggestions: Further analytical development of this assessment is warranted in two particular areas of concern. The first is the use of the term ‘gang evolution’. While the term is utilized, it is not grounded to any form of modal analysis—such as gang generational studies (3GEN Gangs) [1]. The evolution of the gangs stated to be taking place in the assessment is thus left open ended—something is happening but what it is is unknown. Gangs are simply said to be becoming more collaborative with rivals and criminal organizations, sophisticated, profit focused, and technologically savvy. Attempts to provide early warning and trends and threats analysis is therefore very basic in its execution. The second area of concern is the publication of this assessment and the publication of the 2011 National Drug Threat Assessment document ( These documents are becoming increasingly intertwined, even blurred, yet the illicit drug market and the Mexican cartels discussed in one document and the various forms of gangs (street, prison, and OMG) discussed in the other are separated by an artificial ‘institutional firebreak’ within US law enforcement response. With 1.4 million active street, OMG, and prison gang members in the United States, and Mexican cartel operations now taking place in over 1,000 US cities [2], this information and response seam is unacceptable. It represents a dysfunctional bureaucratic barrier— the old Federal stovepipes and rice bowls approach— to an evolving and increasingly networked national security threat. Serious consideration should be given to blending these two documents together into a future strategic assessment in order to present a more comprehensive picture of the larger threat we as a nation are facing. 


1. The original document concerning this area of studies is John P. Sullivan, “Third Generation Street Gangs; Turf, Cartels, and Net Warriors.” Transnational Organized Crime. Vol. 3. No. 3. Autumn 1997: 95-108. Numerous documents have since been published on this area of gang studies. For an initial primer, see John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, “Third Generation Gang Studies: An Introduction.” Journal of Gang Research. Vol. 14. No. 4. Summer 2007: 1-10.

2. See Robert Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Strategic Note: Mexican Cartels (Transnational Criminal Organizations) Now Operating in Over 1,000 US Cities; Up From 195 US Cities.” Small Wars Journal. 25 September 2011,

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 5

Wed, 10/19/2011 - 5:25pm

Key Information:

Via the statement of Alan Bersin, Commissioner, Customs and Border Protection (June 2011):

Since October 1, 2004, 127 CBP employees have been arrested or indicted for acts of corruption including drug smuggling, alien smuggling, money laundering, and conspiracy. Of the 127 arrests, 95 are considered mission compromising acts of corruption. This means that the employee’s illegal activities were for personal gain and violated, or facilitated the violation of, the laws CBP personnel are charged with enforcing. An example of the impact a single corrupt employee can make through a mission compromising act of corruption can be seen in the instance of former CBP Technician Martha Garnica who was indicted federally in 2009. In 2010 Garnica was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison, ordered to pay a $5,000 fine, and serve four years of supervised release after pleading guilty to conspiring to import over 100 kilograms of marijuana into the United States, conspiring to smuggle undocumented aliens, three counts of bribery of a public official, and one count of importation of a controlled substance.

Apart from the 95 cases identified above, the remaining 32 arrests are considered non-mission compromising acts of corruption in which the employee’s illegal activities involved the misuse or abuse of the knowledge, access, or authority granted by virtue of their official position in a manner that did not facilitate the violation of laws that the agency is charged with enforcing at the border. These cases fall into one of five broad categories: Theft; Fraud; Misuse of a Government Computer/Database; False Statements; and Drug-Related Offenses [1].

See Crossing the line: Corruption at the border; 128 cases shown [] at Center for Investigative Reporting for specific case information. The interactive site contains individual case profiles, supporting documentation, and case statistics; gender, agency, years or service, type of crime, state, year, age and duty station [2].  


Much of the concern relating to the Mexican cartels focuses on acts of violence such as homicides, assaults, and torture along with the illicit economic activities of narcotics trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, bulk thefts, and human smuggling. A large component of Mexican cartel operations is derived from the targeted corruption of public officials within their areas of operation. The initial intent is to achieve impunity and freedom of action. This represents the ‘insurgency’ element of the criminal insurgencies taking place in Mexico, Central America, and now over the US Southern Border, an element, according to John Sullivan, that is still not recognized by many individuals. Essentially, the public agency (be it local, state or federal) being targeted is compromised one official at a time. When combined with the threat (and subsequent use) of violence the well known cartel technique of offering the choice of silver or lead (¿Plata O Plomo?) is achieved. This is akin to the environmental modification of a street, barrio, or plaza controlled by a cartel or gang with the imposition of a new set of values (narcocultura) and rules (cartel political authority)— though, in this instance, it is directed at a public entity in order to compromise and co-opt it (representing the aggregate of all of the individuals corrupted). What has worked so successfully in Mexico and Central America is now being incrementally utilized by the cartels against the United States’ ports of entry—and, we can also assume, much deeper into the US homeland. The following quote from Alan Bersin is most telling in this regard:

CBP IA agents participate as active members of the FBI-led National Border Corruption Task Force (NBCTF) initiative. Presently, CBP IA agents are deployed in 22 Border Corruption Task Forces (BCTFs) and/or Public Corruption Task Forces (PCTFs) nationwide, including 13 task forces operating along the southwest border. These multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency task forces share information, intelligence, and investigative resources in an effort to combat border corruption. The task force approach serves as a force multiplier on corruption investigations and allows for a higher level of return on the investment of appropriated resources [1].

The FBI-led National Border Corruption Task Force (NBCTF) initiative is now very active and appears to be growing. How this threat to US sovereignty will further evolve is unknown. What is recognized is that as a nation we can recover from cartel violence directed at our officials and our citizens—the corruption of our public institutions is an entirely different matter. This element of the criminal insurgent threat represented by the Mexican cartels must not be underestimated. Per Andrew Becker and Richard Maros:

Since 2006, the number of investigations has more than tripled, from 244 to about 870 last year, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General [3].

We already have at least 127 Customs and Border Protection employees indicted or convicted in corruption cases—that list is going to grow along with that of public officials in other city, state, and federal agencies. The question is to what extent and, ultimately, what our national response is going to be to protect our public institutions from criminal co-option.


This Strategic Note is a byproduct of discussions between the author, John Sullivan, and Dr. David Shirk after the Justiciabarómetro Ciudad Juarez Police Survey event held at the Trans-Border Institute (TBI), University of San Diego, San Diego, CA., Tuesday 18 October 2011. The author would like to thank John Sullivan for his analytical insights pertaining to criminal insurgencies and to David Shirk for his identification of the Center for Investigative Reporting border corruption case dataset.


1. Statement of Alan Bersin, Commissioner, Customs and Border Protection, before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery and Intergovernmental Affairs on “Border Corruption: Assessing Customs and Border Protection and The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General's Office Collaboration in the Fight to Prevent Corruption.” 9 June 2011.

2. Crossing the line: Corruption at the border; 128 cases shown. Center for Investigative Reporting. 17 October 2011. (See also the extensive list of news reports and documents).

3. Andrew Becker and Richard Marosi, “Border agency’s rapid growth accompanied by rise in corruption.” Center for Investigative Reporting. 17 October 2011.

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 4

Wed, 10/12/2011 - 5:16pm

The Document: Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment was published in September 2011 and authored by Barry McCaffrey and Robert Scales, Ph.D. — both retired Army generals and highly respected national security thinkers. Colgen LP ( was commissioned by Texas Department of Agriculture which was tasked by the 82nd Texas Legislature to undertake this assessment. The document, which garnered significant media attention when first released, can be accessed at:

The main document is 59 pages in length and also contains a section with additional pages composed of twelve attachments. The document has an executive summary and a general bibliography of works influencing the assessment but is not endnoted. The study was initially prompted by the pleas of rural farmers and ranchers in Texas to help secure the border due to the Mexican cartels establishing themselves on their lands. Per Commissioner Todd Staples, Texas Department of Agriculture:

The report offers a military perspective on how to best incorporate strategic, operational, and tactical measures to secure the increasingly hostile border regions along the Rio Grande River. It also provides sobering evidence of cartel criminals gaining ground on Texas soil.

In addition to a discussion of the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of conflict, high points of the report go on to discuss Texas as a narco-sanctuary, the State of Texas’ organization for combat via a Unified Command system, the role of the Texas Rangers, the effectiveness and flexibility of the system utilized by Texas law enforcement, and solving border security problems together. General recommendations in paragraph form are then provided concerning communications and the network, operations, intelligence, technology, and learning to further enhance the Texas border security system.

Analysis:  This is a very significant and cogent assessment and will greatly impact the Mexican cartel debate that is taking place in the United States. What is most striking is that the State of Texas was compelled to commission a report that took a military analytical perspective on Mexican cartel spillover—essentially narco-sanctuary emergence on American soil with dedicated battalion/brigade level equivalent C2 (command and control) facilities (p. 19). While such sanctuaries have been established in Central America by the cartels, the fact that they are now found in the border counties of Texas is of immense concern. Additionally, the attachments found in the report were meant to provide concrete proof of the magnitude of the threat posed by the cartels and their gang associates in both Texas and Mexico.

While the report will primarily have operational level utility, via the recommendations made, for Texas law enforcement, it raises more strategic and political questions than it answers— thought this surely has to be part of the intent of the 82nd Texas Legislature in commissioning it. The report helps to bring the media spotlight to the conflict in Texas— one of the many theaters of operations the cartels and gangs are now engaged—albeit a transit center of gravity into the US with all the major plazas it contains.

One strategic questioned raised concerns the corruptive influence of the cartels in addition to their propensity for violence. The assessment was written by retired generals and is primarily focused on cartel ‘combat potentials’ and a military-like response to them. Of increasing concern is the undermining of US public and law enforcement officials and institutions. This poses an equal if not greater threat to the State of Texas. The ¿Plata O Plomo? (Silver or Lead) technique of using corruption and violence directed against a law enforcement unit to negate it is synergistic in nature and no different in many ways than the use of armor, infantry, and artillery forces to negate an opposing military unit.

One broader political question raised by this report is the relationship between the US Federal Government and the State of Texas. The Federal Government has many obligations to the entire nation— to ensure our economic prosperity (via programs such as NAFTA), to provide for the health and welfare of US citizens (via National Drug Control policy), and to maintain lawful immigration and guest visitor programs (via National Immigration policy). Arguably, it is not scoring high marks on the later of these obligations and very mixed results on the former ones. Where it is fully deficient is in contending with Mexican cartel penetration into the United States, the association of these cartels with gangs and other criminal groups, and the more encompassing illicit economies on which they capitalize. The State of Texas is facing much of the brunt of this issue— though Arizona is also significantly impacted with the kidnappings, incidents of public corruption, and cartel operatives deployed in its border zones.

By all appearances, ‘Texas is being hung out to dry’ by the current executive administration and legislative houses in Washington DC. While this might not be the case, the current DC power structures appear for the most part either in denial or at a loss or unable to respond to the situation taking place in Texas. Quite possibly we are now faced with an “intractable national problem” that is coinciding with massive governmental debt and deficit, polarized political parties full of too many politicians and too few statesmen, a still recovering global economy, and an upcoming presidential election year. None of these bode well for the situation in Texas, a state that is increasingly on a combat footing against Mexican cartel intrusions onto sovereign US soil.