Small Wars Journal

Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 34: The Ranfla Indictment and the Command and Control (C2) Targeting of MS-13’s ‘Board of Directors’ in El Salvador

Mon, 01/25/2021 - 3:36pm

Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 34: The Ranfla Indictment and the  Command and Control (C2) Targeting of MS-13’s ‘Board of Directors’ in El Salvador

Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan

The 31-page Ranfla Indictment filed in the United States District Court, Eastern District of New York on 16 December 2020 and unsealed on 14 January 2021 is a product of Joint Task Force Vulcan (JTFV). The indictment follows the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) kingpin strategy of targeting the upper echelon of Mara Salvatrucha’s (MS-13) leadership—the Ranfla Nacional in El Salvador—with the intent of demolishing its command and control (C2) structure. The extradition of the eleven imprisoned Ranfla  members from El Salvador to the United States (three are still at large) to stand charges represents a component of the indictment presently being explored. Of strategic concern is the Ranfla’s ability to direct MS-13 clica (clique) activities within the United States.

MS-13

Source: U.S. Justice Department, Full-Scale Response: A Report on the Department of Justice’s Efforts to Combat MS-13 from 2016-2020. Washington, DC., October 2020: p. 2, https://www.justice.gov/ag/page/file/1329776/download.

Key Information: “MS-13’s Highest-Ranking Leaders Charged with Terrorism Offenses in the United States.Press Release. United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of New York. 14 January 2021, https://www.justice.gov/usao-edny/pr/ms-13-s-highest-ranking-leaders-charged-terrorism-offenses-united-states:

CENTRAL ISLIP, NY - Earlier today, an indictment was unsealed in Central Islip, New York charging 14 of the world’s highest-ranking MS-13 leaders who are known today as the Ranfla Nacional, which operated as the Organization’s Board of Directors, and directed MS-13’s violence and criminal activity around the world for almost two decades.

Specifically, the indictment charges the defendants with conspiracy to provide and conceal material support to terrorists, conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries, conspiracy to finance terrorism and narco-terrorism conspiracy in connection with the defendants’ leadership of the transnational criminal organization over the past two decades from El Salvador, the United States, Mexico and elsewhere.

Defendant Borromeo Enrique Henriquez, aka “Diablito de Hollywood,” is widely recognized as the most powerful member of the Ranfla Nacional.  Three of the indicted defendants, Fredy Ivan Jandres-Parada, aka “Lucky de Park View” and “Lacky de Park View,” Cesar Humberto Lopez-Larios, aka “El Grenas de Stoners” and “Oso de Stoners,” and Hugo Armando Quinteros-Mineros, aka “Flaco de Francis,” remain at large and should be considered armed and dangerous.

Key Information: “MS-13 ‘Board of Directors’ Charged with Terrorism.” VOA News. 14 January 2021,https://www.voanews.com/americas/ms-13-board-directors-charged-terrorism:

Federal authorities indicted the “board of directors” of the MS-13 gang on terrorism charges Thursday. 

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York, 14 gang leaders are charged with “conspiracy to provide and conceal material support to terrorists, conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries, conspiracy to finance terrorism and narcoterrorism conspiracy,” the Justice Department said in a news release. 

One of those charged is Borromeo Enrique Henriquez, also known as Diablito de Hollywood. Prosecutors called him one of the gang’s most important members. All the suspects make up the Ranfla Nacional, which is MS-13’s ruling body.  

Eleven of the charged are in jail in El Salvador, but three remain at large. The Justice Department said it was exploring ways to extradite the imprisoned to the United States.

Key Information: “LÍDERES DE ALTO RANGO DE LA MS-13 SON ACUSADOS POR DELITOS DE TERRORISMO EN LOS ESTADOS UNIDOS.” Comunicado de Prensa (Press Release), U.S. Embassy in El Salvador. 5 January 2020, https://sv.usembassy.gov/es/lideres-de-alto-rango-de-la-ms-13-son-acusados-por-delitos-de-terrorismo-en-los-estados-unidos/:

“La MS-13 es responsable de una ola de muerte y violencia que ha aterrorizado a las comunidades, dejando a los barrios de Long Island y a todo el Distrito Este de Nueva York inundados de sangre”, dijo el fiscal en funciones del Distrito Este de Nueva York (EDNY), Seth D. DuCharme. “Incluso desde la cárcel, la Ranfla Nacional continuó dirigiendo las operaciones globales de la MS-13, reclutando nuevos miembros en la MS-13, incluyendo niños, y orquestando asesinatos y caos en todo el mundo. La innovadora acusación de hoy busca demoler la MS-13 apuntando a su estructura de mando y control y haciendo responsable a la Junta Directiva de la MS-13 por sus acciones terroristas”, añadió…

…Como se alega en la acusación, la Ranfla Nacional comprende el más alto nivel de liderazgo del MS-13.  Aproximadamente en 2002, los acusados y otros dirigentes del MS-13 comenzaron a establecer una estructura de mando y control altamente organizada y jerárquica como medio para llevar a cabo sus decisiones y hacer cumplir sus órdenes, incluso mientras estaban en prisión.  Dirigieron actos de violencia y asesinato en El Salvador, Estados Unidos y otros lugares; establecieron campamentos de entrenamiento de tipo militar para sus miembros. y obtuvieron armas militares como rifles, pistolas, granadas, artefactos explosivos improvisados (IED) y lanzacohetes. Como líderes de la MS-13, los acusados controlaban franjas de territorio y participaban en actividades de relaciones públicas en nombre de la organización delictiva transnacional. Además, los acusados utilizaban la gran cantidad de miembros de la MS-13 en los Estados Unidos para participar en actividades delictivas, como el tráfico de drogas y la extorsión para recaudar fondos en apoyo de las actividades terroristas de la MS-13 en El Salvador y en otros lugares, y dirigían a sus miembros en los Estados Unidos a cometer actos de violencia, incluidos asesinatos, para promover sus objetivos.[1] 

Key Information: United States of America v. Borromeo Enrique Henriquez, also known as “Diablito de Hollywood,” et al (Ranfla Indictment). United States District Court, Eastern District of New York. 16 December 2020, https://www.justice.gov/usao-edny/press-release/file/1354326/download:

23.  Political Influence in El Salvador  The Ranfla Nacional gained political influence as a result of the violence and intimidation MS-13 exerted on the government and population of El Salvador. Through extortion and violence, MS-13 controlled large parts of El Salvador’s economy, particularly the mass transportation industry. Through control of the level of violence, the Ranfla Nacional exercised leverage over the government of El Salvador. In approximately 2012, the Ranfla Nacional engaged in secret negotiations with members of the ruling Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (“FMLN”) party of El Salvador, and MS-13’s principal rival, the 18th Street, to enter into a “truce” to reduce homicides in El Salvador in exchange for improved prison conditions, benefits and money. Ultimately, the leaders of the Ranfla Nacional agreed to reduce violence in exchange for prisoner transfers to a less secure prison, increased benefits such as conjugal visits and cash payments. The Ranfla Nacional also negotiated with the FMLN and its rival political party, the Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (“ARENA”), to provide votes to political candidates in exchange for benefits for MS-13 and the members of the Ranfla Nacional themselves. From approximately 2012 until approximately 2015, the Ranfla Nacional directed that MS-13 should reduce homicides in El Salvador. ln exchange, the Ranfla Nacional received improved prison conditions, benefits for MS-13 and cash payments. However, in approximately 2015 the “truce” collapsed and was terminated. The Ranfla Nacional blamed the end of the “truce” on the United States, believing that the United States government pressured the government of El Salvador to end the “truce” as a condition of receiving funds from the United States.

Key Information: Steven Dudley, “6 Reasons Why the US Charged MS13 Leaders with Terrorism.” InSight Crime. 15 January 2021, https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/ms13-leaders-terrorism/:

The US government’s terrorism case against the MS13 opens a new frontier in fighting international street gangs.

On January 14, the Eastern District of New York made public a December 2020 indictment of 14 leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13), 11 of whom are in El Salvador prisons. Specifically, the indictment charges them with four counts: 1) conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists; 2) conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism; 3) conspiracy to finance terrorism; 4) narco-terrorism…

While the indictment is long on accusations, it is short on details with few aspects of the actual criminal acts described in the 30-page document. However, it does describe the efforts to create a special forces unit to attack authorities, as well as the gang’s interactions with the country’s main political parties to help them secure votes.

Key Information: Steven Dudley, “Mafia to Terrorists: How US Prosecutors Have Bent the Law to Fight MS13.” InSight Crime. 18 January 2021, https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/mafia-terrorists-us-prosecutors-ms13/:

The December 2020 indictment, which was released on January 14, said 14 leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13), most of whom are in jail in El Salvador, directed their members to commit murders in the United States, establish training camps in El Salvador, and obtain assault rifles, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and rocket-propelled grenades to commit acts of violence in both places.

The indictment also says the leaders directed extortion and drug trafficking in the US. Part of the proceeds were sent to El Salvador where the gang allegedly used them to further their ends, which included interacting and providing support for the country’s political parties and using murder as a lever in a so-called “truce” so they could obtain more favorable conditions in prison and “cash payments.”

The indictment has brought the fight against the MS13 full circle. In 1988 – in the throes of the crack epidemic and rising homicide rates in places like Los Angeles where the MS13 born earlier that decade – the California state legislature passed the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention (STEP) Act. Although it had terrorism in the name, the law likened gangs to the mafia.[2]

Third Generation Gangs Analysis

The new indictment filed by the U.S. DOJ—the Ranfla Indictment—builds off past Trump administration domestic and international policies directed against Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13). These policies can be placed in context as follows:

In August 2019, Attorney General Barr created JTFV to carry out the recommendations of the MS-13 subcommittee formed under the Attorney General’s Transnational Organized Crime Task Force, which was the result of President Trump’s February 2017 Executive Order directing the Departments of Justice, State, and Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, to coordinate a whole-of-government approach to dismantle transnational criminal organizations, such as MS-13, and restore safety for the American people. The principal purpose of JTFV is to coordinate and lead the efforts of the Justice Department and U.S. law enforcement agencies against MS-13 in order to dismantle the group.[3]

JTFV—or Joint Task Force Vulcan—is the all-of-government ‘hammer’ used to carry out this dismantling process. The Ranfla Indictment builds off of the earlier May 2020 indictment targeting Armando Eliú Melgar Díaz (a.k.a. “Blue” or “Clipper”) who was the Corredor (Leader) of MS-13’s United States East Coast Program.[4] In that indictment, the first ever charging of a member of that gang for ‘material support to terrorists’ along with other terrorism related offenses [Conspiracy to Provide and Conceal Material Support to Terrorists (18 U.S.C.§2339A(a)), Conspiracy to Commit Acts of Terrorism Transcending National Boundaries (18 U.S.C. §§ 2332b(a)(l), 2332b(a)(2), and 2332b(c)), Narco-Terrorism Conspiracy (21 U.S.C.§960a(a)), et al.] were filed.[5] This new indictment supports the DOJ kingpin targeting strategy by elevating it from the program Corredor to national Ranfla C2 levels (and, in the process, bypasses the zone—multiple-programs—Corredor level and others).[6] Just as a Corredor was indicted on a host of terrorism charges, this same indictment approach is once again being applied at the Ranfla level.

The Ranfla developed out of the circa 2002 MS-13 prison governing body known as the “Twelve Apostles of the Devil” whose name signified the gang’s links to demonic imagery and dark spirituality. Upon the transfer of the Apostles to a new prison in circa 2004, they became known as the Ranfla,  with the original members being given the honorific title Ranfla Historica. The Ranfla Nacional was then formed, drawing from the  Ranfla Historica which acted as the equivalent of the gang’s “board of directors.”[7] Where MS-13’s C2becomes more complex is at the intersection between the Zone Corredors and the different Ranfla levels:

Ranfla Indictment

United States of America v. Borromeo Enrique Henriquez, also known as “Diablito de Hollywood,” et al (Ranfla Indictment). United States District Court, Eastern District of New York. 16 December 2020: p. 7,  https://www.justice.gov/usao-edny/press-release/file/1354326/download.

The reason why the new indictment escalated the DOJ’s targeting schema from the Program Corredor to the Ranfla Nacional levels has not been disclosed. Effectively, the Zone Corredor, Ranfla en las Calles (Ranflain the Streets), and Ranfla en los Penales (Ranfla in the Prisons) C2 levels were bypassed in the new indictment. Given the imminent termination of the Trump administration, it would be prudent to conclude that for ‘political expediency purposes’ under Attorney General William Barr’s direction the decision had been made to elevate the follow-on indictment to ‘kingpin’ targeting at the Ranfla Nacional level.[8] As a result, all fourteen members of the Ranfla Nacional eleven imprisoned and three on the streets of El Salvador) were named as defendants in the indictment. They were identified by both their legal names as well as their gang monikers.[9]  They were charged with the following U.S. Federal crimes:

• Count One: Conspiracy to Provide and Conceal Material Support and Resources to Terrorists   (Title 18, United States Code, Sections 2239A(a) and  3551 et seq.)

• Count Two: Conspiracy to Commit Acts of Terrorism Transcending National Boundaries (Title 18, United States Code, Sections 2332b(a)(1)(A), 2332b(a)(2), 2332b(b)(1)(B), 2332b(c) and 3551 et seq.)

• Count Three: Conspiracy to Finance Terrorism (Title 18, Unites States Code, Sections 2339C(a)(1)(B), 2339C(a)(2), and 3551 et seq.)

• Count Four: Narco-Terrorism Conspiracy (Title 21, United States Code, Section 960a(a); Title 18, United States Code, Sections 3551 et seq.)[10]

Also of note in the indictment is (a) the statement that MS-13 “…members engaged in ‘terrorist activity,’ as defined by Title 8, United States Code, Sections 1182(a)(3)(B)(iii) and (iv), and in ‘terrorism,’ as defined by Title 22, United States Code, Sections 2656f(d)(2).”[11] and (b) the recognition that “31. On August 24, 2015, the Supreme Court of El Salvador designated MS-13 as a terrorist organization under El Salvador’s Special Laws Against Terrorism.”[12] These identifications were made in order to further bolster the contention that the gang’s members have been engaging in acts of terrorism and that the organization itself had earlier been designated as a terrorist organization by a sovereign state allied to the United States. However, for terrorism charging precedent purposes, no mention of the seven-month earlier Armando Eliú Melgar Díaz indictment was made in the Ranfla Indictment.

Further, defining the criminal nature of MS-13’s criminal assault on states and governance is controversial. For example, there is the question of whether their acts represent high intensity crime, criminal insurgency, non-international armed conflict (NIAC), terrorism, or a combination of all these at different time and places.[13]  While there are clear components of criminal insurgency and use of terrorist tactics, the application of terrorism law to the activities of gangs and maras is controversial.[14]

As the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador explains, the political and ‘warfighting’ dimensions of MS-13 activity in El Salvador are notable:

As stated later in the indictment, the National Ranfla has exercised its power over the Government of El Salvador by committing acts of violence and intimidation against government officials, repressive agencies and the population of El Salvador in general. In doing so, the National Ranflahas ordered the assassination of officials from the repressive agencies and the Government of El Salvador, as well as the “green light”, or assassination, of an FBI special agent stationed in El Salvador who was investigating the MS -13 and its members. In addition, by controlling the level of violence of the MS-13, the National Ranfla exercised influence over the Government of El Salvador. For example, as alleged in the indictment, from approximately 2012 to approximately 2015, the National Ranfla entered into a “truce” with the then Government of El Salvador. As part of that agreement, the National Ranfla ordered the MS-13 to reduce homicides in El Salvador in exchange for better prison conditions, benefits and cash payments. In 2015, when this agreement collapsed, the National Ranfla blamed the United States, believing that the United States government pressured the government of El Salvador to end the “truce” as a condition for receiving cooperation funds. Thereafter, at the beginning of 2016, the National Ranfla began planning a major campaign of coordinated violence in El Salvador in retaliation for the most severe measures imposed on its members after the end of the “truce.” As alleged in the indictment, the defendants ordered all the cliques in El Salvador to create a specialized unit of MS-13 members to attack El Salvador's police officers, military, and government officials. These members underwent military training at the MS-13 military training camps in El Salvador. The defendants also ordered all cliques, including those in the United States and EDNY [Eastern District of New York], that will provide the proceeds of their criminal activities related to MS-13 to be used to purchase weapons for planned attacks on police in The Savior. In total, the defendants raised more than $ 600,000 for this fund that was used to purchase weapons, including M-16 and M-60 machine guns, grenades, IEDs, and rocket launchers. Additionally, the defendants ordered an increase in violence, including killings, at EDNY and elsewhere in the United States, which saw a dramatic increase in violence with the MS-13 in 2016 and 2017.[15]

While the Ranfla expanded its hold over MS-13 in El Salvador by exerting political influence and forging corrupt alliances with the state—including forging a treaty with the Government of El Salvador—it also strengthened its geographic reach, solidifying its status as a transnational gang. Its activities, especially in Mexico, include links with Los Zetas, Cártel del Golfo (CDG), Cártel de Sinaloa (CDS), and Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) to further their criminal enterprises related to the drug trade and firearms and human trafficking [16]:

…la Ranfla Nacional dirigió la expansión de las actividades de la MS-13 en todo el mundo, sobre todo en México, donde se envió a varios dirigentes de alto rango para que organizaran operaciones. En México, los líderes de la MS-13 establecieron conexiones para obtener narcóticos y armas de fuego, hicieron negocios con los cárteles mexicanos de la droga, como los Zetas, el Cártel del Golfo, el Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) y el Cártel de Sinaloa, y se dedicaron a la trata y el contrabando de personas.[17]

With the recent change in U.S. presidential administrations, it is presently unclear how the policies of the U.S. Department of Justice towards MS-13 will be affected following the 11th hour unsealing of the Ranfla Indictment as the Trump administration concluded its four-year term. Since 2017 under that administration, Mara Salvatrucha has been politicized and demonized with DOJ literally being directed to “go to war” against it.[18] The expectation is the DOJ under the new Biden administration will be more nuanced and traditional in its policies towards MS-13. It will mostly certainly depoliticize the administration’s relationship to the gang and the anti-Latin American immigration policies to which it was so closely tied. Still, the reality remains that MS-13 under the leadership of the Ranfla Nacional is evolving into an increasingly capable violent non-state actor (VNSA).[19] While the policies of the Trump administration can in retrospect readily be viewed as xenophobic in orientation, concern exists that the pendulum under the new administration may swing too far in the other direction and underestimate the threat this transnational gang represents. Debates will now undoubtedly emerge amongst gang and national security scholars and policymakers over what the appropriate Biden administration MS-13 policies—both foreign and domestic—should be.    

Sources

“LÍDERES DE ALTO RANGO DE LA MS-13 SON ACUSADOS POR DELITOS DE TERRORISMO EN LOS ESTADOS UNIDOS.” U.S. Embassy in El Salvador. Comunicado de Prensa (Press Release). 5 January 2020, https://sv.usembassy.gov/es/lideres-de-alto-rango-de-la-ms-13-son-acusados-por-delitos-de-terrorismo-en-los-estados-unidos/.

“MS-13 ‘Board of Directors’ Charged with Terrorism.” VOA News. 14 January 2021,https://www.voanews.com/americas/ms-13-board-directors-charged-terrorism

“MS-13’s Highest-Ranking Leaders Charged with Terrorism Offenses in the United States. Press Release. United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of New York. 14 January 2021, https://www.justice.gov/usao-edny/pr/ms-13-s-highest-ranking-leaders-charged-terrorism-offenses-united-states.

Steven Dudley, “6 Reasons Why the US Charged MS13 Leaders with Terrorism.” InSight Crime. 15 January 2021, https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/ms13-leaders-terrorism/.

Steven Dudley, “Mafia to Terrorists: How US Prosecutors Have Bent the Law to Fight MS13.” InSight Crime. 18 January 2021, https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/mafia-terrorists-us-prosecutors-ms13/.

United States of America v. Borromeo Enrique Henriquez, also known as “Diablito de Hollywood,” et al (Ranfla Indictment). United States District Court, Eastern District of New York. 16 December 2020, https://www.justice.gov/usao-edny/press-release/file/1354326/download.

Endnotes

[1] In English, the title reads: “HIGH-RANKING MS-13 LEADERS CHARGED FOR CRIMES OF TERRORISM IN THE UNITED STATES.” The text reads: “‘MS-13 is responsible for a wave of death and violence that has terrorized communities, leaving neighborhoods on Long Island and the entire Eastern District of New York awash with blood,’ said the Acting Attorney for the Eastern District of New York (EDNY), Seth D. DuCharme. ‘Even from prison, the National Ranfla continued to direct the global operations of MS-13, recruiting new members into MS-13, including children, and orchestrating murder and mayhem around the world. Today’s groundbreaking indictment seeks to demolish MS-13 by targeting its command and control structure and holding the MS-13 Board of Directors accountable for its terrorist actions,’ he added” …  “As alleged in the indictment, the National Ranfla comprises the highest level of MS-13 leadership. In around 2002, the defendants and other MS-13 leaders began to establish a highly organized and hierarchical command and control structure as a means of carrying out their decisions and enforcing their orders, even while in prison. They directed acts of violence and murder in El Salvador, the United States, and elsewhere; they established military-type training camps for their members and they obtained military weapons such as rifles, pistols, grenades, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and rocket launchers. As leaders of the MS-13, the defendants controlled swaths of territory and participated in public relations activities on behalf of the transnational criminal organization. In addition, the defendants used the large number of MS-13 members in the United States to participate in criminal activities, such as drug trafficking and extortion to raise funds in support of MS-13 terrorist activities in El Salvador and elsewhere, and directed their members in the United States to commit acts of violence, including assassinations, to further their goals.”

[2] See Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act (Californian Penal Code §§ 86.20-186.36), https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displayText.xhtml?lawCode=PEN&division=&title=7.&part=1.&chapter=11.&article.

[3] U.S. Department of Justice, “The Department of Justice Announces Takedown of Key MS-13 Criminal Leadership.” Press Release. Washington, DC, 15 July 2020, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/department-justice-announces-takedown-key-ms-13-criminal-leadership. “Specifically, the TOC Task Force targeted: MS-13, Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG), Sinaloa Cartel, Clan del Golfo, and Lebanese Hezbollah.” U.S. Department of Justice, Full-Scale Response: A Report on the Department of Justice’s Efforts to Combat MS-13 from 2016-2020. Washington, DC., October 2020: p. 3, https://www.justice.gov/ag/page/file/1329776/download.

[4] See “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff, v. ARMANDO ELIU MELGAR DIAZ, a.k.a. ‘Blue,’ a.k.a. ‘Clipper,’ Defendant.” United States District Court, Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division. INDICTMENT. Case 1:20-cr-00103-RDA5, Document 8.  5 May 2020: pp. 1-39, https://www.justice.gov/usao-edva/press-release/file/1294501/download.

[5] Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 31: MS-13 East Coast Program Command and Control (C2), Cliques, & Geographic Distribution.” Small Wars Journal. 8 September 2020, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/third-generation-gangs-strategic-note-no-31-ms-13-east-coast-program-command-and-control. 

[6] Ibid, See Figure 1. MS-13 East Coast Program C2.

[7] United States of America v. Borromeo Enrique Henriquez, also known as “Diablito de Hollywood,” et al(Ranfla Indictment). United States District Court, Eastern District of New York. 16 December 2020: pp. 4-5,  https://www.justice.gov/usao-edny/press-release/file/1354326/download.

[8] Attorney General William Barr left office on 23 December 2020, about a week after the indictment had been filed on 16 December 2020. The indictment itself was filed two days after Trump publicly stated on 14 December 2020 that Barr would be resigning his position. 

[9] United States of America v. Borromeo Enrique Henriquez, also known as “Diablito de Hollywood,” et al(Ranfla Indictment): pp. 14-16.

[10] Ibid: pp. 22-27.

[11] Ibid: p. 2.

[12] Ibid: p. 14.

[13] See Robert J. Bunker, Criminal (Cartel & Gang) Insurgencies in Mexico and the Americas: What you need to know, not what you want to hear in “Has Merida Evolved? Part One: The Evolution of Drug Cartels and the Threat to Mexico’s Governance.” Congressional testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. Washington, DC, 13 September 2011: pp. 1-25,https://scholarship.claremont.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1154&context=cgu_fac_pub and John P. Sullivan, “The Challenges of Territorial Gangs: Civil Strife, Criminal Insurgencies and Crime Wars.” Revista do Ministério Público Militar (Brazil), Edição n. 31, November 2019,https://www.academia.edu/40917684/The_Challenges_of_Territorial_Gangs_Civil_Strife_Criminal_Insurgencies_and_Crime_Wars.

[14] See Pamela Ruiz, “Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18: Gangs, Terrorists, or Political Manipulation?” Small Wars Journal. 1 October 2020, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/mara-salvatrucha-ms-13-and-barrio-18-gangs-terrorists-or-political-manipulation.

[15] “LÍDERES DE ALTO RANGO DE LA MS-13 SON ACUSADOS POR DELITOS DE TERRORISMO EN LOS ESTADOS UNIDOS.” U.S. Embassy in El Salvador. Comunicado de Prensa (Press Release). 5 January 2020, https://sv.usembassy.gov/es/lideres-de-alto-rango-de-la-ms-13-son-acusados-por-delitos-de-terrorismo-en-los-estados-unidos/.  In the original Spanish: “Como se expone más adelante en el acta de acusación, la Ranfla Nacional ha ejercido su poder sobre el Gobierno de El Salvador cometiendo actos de violencia e intimidación contra funcionarios del gobierno, los organismos de represión y la población de El Salvador en general.  Al hacerlo, el Ranfla Nacional ha ordenado el asesinato de funcionarios de los organismos de represión y del Gobierno de El Salvador, así como la “luz verde”, o el asesinato, de un agente especial del FBI destacado en El Salvador que investigaba la MS-13 y sus miembros. Además, al controlar el nivel de violencia del MS-13, la Ranfla Nacional ejerció influencia sobre el Gobierno de El Salvador. Por ejemplo, como se alega en el acta de acusación, desde aproximadamente 2012 hasta aproximadamente 2015, la Ranfla Nacional entró en una “tregua” con el entonces Gobierno de El Salvador.  Como parte de ese acuerdo, la Ranfla Nacional ordenó a la MS-13 que redujera los homicidios en El Salvador a cambio de mejores condiciones carcelarias, prestaciones y pagos en efectivo. En 2015, cuando este acuerdo se derrumbó, la Ranfla Nacional culpó a los Estados Unidos, creyendo que el gobierno de los Estados Unidos presionó al gobierno de El Salvador para que pusiera fin a la “tregua” como condición para recibir fondos de cooperación. A partir de entonces, a principios de 2016, la Ranfla Nacional comenzó a planificar una importante campaña de violencia coordinada en El Salvador en represalia por las medidas más severas impuestas a sus miembros tras el fin de la “tregua”.  Como se alega en la acusación, los acusados ordenaron a todas las clicas de El Salvador que crearan una unidad especializada de miembros de la MS-13 para atacar a los agentes de policía, los militares y los funcionarios gubernamentales de El Salvador. Estos miembros se sometieron a entrenamiento militar en los campamentos de entrenamiento militar de la MS-13 en El Salvador.  Los acusados también ordenaron a todas las clicas, incluidas las de los Estados Unidos y el EDNY, que proporcionarán los beneficios de sus actividades delictivas relacionadas con la MS-13 para que se utilizaran en la compra de armas para los ataques previstos contra la policía en El Salvador. En total, los acusados recaudaron más de $600.000 para este fondo que se utilizó para comprar armas, incluyendo ametralladoras M-16 y M-60, granadas, IED y lanzacohetes.  Además, los acusados ordenaron un aumento de la violencia, incluyendo asesinatos, en el EDNY y en otras partes de los Estados Unidos, que vieron un dramático aumento de la violencia con las MS-13 en 2016 y 2017.”

[16] Ibid. In addition, on transnational gangs, see John P. Sullivan, “Transnational Gangs: The Impact of Third Generation Gangs in Central America.” Air & Space Power Journal (Spanish Edition). Second Trimester 2008, https://www.academia.edu/927368/Transnational_gangs_The_impact_of_third_generation_gangs_in_Central_America. On alliances among TCOs—including a discussion of those between the Zetas and MS-13—see John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus, “Los Zetas and MS-13:Nontraditional Alliances.” CTC Sentinel (Combating Terrorism Center at West Point). Vol. 5, Issue 6 (June 2012), http://www.academia.edu/download/19848690/Zetas_MS-13_Sullivan_Elkus.pdf.

[17] Op. Cit. Note 15. In English, the text reads: “Finally, as alleged in the indictment, the National Ranfladirected the expansion of MS-13 activities around the world, especially in Mexico, where several high-ranking leaders were dispatched to organize operations. In Mexico, MS-13 leaders established connections to obtain narcotics and firearms, did business with Mexican drug cartels, such as the Zetas, the Gulf Cartel, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and the Sinaloa Cartel, and engaged in human trafficking and smuggling.”

[18] U.S. Department of Justice, “The Department of Justice Announces Takedown of Key MS-13 Criminal Leadership.” Press Release. Washington, DC, 15 July 2020, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/department-justice-announces-takedown-key-ms-13-criminal-leadership. While Attorney General William Barr labeling MS-13 as a ‘Death Cult’ may appear to be political hyperbole some factual basis exists to make sure an accusation. See “Barr Announces Task Force Vulcan to Target MS-13 ‘Death Cult’ Gang Leaders.” YouTube. 15 January 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5Al7snjc3M and Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 8: Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) Links to Occult Rituals and Santa Muerte Veneration or Worship.” Small Wars Journal. 19 January 2018, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/third-generation-gangs-strategic-note-number-eight.

[19] An underappreciated component of the Ranfla Nacional’s increasing influence over domestic U.S. MS-13 activities is the power dynamic between it and the Mexican Mafia (La Eme). MS-13 cliques in Southern California are vassals of La Eme—hence the ‘13’ designation. Traditionally, MS-13 decision making was a cooperative effort shared between the between Los Angeles and El Salvadoran C2 nodes. As the Ranfla Nacional has gained in power and influence, the Los Angeles node is seeing its own influence diminished outside of its direct Southern Californian prisons’ zone of control.

For Additional Reading

Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 31: MS-13 East Coast Program Command and Control (C2), Cliques, & Geographic Distribution.” Small Wars Journal. 8 September 2020. 

Steven Dudley, MS13: The Making of America’s Most Notorious Gang. New York: Harper Collins, 2020.

John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, Eds., Strategic Notes on Third Generation Gangs. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2020.

Pamela Ruiz, “Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18: Gangs, Terrorists, or Political Manipulation?Small Wars Journal.1 October 2020.

U.S. Department of Justice, Full-Scale Response: A Report on the Department of Justice’s Efforts to Combat MS-13 from 2016-2020. Washington, DC., October 2020.

About the Author(s)

Dr. Robert J. Bunker is Director of Research and Analysis, C/O Futures, LLC, and an Instructor at the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy. He holds university degrees in political science, government, social science, anthropology-geography, behavioral science, and history and has undertaken hundreds of hours of counterterrorism training. Past professional associations include Minerva Chair at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College and Futurist in Residence, Training and Development Division, Behavioral Science Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy, Quantico. Dr. Bunker has well over 500 publications—including about 40 books as co-author, editor, and co-editor—and can be reached at docbunker@smallwarsjournal.com.   
 

Dr. John P. Sullivan was a career police officer. He is an honorably retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, specializing in emergency operations, transit policing, counterterrorism, and intelligence. He is currently an Instructor in the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California. Sullivan received a lifetime achievement award from the National Fusion Center Association in November 2018 for his contributions to the national network of intelligence fusion centers. He completed the CREATE Executive Program in Counter-Terrorism at the University of Southern California and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from the College of William and Mary, a Master of Arts in Urban Affairs and Policy Analysis from the New School for Social Research, and a PhD from the Open University of Catalonia (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya). His doctoral thesis was “Mexico’s Drug War: Cartels, Gangs, Sovereignty and the Network State.” He can be reached at jpsullivan@smallwarsjournal.com.

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