Pentagon to Senators: ‘All Your Constituencies Are Confronted by This Threat’ from Mexican Drug Cartels

By Edwin Mora | April 14, 2011 | 4:06 AM EDT

In this March 15, 2011 file photo, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano addresses the National Fusion Center Conference in Denver. The Homeland Security Department demoted a senior career employee who confidentially complained to the inspector general that political appointees were improperly interfering with requests for federal records by journalists and watchdog groups. (AP Photo)

Washington ( - A top Pentagon official told a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday that the tentacles of Mexico’s criminal organizations have reached well-beyond the southwest border into the interior of the U.S. homeland.

Those remarks buttress the 2010 Drug Threat Assessment by the U.S. Justice Department, which stated that street gangs, which “acquire drugs directly from [drug-traffickers] in Mexico or along the Southwest Border,” are distributing narcotics in “more than 2,500 cities.”

Nevertheless, Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano has said on separate occasions that people who say the border is not secure or out of control are wrong and simply trying to score political points.

On April 1, Napolitano said that the U.S.-Mexico border is not “overrun or out of control,” and last April she said the border “is as secure now as it has ever been.”

“It’s important to recognize, just to conclude, that when we discuss the trans-national nature of this [illegal narcotics] threat that does also include criminal activities that take place inside the United States as well,” William Wechsler, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Counter-narcotics and Global Threats, told senators.

“For instance, the influence of Mexican transnational, criminal organizations extends well beyond the southwest border to cities across the country, including Atlanta, Chicago, and Detroit,” he said. “All your constituencies are confronted by this threat.”

The Pentagon official went on to criticize the executive branch for a lack of inter-agency coordination in dealing with the narcotics threat, adding that the Defense Department can help alleviate that problem.  

“Unfortunately, coordination of domestic and international activities can be especially challenging inside the executive branch,” Wechsler testified before the Senate Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee.

“Once again, here the Department of Defense can play an important supporting role to facilitate coordination and information sharing throughout mechanisms such as the Joint Interagency Task Force South in Key West, which I believe has been one of the best models of interagency coordination for the last couple of decades,” Wechsler added.

In his prepared remarks Wechsler warned that transnational, criminal groups “are becoming increasingly networked as they form relationships with each other and at times with insurgent or terrorist groups.” 

“These relationships range from tactical, episodic interactions at one end of the spectrum, to full narco-terrorism on the other,” he said.

In late February, Mexican President Felipe Calderon said that agencies under the U.S. executive branch suffer from a lack of coordination.

“We see that the DEA, CIA and ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] always have a policy” of their own,” said the Mexican president. “The truth is, they’re not coordinated and they rival one another.”