DEA Agents Allowed Cocaine-Smuggling

By Adam K. Raymond 01/09/12

Undercover operations intended to infiltrate drug cartels are under increasing scrutiny.

Colombian trafficker Poveda-Ortega,
"The Rabbit," in custody in 2010.
Photo via

Attempting to infiltrate a powerful Mexican drug cartel, US DEA agents assisted traffickers smuggling millions of dollars around the world, and helped at least one shipment of cocaine make its way through the US and into Spain. Details of the DEA's effort to fight drug trafficking by helping drug traffickers come from a batch of Mexican government documents obtained by the New York Times. Among them is testimony from a DEA agent who ran a secret money laundering probe into Harold Mauricio Poveda-Ortega, a Colombian known as "The Rabbit" who's accused of sending 150 tons to Mexican in the last decade.

The DEA occupys a precarious position that risks "helping the bad guys more than hurting them," former assistant US attorney Morris Panner tells the Times. The chance of providing unintentional aid to drug traffickers is increased by the long timetable needed on these types of investigations. In this case the DEA started with small-time money laundering in order to get closer to Poveda-Ortega. In a statement DEA defends its operation, which it claims helped lead to the capture or death of dozens of traffickers: “Transnational organized groups can be defeated only by transnational law enforcement cooperation.”

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Adam K. Raymond covers politics and sports for New York Magazine. Visit Adam's website and follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.