Transnational Criminal Organizations

US-Mexican Intelligence Cooperation Against Cartels: An Interesting Section in the Draft Intel Authorization Act

By Robert Chesney
Friday, July 6, 2012, 5:12 PM

Two short items involving drug cartel violence in Mexico and the related issue of US cooperation with Mexican authorities in counter-cartel efforts.

First, as readers presumably know, Mexico has just elected a new president: PRI's Enrique Pena Nieto.  It will be very interesting to see how his policies differ from Calderon's vis-a-vis the cartels.  Early signs indicate that he will continue to embrace U.S. support, and perhaps even take that support to a higher level than in the past.  Why say that?  Well, first, he has hired as his "top security advisor" General Oscar Naranjo of Columbia--a key figure in Columbia's relatively successful efforts in years past, and a man with good connections and relationships with the United States.  Second, Pena Nieto has indicated at least some openness to U.S. personnel providing training to Mexican personnel, in Mexico (as opposed to their receipt of such training solely within the United States, as has reportedly been the rule to this point).   This piece in the Post today touches on both these points.

Second, and relatedly, I just noticed the following provision in the draft Intelligence Authorization Act (currently pending in the Senate, awaiting a vote in SSCI I believe):

SEC. 403. INTELLIGENCE SHARING WITH MEXICO AND CANADA.

(a) AUTHORIZATION.—The Director of National Intelligence may—

      (1) if the Director determines that the sharing of intelligence information with Mexico and Canada for purposes of reducing  drug trafficking would not threaten national security, allow the sharing of such intelligence information with Mexico and Canada; and

      (2) make use of intelligence information from Mexico and Canada for such purposes

(b) TYPE OF INFORMATION.—Information shared or used under subsection (a) may include the movements of drug cartels and other criminal behavior.

This strikes me as odd, and so I'll ask for a bit of assistance from readers to help me understand what is at stake here.  To be clear, I have no problem at all with the notion of sharing intelligence with Mexico and Canada in these situations (or many others for that matter).  But why is legislation necessary toward that end?  The exchange of intelligence with foreign liaison services or other foreign government entities is commonplace, and there is no reason why this would be different in the context of counternarcotics.  Is the idea with section 403 that the DNI in particular needs a statutory foundation to engage in such activity (in contrast to, say, the Director of the CIA)?  I suppose it is possible that there has been cartel-relevant intelligence generated by one component of the Intelligence Community that would prefer not to share that intelligence with Mexican or Canadian authorities (perhaps out of concern relating to sources & methods), that the DNI has wanted to override that decision and direct sharing of the information, and that the DNI has been met with legal objections to the effect that he lacks such authority.  Or perhaps this is just a superfluous bit of legislation, granting authority that already exists in the course of signalling that Congress is supportive of counter-cartel intelligence cooperation.   Your thoughts?