The October 11, 2012 announcement [http://www.ice.gov/news/releases/1210/121011washingtondc.htm] of Mara Salvatrucha’s (MS-13) designation as a “Transnational Criminal Organization” (TCO) by the U.S. Treasury Department is designed to assist the federal government in dismantling MS-13 according to the Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) service, whose press release stated:
“This designation allows us to strike at the financial heart of MS-13 and is a powerful weapon in our fight to dismantle one of the most violent, transnational criminal organizations operating today,” said ICE Director John Morton. “History has proven that we can successfully take down organized crime groups when we combine sophisticated investigative techniques with tough street level enforcement, cutting off cash flows, contraband and collaborators to ensure they no longer find safe haven in our communities.”
The timing of this announcement and the United States government’s enforcement efforts come at an incongruous point in the history of El Salvador. A report issued by the Transnational Advisory Group In Support of the Peace Process in El Salvador (TAGSPPES) indicated that a peace agreement negotiated between MS-13 and Barrio 18 (or 18th Street) gangs in El Salvador which was announced on March 9, 2012 has resulted in a 70% reduction in homicides in that nation [http://sojo.net/magazine/2012/11/report-window-hope]. The gang truce was negotiated by Monsignor Fabio Colindres and Raul
Mijango. The Monsignor is Chaplin of the El Salvador army and police while Mijango is a former Guerilla commander and Congressman from the FMLN (Frente Farabundo Marti de Liberacion Nacional) who was expelled from that party in 2002. In spite of Mijango’s break with the the party, FMLN El Salvador President Carlos Mauricio Funes Cartagena has expressed his support for the gang peace process and on April 14, 2012 announced at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Columbia [http://democracyinamericas.org/pdfs/El_Salvador_Update_April_2012.pdf] that for the first time in three (3) years, the truce had resulted in “zero homicides.”
At the Summit of the Americas Funes reportedly received personal assurances from President Obama (who was seated next to Funes at official sessions) of continued economic and security support. Yet, just months later in October when ICE and the Treasury Department announced the TCO designation for MS-13 the United States risked pulling the rug out from under the peace process and destabilizing El Salvador in the process.
Designating a Group as “Bad”
Designating a criminal organization or a terrorist group as being the baddest of the bad is great for politics but it frequently has the foreseeable but unintended consequence of building up the organization’s credibility with potential recruits and with victims. This appears to be exactly what has happened with MS-13. Sources tell me that the TCO designation has raised MS-13 credibility to the point where people deciding to affiliate with one gang or another naturally want to be members of the most powerful, the biggest, the baddest gang possible choose MS-13 over competitors. Additionally, it makes it easier for MS-13 to engage in extortion: if the government says a gang is not just incredibly brutal but organized, international, and powerful, why is some small business owner going to believe that the any government, whether in El Salvador or the United States, is able to protect them or their business?
The FBI had created a similar effect for the Jewish Defense League around July 1986 after it held a press conference announcing the designation of the JDL as being the number one terrorist group in America. For two years prior, the Puerto Rico based FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional) had held the title of number one but when three bombings and deaths were attributed to the JDL in a single year (two Nazi war criminals and a leader of the Arab American Anti Discrimination League, AADL). When this designation occurred, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner ran a page one banner headline indicating that the JDL was now considered the number one terrorist group in America.
Irv Rubin, the then-head of the JDL, went out and bought every copy of the Herald Examiner he could get his hands on. As I was then the JDL’s media flack (for about ten years I took leave of my senses in an agreement to disagree with the JDL about the Middle East so that we could concentrate on messing with Nazis, the KKK and other assorted racists) I issued a press release in which we “neither confirmed nor denied” having anything to do with the bombings of Nazi war criminals Elmars Sprogis and Tscherim Soobzokov, the bombing of Nazi Los Angeles Unified School District teacher George Ashley’s home, and flat out denied having anything to do with the bombing death of AADL leader Alex Odeh. As we told the press about the seemingly curious statement that we “neither confirmed nor denied” was that if the JDL did do these bombings, they were not dumb enough to confess publicly, but if we didn’t do it, we wanted the FBI to continue to concentrate investigative efforts on the JDL because whoever did do it, we approved of their behavior in bombing Nazis. The accusations also wound up getting Rubin on the Charlie Rose and Merv Griffin national television shows, for which I had to drill sound bites into him like a dog (the average dog takes 25 repetitions I’m told, to learn a trick; Rubin was so dumb it usually took me about 250 repetitions to get him to learn his lines).
All the press attention improved the JDL’s street creds and garnered it lots of contributions from people who would with a wink and a nod believe that the JDL had in fact taken out Nazi war criminals. It also made it much easier for the JDL to engage in extortion in concert with elements of Israeli organized crime.
For example, a British cohort (we’ll call him “Mr. Brit”) of the notorious “Mr. K” [for background on Mr. K, read http://janbtucker.com/blog/2011/06/22/richard-shermans-death-buries-more-than-one-body/] had stolen a sizable haul of gold bullion, reportedly from the Bank of England (this is what sources later told me anyway). He was operating a luxury and exotic car dealership on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood in which Mr. K was reputedly a silent partner (when I was there Mr. K pointed out the very obvious government surveillance vehicles and agents across the street).
The late Gyula Tamas Zubovicz (aka “Dracula” of the Dracula Crime Family of the Hungarian Mafia) later filled in some blanks about what I was to witness at the auto dealership. Dracula explained that Mr. K had arranged for a “super secret” safe deposit box at a bank whose branch manager was a Hungarian associate of the Dracula Crime Family. After Mr. Brit deposited the stolen gold bullion in the Safe Deposit Box, Dracula simply arranged to go in and steal it. He then entrusted it to Mr. K, who then proceeded to rip off Dracula of his share of the now thrice stolen gold.
Having been ripped off of what he’d ripped off, Mr. Brit was not exceedingly happy. So to keep him in control, Mr. K had Irv Rubin and Earl Krugel meet him at the auto dealership. I tagged along, not having a clue of what was really going on. When Mr. K introduced Irv to Mr. Brit, he told him that he might have seen Irv in the news recently and Irv gave him a copy of the Herald Examiner edition with the banner headline describing the JDL as having been named as the number one terrorist group in America. For some strange reason, Mr. Brit apparently ceased making mention of the gold that Mr. K had heisted from him.
As an aside, while I was at the dealership, some African Americans came in to the dealership with Mr. K and went behind closed doors for an extended period of time. They’d been accompanied by a certain lawyer who I knew to be an attorney for a certain African American prison gang. Dracula later explained to me that Mr. K believed he was dealing with “Black Muslims” and that they were his cocaine connections. Apparently Mr. K didn’t know the difference between typical Nation of Islam names and their monikers, which are not even close to being similar.
Another example of the government enhancing the credibility of an organization it was trying to decimate was the way it handled the publicity surrounding arrests of members of the Mongols Motorcycle Club following its infiltration by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (BATF) agent William Queen. Queen, who wrote an unauthorized autobiography of his experiences, Under and Alone, made television and radio appearances all over America in which he recounted experiences which were either outright lies, delusions, or potentially both. In the first edition of his book he claimed that I had been hired by the Mongols to vet him for membership and that I supposedly cleared him. In fact, two elements of the investigation were sub-contracted to me by another licensed investigator and I flagged him for follow up investigation for club liability reasons because his cover identity did not have a Class M-1 endorsement on his driver license. The Mongols were too cheap to do the follow up which led to a catastrophe for the club.
While performing his undercover duties, Queen later told talk show audiences all over America, that the Mongols had engaged in heinous behavior, such as gang rapes. But when you read the book you find out that he never actually witnessed any. He based his claim on an incident when he was “prospecting” for membership (i.e., like on employment probation), a time when club prospects are told all kinds of bullshit, intentionally, to see if they have loose lips and repeat the fairy tales they are told. If Queen didn’t know that a lot of the stories he repeated as facts were fairy tales to test him while prospecting, then he was just incompetent as opposed to a bald faced liar.
Queen also left a few things out of his book, such as how he solicited me to commit a felony in spite of my telling him I wanted nothing to do with what he was asking me to do.
How did all the publicity surrounding the mass arrests of Mongols that later took place affect things? It convinced lots of people who were striving for acceptance as “one percenters” in the biker world to join the Mongols because Queen and the government’s press releases made them look far worse than they actually were. For example, one person was very prominently announced to have been arrested for murder, only to be released and never charged because there was no evidence to support the claims, and of course the government didn’t publicly admit the gross error. The government painted the Mongols as the worst of the worst in the outlaw biker world and the net result was that it got them lots of recruits.
Extortion is obviously a very compelling issue for any government. Just look at how the potential for CIA Director David Petraeus to be blackmailed over his now exposed affair has caused a ruckus in Washington. So, is it worth the price that the United States Government won’t pay, but which targets of MS-13 extortion in the United States and El Salvador will, due to the very public designation of MS-13 as a TCO? Only time will tell.