Home News Stories 2010 September On the Southwest Border, Part 8

The Importance of Intelligence

Inside the round-the-clock intelligence center in El Paso.

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EPIC office
The El Paso Intelligence Center, led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, provides tactical intelligence to law enforcement around the world through watch operations, analytical support, and access to a variety of state and federal databases.


On the Southwest Border
The Importance of Intelligence

09/29/10

It’s just before 9:30 a.m., and people are gathering in a large operations room at the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) for the daily morning briefing. Soon, eyes are drawn to the maps and monitors around the room as representatives from a variety of federal and state agencies provide their most current information on crime and law enforcement activities along the Southwest border.

EPIC provides 24/7 tactical intelligence to law enforcement around the world through watch operations, analytical support, and access to a variety of state and federal databases. Led by the Drug Enforcement Administration, it is also the nerve center for intelligence efforts on the Southwest border—and home base for the FBI’s Southwest Intelligence Group (SWIG).


Pedestrian crossing gate

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
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

“EPIC is a valuable asset in the fight against the cartels,” said Kevin Perkins, assistant director of our Criminal Investigative Division. That’s because the timely collection and sharing of intelligence is critical to stemming the flow of illegal drugs across the border into the United States. EPIC’s multi-agency approach ensures that federal, state, and local law enforcement have access to real-time intelligence.

About 300 agents, analysts, computer experts, translators, administrators, and support staff from 15 federal agencies work around the clock at EPIC to piece together raw intelligence from a variety of law enforcement databases into actionable intelligence that could lead to arrests, seizures, and the disruption of drug trafficking.

The Bureau maintains a staff of about a dozen agents and analysts at EPIC who contribute investigative and analytic resources. They also manage the SWIG, which provides additional intelligence to our key Southwest offices.

“The SWIG was created in 2009 in response to Southwest border office requests to better coordinate the intelligence that was out there,” said Keith Slotter, special agent in charge of our San Diego Field Office. “One of the issues we had in those offices was a lack of knowledge and sharing of information. It wasn’t intentional—we just didn’t have a good mechanism to do it.”

While Slotter was familiar with the issues his office was facing in San Diego, he often had less of an understanding of the issues faced in El Paso or Phoenix, for example. The SWIG was established to remedy this intelligence gap and to provide a big-picture look at the Southwest border.

“Now we get daily reports of raw intelligence coming from a variety of different sources,” Slotter said. “Every day I and many other people in San Diego and other divisions—several hundred people—get a two- or three-page summary of the day’s events and what’s going on. So I know what happened in Juarez today,” he added, “and what happened in Nogales and in other areas of interest so that we can draw some connectivity to what goes on here.”

EPIC and the SWIG provide the Bureau with a continually updated intelligence snapshot along the entire Southwest border. This is crucial because the border is the principal arrival zone for most of the illicit drugs smuggled into the country, as well as the main staging area for the subsequent distribution of drugs throughout the United States.

“If we are going to be able to disrupt and dismantle the drug trafficking organizations,” Perkins said, “we need excellent intelligence gathering and sharing operations. EPIC and the SWIG give us these key capabilities.”

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.