Monday, January 8, 2018

Why We Need to Rethink the Mérida Initiative as a Function of National Security

James A. Gagliano,

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America has attempted to throw money at the border problem before. For example, the U.S. and Mexico entered into a strategic partnership to combat transnational organized crime, narcotics trafficking, and money laundering in 2008, known as the Mérida Initiative. It was modeled after Plan Colombia, the bilateral U.S.-Colombian effort that rescued Colombia from decades of civil war, which was fueled by the narcotics trade.

This bilateral security cooperation agreement includes intelligence sharing, and the U.S. supply of equipment and training to Mexico. The four official pillars of the project are identified as: 1) disrupt capacity of organized crime to operate, 2) institutionalize the capacity to sustain Rule of Law, 3) create a 21st century border structure, and 4) build strong and resilient communities. ...

Between 2013 and 2014, I had the privilege of serving as the FBI’s deputy legal attaché and acting legal attaché, at the U.S. Embassy located in Mexico City, Mexico. In this position, I functioned as the FBI director’s direct representative to the Mexican government and law enforcement entities. ...
From a counterintelligence perspective, one of my chief concerns while posted to the U.S. Embassy was to ensure that hostile foreign powers [think: Russia, Iran, China, or North Korea] didn’t gain entry into Mexico via its loosely-patrolled 541-mile southern border with Guatemala or via one of its crowded anonymous resort cities like Cancun or Cozumel.
Once inside Mexico, these foreign agents could simply travel northward towards a subsequent illegal border crossing.

And on the counterterrorism side, my assistant legal attachés were hyper-focused on the potential ingress into the U.S. along those same cross-border routes by elements of terrorist organizations [think: the Islamic State or al-Qaeda].

Drug-traffickers, spies, and terrorists sneaking across the border— not the migrant worker seeking a better way of life for his family — were what kept me up most nights during my posting to Mexico City.

So what is the U.S. government’s response to these threats? Well, in my experience, it began with weekly participatory meetings at the embassy mandated by the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. These meetings (Country Team, Rule of Law, and one focused on the Mérida Initiative) brought together elements of the State Department’s political, economic, management, security, and public diplomacy sections. ...

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