Transnational Law Enforcement Efforts
Helping Stem Transnational Crime
Four leaders of the MS-13 gang were convicted in Atlanta recently in connection with a terrorizing violent crime spree. During the course of the investigation, we determined that many of their violent acts were directed by gang leadership in El Salvador and Honduras—a common occurrence uncovered in other investigations as well. This international criminal nexus of violent gangs is the focus of several FBI programs funded by the U.S. State Department through the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI).
CARSI’s overall goal is to confront the dangers of organized crime, violent gangs, and drug trafficking in Central America and the U.S., and several domestic federal agencies participate in various facets of the initiative. The FBI, through its National Gang Task Force (NGTF), specifically supports six programs targeting the transnational threats posed by the MS-13 and 18th Street gangs.
The first three are operationally focused:
Transnational Anti-Gang (TAG) Unit: This program combines the expertise, resources, and jurisdiction of participating agencies involved in investigating and countering transnational criminal gang activity in the U.S. and Central America. These groups—headed by FBI agents who lead vetted teams of national police and prosecutors in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—coordinate with FBI legal attachés assigned to those regions and with the Bureau’s International Operations Division.
Central American Fingerprint Exchange (CAFÉ): This NGTF-established program was developed to collect and store criminal biometric data, including fingerprint records, from all Central American countries. The collected prints are added to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division’s general database, where they’re accessible to local, state, and federal agencies in the U.S.
Criminal History Information Program (CHIP): Through this initiative, the FBI provides the Salvadoran and Honduran National Police with the criminal history, biographical, and background information of non-U.S. citizen gang members and associates who are deported from the U.S. back to their home countries.
The second three CARSI programs are more training-focused:
Central American Law Enforcement Exchange (CALEE): This officer exchange program provides Central American and U.S. police officers with hands-on training that emphasizes operational techniques and current gang trends. CALEE encourages relationship-building and innovative approaches for gang investigations and offers a clearer understanding of the transnational threat posed by violent criminal street gangs. This four-week program takes part in classrooms and in the field.
Central American Intelligence Program (CAIP): CAIP allows representatives from U.S. and Central American law enforcement agencies to take part in an interactive, custom-designed intelligence and exchange program. CAIP was developed to expose participants to best practices in the areas of collection, analysis, and dissemination of transnational gang intelligence.
Central American Community Impact Exchange (CACIE): With its goal of helping Central American nations develop positive community impact programs, CACIE focuses on the importance of community collaboration and strengthening relationships between community leaders and law enforcement. The newest of the CARSI programs, CACIE was developed in partnership with the State Department and the White House National Security Staff.
These six CARSI programs have proven to be a valuable weapon against transnational gangs and have assisted the FBI and our partners in targeting and disrupting many MS-13 and 18th Street gang connections—proof positive that transnational cooperation among law enforcement can trump cross-border collaboration among criminals.
In Their Words
Numerous law enforcement officers and other representatives from the U.S. and Central America have taken part in the six CARSI programs supported by the FBI, and the feedback we’ve received has been tremendous. Here are some examples:
“Guatemala has gang members who claim to be Guatemalans, but thanks to CAIP and CALEE, I have police contacts in other countries who have helped me fully identify their true identities.” - Officer, Civilian National Police of Guatemala
“[CACIE] helped me understand how professionals from the U.S. and other countries are deterring, managing, and combating gangs…and the problems they face in the clinical treatment of gang-involved youth.” - Gang intervention professional, Virginia
“Participating in CAIPA IV and V provided me the opportunity to engage and learn alongside some of the FBI’s key foreign partners… The practical exercises were especially effective at building rapport with our partners and putting into practice the analytical methodologies we were learning.” - FBI intelligence analyst
“The CACIE experience was a learning opportunity we all could share…the knowledge that violence can be approached from different angles—none of them wrong, but each unique to our own environment. There is no magic formula, but caring for our people—especially our young—can make a difference in our communities.” - Representative, Honduras service organization
“For several weeks, we shared information on our efforts, tactics, investigations, and operations… For over three years, I’ve maintained a productive relationship and constant communication with CALEE participants, and we continuously share intel.” - Officer, Houston Police Department
“[CALEE provided me with] an understanding that the fight against gangs is possible without seeing borders as barriers…the ability to develop relationships with colleagues from U.S. and Central American police departments…the training and development that facilitates prevention and repression of crimes and develops strategies to safeguard lives.” - Officer, Civilian National Police, El Salvador