Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Cartel Takedown: My Counterterrorism Magazine Piece On The DEA-Led Operation Python

My piece on the DEA-led Operation Python cartel takedown appears in the current issue of Counterterrorism magazine.

You can read the piece below:

On March 11th, the U.S. Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced the results of Project Python, a DEA-led interagency operation encompassing all global investigations and related disruption activities targeting the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG).

According to the Justice Department, the announcement marked the successful conclusion of six months of investigative and enforcement activity targeting the cartel, which resulted in more than 600 arrests, 350 indictments, as well as significant seizures of money and drugs.

“Project Python marks the most comprehensive action to date in the Department of Justice’s campaign to disrupt, dismantle, and ultimately destroy CJNG,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Criminal Division. “When President Trump signed an Executive Order prioritizing the dismantlement of transnational criminal organizations, the Department of Justice answered the call and took direct aim at CJNG. We deemed CJNG as one of the highest-priority transnational organized crime threats we face.”

Acting DEA Administrator Uttam Dhillon noted that this was the single largest strike by American law enforcement. “This strategic and coordinated project exemplifies DEA’s mission: to disrupt, dismantle, and destroy drug trafficking organizations around the world and bring their leaders to justice,” Dhillon said. “The DEA has disrupted CJNG’s operations, and there is more to come as DEA continues its relentless attack on this remorseless criminal organization.”

The Justice Department stated that the cartel is one of the fastest growing transnational criminal organizations in Mexico and among the most prolific methamphetamine producers in the world. The cartel is responsible for a significant proportion of drugs entering the United States and for elevated levels of violence in Mexico. With methamphetamine abuse and overdose deaths on the rise, Project Python’s aim was to disrupt the cartel’s ability by hitting the cartel at all levels.

The Justice Department and DEA also announced a superseding indictment on charges of alleged continuing criminal enterprise against Nemesio Ruben Oseguera Cervantes, also known as “El Mencho,” the undisputed leader of CJNG. In February, El Mencho’s son, Ruben Oseguera Gonzalez, also known as “Menchito,” and second in command of CJNG, was extradited from Mexico to the United States on charges of alleged drug trafficking and firearm use in relation to drug trafficking activities. And on Feb. 26, 2020, El Mencho’s daughter, Jessica Johanna Oseguera Gonzalez, was arrested in the United States on financial charges related to her alleged criminal violation of the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.

The U.S. Department of Treasury also designated El Mencho as a “specially designated narcotics trafficker” pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, and the U.S. Department of State issued one of the largest narcotics rewards ever, $10 million dollars, for information leading to the arrest of El Mencho.

The Department of Justice’s multi-agency Special Operations Division, federal prosecutors from the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section of the Department’s Criminal Division, the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs and Office of Enforcement Operations all provided support to Project Python.

According to a August 2019 Congressional Research Service Report, “Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Organizations,” the CJNG, originally known as the Zeta Killers, made its first appearance in 2011 with a roadside display of the bodies of 35 alleged members of Los Zetas.

The cartel is based in the Jalisco state with operations in central Mexico, including the states of Colima, Michoacán, Mexico State, Guerrero, and Guanajuato. The cartel has grown into a dominant force in the states of the Tierra Caliente, including Guerrero and Michoacán. The cartel is reportedly been led by many former associates of slain Sinaloa DTO leader Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, who operated his faction in Jalisco until he was killed by Mexico’s security forces in July 2010.

The report notes that the cartel’s roots go back to the Milenio Cartel, which was active in the tierra caliente region of southern Mexico before it broke up in 2009. The CJNG is a by-product of the Milenio cartel’s collapse and was allied with the Sinaloa federation until 2014. CJNG reportedly served as an enforcement group for the Sinaloa DTO until the summer 2013.

The report states that analysts and Mexican authorities have suggested the split between Sinaloa and CJNG is one of the many indications of a general fragmentation of crime groups. According to the report, the Mexican military delivered a severe blow to the CJNG with the July 2013 capture of its leader’s deputy, Victor Hugo “El Tornado” Delgado Renteria.

According to some analysts, CJNG has operations throughout the Americas, Asia, and Europe. The group allegedly is responsible for distributing cocaine and methamphetamine along 10,000 kilometers of the Pacific coast in a route that extends from the Southern Cone to the border of the United States and Canada.”

The report also states that CJNG battled Los Zetas and Gulf cartel factions in Tabasco, Veracruz, and Guanajuato, and has battled the Sinaloa federation in the Baja peninsulas and Chihuahua. The report claims CJNG’s ambitious expansion campaign has led to high levels of violence, particularly in Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana, where it has clashed with the Sinaloa federation for control of the lucrative heroin trade and corresponding smuggling routes.

The CJNG’s efforts to dominate key ports on both the Pacific and Gulf Coasts has allowed the cartel to consolidate important components of the global narcotics supply chain. CJNG asserts control over the ports of Veracruz, Mazanillo, and Lázaro Cardenas, which has given the group access to precursor chemicals that flow into Mexico from China and other parts of Latin America. As a result, CJNG has been able to pursue an aggressive growth strategy, underwritten by U.S. demand for Mexican methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl.

CJNG is considered a newer and extremely powerful cartel, based in Mexico’s second-largest city of Guadalajara, and has a presence in 22 of the 32 Mexican states.

Speaking at the March press conference, Assistant Attorney General Brain Benczkowski thanked Acting Administrator Dhillon for his strong leadership in the fight against transnational organized crime. He also thanked the law enforcement professionals of the DEA.

Benczkowski said that the DEA is dedicated to taking down the most dangerous and destructive cartels in the world. “Its brave agents work tirelessly to disrupt and dismantle criminal drug trafficking syndicates, to reduce the availability of drugs, and to ensure that the places where we live, work, and raise our families are safe and secure.”

Benczkowski stated that the CJNG is one of the most dangerous transnational criminal organizations in the world. He said that the cartel produces its own precursors and recruits chemists and experienced cooks to its operations, further expanding the reach of its fentanyl and heroin production and distribution operations.

“According to DEA’s intelligence, CJNG runs major methamphetamine labs in Mexico and continues to increase its presence along the Southwest Border. And with primary drug distribution hubs in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Houston, and Atlanta, CJNG is one of the most powerful Mexican cartels operating within the United States,” Benczkowski said. “At the same time, CJNG has contributed to a catastrophic trail of human and physical destruction in Mexico. It is the most well-armed cartel in Mexico. Its members willingly confront rival cartels and even the security forces of the Mexican government. CJNG is responsible for grisly acts of violence and loss of life. With Project Python, we are delivering results in the face of that threat for the American people.”

Paul Davis is a regular contributor to the Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security Int’l. 

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