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Funny numbers and wacky-weed

26 August 2013

Washington Post this morning (Mexican drug cartel activity in U.S. said to be exaggerated in widely cited federal report):

In its 2011 report, the center used the phrase “transnational criminal organizations,” and said they included seven cartels based in Mexico, the well-known Sinaloa and Zetas syndicates among them. The report broadened the definition in a footnote to include traffickers who purchased drugs from cartel associates.

Under such definitions, the analysts said, anyone from Mexico caught selling a small amount of marijuana in a U.S. city could be counted as a Mexican drug organization or cartel presence.

“These definitions are interchangeable and indistinguishable,” said Peter Andreas, a drug policy analyst at Brown University who has written a book about the politics of drug policy called “Border Games: Policing the U.S.-Mexico Divide.” “This is a particularly egregious example of a pattern that unfortunately has not gotten a lot of scrutiny.”

That “2011 report” was from the now defunct National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), another of those huge security bureaucracies that U.S. policy makers (and tax money spenders) are addicted to. Set up in 1993 (under George Bush the first), it’s initial “mission” was to:

… provide strategic drug-related intelligence, document and media exploitation support, and training assistance to the drug control, public health, law enforcement, and intelligence communities of the United States in order to reduce the adverse effects of drug trafficking, drug abuse, and other drug-related criminal activity.

In other words, what a couple of dozen U.S. agencies already do. And… once “terrorism” became the rationale de jour for government funding, the NDIC developed a new sales pitch:

NDIC supports national-level policymakers and the Intelligence Community by preparing strategic analytical studies on the trafficking of illegal drugs and on related illegal activities that pose a threat to the national security of the United States. In addition, NDIC partners with the Department of Homeland Security Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement to provide critical intelligence to identify, track, and sever the nexus between drug trafficking and terrorism. NDIC also produces strategic money laundering reports that help policymakers and senior law enforcement decisionmakers implement national-level anti-money laundering initiatives. NDIC reports address the methods wholesale-level traffickers use to launder drug proceeds. NDIC supports the National Money Laundering Threat Assessment and the National Money Laundering Strategy–interagency projects that enhance the nation’s ability to counter international money laundering.

Conflating plain old smugglers of goods and services for which the U.S. population has an insatiable demand with “terrorism” (like any addict, the U.S. seeks to blame some nebulous “other” for their powerlessness over their substances of choice) the NDIC are the people who came up with that scary-sounding, but frankly ridiculous term, “Transnational Criminal Organization” to mean, for the most part, Mexican gangsters with a substantial market share in the United States.

NDIC did huge amounts of damage. Conflating narcotics smugglers with “terrorists” gave “aid and comfort” to policy makers in the U.S. financing the moves to place large parts of this country put under quasi-military control … in effect, forcing Mexico into a proxy war on “terrorism” (“A war both on an unknown enemy and an abstract noun,” to quote the late Gore Vidal). Whether NDIC fed off. And by claiming “Mexican cartel activity” in a thousand U.S. cities (Middletown, New Hamshire? Corinth, Mississippi?) fed into and fed off of, already rampant and corrosive xenophobia.

While some recognized (or now claim that they recognized) problems with the NDIC report (“They say there are Mexicans operating here and they must be part of a Mexican drug organization,” said Peter Reuter, who co-directed drug research for the nonprofit Rand think tank and now works as a professor at the University of Maryland. “These numbers are mythical, and they keep getting reinforced by the echo chamber.”), one senses that the numbers came from local law enforcement people who simply assumed any Mexican (or perhaps any Latin@) involved in any way with any drugs was paranoiasomehow part of a “cartel”. From the comments on the article, I noticed a lot of mention of MS-13, the Salvadorian-American gang, known more for extortion than narcotics smuggling). And — although I can’t prove this — I wonder if some of that “cartel activity” wasn’t just immigrants (or children… or grandchildren of immigrants) assimilating to U.S. culture and smoking a few joints, or snorting meth, like “good Americans” do.

The NDIC has been folded into the DEA (one less acronym for the paranoia-industrial complex to contend with), and better late than never that the stupidity of the whole exercise is starting to come to light, but the damage is already done, and will continue to be done.

Washington Post, U.S. Department of Justice Archives

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Onemoretime permalink
    26 August 2013 4:40 pm

    So it’s acceptable to connect drug activity & terrorism to gangs but it’s bad to prosecute banks for laundering the money from the drug activity. I’m confused.

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