• Center for Binational Institutions

Disbanding of elite anti-narcotics investigation unit

On April 19th, the online news outlet, Reuters, published the news that Mexico had disbanded a Sensitive Investigative Unit (SIU), a binational anti-narcotics unit that had been operating for 25 years. This unit was part of an effort by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a United States federal law enforcement agency under the U.S. Department of Justice. As part of its activities, the DEA conducts operations overseas that are managed bilaterally with or through foreign counterpart agencies1. A major tool for the agency is the development of investigative units of foreign law enforcement personnel that the DEA puts through a security screening or vetting process; one type of these units are the SIUs.

Mexico and the United States have a long history of security cooperation, and this decision could have important implications. As for the SIUs in Mexico, they date back to 1997, and the conceptual basis of the program was to identify and train security-screened DEA foreign counterpart personnel to work on sensitive bilateral investigations. As of July 2006, the DEA reported that its SIU Program had 2 individual operating units and 184 members in Mexico2. In 2006, one of the Mexican SIU units conducted a surveillance operation with assistance from the DEA that resulted in the arrest of a priority target residing in Mexico. The SIU program in Mexico has been instrumental in the successful completion of a major methamphetamine investigation that resulted in the seizure of 15 methamphetamine labs and over 130 pounds of methamphetamine with a potential street value of over $1 million.

The main concern is that the shutting down of the unit could make it harder to combat organized crime groups, and catch and prosecute cartel leaders within Mexico. However, there have been sources that say that the SIU in Mexico was shut down years ago, and it is a long-standing decision instead of something that we are dealing with today. In fact, official sources confirm that the termination of the SIU occurred at the beginning of AMLO's administration when the Federal Police disappeared and the National Guard was created. On the Mexican side, the Public Security Ministry has not responded to requests for comments and the DEA has also declined to comment. The second Mexican SIU unit, based inside the Attorney General's Office and independent of Lopez Obrador's government, continues to operate3.

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