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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Narco Cartels as The Greatest Domestic Threat

Narco Cartels as The Greatest Domestic Threat

There are many threats to the domestic security of the United States that go beyond the actions of terrorism. Subversion, corruption of public officials, and high rates of crime all threaten the American citizen. The “group” that constitutes the greatest threat to the United States is the same threat post- 9/11 as it was pre-911, the drug cartels, which are also known as Drug Trading Organizations (DTO's). The larger of these DTO's are the Sinaloa cartel, the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas, the Juarez cartel, the Jalisco New Generation cartel, and Los Cabelleros Templarios.
Although mass casualty terror attacks generate news headlines, the incidence of such attacks within the United States is rare. The persistence, intensity, and scope of cartel activity qualifies them for evaluation as the highest priority security threat. A 2013 Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) report identifies DTO activity as a significant threat to Texas (Texas Public Safety Threat Overview 2013, 2013, p.2). This underscores that domestic threats are not limited to foreign supported ideological enemies, but that there is an overlap in threat between DTO's and specifically terrorist organizations. Longmire and Longmire suggest that such characteristics of the DTO's as “The tactics, strategy, organization, and even (to a limited extent) the goals” are consistent with those of the terrorist organizations(2008, p.35). Björnehed reinforces this idea by identifying that criminal organizations and terrorist organisations “both emphasize secrecy and concealment from law enforcement officials” (2004, p.308). This can be seen in DTO alliances with domestic criminal gangs; The DPS report makes the point that “Gangs working with the Mexican cartels are involved in a level of crime that affects the entire state”(Texas Public Safety Threat Overview 2013, 2013, p.20). An additional reason to view the DTO's as a serious threat involves subversion in destroying law enforcement capability through corruption and violent intimidation; The DPS report also points out that DTO's have a history of corrupting public officials in Mexico and that the DTO's “ also seek to corrupt public officials in the US” (Texas Public Safety Threat Overview 2013, 2013, p.34).
Currently, the United States addresses the cartels under two auspices; the War on Drugs, and as an organized crime issue. A full discussion of the War on Drugs is beyond this paper, but a concept that is not explored fully is that the drug cartels arose as a reaction to the prohibition on drugs. However, the consideration of drug legalization will not provide an option for destroying the DTO's. Their operations have expanded into areas beyond the drug markets, and ”The most brutal dto [drug trafficking organizations] battles are not over customers or suppliers but over ports and trade routes”. (Morris, 2013, p.31).
There are three strategies to combating not just the DTO's, but other violent and subversive groups including organized criminals and ideological terrorists.
The first strategy involves the recognition that violent subversive groups, whether they be criminal or ideological, and whether they be foreign or domestic, present a threat to the security and well being of every American citizen. A legal solution must be created that is both pragmatic regarding the existential threat these groups present and that is efficient in terms of combating them. One issue is the schizophrenic nature of the way that we deal with even foreign sponsored terror groups. Clarke demonstrates that we have combated terrorist organizations with a “blend between a war-fighting approach (GWOT) ..., including the use of military trials for prosecution, and a law enforcement approach...)”( 2013, p. 57) . This dual approach is complicated by the diffuse command structure for operations. Crenshaw discusses this issue; “Responsibility for dealing with terrorism is widely distributed, and lines of jurisdiction tend to be blurred and overlapping, with no clear institutional monopoly of the issue” (2001, p.330). Without a clear and legal framework to operate within, our legal system has been equally ambivalent towards setting constant operational guidelines. Breinholt examines the constantly changing legal framework of anti-terror operations in the context of “...American courts, which operate on the basis of historical precedent, remain available and are willing, when necessary, to redraw the lines between collective security and personal liberty” (2004, p.141).
The second strategy lies in effective intelligence regarding threat groups. Intelligence gathering and sharing has been hindered by self-imposed restrictions, some based on Constitutional protections and others based on political pandering. However, Davis asserts that the “need for improved sharing of intelligence information between local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies was recognized as early as the 1964 Warren Commission report” (2010, p. 39). In a callous disregard for the lives of Americans, reforms of the 1970's were “based on a presumption that domestic terrorism could be handled by investigating crimes after they were committed rather than preventing them” (Powers, 2004, p. 45). Without effective intelligence, the third strategy cannot be employed.
The final strategy lies in targeted, or decapitation methods. The most effective method of addressing terrorism is also the most direct; the targeted elimination, through killing or capture, of terrorist leaders and facilitators. Wilner concludes that “The literature on targeted killings suggests that their use diminishes the coercive and operational capability of violent, non-state groups in a number of ways”(2010, p. 312). This is where effective intelligence comes into play. Barba discusses the futility of undirected force, “The undiscerning use of force in terrorism can be as productive as cutting off one of hydra’s heads”(2014, p.62). Targets under consideration for these tactics should include those that commit acts of terror, those that directly support terrorist acts, and those that plan or coordinate terrorist acts. Levitt asserts that “Individuals who provide such support must be recognized as terrorists of the same caliber as those who use that support to execute attacks” (2004, p.33). Zussman, Zussman, & Yisrael found that the use of assassination was valuable to the Israeli counterterror strategy; however, this conclusion was qualified by the selection of the targeting; “It is reasonable to assume that an assassination would be most effective in reducing the capabilities of a terrorist organization if the target is a senior leader with specialized knowledge and skills”(2005, p.4).
In conclusion, DTO's are the most significant threat to America, but have not been combated effectively. In oder to deal with DTO's and other violent, criminal, terrorist, and subversive groups, the underlying security framework must recognize the threat these groups present and be configured in a way to effectively deal with them while remaining on Constitutional grounds. The proper intelligence must be created and shared efficiently to identify the critical points at which the third strategy must be employed. The third strategy is to destroy the effectiveness of these organizations by decapitation leadership and removing their support structure.

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Morris, E. K. (2013). Think again: Mexican drug cartels. Foreign Policy, (203), 30–33,8.

Powers, R. G. (2004). A bomb with a long fuse. American History, 39(5), 42–47.

Texas Public Safety Threat Overview 2013. (2013). Texas Department of Public Safety. Retrieved January 15, 2015 from http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/director_staff/media_and_communications/threatOverview.pdf

Wilner, A. S. (2010). Targeted killings in Afghanistan: Measuring coercion and deterrence in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 33(4), 307–329. doi:10.1080/10576100903582543

Zussman, A., Zussman, N., & Yisrael, B. (2005). Targeted killings: Evaluating the effectiveness of a counterterrorism policy. Banḳ Yiśraʼel, Maḥlaḳat ha-meḥḳar. Retrieved Retrieved January 24, 2015 from http://boi.gov.il/deptdata/mehkar/papers/dp0502e.pdf

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