Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren't Making Us Safer

Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren't Making Us Safer

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by Sylvia Longmire

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When confronted with the challenges of border security and illegal immigration, government officials are fond of saying that our borders have never been as safe and secure as they are now. But ranchers in the borderlands of Arizona and Texas fear for their lands, their cattle, their homes, and sometimes their lives due to the human and drug smuggling traffic that


When confronted with the challenges of border security and illegal immigration, government officials are fond of saying that our borders have never been as safe and secure as they are now. But ranchers in the borderlands of Arizona and Texas fear for their lands, their cattle, their homes, and sometimes their lives due to the human and drug smuggling traffic that regularly crosses their property. Who is right? What does a secure border actually look like? More importantly, is a secure border a realistic goal for the United States? Border Insecurity examines all the aspects of the challenge—and thriving industry—of trying to keep terrorists, drug smugglers, and illegal immigrants from entering the United States across our land borders. It looks at on-the-ground issues and controversies like the border fence, the usefulness of technology, shifts in the connection between illegal immigration and drug smuggling, and the potential for terrorists and drug cartels to work together. Border Insecurity also delves into how the border debate itself is part of why the government has failed to improve information sharing and why this is necessary to establish a clear and comprehensive border security strategy.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Longmire (Cartel), a national security analyst and consultant for the National Geographic’s television show Border Wars, argues for delineating a hierarchy of threats along the border: “e must focus the vast majority of our border security apparatus on preventing from even attempting to enter our country.” In a conversational tone replete with entertaining and unsettling anecdotes, Longmire introduces readers to those guarding the border, those trying to cross it, and members of nearby communities. With particular expertise on the Mexican cartels, she believes that “the fight against cartel money laundering deserves a much bigger share of the border security spotlight.” Disparaging costly walls and fences and hi-tech gadgets as ineffective and wasteful, she makes the case that no amount of machinery is more valuable than highly trained and motivated agents, whether human or canine: “There is nothing in the entire technological arsenal of the planet Earth with a sensory capability superior to Fido’s nose.” Longmire also suggests that more attention should go to the northern border, enumerating several recent incidents where terrorists and criminals crossed over from Canada. With practical suggestions for policing the borders, informed by experience on the ground, the book provides an easy, quick, energetic, and nonpartisan introduction to the subject. Agent: Diane Stockwell, Globo Libros Literary. (Apr.)
From the Publisher

“A highly readable, yet comprehensive, book about US border security situation with zero political agenda - hidden or otherwise - to cloud Longmire's observations, research or judgment. In a national atmosphere of near hysteria, when it comes to "discussions" of immigration (both legal and illegal), terrorism, border control, law enforcement and the undeniable infiltration of Mexican (and other) cartels into American society, thank goodness we have a seasoned, and reasoned, voice to learn from.” —Nicholas Stein, Former Series Producer, National Geographic's Border Wars

“Sylvia Longmire's riveting book tells the stories of the people on all sides of this complex issue. It challenged everything I thought I knew about America's borders in a compassionate, fair, and fascinating way. These are the things we (citizens) need to know about our borders and how our approach and policies affect people's lives.” —Christine McKinley, Investigator on History Channel's Decoded, and author of Physics for Beautiful People

“Mesmerizing… Longmire's approach transcends political ideologies. Border Insecurity provides an excellent description of why and how, in spite of the best intentions and billions of taxpayer dollars, there are still a tremendous number of problems centered on security along our Mexican and Canadian borders.” —Robert Lee Maril, author of The Fence

“Once again, Sylvia has shown she has a hands-on understanding of the impact that Mexico's nearly decade-long war against narco-cartels and transnational crime syndicates is having on not only America's border with Mexico, but deep into America's interior. Having spent considerable time on the southwest border myself, I can attest to the accuracy and hard work that she's put into this important new exposé on the rippling effects of Mexico's drug war.” —Anthony Kimery, Executive Editor, Homeland Security Today Magazine

Kirkus Reviews
Throwing big money at the border with Mexico to build fences and buy high-tech gizmos isn't the way to achieve security, argues the author of Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico's Drug War (2011). Drawing on her extensive Air Force training in criminal investigations, counterintelligence and counterespionage, Longmire provides an insightful tour of both southern and northern borders and neighbors as she demolishes the case that illegal immigration is the United States' biggest security problem. As she demonstrates, the issue has become entwined with the Mexican drug cartels' smuggling operations; illegal immigrants now find themselves compelled under threat of death to become drug mules as part of the price of being smuggled into the U. S. Security would be much enhanced, Longmire believes, by the adoption of programs that permit those coming here to work to enter legally. Such programs would separate immigrants from the security threat originating in the drug cartels. She builds her case step by step, investigative style. First, she establishes what the border fence is, where it is and why it won't be the answer its proponents hope for. Then, she discusses different threats, including violence and crime in the border areas of the Southwestern states, terrorist organizations like al-Qaida and Hezbollah, and the drug cartels. In her view, one of the most significant contributors to the lack of security in border areas is the failure to pursue ruthlessly the crime of money laundering; money payments in the U. S. for drugs from Mexico are the lubricant for the largest part of the problem. Longmire is particularly acerbic about the bipartisan, $46 billion immigration bill produced by the Senate's "Gang of Eight" and equally critical of proposals to tie immigration reform to the achievement of border security. A compelling narrative that brings clarity to a subject shrouded in prejudice and obfuscation.

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Border Insecurity

Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren't Making Us Safer

By Sylvia Longmire

Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright © 2014 Sylvia Longmire
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-137-44373-1



In Mexico you have death very close. That's true for all human beings because it's a part of life, but in Mexico, death can be found in many things.

— Gael García Bernal, Mexican actor and film director

Something happened here. It's as if Mexicans subconsciously decided that their drug-related violence is a condition to be lived with and combated but not something to define them any longer.

— Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times op-ed columnist, February 2013

It's not common for a man involved in the drug business to reach his forties, but somehow "Miguel" managed to do it. On this day in August 2013, he's speaking to me from an undisclosed location, possibly southern California, based on the context of our conversation, or possibly somewhere in Mexico, based on his phone number. Wherever he's living, it's a quiet existence and a happy situation for him, compared to his former life. Miguel "retired" from the drug trafficking business after serving a fifteen-year prison sentence for manslaughter and federal drug trafficking charges.

"A lot of times you grow into it, you know? A lot of guys that are getting into it that are older, they're going through rough times and they need money, and they have a compadre who says, Hey man, I can help you out; let's just do this. And they say, Oh, okay," Miguel explained. "But I tell you what, once you get a taste of that money, there's no way they're going to want to stop."

In Miguel's case, he got involved in the drug trade when he was just a kid growing up in the bad part of town. "I started in the neighborhood. In the United States, the majority of people who start [dealing] do it as kids, doing little favors here and there, seeing the homeboys doing this and that, driving good cars. You want to get involved, you know? Some get involved for the money, and for some it's just the adrenaline rush. Mostly the money," he said with a chuckle. And in Miguel's heyday of the 1980s and 1990s, there was plenty of money to be made in the illegal drug trade in the United States.

Methamphetamine was Miguel's product, and he was dealing in it before the drug's popularity exploded after the new millennium. "You could say I was a meth pioneer," he told me. "Back in the early 1990s, you didn't hear about meth being such a problem. We were one of the first crews that was manufacturing." While most of Miguel's business was in the United States, his crew would occasionally reach out to the Mexican side of the border to procure precursor chemicals required for making, or "cooking," the synthetic drug.

I asked Miguel what he liked the most about being a meth trafficker. He laughed. "The money! The power! I was, what, nineteen or twenty years old? I could go to certain car dealers and work with people that I knew and be like, Hey, I'll have that, I'll take that.And they'd say, Oh, sure! I was pretty mature for my age, and there were older people who would treat me like I was their equal."

I asked Miguel if he was concerned about getting caught, and his response surprised me. Because he was so young and relatively well off at the time, I thought he would tell me he felt a bit invincible, but that wasn't the case. "I was realistic," he said. "I knew at a young age, when I started getting involved in crime, that eventually I was going to end up in prison or I was going to die. I never thought I would be here and be able to say, I'm retired, I'm not going to do this anymore. I didn't think I was going to make it to thirty-five years old. I just never looked that far ahead."

"Violence is not good for business at all," Miguel continued. "But you can't let other people get over on you because then they're going to see it as a weakness. Even in the legitimate world, if you have a business ... and it's the same in the underworld ... you have to have something called palabra (keeping your word). Because if not, you're going to get dealt with. In the 'real' world, people look down on drug traffickers. But when they make a deal and shake on something, they don't respect it. They don't fear consequences, and they don't think, Man, this guy might come to me and do something if I don't go through with whatever contract we made. You don't understand how frustrating that is to me."

Miguel thinks generational differences are a part of why loyalty in the business is disappearing. The other part is, he says, "No one wants to do prison time. Prison used to be fun, you know? Now it's much harsher." But even after serving a fifteen-year sentence, Miguel says he's not bitter. "I've told a lot of [police] officers this. I say, Look, you're a cop, and it's my job to be a criminal. Now, if you catch me, guess what? You were better at it than I was."

I wondered how a person could go from working as a drug trafficker to serving a decade and a half in prison to leading a relatively normal life. I asked Miguel if he knew the whereabouts of his original crew. They grew up together, so the ones who are still around keep in touch. Some are serving long prison sentences, and others have been killed over the years. Miguel told me this very matter-of-factly, since this is just a fact of life in his world. As for him, he said he's making a living. He likes construction because he can see buildings coming together, so he does a lot of remodeling work. Miguel is his own master, though. "I don't like to bust my ass so someone else can make money off of me, so I do my own little thing down here," he said. "I'm getting by."

Miguel is just one of a countless number of human tools Mexican cartels have used to distribute their illegal product in the United States. As groups, these men and women form the cartels and other criminal groups we know today in Mexico, and collectively they are one of the biggest national security threats our country is facing. Violent drug traffickers are the primary reason we need enhanced border security measures — not terrorists, who usually come here on airplanes using legal documents, and not economic migrants, who come here looking for work. Cartel members are increasingly difficult for law enforcement agencies to find and have no problem killing and kidnapping each other on US soil. The horrors they commit in Mexico on a daily basis should serve as a wake-up call to US officials who believe this is simply a criminal problem to which they've dedicated adequate resources.

The phenomenon of extreme violence in Mexico is relatively recent, but Mexican cartels have been in the drug smuggling business for decades. The cartels started out very much like the Italian Mafia and flourished, here in the United States, as family businesses. Drug smuggling began in earnest in Mexico after Chinese migrant railroad workers brought opium poppies across the Pacific Ocean in the 1860s. The Chinese got involved in the opium and heroin trade, smuggling sizeable amounts from Tijuana into southern California and making handsome profits. After the turn of the century, smaller Mexican criminal groups decided there were plenty of profits to go around and started to move in on Chinese territory.

Since the 1920s, Mexican smuggling groups have been able to adapt to shifting American tastes for narcotics. The Mexican drug trade began to coalesce in the 1960s in the state of Sinaloa, located in the northwestern part of Mexico, along the Gulf of California. The heart of what's called "The Golden Triangle," the mountains of Sinaloa and surrounding areas have the perfect conditions for growing opium poppies and marijuana. At first, local farmers grew enough to supply domestic needs, but after awhile, families started to leave rural areas to seek other opportunities or set up camp in the city of Culiacán — now known as the "cradle of drug trafficking" in Mexico. By the 1960s, authorities estimated there were approximately three hundred clandestine airfields in northern Mexico, transporting heroin and marijuana to the United States.

The emergence of true capos, or drug lords, began in the 1970s. Pedro Áviles Pérez is known as the "pioneer of drug trafficking" in Mexico, and ran the first large organization that could be considered a cartel by today's standards. Several famous traffickers cut their teeth under his tutelage, including the most wanted man in Mexico, Sinaloa Federation leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmn.

In the mid-1970s, South American governments implemented Operation Condor, a military counterdrug mission that resulted in several deadly confrontations between traffickers and soldiers. As a result, Áviles's trusted lieutenants starting moving out of Culiacán and into Guadalajara and other Mexican cities. When Áviles was killed in a shootout with federal police in 1978, Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo emerged as the leader of these lieutenants and became known as "The Godfather" of Mexican drug trafficking. He was joined by two other capos at the top of the narco food chain: Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo and Rafael Caro Quintero.

Over the next decade, the three men and their people established strong ties with corrupt Mexican politicians and officials, which allowed the organization to flourish. But more importantly, they set up arrangements to transport cocaine for Colombian drug cartels through Mexico into the United States. The Guadalajara cartel, as it was known, started out as the hired help. However, as their expertise improved, they began to demand payment not only in cash, but in product. This expansion into the cocaine trade raised the organization to a whole new level of profit making.

It didn't last forever. The cartel's leadership learned that a DEA agent named Enrique "Kiki" Camarena had infiltrated their organization and had him kidnapped, tortured, and executed. The manhunt for Camarena's killer was on, and Fonseca Carrillo and Caro Quintero were arrested in 1985, only two months after Camarena was murdered. By 1987, Félix Gallardo knew his days as a free man were limited. He finally moved out of Culiacán and into Guadalajara, rounded up his trusted brigade at an Acapulco resort, and divided up his empire into several pieces. This would make it harder for the Mexican government to bring down the entire organization at once. It was a smart move, as Félix Gallardo was arrested in 1989 and is currently serving a forty-year sentence in Mexico's Altiplano maximum security prison.

These are the "old school" cartels — friend- and family-run under the traditional organized crime model. All of them still exist today, more familiar as the Tijuana cartel (Arellano Félix Organization, or AFO), the Juárez cartel (Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Organization, or VCFO), the Sinaloa Federation, and the Gulf cartel (Cartel del Golfo, or CDG). Because of this history and tradition, these cartels have more or less followed the unwritten rules of the Mafia — that is, business is business, keep things under the radar, and stay away from spouses, children, and innocents.

Then something changed. Osiel Cárdenas Guillén was firmly in charge of the CDG in the late 1990s after taking the cartel's reins by murdering his predecessor, Salvador Gómez, and in the process earning himself the nickname "El Mata Amigos" — the friend killer. He's known to be secretive and paranoid, to the point of creating his own private army of mercenaries known as Los Zetas to protect his turf and operations from a myriad of rivals.

In 1997, Cárdenas commanded one of his most trusted subordinates, Arturo "Z-1" Guzmán Decena, to recruit a paramilitary squad for him. Guzmán was a former special forces soldier, so he knew where to look. Within a couple of years, he had recruited thirty-one men, most with military backgrounds and several with special forces — type training, into Cárdenas's private army. Their mission for several years was mainly to protect Cárdenas and his operations through enforcement tactics — meaning the use of threats, assaults, kidnappings, torture, and executions against anyone who crossed the CDG or failed to live up to Cárdenas's expectations.

This worked well enough for a few years, until Cárdenas was arrested in 2003 after a shootout with the Mexican military. While he more or less ran the CDG from a Mexican prison, Los Zetas started to operate under the premise of when the cat is away, the mice will play. In 2004, the city of Nuevo Laredo became ground zero for the battle over territory between the Federation and the Gulf cartel. Los Zetas were dispatched to take care of CDG business, and in the process, introduced beheadings, dismemberments, and the narco style of urban guerrilla warfare to the drug war. Most media reports and many journals and books point to the December 2006 inauguration of former President Felipe Cálderon as the beginning of today's drug war in Mexico. However, as neat and tidy as that date is, the real start of the brutality we see today along the border and beyond occurred two years earlier in Nuevo Laredo.

Since that time, the cartels have been playing a game of keeping up with the Joneses. Beheadings have become more common, almost to the point of being de rigueur. To keep the attention of the media — and more importantly, to keep rivals and the police terrified — cartels have had to amp up the impact of each new killing. For example, in January 2010, the body of a Juárez cartel member was cut up into pieces and left in different parts of the town of Los Mochis in northwestern Sinaloa state. His torso was found in a plastic container in one location; elsewhere another box contained his arms, legs, and skull. Hernandez's face was skinned from his skull, sewn onto a soccer ball, and left in a plastic bag near City Hall. The killers — most likely affiliated with the Federation — left a note for their Juárez cartel rivals that read, "Happy New Year, because this will be your last."

Los Zetas isn't the newest violent group to appear on the drug war scene, although they did break off from the Gulf cartel in 2010 to become an independent trafficking organization. La Familia Michoacana (LFM) burst onto the stage in 2006 in more ways than one — specifically by rolling several severed heads onto the dance floor of a nightclub in Uruapan. The twenty or so LFM members left a note, written on cardboard: "The family doesn't kill for money. It doesn't kill women. It doesn't kill innocent people, only those who deserve to die. Know that this is divine justice."

The next six years were witness to an unprecedented number of splits and alliances between cartels. Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán and Vicente Carrillo Fuentes parted ways for good in 2007 after breaking up and making up three years earlier, and thus began the war over the Ciudad Juárez plaza that would earn it the nickname of "Murder City." The Beltrán Leyva Organization, an older family-run organization that aligned with Guzmán from the beginning, split off from the Federation in 2008, disappeared for a couple of years after several high-profile arrests, and is experiencing a resurgence in northern Sonora state. Both Los Zetas and the Gulf cartel underwent internal splits in 2012 and 2013 as a result of losing leadership. The ultimate outcome of more players entering the game and continuing shifts in alliances is a nationwide death toll that increases every year.

Mexican cartels are responsible for the US import of four different kinds of illegal drugs: marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine (meth). Marijuana accounts for the largest volume of drugs coming across the border, but cocaine is the biggest moneymaker, with meth not far behind. In fiscal year 2012, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized over 3.1 million pounds of illegal drugs along our southwest border, with more than half of that amount seized in Texas alone. Those drugs are not evenly distributed among ports of entry, and some kinds are more common than others. In fiscal year 2011, marijuana accounted for roughly 99 percent of all illegal drugs seized by US Border Patrol in between southwest border ports of entry. US agents will more commonly see large bundles of marijuana in south Texas and carried by human "mules" in the Arizona desert, whereas CBP inspectors are more likely to see smaller cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine packages tightly wedged in hidden vehicle compartments in places like the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa ports of entry south of San Diego.

There is virtually no limit to the ways in which cartels can smuggle drugs into the US by land, sea, and air. The most commonly used methods today are still the most traditional — hiding larger packages of drugs in cars going through ports of entry, strapping smaller bundles under loose clothing, or hauling bales of dope in pickup trucks or on the backs of human mules in the vast terrain between the ports. "Go-fast" speedboats and commercial and small single-engine aircraft were once favorites for smugglers, but cartels have put their own stamp on all these methods in recent years.


Excerpted from Border Insecurity by Sylvia Longmire. Copyright © 2014 Sylvia Longmire. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Sylvia Longmire is an independent consultant, former Air Force officer and Special Agent, and a former senior intelligence analyst for the State of California. She is also frequently an expert witness in US immigration cases. Ms. Longmire has been interviewed extensively by FOX News Channel, CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL News, BBC Radio, The Miami Herald, The Houston Chronicle and The San Diego Union-Tribune, among others. She is a contributing editor for Homeland Security Today magazine and Breitbart Texas, and the author of Cartel. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Sylvia Longmire is an independent consultant, former Air Force officer and Special Agent, and a former senior intelligence analyst for the State of California. She is also frequently an expert witness in US immigration cases. Ms. Longmire has been interviewed extensively by FOX News Channel, CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL News, BBC Radio, The Miami Herald, The Houston Chronicle and The San Diego Union-Tribune, among others. She is a contributing editor for Homeland Security Today magazine and Breitbart Texas, and the author of Cartel. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.

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Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren't Making Us Safer 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
groucho42 More than 1 year ago
It's a very good description of the situation. Let me repeat: It's descriptive, not prescriptive. What's good is that the author provides anecdotes and statistics that paint a realistic picture that's in between the extremes shouted in today's politics.