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Mexican Drug Cartels Turn James Bond to Avoid Border Patrols

The cartels have used 21st century technology to push further in the U.S.

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By John Lavitt

07/07/14

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With money to spend to ensure their drug smuggling routes, the Mexican drug cartels are relying on spy operations to avoid direct encounters with the United States Border Patrol and other enforcement agencies. In mountain posts, cartel lookouts employ binoculars and encrypted communications to ferret out the locations of American law enforcement. The cartel lookouts are placed on both sides of the dividing line in an attempt to secure smuggling routes many miles past the border and deep into the United States.

Given the recent effectiveness of the enforcement efforts, ranging from the Native American ICE tracking group known as the Shadow Wolves to joint Mexico-US advanced surveillance on the border, the drug cartels found themselves losing more shipments than ever before. Based on the Native American Tohono O’odham Nation in southern Arizona, “The Shadow Wolves comprise a U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) tactical patrol unit…Shadow Wolf officers are known for their ability to track alien and drug smugglers as they attempt to smuggle their illegal commodities across the border.”

As a result, the Mexican Cartels have resorted to recon efforts along smuggling routes to avoid the traps set by DEA agents and the ICE Patrols on the border and well beyond as well. A cartel IT expert-turned-informant claimed the cartels have set up spy operations, known as "spider holes," all along western Arizona's mountaintops and ridgelines that look over potential smuggling routes.

After this claim, Pinal County authorities in Arizona arrested a group of cartel lookouts 70 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. The arrested men were using a sort of ad-hoc spy kit that included cell phones, encrypted radios, walkie talkies, and binoculars. Armed with guns, they were based in the hilltops and caves along a traditional drug smuggling route that leads right into Phoenix. The combination of their positioning such a great distance from the border and the technology being used proved alarming.

Although the Border Patrol, DEA, and Shadow Wolves are equipped with fixed and mobile video surveillance systems, motion sensors, and drones, they lack the manpower to cover the huge amount of territory being spied on by the Mexican cartels. In addition, even when the lookouts are busted, the charges are minor. Being mostly illegals, they quickly make bail and disappear once deported back to Mexico.

DEA Agent Todd Smith described the cartel crew arrested in Arizona to a local NBC news crew. "Basically, their job is to observe and report, as any other spy or military spotter," Smith said. "It's almost like a military operation; person to person all the way from the international boundary all the way up into the Phoenix area."

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