Small Wars Journal

narcotics trafficking

Demystifying the synthetic drug menace: India’s struggles and strategies

Demystifying the synthetic drug menace: India’s struggles and strategies

Girisanker S.B.               

By the end of the Cold War, the evolution of the referent object of security from a state-centric approach to a broader focus on human security has led to recognising various non-traditional security threats that extend beyond traditional state boundaries. The rise of synthetic drugs has added a new dimension to the illicit drug landscape, altering the dynamics of traditional plant-based opioids and associated trafficking networks necessitating governments to rethink their conventional counter-narcotic strategies. Synthetic drugs like Amphetamines, Meth (methamphetamine) and MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), K2, and Fentanyl made in labs (semi-synthetic or synthetic) have become a growing concern due to their affordability, being unaffected by climatic conditions, profitability, and ease of transportation. Of further concern is the potential transnational crime-terror nexus that might be fuelling the synthetic drug industry. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) noted that synthetic drug trafficking from East and South-East Asian and South-West Asia, targeting South Asia, is surging,[1] particularly high volumes of Methamphetamine continue to be produced in Shan State of Myanmar by ethnic insurgent groups like the United Wa State Army and Shan State Army.

Fentanyl

Ball-and-stick model of the fentanyl molecule, Public Domain

The repercussions of this synthetic drug crisis are not confined to Asia alone; they are evident in the largest illegal drug market, the United States. The dramatic increase in overdose deaths related to synthetic opioids, primarily Fentanyl, has reached alarming levels according to a report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The involvement of Mexican organized criminal factions like the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) in the manufacturing and smuggling of Methamphetamine and Fentanyl precursors from countries like China and India into the United States has raised serious national security apprehensions for the United States.[2] Consequently, the United States has taken a proactive stance, advocating for global collaboration to combat the synthetic drug trade. The US law enforcement priorities have undergone a notable shift primarily focused on thwarting the access of international criminal syndicates to precursor chemicals essential for synthetic drug production through close coordination and information sharing with partner countries. Additionally, extensive efforts are being dedicated to unravelling non-traditional alliances between terrorists, transnational drug trafficking organizations (criminal cartels) and transnational gangs that might be driving this illicit industry.

In this regard, Social Network Analysis (SNA) and node similarity-based algorithms have gained popularity worldwide after 9/11 in the law enforcement community for predicting complex links within criminal organizations.[3] These tools are invaluable for helping policymakers gain a deeper understanding of these clandestine structures and devise strategies to weaken and disrupt them. Scholars have used SNA to study a wide range of criminal groups, from terrorist cells involved in the 2002 Bali bombings to identifying criminal groups engaged in an extensive series of convenience store robberies in Richmond, Virginia and unravelling a cannabis cultivation network in the Netherlands known as Blackbird by allowing Dutch police to identify intelligence gaps and potential informants.[4] Nathan P. Jones, Irina Chindea, Daniel Weisz Argomedo, and John P. Sullivan based on the study on Mexican drug trafficking organisations network, recommend that policymakers and intelligence agencies should integrate machine learning techniques and SNA into their analysis of complex illicit networks for counter-narcotic operations. A key contribution from their analysis is the ability to predict alliances, which help policy-makers find the likely missing data on dark networks.[5] Thus, studies are ongoing to unravel and predict the possibility of future nexus within illicit networks.

Meanwhile, the report released by the insights crime highlight’s a concerning gap between the apparent scale of the synthetic drug problem in the United States and the ability of law enforcement agencies to successfully dismantle the networks responsible for its proliferation.[6] This could be due to various factors, including the complexity of these networks, the adaptability of criminal organizations involved in synthetic drug production and distribution and international challenges in counter-narcotic coordinating efforts.  

In this context, it is worth noting that in 2019, under pressure from the US, China scheduled all forms of fentanyl. However, the counter-narcotic collaboration between the two countries became strained in 2020 when the US unilaterally imposed sanctions on Chinese companies, arrested Chinese nationals, and criticized China's counter-narcotics efforts. China, in turn, blamed the US for escalating its domestic security concerns to an international issue and for shifting the blame by not addressing its domestic illegal drug consumption issue.[7] In August 2022, China declared the suspension of all counter-narcotic and law enforcement cooperation with the US,[8] and this situation continues to date. In light of these developments, the United States views India as a reliable partner in advancing counternarcotics initiatives within the South Asian region.

Given its status as the largest global manufacturer of generic medicines offered at affordable rates, India has evolved into a transit country as well as a source of precursor chemicals used in the illicit production of synthetic drugs, including Meth and Fentanyl, exploited by criminal organizations. Furthermore, India's long coastline, porous borders, and proximity to the highest drug-producing regions of the world- Golden Crescent and Golden Triangle; make it vulnerable to narcotics smuggling. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) intelligence report, although China and Mexico remain primary sources of trafficked fentanyl and its derivatives into the United States, India has emerged as a supplier of precursor chemicals for manufacturing synthetic drugs.[9] Consequently, the US has listed India in the Presidential Determination on Major Illicit Drug Transit or Producing Countries, necessitating counter-narcotic collaboration.[10] India's unintended role in this lucrative narcotic trade is evident from the large seizures of precursor chemicals. Moreover, the underemployment of pharmacists, lax regulations, corruption, and remote locations make India a cost-effective and profitable destination for transnational drug trafficking organizations to exploit the system and establish clandestine labs. The 2018 arrest from Indore and Mumbai with around 10 kg of Fentanyl and 100kg of N-Phenethyl-4-piperidinone (NPP) demonstrates growing links between Mexican Transnational Criminal Organisations and India-based fentanyl precursor chemical suppliers.[11]

The crime-terror/insurgency nexus resulting from this lucrative trade can have implications for funding extremism, separatist movement, and insurgency, particularly in regions such as India's Northeast, Punjab, and Kashmir. This poses, a threat to India’s national security. In collaboration with regional counterparts, these organisations employ sophisticated smuggling methods using legitimate shipping channels, couriers, and front companies for smuggling activities.  In India’s North-East region, insurgent groups have been known to derive profits through drug distribution and involvement in drug protection rackets. This is achieved by engaging in the trafficking of precursor chemicals into Myanmar and subsequently trafficking the finished products back through the porous Myanmar-India border.[12] This intricate operation often involves collaboration between the insurgent factions operating in the North-East and criminal syndicates across the border. Further, another significant concern is the collaboration between states and criminal syndicates to finance covert operations to bleed India with thousand cuts through the drug trade. A stark illustration of this concern is the documented role of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Agency in collaboration with D-company, Haji Salim, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen, and other militant-terrorist gangs in exporting drugs and arms to regions within India, such as Kashmir and Punjab to flare up separatist movements and target India’s youth. Further, a 2022 NATO report revealed the involvement of Pakistan’s Army and the Taliban in an “unholy” nexus of the narco- trade.[13] 

India’s Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) of 1985 establishes the legal regulatory framework for controlling narcotic and psychoactive substances. The NDPS has been amended four times since its implementation, in 1988, 2001, 2014, and 2021, respectively. It sets provisions for controlled drug precursors identified under the UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. Under this Act, India classifies controlled substances as per three schedules A, B and C. Schedule A must register and obtain a unique registration number from the Zonal Director of the Narcotics Control Bureau. Any facility that exports or imports-controlled substances in Schedule B or Schedule C must obtain a “No Objective Certificate (NOC)” from the Narcotics Commissioner.  Further, the penalties for selling precursor chemicals used in drug manufacturing is a maximum sentence of 10 years as mentioned in section 25 A of India’s NDPS Act.

In 2018, the Indian government designated two direct fentanyl precursors, N-Phenethyl-4-piperidinone (NPP) and Anilino-N-phenethylpiperidine (ANPP), as Schedule B, which restricted their export. In 2020, after domestically manufactured ANPP was trafficked in Mexico, the Indian government tightened controls over ANPP and NPP by designating them as Schedule A in the NDPS Order of 2013.[14] This order brought the domestic manufacture, distribution, sale, possession, and use of those substances under national control.However, since then, traffickers have adapted their approach to using alternative precursor chemicals for fentanyl manufacture. Thus, the significant challenge with regulating the synthetic drug industry is that a well-trained pharmacist or chemist with knowledge of pharmaceutical synthesis can potentially manufacture fentanyl or other drugs using alternative precursor chemicals with similar chemical structures. In this regard it will be difficult to ban all precursor chemicals as they have legitimate scientific and medical uses. Indeed, the complex and diverse nature of the precursors, pre-precursors, and essential chemicals used in synthetic drug production poses a significant challenge for law enforcement and regulatory agencies. Attempting to tackle the synthetic drug production problem with a single, uniform solution is often impractical and insufficient.[15] Further, when one government aggressively restricts the precursor chemical, traffickers simply buy it elsewhere, a phenomenon referred to as the ‘Balloon Effect.’

India’s approach to precursor control involves balancing the need to prevent drug production and trafficking while ensuring the legitimate use of precursor chemicals in trade and industry. The country emphasizes sharing knowledge, best practices, and technical assistance to help other nations strengthen their laws, standard operating procedures, and working mechanisms in precursor control.

India has also established bilateral and multilateral agreements with several countries to enhance cooperation in combating drug trafficking and precursor control. In 2020, the United States made a decisive move to work with India in establishing a bilateral Counternarcotics Working Group. This working group, marked by annual meetings, aims to enhance collective efforts in disrupting the trafficking of precursors and illicit synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, amphetamine, tramadol, and tapentadol. Both nations agreed to cooperate on drug regulatory matters, address workforce shortages and skilling requirements, secure pharmaceutical supply, strengthen law enforcement, multilateral coordination, intelligence sharing, joint operations, and initiatives to curb drug trafficking and demand reduction.[16] Such cooperation affords India insights into US interdiction endeavours and technologies employed across maritime, aerial, land, and postal routes.

The fourth annual US-India Counternarcotics Working Group (CNWG) meeting, convened on July 19, 2023, at the US Department of State during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s historic State visit, culminated in the establishment of a bilateral Drug Policy Framework for the 21st Century. Within this framework, an expanded drug policy partnership is founded on three key pillars: demonstrating global leadership in countering illicit drug production and supply chains, creating a sustainable and comprehensive public health collaboration to prevent and address addiction, including workforce shortages and skilling needs, and advancing a secure, resilient, reliable, and exemplary pharmaceutical supply chain model for the world.[17]

In 2023, India launched Operation Samudragupt through coordination between the navy and Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), targeting drug trafficking via ships to cleanse the Indian Ocean region of drugs. The move was in response to the surge in use of maritime routes by criminal syndicates due to easy transportation of high drug volume, and exploiting the challenges faced by countries in high seas-based checks, including difficulty inspecting the sheer volume of containers, and jurisdictional complexities. However, due to the effective coordination between Indian agencies and intelligence sharing by international partners, particularly the United States, substantial seizures of both traditional and synthetic drugs within India’s maritime borders were achieved.[18] The seizures also revealed the interconnections of cross-border drug traffickers and other criminal organizations with terrorist entities like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Haji Salim network, and Hizbul Mujahideen.[19]

Moreover, the advent of unregulated platforms like the darknet, coupled with encryption and cryptocurrency transactions, has facilitated the buying, and selling of narcotics, connecting global criminal networks. In response, India established a dedicated Task Force on the Darknet and Cryptocurrency to monitor dubious drug-related transactions and initiated the “Darkathon -2022” endeavor through the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) to understand the patterns of these Dark Net activities and find solutions.[20]

In response to the challenges posed by financing of terrorism through illegal narcotics trade, India has also directed its attention towards the fight against money laundering including crackdown on virtual assets that funds terrorism. This approach, formulated during the “Global Trends in Terrorist Financing and Terrorism” conference held in November 2022 in New Delhi by the Ministry of Home Affairs, rests on six pillars: (1) reinforcing legislative and technological frameworks, (2) establishing a comprehensive monitoring system, (3) facilitating actionable intelligence sharing while bolstering investigation and police operations, (4) enabling provisions for property confiscation, (5) prevent misuse of legal entities and emerging technologies, and (6) fostering international cooperation and coordination.[21]

As a signatory to pivotal international conventions including the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961), the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971), and the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988), India underscores its dedication to combatting the global synthetic drug trade. In August 2022, India actively participated in the UNODC’s global SMART (Synthetics Monitoring: Analyses, Reporting, and Trends) initiative, affirming its commitment to monitor, analyze, report, and comprehend synthetic drug trends.[22] With twenty-six bilateral agreements, fifteen memoranda of understanding, and two security cooperation pacts with various countries, India forges ahead in its collaborative efforts to combat the illicit trafficking of narcotics and psychotropic substances.[23]Moreover, along with the supply side counternarcotic strategies, India has balanced demand-side initiatives through Integrated Rehabilitation Centers for Addicts (IRCAs) for substance-dependent individuals, the National Action Plan for Drug Demand Reduction (NAPDDR), Project Sunrise and the Nasha Mukt Bharat Abhiyaan (Drugs-Free India Campaign).[24]

As India navigates the challenges of the 21st century, it becomes evident that the formidable spectre of drug trafficking has eclipsed traditional interstate wars as a significant non-traditional security threat. This illicit industry’s intricacies involve a web of diverse actors, often operating without centralized hierarchies, leading to a dangerous potential for collaboration between criminal organizations and terrorist groups. Widespread violence and corruption further compound the issue, as they have the capacity to destabilize nations and push them toward state failure. This corresponds to Richard Norton’s concept of a ‘Feral City’[25][26], and Susan Strange’s idea of the ‘Retreat of the State,’[27] thus providing safe havens for non-state actors to operate. Additionally, the presence of government-sponsored covert agendas exacerbates the multifaceted nature of this transnational menace. Consequently, confronting this global threat necessitates a united front characterized by cooperative endeavours, shared responsibilities, and an unwavering commitment from the international community.

Endnotes

[1] “India: UNODC national consultation with law enforcement agencies calls for stronger cooperation to counter synthetic drugs.” New Delhi: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 2017, https://www.unodc.org/southasia//frontpage/2022/August/india_-unodc-national-consultation-with-law-enforcement-agencies-calls-for-stronger-cooperation-to-counter-synthetic-drugs.htm.

[2] “2020 Drug Enforcement Administration National Drug Threat.” Drug Enforcement Administration. 2020, https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2021-02/DIR-00821%202020%20National%20Drug%20Threat%20Assessment_WEB.pdf.

[3] Arie Perliger and Ami Pedahzur, “Social Network Analysis in the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence.” Political Science and Politics. Vol 44, no. 1, 2011: pp. 45-50, https://doi.org/10.1017/s1049096510001848.

[4] Nathan P. Jones, Irina A Chindea, Daniel Weisz Argomedo, and John P. Sullivan, “A Social Network Analysis of Mexico’s Dark Network Alliance Structure.” Journal of Strategic Security. Vol. 15, no. 4. 2022: pp. 76–105, https://doi:10.5038/1944-0472.15.4.2046.

[5] Oscar Contreras Velasco, Nathan P. Jones, Daniel Weisz Argomedo, John P. Sullivan, and Chris Callaghan, “The Use of Similarity-based Algorithms to Predict Links in Mexican Criminal Networks.”  Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, Houston, Texas. 2023, https://doi.org/10.25613/BQ88-X176.

[6] Steven Dudley, “Precursors and Mexico’s Synthetic Drug Trade: Summary and Major Findings.” InSight Crime. May 2023, https://The-Flow-of-Precursor-Chemicals-for-Synthetic-Drug-Production-in-Mexico-InSight-Crime-March-2023-3.pdf.

[7] Ni Hongzhang and Liu Xin, “China urges US to create conditions for counter-narcotics cooperation.” Global Times. July 2023, https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202307/1293953.shtml.

[8] Vanda Felbab-Brown, “China’s role in fentanyl crisis.” Brookings. 31 March 2023, https://www.brookings.edu/articles/chinas-role-in-the-fentanyl-crisis/.

[9] “Fentanyl flow to the U.S.” Drug Enforcement Administration. 2020, https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-03/DEA_GOV_DIR-008-20%20Fentanyl%20Flow%20in%20the%20United%20States_0.pdf.

[10] “Memorandum on Presidential Determination on Major Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries for Fiscal Year 2023.” The White House. 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2022/09/15/memorandum-on-presidential-determination-on-major-drug-transit-or-major-illicit-drug-producing-countries-for-fiscal-year-2023/.

[11] Srinath Rao, “Seized opioid was bound for Mexico, key accused a known narcotics offender: Mumbai Police.” Indian Express. 29 December 2018, https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/seized-opioid-was-bound-for-mexico-key-accused-a-known-narcotics-offender-mumbai-police-5514410/.

[12] “East and Southeast Asian synthetic drug supply remains at extreme levels and diversifies.” Bangkok: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). 2023, https://www.unodc.org/roseap/2023/06/regional-synthetic-drugs-report launch/story.

[13] David R. Winston, “The Convergence of the Narcotics Underworld and Extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Its Global Proliferation.” NATO. 2022, https://deepportal.hq.nato.int/eacademy/publications/narco-insecurity/,

[14] Vanda Felbab-Brown, "China and synthetic drugs control fentanyl, methamphetamines, and precursors." Brookings. March 2022, https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/FP_20221107_drug_trafficking_felbab_brown.pdf.

[15] Op. Cit., Dudley at note 6.

[16] “Joint Statement of the U.S.-India Counternarcotics Working Group.” US: US Embassy and Consulate in India. 2020, https://in.usembassy.gov/joint-statement-of-the-u-s-india-counternarcotics-working-group/.

[17] “Joint Statement from the United States and India.” The White House. 22 June 2023, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2023/06/22/joint-statement-from-the-united-states-and-india/.

[18] “Drug trafficking operation nets record seizures and 1,333 arrests.” INTERPOL. 2022, https://www.interpol.int/en/News-and-Events/News/2022/Drug-trafficking-operation-nets-record-seizures-and-1-333-arrests.

[19] Dipti Yadav and Bidisha Saha, “The Anatomy of Maritime Drug Syndicate Busted by Indian Authorities.” India Today. 22 May 2023. https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/anatomy-of-maritime-drug-syndicate-busted-by-indian-authorities-2382628-2023-05-22

[20] Devesh K Pandey.,“NCB organises “Darkathon-2022” to find solutions to counter drug trafficking.” The Hindu. 15 February 2022, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/ncb-organises-darkathon-2022-to-find-solutions-to-counter-drug-trafficking/article65052268.ece.

[21] “No Money for Terror.” India: Ministry of Home Affairs. 18 November 2022, https://www.pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1876940

[22] “India: UNODC national consultation with law enforcement agencies calls for stronger cooperation to counter synthetic drugs.” India: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Regional Office for South Asia. 5 August 2022, https://www.unodc.org/southasia/en/frontpage/2022/August/india_-unodc-national-consultation-with-law-enforcement-agencies-calls-for-stronger-cooperation-to-countersyntheticdrugs.

[23] “Rajya Sabha unstarred question number.1484.” India: Ministry of Home Affairs. 4 March 2020, https://www.mha.gov.in/MHA1/Par2017/pdfs/par2020-pdfs/rs-04032020/1484.pdf.

[24] “Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has launched the National Action Plan for Drug Demand Reduction (NAPDDR).” India: Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment. 1 August 2023, https://www.pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1944693.

[25] Richard Norton, "Feral Cities," Naval War College Review. Vol. 65, no. 4, 2003, https://digital-commons.usnwc.edu/nwc-review/vol56/iss4/8/.

[26] Robert. J. Bunker and John. P. Sullivan, “Integrating feral cities and third phase cartels/third generation gangs research: the rise of criminal (narco) city networks and BlackFor.” [Special Issue: Criminal Insurgencies in Mexico and the Americas: The Gangs and Cartels Wage War.] Small Wars & Insurgencies, Vol. 22, no. 5, 2011: pp. 765-787, https://doi.org/10.1080/09592318.2011.620804.

[27] Susan Strange, “The Retreat of the State: The Diffusion of Power in the World Economy.” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

ZFTWARNING Mon, 09/11/2023 - 6:48pm

Why The Navy’s Latest Narco Submarine Seizure Is A Big Deal

Sun, 06/14/2020 - 3:57pm

Two narco submarines (also known as low-profile vessels or LPVs) were interdicted by joint US Navy/US Coast Guard teams in the Pacific,  The seizures by personnel abroad the USS Preble on 5 June 2020 and the USS Pinckney on 16 May 2020 involved two separate but virtually identical LPVs.

Sutton LPV

Two Narco subs (LPVs) interdicted by USCG personnel aboard USS Preble (5 June 2020) and USS Pinckney (15 May 2020). Source: HI Sutton, US Navy, US Coast Guard.

The interdictions are described in an article at Forbes by HI Sutton an analyst specializing in unconventional naval warfare and narco submarines.  Sutton's recent book Narco Submarines: Covert Shores Recognition Guide was reviewed at SWJ earlier this year.  Sutton has developed a taxonomy of narco submarines which are discussed in his article.  The LPVs interdicted in these cases were classed as "LPV-OM-VSV-6 meaning that it is the 6th family of low-profile vessel with outboard motors, using a ‘very slender vessel’ style hull." 

Continue to "Why The Navy’s Latest Narco Submarine Seizure Is A Big Deal."

Source: HI Sutton, "Why The Navy’s Latest Narco Submarine Seizure Is A Big Deal." Forbes. 12 June 2020. 

Patron Saints of the Mexican Drug Underworld Training Course

Mon, 02/04/2013 - 8:30am

Preface: This is an unpublished archival document provided for the benefit of SWJ El Centro readers. It discusses spiritual awareness training for U.S. law enforcement pertaining to the Mexican cartels and gangs. A Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer who attended this training in the City of Industry was able to clear a murder case based on information he received during the training. U.S. Marshal Almonte, since May 2011, has testified in Federal Court four times regarding the use of these “patron saints” by Narco traffickers. While the Marshal is now reducing the amount of training sessions provided, due to the increase in requests from Assistant United States Attorneys to testify in Federal Drug cases, he would like to emphasize his availability to U.S. law enforcement officers if they have any questions pertaining to these “patron saints” or the artifacts recovered which are associated with them.

The National Latino Peace Officers Association (NLPOA), North Los Angeles County Chapter, in cooperation with the California Narcotic Officers’ Association (CNOA), the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, the United States Marshals Service, and additional law enforcement agencies sponsored a major training course on 17 May 2011 in Industry Hills, California. This day-long course was conducted by Robert Almonte, United States Marshal, Western District of Texas, and focused on the topic of the Patron Saints of the Mexican Drug Underworld. Over 500 law enforcement officers from Southern and Northern California, Nevada, Arizona, and Hawaii attended the course that was preceded by a color guard, the singing of the national anthem, and a police chaplain’s blessing. Added bonuses to the training were the attendance of actor Erik Estrada who is also a reserve police officer and an NLPOA member along with strong corporate sponsorship by local businesses supportive of law enforcement. 

This restricted law enforcement training course contains extremely graphic and accurate material that pertains to the brutality inflicted by the Mexican cartels against each other, to those that oppose them, and even on innocent bystanders. The training consists of a lecture that utilizes a slide show of images and text, incident videos and news reports, and crime scene photos, along with a large table display exhibiting paraphernalia such as statues, candles, prayer cards, and other iconitry. The course includes an overview to the drug wars taking place in Mexico, an introduction to common cartel tactics, a discussion of cartel forms of violence, and an in depth analysis of the “saints” and spirits that drug traffickers utilize—via prayer and petition— to protect themselves from U.S. law enforcement. These spiritual entities include San Simon, Jesus Malverde, Juan Soldado, Santa Muerte, and many others not normally discussed.

This unique course is ideal for patrol officers, law enforcement personnel assigned to highway and border check points, detectives, intelligence analysts, and crime scene investigators. The course is both professional and practical in nature, has a very strong officer safety component running though it, and fully maintains the attention of the audience. It is definitely delivered in a ‘boots on the ground’ manner derived from Almonte’s field experiences and personal charisma. He has over 25 years in law enforcement with the El Paso Police Department, with most of his career spent on the front lines of the drug war. The training is further augmented by Almonte’s extensive field research conducted at narco-shrines in both Mexico and the United States, personal interviews of those involved in the honoring of legitimate and worship of illegitimate saints related to the drug trade and other criminal activities, and his ongoing consultation with members of U.S. law enforcement throughout the country concerning recent narcotics cases.

Santa Muerte shrine inside drug house

US Marshal Almonte inside Santa Muerte temple

Major themes and lessons learned from this training course include:

• Providing the warning signs of what to look for in order to heighten officer awareness of the situations that they may find themselves in when facing Mexican drug traffickers.

• The notion that ‘smuggler superstition’ often results in ‘police suspicion’ with some very major drug busts resulting as a consequence.

• Patron Mexican cartel saints and spirits may be found in various combinations and in strange item pairings such as with ‘Scar Face’ movie posters and other very common images.

• That many worshipers of the unsanctioned saints—such as Juan Soldado (Patron Saint of Illegal Aliens) or Santa Muerte (Saint Death)— and especially those who honor the Catholic saints of last resort (e.g. Judas Tadeo), typically do not engage in criminal behavior.

• The interrelationship of probable cause and preponderance of evidence as it relates to the use of legitimate and illegitimate saint icons and imagery in the possession of drug traffickers.

• Explanations of candle and sympathetic magic, cleansing, and other rituals and spells and the differences between witches and healers in Mexican folk religion.

• The fact that the instructor has great depth of knowledge and provides many nuances and subtleties concerning the patron saints of the Mexican underworld that cannot be found anywhere in written reports and stories published on this topic.

It is suggested that officers who may benefit from this training should seriously consider taking it when it has been scheduled for their operational area. Generally this training is well broadcasted in advance by the hosting agencies with course signup information posted at law enforcement training websites. For further information regarding this subject matter, you can contact U.S. Marshal Robert Almonte at 210.271.2525. 

Trans-Border Institute Briefs NORTHCOM on Mexican Security Challenges

On Wednesday, January 9, TBI Director David Shirk provided a briefing to the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) on recent developments in Mexican security. The briefing took place at NORTHCOM's facilities in Colorado Springs and included high-level analysts from the Department of Defense and other U.S. government agencies. The title of the briefing, "The Drug War in Mexico: U.S.-Mexico Security Challenges in 2013 and Beyond," provided an overview of the recent findings of the Justice in Mexico Project, sponsored by a generous three-year grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Specifically, the presentation included new data from the institute's forthcoming report on drug violence in Mexico, as well as a discussion of Mexico's changing security context under newly inaugurated President Enrique Peña Nieto. The presentation used for this briefing is available in PDF form.

Peter J. Munson Fri, 02/01/2013 - 5:08pm