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News (Media Awareness Project) - US TX: Editorial: Should The DEA Play Banker To Drug Cartels?
Title:US TX: Editorial: Should The DEA Play Banker To Drug Cartels?
Published On:2011-12-06
Source:Dallas Morning News (TX)
Fetched On:2011-12-08 06:01:06

The international drug trade has always had a currency problem. The
more aggressive an illicit organization becomes at moving narcotics
into the U.S., the more cash it accumulates. At some point, all those
dollars have to be processed or the business chokes on its own sordid success.

Federal investigators for years have employed the old dictum - follow
the money - but with a twist. At some point in the hunt for the
really bad guys at the top, agents sometimes become custodians of the
cash, picking it up in great bundles, depositing it in accounts and
then watching as the drug underworld moves the millions earned on the streets.

Operation Juno, conducted over three years in the late 1990s against
the Colombian drug cartels, is one example for these kinds of
prosecutions. Undercover agents with the Drug Enforcement
Administration picked up huge bundles of cash, as much as $500,000 a
pop, from couriers who delivered the cash booty in gym bags at major
cities, Dallas and Houston among them.

The money was placed by the DEA in a bank account in Atlanta, where
the black market of money laundering then moved the cash to various
accounts in the U.S. and around the world. The sting resulted in over
40 arrests and the seizure of $10 million. In addition, more than 300
bank accounts with an additional $16 million in drug deposits were
identified, most of them abroad. The novel investigation, the first
of its kind, exposed the international money trail and paid huge
dividends for prosecutors.

News that the DEA, under the supervision of the Justice Department,
is conducting these kinds of operations in Mexico is not surprising.
The two countries have worked closely on this common front since
President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels in 2006. One
result of the cooperation, according to a recent article in The New
York Times, is the lifting of a ban that prevented U.S. agents from
doing this kind of undercover work. The restriction had been in place
since 1998, when the U.S. carried out a sting without the knowledge
of authorities in Mexico.

Are these undercover operations targeting Mexico's powerful drug
cartels a good idea? Yes, provided that they are conducted with the
proper safeguards and oversights. There is nothing to indicate that
they are not, though the Times article does leave the impression that
perhaps more stringent guidelines are in order.

The undercover gun-smuggling fiasco known as Fast and Furious in some
ways now haunts all these covert operations. That's a bit unfair. But
if there is a lesson from that rogue operation, which was conducted
by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives - not the
DEA - it is that officials need to aggressively monitor what happens
in the field. Now that news of the money-laundering operation is out,
senior officials at Justice and their congressional overseers should
ask the right questions and make sure they get satisfactory answers.
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