Drug Cartels Use Failed States to Traffic in Chemicals

Mexico's drug cartels have displayed a Houdini-like knack for escaping the vise of the ongoing Mexican and American government crackdowns.

Despite bolstered American border defenses, cartel smugglers become ever more inventive and audacious moving their drug loads over. Despite President Felipe Calderon's best efforts to clean up the corruption in his military and civilian law enforcement services, drug mafia paymasters continue to co-op them at all ranks. This is all old news.

What has yet to be reported anywhere, until now, is that some of Mexico's most venal drug trafficking organizations, chief among them the Gulf Cartel, have engineered the mother of all end-runs on the crackdowns. It's an almost unbelievable checkmate strategy that promises to keep the drug mafias rich -- and therefore continually able to stave off the good guys.

The Mexican trafficking syndicates have been able to maintain one of their most lucrative activities -- producing and shipping over the U.S. border almost all of America's methamphetamine -- by moving operations to the failing states of Africa and off-the-grid, America-hating Muslim countries.

Just try for a minute to imagine Mexican cartel operatives plying the streets of Baghdad outside the Green Zone with their Arabic interpreters. Or Mexicans making connections with robed business prospects in the souks of Damascus and Tehran. There's nothing imaginary about any of this, according to several recent but completely ignored reports put out earlier this year by the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board. Those reports, as well as interviews I've conducted with control board and U.S. Drug Administration officials, expose a zig-zagging international meth pipeline pieced together with sophistication, moxie, and a cunning exploitation of the world's diplomatic disconnects.

"The remarkable thing is that ... we have gathered evidence that behind most of these cases involving African and Middle Eastern countries there were Mexican trafficking organizations," Rossen Popov, chief of the board's precursors control Section, told me in a long telephone call I put in to his office in Austria.

Said one DEA agent: "The amount of money they can make is astronomical."

Cash-laden Mexican cartel emissaries are trolling the Middle East, securing through artifice and shipping sleight of hand huge tonnage loads of the otherwise tightly regulated raw chemicals that make methamphetamine, pseudoephedrine, and ephedrine. Posing as legitimate pharmaceutical traders operating out of bogus storefront companies in Africa, they strike import deals with chemical companies in Syria, Iran, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt. One 40-ton order of ephedrine was interdicted last year just outside of Baghdad, traced to -- of all the unlikely things -- a Mexican drug cartel.

Once these loads are in cartel hands, they are shipped to embarkation points throughout Africa. The continent offers a most perfect incubator for the cartels.