#2. It's Shockingly Easy to Be Taken in by a Double Agent
Full disclosure -- I have been tricked by a double agent who was secretly working for the cartels.
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"Hello, I would like to apply for the Good Guys America #1 team, please."
Her name is Jovana Deas. She was assigned to work with the Border Patrol, and she spent years feeding drug cartels information about our operations and our informants. Most of us didn't know anything was wrong until the FBI came to the office to seize her computer, and that shit is terrifying.
You can learn the whole story here, but the short version is that she was a model worker who constantly volunteered to take on more tasks and thus gained more access to sensitive information. If we started using a new program to catalog our investigations, she'd quickly become an expert in it and gain admin status, and so on. This woman had direct access to confidential informant files -- people whose lives depended on keeping their identities secret. Deas was caught when a hit man in Mexico was busted with a picture of an informant that had come from one of our files. That's like finding a Polaroid of one of your co-workers in a serial killer's lunchbox.
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"Oh, phew, I thought that was me for a second. OK, drive safe."
In the end, Deas got only 2.5 years in prison -- she had leaked so much information that it was more valuable to get her to admit what information had been compromised in exchange for a reduced sentence, rather than hit her with the maximum penalty.
The whole situation made me realize that people working for the DHS are rarely suspicious of each other. Yeah, we're "special agents" and we carry guns, but at the end of the day, it's still an American office. We have holiday parties, and we go out to lunch together and talk about non-homeland security stuff all the time. We don't lurk in shadows and speak in code words. So it's easy to forget that we're working in a field where spies and espionage are a legitimate concern.
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And we are now super attentive to how you order your drinks.
And if you're shocked that the drug cartels are sophisticated enough to get a mole inside a federal agency, well ...
#1. The Cartels Aren't Quite What You'd Expect
Chances are, when you picture cartel drug lords, you're picturing the cast of Scarface hanging out with the cast of Miami Vice -- guys in flashy pastel suits who fly into a murderous rage if anything happens to one of their shipments and tend to feed anyone who crosses them to exotic animals. The truth is, cartel members look just like every other upper middle class person from the Southwest -- they wear designer jeans and collared shirts and keep very few tigers.
Two or three, tops.
The cartels are very sophisticated, especially in Mexico. They're closer to being their own countries than gangs. And unlike the drug barons you see in movies, actual cartels know that loss is a part of the game, and that drugs are the one thing they will literally never run out of. For example, marijuana is cheap to produce, so if you walked into a bar in Mexico and lied about your smuggling skills, a cartel might just front you a thousand pounds of weed to see if you live up to your own hype (and that is a shitload of weed). From the cartels' perspective, it's worth it to shotgun cheap drugs like pot out onto the streets because it costs them almost nothing and they don't take on any risk.
The cartels also have a radio network that crosses Mexico and the United States in a truly awe-inspiring feat of guerrilla engineering. It's incredibly high-tech -- they use constantly evolving encryption and a repeater network with little stations stuck on top of mountains across the U.S. Rumor has it that the cartels paid a former spec ops communications expert to set it up. Maybe that sounds crazy, but they do have a multimillion-dollar radio network that stretches across three nations and seems almost impervious to disruption.
And it has better coverage than AT&T.
So, yeah, the next time you see a movie about a renegade cop going off on his own to take down the cartels single-handedly, Punisher style, keep that in mind. These organizations are formidable enough that entire countries have failed to take them down. Your lone action hero isn't going to make much of a dent, no matter how much he refuses to play by the rules. As long as people like doing drugs, these guys aren't going anywhere.
Robert Evans is something like a journalist. He runs Cracked's personal experience article department, and you can find his writing here.
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