DEA agents with captured Zetas leader Osiel Cardenas

A newspaper in Mexico has revealed US officials met with members of Mexican cartels throughout the past decade, a little reported but common tactic as authorities seek to identify and isolate targets in the "war on drugs."

As part of the El Universal investigation, the newspaper obtained legal documents from both US and Mexican agencies that proved agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and investigators from the Justice Department met with members of various Mexican cartels in an attempt to gather information on their rivals.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

According to the investigation, the US government was aware of the meetings, while Mexican agencies which knew about them made no attempts to inform the country's Congress. The documents showed that US officials established a network of informants in the cartels and passed on information to Mexican authorities, which used it to carry out anti-drug operations without revealing how they were made aware of the people or drugs they targeted.

As well as highlighting meetings between the DEA and members of the Gulf Cartel between 2009 and 2011 -- part of efforts to combat the Zetas when they were at the height of their expansive power -- the documents demonstrated that meetings had taken place between the DEA and Vicente Zambada -- the son of Sinaloa Cartel boss Ismael Zambada -- who is currently awaiting trial on drugs charges in Chicago and has claimed as part of his defense that he had immunity.

InSight Crime Analysis

The detailed revelations show the US continues to work with criminal elements as part of antinarcotics efforts. This is not some conspiracy to protect or favor certain groups -- it is a tactic employed by the DEA and other US agencies to allow them to focus efforts on priority targets, and allow them to build solid cases. A prime example can be seen during the hunt for Pablo Escobar, when there was contact between US agents and Diego Murillo, alias Don Berna -- among other criminals -- who would himself later rise to lead the Medellin underworld. Murillo was eventually captured and extradited to the United States, where he is currently serving a long-term sentence for drug trafficking and money laundering.

As the case of Murillo demonstrates, collaboration with US authorities does not preclude informants later becoming a law enforcement target -- so the fact Vicente Zambada is known to have spoken with US agents does not offer weight to claims by his defense that he was immune from prosecution. It also means that, if US operational focus has at time favored one cartel over another, it can quickly shift, making former collaborators the new priority. 

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

In the northwest corner of Guatemala, a little known criminal organization known as the "Huistas" dominates the underworld, in large part due its ties with businessmen, law enforcement officials and politicians.

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala is Central America’s most populous country and its largest economy. But an intransigent elite, an ambitious military and a weak state has opened the way for organized crime to flourish, especially since the return of democracy.

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Rodrigo Tovar Pupo never imagined it would come to this: dressed in an orange jumpsuit in a Washington DC courtroom and standing in front of a United States federal judge, the grandson of a wealthy Colombian cattle rancher and nephew to a governor was facing a possible...

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

This project defines organized crime as: a structured group of people that associate on a regular and prolonged basis to benefit from illicit activities and illegal markets. This group can be local, national or transnational in nature, and its existence is maintained using violence and threats; corruption...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Like any arm of the justice system, the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG) had its battles with elites who used their charm and their muscle to try to influence what and who the celebrated commission...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

As it tends to happen in Honduras, the news began as a well-heeled rumor: Javier Rivera Maradiaga, the oldest of the three Rivera Maradiaga brothers still alive and leader of the feared and powerful Honduran drug trafficking group known as the Cachiros, had handed himself in to...

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

By the end of 1993, Pablo Escobar was cornered. The cocaine king -- known as "El Patrón" -- was running out of money and options. His top assassins were either dead or had turned themselves in. Almost all of the senior members of the Medellín Cartel were...

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Organized crime is not an abstract concept for me. I grew up in Oak Park, a leafy suburb of Chicago with a population of about 60,000. In general, it was a very low crime city, which is perhaps why many mobsters made their homes there, among them...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

On the morning of April 5, 1988, Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros left his palatial Tegucigalpa estate for a jog. Matta Ballesteros was wanted for murder, drug trafficking and other crimes in several countries, but in Honduras he felt safe. He regularly hosted parties for high-level officials at...

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC have always had a love-hate relationship with drugs. They love the money it brings, funds which have allowed them to survive and even threaten to topple the state at the end of the 1990s. They hate the corruption and stigma narcotics have also brought to...