Home News Stories 2010 September On the Southwest Border, Part 6

Major Players on Southwest Border

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Methamphetamine
Methamphetamine confiscated near the border. Photo courtesy of DEA.

On the Southwest Border
Going After the Major Players

09/08/10

Methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine, and cash—the amount of drugs and currency crossing the border in and around El Paso, Texas can be difficult to comprehend. 

“El Paso may be the busiest city in the world in terms of the flow of drugs,” said Special Agent Mike Cordero, a member of the FBI/DEA Strike Force, an investigative team established in 2007 to target “the biggest of the big” drug trafficking organizations.

Southwest Border: Border Turnstile

About This Series

FBI.gov recently visited the Southwest border region for a firsthand look at what the Bureau and its law enforcement partners are doing there to combat crime.

Part I: Border Crime | Gallery
Part II: Public Corruption | Issues
Part III: Violence Too Close to Home
Part IV: Forging Ties in Tijuana
Part V: A Drug Buy in El Paso
Part VI: Going After Major Players
Part VII: The Gang Threat
Part VIII: Importance of Intelligence


Graphic
: Border By the Numbers

“If they are major players,” Agent Cordero explained, “we’re going after them. Our mission is to disrupt and dismantle these organizations.”

It is estimated that 40-60 percent of all illegal drugs that come into the U.S. enter through the border areas encompassed by our El Paso Field Office. The drugs flow across the border from Juarez, and U.S. currency flows back into Mexico. Every month, tens of millions of dollars in cash pass into Juarez, enabling the cartels to corrupt public officials, purchase weapons, and engage in other criminal activity beyond drug trafficking. 

The strike force in El Paso—one of several along the Southwest border—is designed to fight this cycle of crime and violence. The program is funded by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, a longstanding Department of Justice initiative that combines federal, state, and local law enforcement efforts to fight organized crime and drug traffickers. The Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI have lead roles in operating the strike force. 

Working with undercover operatives, sources, and Mexican law enforcement, the team uses an intelligence-driven approach in its investigations. Besides orchestrating large drug buys, agents pay close attention to the money laundering aspects of drug trafficking. Perhaps most importantly, the actionable intelligence gathered by the strike force benefits many other investigations and law enforcement agencies both domestically and internationally.

The El Paso strike force consists of 10 FBI agents and 10 DEA agents, as well as representatives from the Internal Revenue Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

Drugs found in vehicle
Twelve pounds of heroin confiscated during Project Deliverance.
Photo courtesy of DEA


“We are a badge-less operation,” Agent Cordero said. “When you walk in our office, you can’t tell who is FBI and who is DEA. There is a concerted effort to put the cases first and not to worry about who gets the credit,” he added. “A win is a win for everybody.”

Recently, during a nationwide drug trafficking takedown called Project Deliverance, the strike force arrested 133 individuals on drug charges and seized 800 pounds of marijuana, 11 kilos of cocaine, and nearly $140,000 in cash. The operation also contributed intelligence to numerous other investigations around the country. “Because El Paso is a pivotal location for the Mexican drug trade,” said Special Agent Raul Bujanda, another member of the strike force, “the intelligence we gather allows us to spin off a lot of cases to other offices.”

“We’re very proud of the work we do,” Agent Cordero said. “There are no egos involved in the strike force—it’s all about the cases and bringing down the drug traffickers.”

Next: Understanding the Gang Threat

Kidnappings by the cartels and the gangs who work for them have become a serious problem in several U.S. cities on the Southwest border. In the past, kidnap victims were usually rivals in the drug trade. Sometimes victims were kidnapped for revenge, sometimes to intimidate. And paying a ransom was no guarantee the victim would be released.

But when the gangs realized how easy—and profitable—kidnapping could be, they started abducting anyone who looked wealthy enough to command a hefty ransom, and that included Americans on either side of the border.

In the Texas border town of McAllen, for example, the rate of kidnapping has nearly quadrupled. Between October 2008 and September 2009, 42 people were kidnapped in the McAllen area, compared with 11 the previous year. And many kidnappings go unreported because the victims may be involved in illegal activity and don’t want to contact authorities.