This is a source for analysis, interviews, and commentary on security in Latin America. Herein you will find rumors, the results of off the record interviews, and information you'll not find in international or United States news media.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pen and Pad with Napolitano

In a recent pen and pad secession with DHS Chief Janet Napolitano, a journalist asked a very good question:

Is that part of the problem, Madam Secretary, that the Mexico portfolio, you know, touches on so many agencies? Is the Administration at all thinking about housing them all, you know, particularly, you know, security, so that it’s not State and Department of Justice and Homeland Security but sort of creating a Mexico Security Czar?

This is entirely true. We have the DHS coming in with CBP and ICE. There is the DOJ with the DEA, the FBI, and the ATF. There is the DOS, which runs the Merida Initiative, and there is the White House - where an number of Obama-backed initiatives are born and passed along to others to implement.

Her answer:

You know, I don’t know about that. I mean a lot of the issues I deal with involve many agencies. I mean that’s just the problems of today don’t really match up with government, you know, organizations of — that we have in a way. They — they — and so one of my tasks is to be able to work with my colleagues on the Cabinet, with the White House, and with others and to recognize, you know, there are things Homeland Security will be doing, there are things that are going to impact the Department of State, impact DOJ and so forth, and that’s — that’s — you know, that — that’s the effort that’s going on now, is to make sure that we all know what each other is doing and are speaking with a consistent voice.

But — but if I had to sum up where we are, it’s that this issue’s getting top attention in multiple departments of the U.S., that planning is well underway and that we are having extensive discussions with our federal colleagues within Mexico and it is really focused on assisting the Mexican Government with their fight against the cartels. One facet of that assistance is looking at what we can do to stop cash and guns, and you guys didn’t ask me about cash which is kind of interesting, from going south.

One aspect of it is supporting our state and local law enforcement along the border and being ever prepared to respond with more resources should we see spill-over violence in the way I described it to you occurring...

I don't think a Mexican Drug Czar is the answer, but we can certainly make sure that the lines separating different agencies stay in place.

Operation Armas Cruzadas, the anti-gun smuggling program operated by ICE, is a good example. ICE agents are not arms experts. They are not well equipped to build a solid case against errant arms dealers, and they don't have the local knowledge (in places like Arizona and Texas) where most arms are legally purchased before slipping into the gray market.

With the exception of the X Caliber case (see below post), which was a fluke, the ATF has long demonstrated expertise when combatting gun smuggling. When ICE comes in with its own arms smuggling operation, it muddies the waters, creates conflict on the ground among agents, and further complicates the mission. This is just one example. Moving forward, I would argue that the one item that will most quickly deep six our efforts to control the border, to stop arms and cash from moving south, and to stop drugs from coming north, will be our inability to manage one large communications nightmare between so many agencies.

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