Mexican drug cartels' sophistication prompts worry
The money was hidden in the truck's ceiling
Forging ties with American street gangs
November 28, 1997
Web posted at: 8:54 p.m. EST (0154 GMT)
From Correspondent Pierre Thomas
(CNN) -- When U.S. customs agents stopped and searched a seemingly empty tractor trailer at the Mexican border last spring, what they discovered -- $6 million hidden in the truck's ceiling --- stunned them.
U.S. officials say the seizure and others like it are evidence pointing to the increasing sophistication of Mexican drug cartels.
"I think (Mexican) President (Ernesto) Zedillo has summed it up by saying it is one of the most important national security threats in Mexico," said U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. "And I think it is a matter of very serious concern."
The power of the Mexican cartels is now spreading across the United States, with the help of American street gangs. Just a week ago, law enforcement officials fanned out across the country, arresting 49 people in the Los Angeles area and others in Colorado Springs, St. Louis, Louisville and Atlanta.
Timothy McNally, the head of the FBI's Los Angeles field office, says street gangs in his city are forging some ominous alliances.
"The significance, I think, of this particular investigation, combined with two recently completed efforts, is a direct tie to Mexican trafficking organizations," McNally said.
Not only do the Mexican cartels sell drugs, they also spread violence and murder in both Mexico and the United States, officials say.
The FBI recently placed Ramon Arellano-Felix on its "ten most wanted" list. Federal officials say his associates are accused of a string of murders in Tijuana and San Diego, including the deaths of Mexican police officers, prosecutors and a Roman Catholic cardinal.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials say they also have new intelligence showing mercenaries from a number of countries training the Mexican cartels in the art of killing.
"Over the past several years, there's been several different Lebanese criminals who have come in and worked with the Arellano-Felix group -- actually teaching them in paramilitary-type operations, the use of weapons, the use of counter-surveillance," said James S. Milford, deputy administrator of the DEA.
The Lebanese mercenaries are described as former guerrilla fighters. Americans are believed to have trained cartel members as well. Mexican authorities say it is difficult to counter that level of sophistication.
"This will be the best year ever regarding results, including seizure of drugs, stiff sentences for drug traffickers and of an open, concerted effort against them," said Mexican Attorney General Jorge Madrazo. "Results are very good, yet still need to be much improved."
U.S. officials say their efforts, and those of Mexican authorities, had better improve because Mexican cartels have overtaken the Colombian cartels as the most dangerous drug threat to the United States.