The Narco News Bulletin
February 19, 2018 | Issue #67
narconews.com - Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America
A high-ranking Sinaloa narco-trafficking organization member's claim that US officials have struck a deal with the leadership of the Mexican "cartel" appears to be corroborated in large part by the statements of a Mexican diplomat in email correspondence made public recently by the nonprofit media group WikiLeaks.
Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla after his arrest in Mexico City
A similar quid-pro-quo arrangement is precisely what indicted narco-trafficker Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla, who is slated to stand trial in Chicago this fall, alleges was agreed to by the US government and the leaders of the Sinaloa "Cartel" - the dominate narco-trafficking organization in Mexico. The US government, however, denies that any such arrangement exists.
Mexican soldiers arrested Zambada Niebla in late March 2009 after he met with DEA agents in a posh Mexico City hotel, a meeting arranged by a US government informant who also is a close confident of Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada Garcia (Zambada Niebla's father) and Chapo Guzman - both top leaders of the Sinaloa drug organization. The US informant, Mexican attorney Humberto Loya Castro, by the US government's own admission in court pleadings in the Zambada Niebla criminal case, served as an intermediary between the Sinaloa Cartel leadership and US government agencies seeking to obtain information on rival narco-trafficking organizations.
According to Zambada Niebla, he and the rest of the Sinaloa leadership, through the US informant Loya Castro, negotiated an immunity deal with the US government in which they were guaranteed protection from prosecution in exchange for providing US law enforcers and intelligence agencies with information that could be used to compromise rival Mexican cartels and their operations.
"The United States government considered the arrangements with the Sinaloa Cartel an acceptable price to pay, because the principal objective was the destruction and dismantling of rival cartels by using the assistance of the Sinaloa Cartel - without regard for the fact that tons of illicit drugs continued to be smuggled into Chicago and other parts of the United States and consumption continued virtually unabated," Zambada Niebla's attorneys argue in pleadings in his case.
The emails, obtained and made public by WikiLeaks, involve correspondence between a Mexican diplomat codenamed MX1 and an Austin, Texas-based intelligence firm called Stratfor- which describes itself as a privately owned, "subscription-based provider of geopolitical analysis." Stratfor has been billed in some media reports as a "shadow CIA."
In a Stratfor email dated April 19, 2010, MX1 lays out the Mexican government's negotiating, or "signaling," strategy with respect to the major narco-trafficking organizations as follows:
The Mexican strategy is not to negotiate directly.
In any event, "negotiations" would take place as follows:
Assuming a non-disputed plaza [- a major drug market, such as Ciudad Juarez]:
• [If] they [a big narco-trafficking group] bring [in] some drugs, transport some drugs, [and] they are discrete, they don't bother anyone, [then] no one gets hurt;
• [And the] government turns the other way.
• [If] they [the narco-traffickers] kill someone or do something violent, [then the] government responds by taking down [the] drug network or making arrests.
(Now, assuming a disputed plaza:)
• [A narco-trafficking] group comes [into a plaza], [then the] government waits to see how dominant cartel responds.
• If [the] dominant cartel fights them [the new narco-trafficking group], [then the] government takes them down.
• If [the] dominant cartel is allied [with the new group], no problem.
• If [a new] group comes in and start[s] committing violence, they get taken down: first by the government letting the dominant cartel do their thing, then [by] punishing both cartels.
MX1 then goes on to describe what he interprets as the US strategy in negotiating with the major narco-trafficking players in Ciudad Juarez - a major Mexican narco-trafficking "plaza" located across the border from El Paso, Texas:
... This is how "negotiations" take place with cartels, through signals. There are no meetings, etc....
So, the MX [Mexican] strategy is not to negotiate. However, I think the US [recently] sent a signal that could be construed as follows:
"To the VCF [the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes] and Sinaloa cartels: Thank you for providing our market with drugs over the years. We are now concerned about your perpetration of violence, and would like to see you stop that. In this regard, please know that Sinaloa is bigger and better than [the] VCF. Also note that CDJ [Juarez] is very important to us, as is the whole border. In this light, please talk amongst yourselves and lets all get back to business. Again, we recognize that Sinaloa is bigger and better, so either VCF gets in line or we will mess you up."
I don't know what the US strategy is, but I can tell you that if the message was understood by Sinaloa and VCF as I described above, the Mexican government would not be opposed at all.
In sum, I have a gut feeling that the US agencies tried to send a signal telling the cartels to negotiate themselves. They unilaterally declared a winner [the Sinaloa Cartel], and this is unprecedented, and deserves analysis. If there was no strategy behind this, and it was simply a leaked report, then I will be interested to see how it plays out in the coming months.
In a separate Stratfor email dated April 15, 2010, MX1's views on the US strategy with respect to the drug organizations in Juarez, essentially favoring the Sinaloa "Cartel," is referenced yet again:
Crime scene along a Mexican freeway in the aftermath of a drug-war-related murder.
We believe that when the US made an announcement that was corroborated by several federal spokespersons simultaneously (that Sinaloa controlled CDJ [Juarez]), it was a message that the DEA wanted to send to Sinaloa. The message was that the US recognized Sinaloa's dominance in the area [Juarez], although it was not absolute. It was meant to be read by the cartels as a sort of ultimatum: negotiate and put your house in order once and for all.
One dissenting analyst thinks that the message is the opposite, telling Sinaloa to take what it had and to leave what remains of VCF. Regardless, the reports are saying that the US message to the cartels was to negotiate and stop the violence. It says that the US has never before pronounced that a cartel controls a particular plaza, so it is an unusual event.
And in yet a third Stratfor email, dated June 3, 2010, the Mexican diplomat MX1 confirms that a deal was cut between drug organizations in Tijuana, Mexico, just south of San Diego, Calif., with the direct intervention of US and Mexican law enforcers. MX1 then, once again, revisits the alleged quid-pro-quo strategy he believes the US government is seeking to advance in Juarez.
From the June 3, 2010, email:
There have been more developments. I found out that there is a group of US and Mexican LE [law enforcement] that discretely attempted, and succeeded, in brokering a deal in Tijuana. If you notice, Tijuana violence has nearly ceased. There are only minor skirmishes that do not appear to be tied to any major cartel.
It was this same group of guys that presented their "signaling strategy" and attempted it for CDJ [Juarez].
It is not so much a message for the Mexican government as it is for the Sinaloa cartel and VCF [the Juarez Cartel] themselves. Basically, the message they want to send out is that Sinaloa is winning and that the violence is unacceptable. They want the CARTELS to negotiate with EACH OTHER. The idea is that if they can do this, violence will drop and the governments will allow controlled drug trades. [Emphasis added.]
Unfortunately, CDJ [Juarez] is not ripe for this kind of activity, as the major routes and methods for bulk shipping into the US have already been negotiated with US authorities. In this sense, the message that Sinaloa was winning was, in my view, intended to tell SEDENA [the Mexican military] to stop taking down large trucks full of dope as they made their way to the US. These large shipments were Sinaloa's, and they are OK with the Americans. The argument is that most of the violence [in Juarez] remains related to the local market, and that SEDENA should focus on smaller gangs and fringe groups that try to cross smaller quantities....
The description of MX1 in the Stratfor emails matches the publicly available information on Fernando de la Mora Salcedo, a Mexican foreign service officer who studied law at the University of New Mexico, served in the Mexican Consulate in El Paso, Texas, and is currently stationed as a consul in the Mexican Consulate in Phoenix. In one Stratfor email, with the subject line "Fwd: Another question for MX1," a query from Stratfor analysts is directed to MX1, and his real name is revealed as Fernando de la Mora.
The emails between the MX1 and Stratfor obtained by WikiLeaks were drafted between 2008 and 2011. He is described in one of them, as revealed in a prior Narco News report, as "being molded to be the Mexican 'tip of the spear' in the US."
Narco News has contacted the offices of de la Mora and Stratfor for comment on the email correspondence. To date, they have not responded.
Beyond the deal brokering strategy he outlines in the Stratfor emails, MX1, in a Stratfor email dated April 4, 2010, also makes clear that, at the highest levels of the Mexican government, there is a recognition that the door is wide open to direct US involvement in Mexico's drug war.
From that email:
Finally, the important observation: We are effectively at the start of a paradigm shift regarding sovereignty and how we see cooperation with the US. When the General in charge of all military education said that Mexico could not do this alone and that US military and LE [law enforcement] assistance was needed, no one shot him down. He was told by the [Mexican] Minister of Defense to say what he did. Everyone in the high levels of government is starting to recognize that more US involvement is necessary. In the mid-levels, it sounds more like a crazed cry for help.
MX1 is not the only "source" providing intelligence to Stratfor's analysts, according to the email correspondence obtained by WikiLeaks.
Other US and Mexican officials providing information to the private intelligence firm, according to the Stratfor email trail, include MX31 (A CISEN bureau chief; CISEN is Mexico's equivalent to the CIA); MX301, a former Mexican cop; MX702, a senior Mexican intelligence officer; US706, a US journalist; US711, a US law enforcement agent with border liaison responsibilities; and US714, a US law enforcement officer with direct oversight of border investigations.
Unlike MX1, whose real identity is revealed in the Stratfor emails, information on the other sources' identities was not available - at least not at this point in Narco News' investigation.
However, Stratfor emails involving US714 did provide direct corroboration of MX1's claim that the path has been cleared for direct US involvement in the drug war in Mexico.
In a Stratfor email dated Oct. 28, 2011, with the subject line, "Nuevo Laredo Firefight is Mex Op with US Help-US714," the following is attributed to the US law enforcement officer overseeing border investigations:
Mx [Mexico] planned [the] ops [operation] with U.S. help.
[The firefight was a] MX PLANNED ops with "some US DOD [Department of Defense] assets [personnel and equipment]."
Clean-up crew at the House of Death in Juarez, Mexico. Twelve bodies were discovered buried in the backyard of the house-all murder victims.
U.S. special operations forces are currently in Mexico. Small-scale joint ops [operations] with Mexico's [special forces], but they are there.
The Mexican diplomat MX1 also confirmed the same information, according to a separate Stratfor email:
Information about US military involvement in Mexico is provided only as a need to know basis. The Americans have been adamant about this, and we agree even more. Therefore, I can confirm that there is Marine presence, but I don't know if it is MFR [Marine Force Recon]. [Emphasis added.]
...Furthermore, operational coordination and indeed joint exercises have been conducted, and there are more in the planning stages. We do indeed have US military presence in Mexico as part of the MI [Merida Initiative] coordination office (even though they are sometimes under official cover as DOS [Department of State], etc....) There are advisors and intelligence operatives that work on the tactical level with their Mexican counterparts....
Another remarkable claim also is attributed to Stratfor source US714 in an email dated April 1, 2011:
Regarding ICE [US Immigration and Customs Enforcement] screwing up informants: They [ICE] were handling big hit men from Juarez and letting them kill in the U.S.
Though Stratfor source US714's revelation may seem too dark to be true, Narco News has already documented, via the multi-year House of Death investigative series, that ICE, with the approval of US prosecutors, allowed one of its informants to participate in multiple murders inside Mexico in order to make a drug case.
Narco News was provided access to the Stratfor emails through an investigative partnership organized by WikiLeaks that includes journalists, academics and human rights organizations.