10/25/11 – The New York Times reported early this morning an announcement by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that over the last five years the agency had increased their networks of informants in Mexican cartels and fully infiltrated several cartels with information ranging from where leaders sleep at night to their favorite eateries. This story broke days after the DEA went public about the Saudi Arabian ambassador assassination attempt through a U.S. informant posing as a Zeta cartel member.
The Times reported that the DEA’s informants had led to the capture or deaths of at least two dozen high-ranking cartel members and direct access to cartel leaders in the Gulf and Zeta cartels. Critics are arguing that the controversy behind the DEA using informants is that most Mexican government officials are unaware of U.S. interventions and this double blindness creates political tension over national and international security, especially with the report of the United States deploying unmanned drones into Mexico. The other aspect of DEA informants is that most of the informants are recruited through plea deals or expungement of similar crimes in exchange for going undercover for an agency.
The Times cited an opinion expressed by Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert on organized crime at the Brookings Institution, that weighed the U.S. practices of “making deals with the devil” that could lead to double agents and corruption, and the power and insight of a human connection into Mexican drug cartels. Brown stressed the critical need for human leads into the criminal organizations because they can access intimate information about cartel leaders that cannot be matched by other intelligence methods. Mexican news source La Reforma also reported Tuesday that the DEA’s informants include local elected officials and police officers.
Responders to the raised ethical issues of the United States contacting criminals as informants also cited the need for the United States to get involved in”cartel busting” given that the scope and severity of the trans-national illicit economy and security threat had long ago crossed international borders into the United States.