A former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) official has said that Mexican drug gang the Zetas buys weapons in Dallas and flies them to El Paso, before taking them over the border into Mexico.
According to The El Paso Times, Phil Jordan, a former head of the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) and CIA operative, revealed details of the group’s arms trafficking operations. “They are purchasing weapons in the Dallas area and are flying them to El Paso, and then they are taking them across the border into Juarez,” the former DEA agent told the paper. Jordan, who works as a consultant but reportedly still has contact with active law enforcement officers, also noted that the arrangement was “ironic,” because the same airport used by the cartel, the Alliance Airport, is also the site of the DEA’s Aviation Operations Center (see map below).
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This claim was echoed by Robert Plumlee, a former contract pilot for the CIA, who said that the Zetas have purchased property in the Columbus-Palomas border region in New Mexico which they use as a safehouse for weapons and other illicit goods. Plumlee also said he had attended a June debriefing with U.S. Border Patrol agents, in which they discussed concerns that the Zetas may have bought weapons through a U.S. government program.
“From the intel, it appears that a company was set up in Mexico to purchase weapons through the U.S. Direct Commercial Sales program, and that the company may have had a direct link to the Zetas,” said Plumee.
The U.S. State Department’s Direct Commercial Sales program was set up to oversee private weapons sales to foreign firms. According to the defense monitoring website Just the Facts, the program provided $416.5 million in equipment and services to Mexico in 2010.
These allegations came just two weeks after a captured Zetas commander claimed that the group obtains all of its weapons in the United States. In an interview recorded by Mexico’s Ministry of Public Safety, Jesus Enrique Rejon, alias “El Mamito” told officials that his group used to take weapons across the U.S. border through checkpoints, but a security crackdown forced them to smuggle arms across the Rio Grande. He also said that the Zetas’ rivals in the Gulf Cartel have an easier time bringing weapons across the border. “It got harder, but we can still get them,” Rejon said. “Those in the Gulf Cartel get them a lot easier; we don’t know why. It’s impossible to buy them and smuggle them in a vehicle trunk, but they do it. There must be a deal somewhere. I don’t know.”
As InSight Crime has previously reported, U.S. law enforcement officials have become increasingly concerned about the Zetas’ penetration into the country, especially in Midwest and Southeastern states. The Zetas are generally perceived as the most brutal of Mexico’s drug gangs, due in part to the fact that they lack the criminal infrastructure to organize systemic large-scale drug shipments like many of their competitors. Instead, it is thought that the group obtains much of its profit through the more violent activities of kidnapping and extortion. So if Plumlee and Jordan’s claims are correct, it could represent an ominous sign for U.S. law enforcement agents, who have long warned of “spillover violence” along the border.