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Smart TV surges into mainstream in the US


A new consumer survey from IMS Research has found that over 30% of consumers in the United States who plan to purchase a TV set in the next 12 months want an Internet-connected device.

The Smart TV – Consumer Survey – 2012 Edition report found that such connectivity is becoming more important to consumers in the country, with metrics indicating that the feature is driving 70% more TV purchases than it did 12 months ago. Moreover, the research revealed that not only was connected TV status as relevant to consumers as LED screen technology, it was a much stronger purchase driver than 3DTV capability. Among consumers who purchased a TV in the past 12 months, 63% more consumers expressed a preference for smart TV. Among consumers who plan to purchase a TV in the next year, almost the same amount claim that they want an Internet-connected TV as an LED TV.

“The awareness and preference for Smart TVs and the video services and applications that can be accessed through them is increasing, creating a shift in consumer purchase behavior,” explained Veronica Thayer, market analyst at IMS Research and the report’s author. “However, price, screen size and picture quality remain the primary purchase drivers in the US.”

The report also revealed that owners of smart TVs use video-on-demand (VOD) apps like Vudu, Amazon Prime Video and CinemaNow significantly more than consumers who access this type of application through another device connected to their TV set. This latter category includes game consoles, Roku and Apple TV connected devices.

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MX Cocaine Incorporated (The Snow Kings of Mexico)



The New York Times
Sunday Magazine
June 17, 2012

Cocaine Incorporated


online version with drawings:

One afternoon last August, at a hospital on the outskirts of Los Angeles, a former beauty queen named Emma Coronel gave birth to a pair of heiresses. The twins, who were delivered at 3:50 and 3:51, respectively, stand to inherit some share of a fortune that Forbes estimates is worth a billion dollars. Coronel’s husband, who was not present for the birth, is a legendary tycoon who overcame a penurious rural childhood to establish a wildly successful multinational business. If Coronel elected to leave the entry for “Father” on the birth certificates blank, it was not because of any dispute over patrimony. More likely, she was just skittish about the fact that her husband, Joaquín Guzmán, is the C.E.O. of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, a man the Treasury Department recently described as the world’s most powerful drug trafficker. Guzmán’s organization is responsible for as much as half of the illegal narcotics imported into the United States from Mexico each year; he may well be the most-wanted criminal in this post-Bin Laden world. But his bride is a U.S. citizen with no charges against her. So authorities could only watch as she bundled up her daughters and slipped back across the border to introduce them to their dad.

Known as El Chapo for his short, stocky frame, Guzmán is 55, which in narco-years is about 150. He is a quasi-mythical figure in Mexico, the subject of countless ballads, who has outlived enemies and accomplices alike, defying the implicit bargain of a life in the drug trade: that careers are glittering but brief and always terminate in prison or the grave. When Pablo Escobar was Chapo’s age, he had been dead for more than a decade. In fact, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Chapo sells more drugs today than Escobar did at the height of his career. To some extent, this success is easily explained: as Hillary Clinton acknowledged several years ago, America’s “insatiable demand for illegal drugs” is what drives the clandestine industry. It’s no accident that the world’s biggest supplier of narcotics and the world’s biggest consumer of narcotics just happen to be neighbors. “Poor Mexico,” its former president Porfirio Díaz is said to have remarked. “So far from God and so close to the United States.”

The Sinaloa cartel can buy a kilo of cocaine in the highlands of Colombia or Peru for around $2,000, then watch it accrue value as it makes its way to market. In Mexico, that kilo fetches more than $10,000. Jump the border to the United States, and it could sell wholesale for $30,000. Break it down into grams to distribute retail, and that same kilo sells for upward of $100,000 — more than its weight in gold. And that’s just cocaine. Alone among the Mexican cartels, Sinaloa is both diversified and vertically integrated, producing and exporting marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine as well.

Estimating the precise scale of Chapo’s empire is tricky, however. Statistics on underground economies are inherently speculative: cartels don’t make annual disclosures, and no auditor examines their books. Instead, we’re left with back-of-the-envelope extrapolations based on conjectural data, much of it supplied by government agencies that may have bureaucratic incentives to overplay the problem.

So in a spirit of empirical humility, we shouldn’t accept as gospel the estimate, from the Justice Department, that Colombian and Mexican cartels reap $18 billion to $39 billion from drug sales in the United States each year. (That range alone should give you pause.) Still, even if you take the lowest available numbers, Sinaloa emerges as a titanic player in the global black market. In the sober reckoning of the RAND Corporation, for instance, the gross revenue that all Mexican cartels derive from exporting drugs to the United States amounts to only $6.6 billion. By most estimates, though, Sinaloa has achieved a market share of at least 40 percent and perhaps as much as 60 percent, which means that Chapo Guzmán’s organization would appear to enjoy annual revenues of some $3 billion — comparable in terms of earnings to Netflix or, for that matter, to Facebook.

The drug war in Mexico has claimed more than 50,000 lives since 2006. But what tends to get lost amid coverage of this epic bloodletting is just how effective the drug business has become. A close study of the Sinaloa cartel, based on thousands of pages of trial records and dozens of interviews with convicted drug traffickers and current and former officials in Mexico and the United States, reveals an operation that is global (it is active in more than a dozen countries) yet also very nimble and, above all, staggeringly complex. Sinaloa didn’t merely survive the recession — it has thrived in recent years. And after prevailing in some recent mass-casualty clashes, it now controls more territory along the border than ever.

“Chapo always talks about the drug business, wherever he is,” one erstwhile confidant told a jury several years ago, describing a driven, even obsessive entrepreneur with a proclivity for micromanagement. From the remote mountain redoubt where he is believed to be hiding, surrounded at all times by a battery of gunmen, Chapo oversees a logistical network that is as sophisticated, in some ways, as that of Amazon or U.P.S. — doubly sophisticated, when you think about it, because traffickers must move both their product and their profits in secret, and constantly maneuver to avoid death or arrest. As a mirror image of a legal commodities business, the Sinaloa cartel brings to mind that old line about Ginger Rogers doing all the same moves as Fred Astaire, only backward and in heels. In its longevity, profitability and scope, it might be the most successful criminal enterprise in history.

The state of Sinaloa, from which the cartel derives its name, lies wedged between the Sierra Madre Occidental and Mexico’s west coast. Sun-blasted and remote, Sinaloa is the Sicily of Mexico, both cradle and refuge of violent men, and the ancestral land of many of the country’s most notorious traffickers. Chapo was born in a village called La Tuna, in the foothills of the Sierra, in 1957. His formal education ended in third grade, and as an adult, he has reportedly struggled to read and write, prevailing upon a ghostwriter, at one point, to compose letters to his mistress. Little is known about Chapo’s early years, but by the 1980s, he joined the Guadalajara cartel, which was run by a former policeman known as El Padrino — the Godfather.

For decades, Mexican smugglers had exported homegrown marijuana and heroin to the United States. But as the Colombian cocaine boom gathered momentum in the 1980s and U.S. law enforcement began patrolling the Caribbean, the Colombians went in search of an alternate route to the United States and discovered one in Mexico. Initially, Mexican traffickers, like a pudgy 25-year-old airplane pilot named Miguel Angel Martínez, acted as independent contractors who were paid a fee by the Colombians to move their cargo. In 1986, the Guadalajara cartel dispatched Martínez to the Colombian port of Barranquilla, in the hope that someone might commission him to fly drugs up to Mexico. But Martínez couldn’t find any takers and ended up languishing in Colombia for months, worrying that he had blown his big opportunity with the cartel. Eventually, he caught a commercial flight back to Mexico, and shortly thereafter, he was summoned to a meeting with Chapo, who was by then an underboss in the cartel. “You were very well behaved in Colombia,” Chapo told him, according to subsequent testimony. He seemed impressed by Martínez’s patience in waiting for an assignment.

Having passed this test, Martínez started working for Chapo as a kind of air traffic controller, negotiating directly with the Cali and Medellín cartels, then guiding their cocaine flights from South America to secret runways in barren stretches of Mexico. Martínez knew U.S. agents were monitoring his radio communications, so rather than say a word, he would whistle — a signal to the pilots that they were cleared for takeoff.

With the decline of the Caribbean route, the Colombians started paying Mexican smugglers not in cash but in cocaine. More than any other factor, it was this transition that realigned the power dynamics along the narcotics supply chain in the Americas, because it allowed the Mexicans to stop serving as logistical middlemen and invest in their own drugs instead. In 1986, Martínez couldn’t land a gig as a lowly courier in Barranquilla. Not five years later, he was marshaling hundreds of flights laden with cocaine for Chapo. “Sometimes we would get five planes a night,” he remembered. “Sometimes 16.” Now it was the Colombians who went hat in hand to Chapo, looking not to hire him to move their product but to sell it to him outright. They would tip Martínez $25,000 just to get an audience with the man.

The young pilot became a gatekeeper to the ascendant kingpin, fielding his phone calls and accompanying him on foreign trips. There’s a vaudevillian goofiness to nicknames in Mexico, and the stout Martínez was known in the cartel as El Gordo. He and Chapo — Fatty and Shorty — made quite a pair. “Japan, Hong Kong, India, all of Europe,” Martínez recalled in testimony. Chapo owned a fleet of Learjets, and together, they saw “the whole world.” They both used cocaine as well, a habit that Chapo would eventually give up. When a lawyer inquired, years later, whether he had been Chapo’s right-hand man, Martínez replied that he might have been, but that Guzmán had five left hands and five right hands. “He’s an octopus, Chapo Guzmán,” he said. For his efforts, Martínez was paid a million dollars a year, in a single annual installment: “In cash, in a suitcase, each December.” When Martínez’s son was born, Chapo asked to serve as godfather.

In 1989, Chapo’s mentor, El Padrino, was captured by Mexican authorities, and the remaining members of the Guadalajara cartel assembled in Acapulco to determine which smuggling route each capo would inherit. According to Ioan Grillo’s book, “El Narco,” the meeting was ostensibly a gathering of friends. But the shards of El Padrino’s organization would become the basis for the Tijuana, Juárez and Sinaloa cartels, and these onetime colleagues would soon become antagonists in a cycle of bloody turf wars that continues to this day.

“Drug cartel,” it turns out, is a whopper of a misnomer; neither the Mexicans nor the Colombians ever colluded to fix prices or supply. “I wish they were cartels,” Arturo Sarukhán, Mexico’s ambassador in Washington, told me. “If they were, they wouldn’t be fighting and driving up the violence.”

At first, Chapo’s organization controlled a single smuggling route, through western Mexico into Arizona. But by 1990, it was moving three tons of cocaine each month over the border, and from there, to Los Angeles. The Sinaloa has always distinguished itself by the eclectic means it uses to transport drugs. Working with Colombian suppliers, cartel operatives moved cocaine into Mexico in small private aircraft and in baggage smuggled on commercial flights and eventually on their own 747s, which they could load with as much as 13 tons of cocaine. They used container ships and fishing vessels and go-fast boats and submarines — crude semi-submersibles at first, then fully submersible subs, conceived by engineers and constructed under the canopy of the Amazon, then floated downriver in pieces and assembled at the coastline. These vessels can cost more than a million dollars, but to the smugglers, they are effectively disposable. In the event of an interception by the Coast Guard, someone onboard pulls a lever that floods the interior so that the evidence sinks; only the crew is left bobbing in the water, waiting to be picked up by the authorities.

Moving cocaine is a capital-intensive business, but the cartel subsidizes these investments with a ready source of easy income: marijuana. Cannabis is often described as the “cash crop” of Mexican cartels because it grows abundantly in the Sierras and requires no processing. But it’s bulkier than cocaine, and smellier, which makes it difficult to conceal. So marijuana tends to cross the border far from official ports of entry. The cartel makes sandbag bridges to ford the Colorado River and sends buggies loaded with weed bouncing over the Imperial Sand Dunes into California. Michael Braun, the former chief of operations for the D.E.A., told me a story about the construction of a high-tech fence along a stretch of border in Arizona. “They erect this fence,” he said, “only to go out there a few days later and discover that these guys have a catapult, and they’re flinging hundred-pound bales of marijuana over to the other side.” He paused and looked at me for a second. “A catapult,” he repeated. “We’ve got the best fence money can buy, and they counter us with a 2,500-year-old technology.”

Improvisation is a trafficker’s greatest asset, and in recent years, Sinaloa has devised an even more efficient solution to the perennial challenge of getting marijuana across the border. Grow it here. Several years ago, a hunter was trekking through the remote North Woods of Wisconsin when he stumbled upon a vast irrigated grow site, tended by a dozen Mexican farmers armed with AK-47’s. According to the D.E.A., it was a Sinaloa pot farm, established on U.S. National Forest land to supply the market in Chicago.

Heroin is easier to smuggle but difficult to produce, and as detailed in court documents, Chapo is particularly proud of his organization’s work with the drug. He personally negotiates shipments to the United States and stands by its quality, which is normally 94 percent pure. “The value-to-weight ratio of heroin is better than any other drug,” says Alejandro Hope, who until recently was a senior officer at Cisen, Mexico’s equivalent to the C.I.A.

But the future of the business may be methamphetamine. During the 1990s, when the market for meth exploded in the United States, new regulations made it more difficult to manufacture large quantities of the drug in this country. This presented an opportunity that the Sinaloa quickly exploited. According to Anabel Hernández, author of “Los Señores del Narco,” a book about the cartel, it was one of Chapo’s deputies, a trafficker named Ignacio (Nacho) Coronel, who first spotted the massive potential of methamphetamine. “Nacho was like Steve Jobs,” Hernández told me. “He saw the future.”

Here was a drug that was ragingly addictive and could be produced cheaply and smuggled with relative ease. When they first started manufacturing meth, the Sinaloa would provide free samples to their existing wholesale clients in the Midwest. “They’d send five hundred pounds of marijuana, and secreted in that would be two kilos of meth,” Jack Riley, the D.E.A.’s special agent in charge of the Chicago office, told me. “They’d give it away for free. They wanted the market.” As demand grew, the cartel constructed superlabs, capable of churning out industrial volumes of meth. Container ships from India and China unloaded precursor chemicals — largely ephedrine — in the Pacific ports Lázaro Cárdenas and Manzanillo. To grasp the scale of production, consider the volume of some recent precursor seizures at these ports: 22 tons in October 2009; 88 tons in May 2010; 252 tons last December. When Mexico banned the importation of ephedrine, the cartel adapted, tweaking its recipe to use unregulated precursors. Recently they have started outsourcing production to new labs in Guatemala.

But Chapo’s greatest contribution to the evolving tradecraft of drug trafficking was one of those innovations that seem so logical in hindsight it’s a wonder nobody thought of it before: a tunnel. In the late 1980s, Chapo hired an architect to design an underground passageway from Mexico to the United States. What appeared to be a water faucet outside the home of a cartel attorney in the border town of Agua Prieta was in fact a secret lever that, when twisted, activated a hydraulic system that opened a hidden trapdoor underneath a pool table inside the house. The passage ran more than 200 feet, directly beneath the fortifications along the border, and emerged inside a warehouse the cartel owned in Douglas, Ariz. Chapo pronounced it “cool.”

When this new route was complete, Chapo instructed Martínez to call the Colombians. “Tell them to send all the drugs they can,” he said. As the deliveries multiplied, Sinaloa acquired a reputation for the miraculous speed with which it could push inventory across the border. “Before the planes were arriving back in Colombia on the return, the cocaine was already in Los Angeles,” Martínez marveled.

Eventually the tunnel was discovered, so Chapo shifted tactics once again, this time by going into the chili-pepper business. He opened a cannery in Guadalajara and began producing thousands of cans stamped “Comadre Jalapeños,” stuffing them with cocaine, then vacuum-sealing them and shipping them to Mexican-owned grocery stores in California. He sent drugs in the refrigeration units of tractor-trailers, in custom-made cavities in the bodies of cars and in truckloads of fish (which inspectors at a sweltering checkpoint might not want to detain for long). He sent drugs across the border on freight trains, to cartel warehouses in Los Angeles and Chicago, where rail spurs let the cars roll directly inside to unload. He sent drugs via FedEx.

But that tunnel into Douglas remains Chapo’s masterpiece, an emblem of his creative ingenuity. Twenty years on, the cartels are still burrowing under the border — more than a hundred tunnels have been discovered in the years since Chapo’s first. They are often ventilated and air-conditioned, and some feature trolley lines stretching up to a half-mile to accommodate the tonnage in transit.

You might suppose that a certain recklessness would be a prerequisite for anyone contemplating a career in the drug trade. But in reality, blue-chip traffickers tend to fixate, with neurotic intensity, on the concept of risk. “The goal of these folks is not to sell drugs,” Tony Placido, who was the top intelligence official at the D.E.A. until he retired last year, told me. “It’s to earn a spendable profit and live to enjoy it.” So the smart narcos are preoccupied with what Peter Reuter and Mark Kleiman once referred to, in a classic essay on the drug business, as “the marginal imprisonment risk.” In 2010, Chapo’s old friend Ismael (El Mayo) Zambada, the No. 2 man in the Sinaloa cartel, granted an interview to the Mexican magazine Proceso. Now in his 60s and a grandfather, El Mayo has been in the drug business for nearly half a century and has amassed a fortune. But you can’t buy peace of mind. “I’m terrified they’ll incarcerate me,” he acknowledged. “I’m full of fear. Always.”

There’s a reason coke and heroin cost so much more on the street than at the farm gate: you’re not paying for the drugs; you’re compensating everyone along the distribution chain for the risks they assumed in getting them to you. Smugglers often negotiate, in actuarial detail, about who will be held liable in the event of lost inventory. After a bust, arrested traffickers have been known to demand a receipt from authorities, so that they can prove the loss was not because of their own negligence (which would mean they might have to pay for it) or their own thievery (which would mean they might have to die). Some Colombian cartels have actually offered insurance policies on narcotics, as a safeguard against loss or seizure.

To prevent catastrophic losses, cartels tend to distribute their risk as much as possible. Before sending a 100-kilo shipment across the border, traffickers might disaggregate it into five carloads of 20 kilos each. Chapo and his associates further reduce their personal exposure by going in together on shipments, so each of those smaller carloads might hold 10 kilos belonging to Chapo and 10 belonging to Mayo Zambada. The Sinaloa is occasionally called the Federation because senior figures and their subsidiaries operate semiautonomously while still employing a common smuggling apparatus.

The organizational structure of the cartel also seems fashioned to protect the leadership. No one knows how many people work for Sinaloa, and the range of estimates is comically broad. Malcolm Beith, the author of a recent book about Chapo, posits that at any given moment, the drug lord may have 150,000 people working for him. John Bailey, a Georgetown professor who has studied the cartel, says that the number of actual employees could be as low as 150. The way to account for this disparity is to distinguish between salaried employees and subcontractors. A labor force of thousands may be required to plow all that contraband up the continent, but a lot of the work can be delegated to independent contractors, people the Mexican political scientist and security consultant Eduardo Guerrero describes as working “for the cartel but outside it.”

Even those who do work directly for the cartel are limited to carefully compartmentalized roles. At a recent trial, a regional cartel lieutenant, José Esparza, testified about his experience working for the Sinaloa along the border. On one occasion, he attended a meeting outside Culiacán with many of the cartel’s top leaders. But there was no sign of Chapo. Once the discussion concluded, an emissary left the group and approached a Hummer that was parked in the distance and surrounded by men with bulletproof vests and machine guns, to report on the proceedings. Chapo never stepped out of the vehicle.

It’s not just the federales that the narcos fear; it’s also one another. The brutal opportunism of the underworld economy means that most partnerships are temporary, and treachery abounds. For decades, Chapo worked closely with his childhood friend Arturo Beltrán Leyva, a fearsome trafficker who ran a profitable subsidiary of Sinaloa. But in 2008, the two men split, then went to war, and Beltrán Leyva’s assassins were later blamed for murdering one of Chapo’s sons. To reduce the likelihood of clashes like these, the cartel has revived an unlikely custom: the ancient art of dynastic marriage. Chapo’s organization is occasionally referred to as an alianza de sangre (“alliance of blood”), because so many of its prominent members are cousins by marriage or brothers-in-law. Emma Coronel, who gave birth to Chapo’s twins, is the niece of Nacho Coronel, the Steve Jobs of meth (who died in a shootout with the Mexican Army in 2010). All of this intermarriage, one U.S. official in Mexico suggested to me, functions as “a hedge against distrust.” An associate may be less likely to cheat you, or to murder you, if there’ll be hell to pay with his wife. It’s a cynical strategy, certainly, but in a vocation where one of Chapo’s rivals went by the nickname Mata Amigos, or “Friend Killer,” it may also be quite sound.

The surest way to stay out of trouble in the drug business is to dole out bribes, and promiscuously. Drug cartels don’t pay corporate taxes, but a colossus like Sinaloa makes regular payments to the federal, state and municipal authorities that may well rival the effective tax rate in Mexico. When the D.E.A. conducted an internal survey of its top 50 operatives and informants several years ago and asked them to name the most important factor for running a drug business, they replied, overwhelmingly, corruption. At a trial in 2010, a former police official from Juárez, Jesús Fierro Méndez, acknowledged that he had worked for Sinaloa. “Did the drug cartels have the police on the payroll?” an attorney asked.

“All of it,” Fierro Méndez replied.

The cartel bribes mayors and prosecutors and governors, state police and federal police, the army, the navy and a host of senior officials at the national level. After an arrest for drug trafficking in the 1990s, Chapo was sentenced to 20 years and shipped to Puente Grande, a fortified prison in Jalisco that was Mexico’s answer to a supermax. But during the five years he spent there, Chapo enjoyed prerogatives that make the prison sequence in “Goodfellas” look positively austere. With most of the facility on his payroll, he is said to have ordered his meals from a menu, conducted business by cellphone and orchestrated periodic visits by prostitutes, who would arrive aboard a prison truck driven by a guard. I spoke with one drug producer who negotiated a joint venture deal with Chapo while he was behind bars. Eventually, as the story goes, Chapo was smuggled out in a laundry cart. According to Martínez’s testimony, he paid more than $3 million to secure his release. Today, Chapo is a free man, Puente Grande’s warden only recently completed a jail sentence for letting him go and Mexicans call the prison Puerta Grande — the Big Door.

The tacit but unwavering tolerance that Mexican authorities have shown for the drug trade over the years has muddled the boundaries between outlaws and officials. When Miguel Angel Martínez was working for Chapo, he says, “everyone” in the organization had military and police identification. Daylight killings are sometimes carried out by men dressed in police uniforms, and it is not always clear, after the fact, whether the perpetrators were thugs masquerading as policemen or actual policemen providing paid assistance to the thugs. On those occasions when the government scores a big arrest, meanwhile, police and military officials pose for photos at the valedictory news conference brandishing assault weapons, their faces shrouded in ski masks, to shield their identities. In the trippy semiotics of the drug war, the cops dress like bandits, and the bandits dress like cops.

When you tally it all up, bribery may be the single largest line item on a cartel’s balance sheet. In 2008, President Felipe Calderón’s own drug czar, Noe Ramirez, was charged with accepting $450,000 each month. Presumably, such gargantuan bribes to senior officials cascade down, securing the allegiance of their subordinates. “You have to recruit the high commands, so they can issue the information to lower ranks and order whatever they want,” the corrupt cop, Fierro Méndez, testified. But in key jurisdictions, the cartel most likely makes payments up and down the chain of command. In a 2010 speech, Genaro García Luna, Mexico’s secretary of public security, speculated that together, the cartels spend more than a billion dollars each year just to bribe the municipal police.

It’s not only officials who must be bribed, either. There are also the “falcons,” an army of civilian lookouts who might receive $100 a month just to keep their eyes open and make a phone call if they notice an uptick in border inspections or a convoy of police. “There are cities in Mexico where virtually every cabdriver is on the payroll,” Michael Braun, formerly of the D.E.A., said. “They have eyes and ears everywhere.”

And then there are the Americans. Guards at the U.S. border have been known to wave a car through their checkpoints for a few thousand dollars, and since 2004, there have been 138 convictions or indictments in corruption investigations involving members of the United States Customs and Border Protection. Paradoxically, one explanation for this state of affairs is the rapid expansion of border forces following the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. In their hurry to fortify the U.S.-Mexico boundary with uniformed personnel, it seems, officials may have made allowances on background checks and screenings. In some instances, job offers have been extended to the immediate relatives of known traffickers.

When corruption fails, there is always violence. During the 12 years that he worked for the cartel, Martínez claims that he did not carry a gun. But Sinaloa has risen to pre-eminence as much through savagery as through savvy. “In illegal markets, the natural tendency is toward monopoly, so they fight each other,” Antonio Mazzitelli, an official with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Mexico City, told me. “How do they fight: Go to court? Offer better prices? No. They use violence.” The primal horror of Mexico’s murder epidemic makes it difficult, perhaps even distasteful, to construe the cartel’s butchery as a rational advancement of coherent business aims. But the reality is that in a multibillion-dollar industry in which there is no recourse to legally enforceable contracts, some degree of violence may be inevitable.

“It’s like geopolitics,” Tony Placido said. “You need to use violence frequently enough that the threat is believable. But overuse it, and it’s bad for business.”

The most gratuitous practitioners of violence right now would be the Zetas, a rampaging league of sociopaths with a notable devotion to physical cruelty. The Zetas are a new kind of cartel, in that they came somewhat late to the actual business of smuggling drugs. They started out as bodyguards for the Gulf Cartel before going into business for themselves, and they specialize in messaging through bloodshed. It’s the Zetas who are charged with dumping 49 mutilated bodies by the side of a highway near Monterrey last month. Sinaloa is responsible for a great deal of carnage as well, but its approach to killing has traditionally been more discreet. Whereas a Sinaloa subsidiary allied with a Tijuana farmer known as the Stewmaker, who dissolved hundreds of bodies in barrels of lye, the Zetas have pioneered a multimedia approach to violence, touting their killings on YouTube. One strategic choice facing any cartel is deciding when to intimidate the civilian population and when to cultivate it. Sinaloa can be exceedingly brutal, but the cartel is more pragmatic than the Zetas in its deployment of violence. It may simply be, as one Obama administration official suggested, that the Sinaloa leadership is “more conscious of their brand.”

It’s a curious rivalry between these two organizations, because their business models are really very different. The Zetas have diversified beyond drugs to extortion, kidnapping and human trafficking, blossoming into what officials call a “polycriminal organization.” Sinaloa, by contrast, has mostly tended to stick to its core competence of trafficking. According to one captured cartel member, Chapo specifically instructed his subordinates not to dabble in protection rackets and insisted that Sinaloa territory remain “calm” and “controlled.”

“Sinaloa does not do extortion directly,” Eduardo Guerrero said. “It’s so risky, and the profits are so small. They want the big business — and the big business is in the United States.”

Just how active the cartel is north of the border is a divisive question. According to the Department of Justice, by 2009, Mexican-based criminal organizations were operating in “more than a thousand U.S. cities.” When you consider the huge jump in the price of narcotics between bulk importation and retail sales, it might seem that Chapo would want to expand into street-level distribution. In 2005, the D.E.A. began intercepting large shipments of cocaine in which each kilo brick was heat-sealed in a distinctive Mylar foil. They spotted the foil in Los Angeles first, then in Oklahoma, Chicago, Atlanta and New Jersey. “This was Sinaloa coke,” Michael Wardrop, who led two of the agency’s most ambitious operations against the domestic networks of the cartel, told me. As the telltale wrapping popped up across the country, Wardrop and his colleagues marveled at the sheer expanse of Sinaloa’s market. “It was like watching a virus in a Petri dish,” he said. “It was constantly growing.”

Wardrop’s investigations netted more than a thousand arrests. But some observers question the extent to which the perpetrators in these cases were actually working for the cartel. “If you’re telling me there’s a straight chain of command back to El Chapo in Sinaloa — come on, that’s absurd,” the Mexican ambassador, Arturo Sarukhán, protested. Often, the gatekeepers and logistics men that the D.E.A. arrested were indeed connected to handlers in Mexico. But this was more true of high-level importers dealing in kilos than run-of-the-mill retailers pushing grams. When The Associated Press tracked down Otis Rich, a Baltimore dealer who was ensnared in one of the operations, he answered the obvious question with a telling reply: “Sina-who?”

“The fully integrated model would indeed maximize profits,” John Bailey observes in a coming book about the cartels, but “it also maximizes risk of exposure.” A big reason for the markup at the retail level is that the sales force is so exposed — out on the corner, a magnet for undercover cops, obliged to negotiate with a needy, unpredictable clientele. When you adjust for all that added risk, the windfall starts to seem less alluring. Like a liquor wholesaler who opts not to open a bar, Chapo appears to have decided that the profits associated with retail sales just aren’t worth the hassle.

What Sinaloa does do inside this country is ferry drugs along highways to regional distribution hubs, where they are turned over to trusted wholesalers, like the Flores twins of Chicago. Pedro and Margarito Flores grew up in a Mexican-American enclave of the city during the 1990s. Their father and an older brother had moved drugs for Sinaloa, and by the time the twins were in their 20s, they had gone into business as distributors, purchasing cocaine and heroin directly from Mexican cartels, then selling to dealers throughout the United States. Chicago, home of the Mercantile Exchange, has always been a hub from which legitimate goods fan out across the country, and it’s no different for black-market commodities. Chapo has used the city as a clearinghouse since the early 1990s; he once described it as his “home port.”

In 2005, the Flores twins were flown to a mountaintop compound in Sinaloa to meet with Chapo Guzmán. The kingpin is an intimidating interlocutor; one criminal who has negotiated with him face to face told me that Chapo tends to dominate a conversation, asking a lot of questions and compensating for his short stature by bouncing on the balls of his feet. But the meeting went well, and before long, the brothers were distributing around two tons of Sinaloa product each month. As preferred customers, they often took Chapo’s drugs without putting any money down, then paid the cartel only after they sold the product. This might seem unlikely, given the pervasive distrust in the underworld, but the narcotics trade is based on a robust and surprisingly reliable system of credit. In a sense, a cartel like Sinaloa has no choice but to offer a financing option, because few wholesale buyers have the liquidity to pay cash upfront for a ton of cocaine. “They have to offer lines of credit,” Wardrop told me, “no different from Walmart or Sears.”

This credit system, known as “fronting,” rests on an ironclad assumption that in the American marketplace, even an idiot salesman should have no trouble selling drugs. One convicted Sinaloa trafficker told me that it often took him more time to count the money he collected from his customers than it did to actually move the product. It may also help that the penalty for defaulting could involve dismemberment.

As wholesale buyers, the Flores brothers occupied a crucial bottleneck between the cartel and its consumers. They grew so indispensable, in fact, that after taking delivery of a shipment of drugs, they could retroactively bargain down the price. One day in 2008, Pedro Flores telephoned Guzmán in Mexico to ask for a discount on heroin.

“What did we agree on?” Chapo asked him, according to a government transcript of the call.

They had negotiated a price of $55,000 per kilo, Flores explained. But if Chapo would consider lowering that to $50,000, the twins could pay immediately.

“That price is fine,” Chapo agreed, without argument. Then he added something significant: “Do you have a way to bring that money over here?”

For the Sinaloa cartel, pushing product north into the United States is only half the logistical equation. The drug trade is a cash business — you can’t buy kilos with your credit card. So while politicians tend to focus on cartels primarily as importers of drugs, the narcos also devote an enormous amount of energy to the export of money. Cash is collected in small denominations from individual buyers and then bundled in great stacks of broken-in bills that are used to pay wholesalers, like the Flores brothers. These bills are counted, hidden in the same vehicle compartments that were used to smuggle drugs in the opposite direction and then sent to stash houses in Los Angeles, San Diego and Phoenix. From there, they move across the border into Mexico.

What happens to the money when it gets there? The cartel employs professional money launderers who specialize in drug proceeds, and according to Robert Mazur, a former D.E.A. agent who infiltrated the Colombian cartels, the fee for fully scrubbing and banking illicit proceeds may run Sinaloa more than 15 cents on the dollar. But a great deal of the cartel’s money remains in cash. In the early 1990s, a Sinaloa accountant sent planeloads of U.S. currency to Mexico City in suitcases holding $1 million each. When Miguel Angel Martínez worked for Chapo, the kingpin would test his loyalty, adding an extra $200,000 to one of the suitcases to see if Martínez would pocket it. “Eight suitcases, compadre, so that is $8 million,” he would say. (Martínez never fell for the trick.) A sizable share of the cash is devoted to paying bribes, and some is sent to Colombia to purchase more product, because drugs offer a strong return on investment. “Where would you put your money?” the former Cisen officer Alejandro Hope asked me with a chuckle. “T-bills? Real estate? I would put a large portion of my portfolio in cocaine.”

Even so, the business generates such volumes of currency that there is only so much you can launder or reinvest, which means that money can start to pile up around the house. The most that Martínez ever saw at one time was $30 million, which just sat there, having accumulated in his living room. In 2007, Mexican authorities raided the home of Zhenli Ye Gon, a Chinese-Mexican businessman who is believed to have supplied meth-precursor chemicals to the cartel, and discovered $206 million, the largest cash seizure in history. And that was the money Zhenli held onto — he was an inveterate gambler, who once blew so much cash in Las Vegas that one of the casinos presented him, in consolation, with a Rolls-Royce. “How much money do you have to lose in the casino for them to give you a Rolls-Royce?” Tony Placido, the D.E.A. intelligence official, asked. (The astonishing answer, in Zhenli’s case, is $72 million at a single casino in a single year.) Placido also pointed out that, as a precursor guy, Zhenli was on the low end of the value chain for meth. It makes you wonder about the net worth of the guy who runs the whole show.

In 2008, the Flores twins were indicted in Chicago and began secretly cooperating with law enforcement. The following year, one of their Sinaloa contacts — a debonair young trafficker named Jesús Vicente Zambada Niebla, or Vicentillo — was arrested in Mexico and later extradited to Chicago. He will be the highest-ranking member of the cartel ever to face trial in the United States, and his favorite wholesale customers will be the star witnesses against him. In a surprise twist, Vicentillo (who is the son of Chapo’s partner, Mayo Zambada) has argued that he can’t be prosecuted — because even as he worked for Sinaloa, he was also a secret informant for the D.E.A.

There has been speculation in Mexico that the Calderón regime favors Sinaloa over the unhinged Zetas and has made a devil’s pact to lay off the cartel. It might be impossible to eradicate all the cartels in Mexico, this theory goes, so the government has picked a favorite in the conflict in the hope that when the smoke clears, a Sinaloa monopoly might usher in a sort of pax narcotica. A 2010 National Public Radio investigation of Mexican arrest statistics found that Sinaloa had suffered conspicuously fewer arrests than had its peers, though this could simply be evidence of triage on the government’s part rather than proof of a conspiracy. Calderón vehemently denies any charges of favoritism, and his administration has arrested or killed several of Chapo’s key deputies in the last few years. (My repeated requests for interviews with relevant officials in Mexico were denied.)

The suggestion that the D.E.A. might have made a deal with a high-ranking Sinaloa figure is new, however. In the past, Chapo has occasionally authorized employees to provide information to American law enforcement. Fierro Méndez, the Juárez cop, described a system in which junior traffickers would walk into U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and announce their willingness to become informers — then feed the Americans intelligence about rival cartels, thereby using law enforcement to eliminate their competitors. U.S. officials allow that there were discussions between the D.E.A. and Vicentillo, but they deny that any quid pro quo was in place.

The trial, which is scheduled for October, should shed significant light on Sinaloa’s logistical apparatus — provided the witnesses can stay alive until then. Recently, a career criminal named Saul Rodriguez testified that Vicentillo solicited his help at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago, where they were both being held, in an effort to have the Flores twins assassinated. Authorities have expressed concern that the cartel might undertake a daring jailbreak to get Vicentillo out. They have also voiced the opposite worry — that Vicentillo will himself be killed. A request by the trafficker’s attorneys that he be permitted to exercise outdoors raised concerns from prison officials, because the only open space at the prison is a fenced-in recreation area on top of the building, where Vicentillo could be picked off by a sniper. (He has since been moved to a more secure facility.)

It might seem far-fetched that the cartel would try to assassinate one of its own, the son of Mayo Zambada, no less. But Sinaloa guards its secrets ruthlessly. After Chapo’s friend Miguel Angel Martínez was arrested in 1998, four men came to kill him in prison, stabbing him repeatedly. In that assault, and another that followed, he sustained more than a dozen stab wounds, which punctured his lungs, pancreas and intestines. After the second attack, he was moved to another facility and kept in a segregated unit. This time, an assassin managed to get as far as the gate outside Martínez’s cell and chucked two grenades at the bars. Locked in with nowhere to run, Martínez could only cower by the toilet to shield himself from the blast. The roof caved in, and he barely survived. Asked later who it was that tried to have him killed, Martínez said that it was his compadre, Chapo Guzmán. “Because of what I knew,” he explained. (Today he is living in witness protection in the United States.)

Between the coming trial and the increased political drumbeat on both sides of the border for his capture, Chapo may be more embattled today than at any time in his career. In February, he escaped a raid by Mexican authorities in the resort area of Los Cabos. President Calderón’s party is trailing in the polls, and some have theorized that the only way it might manage to retain power after next month’s presidential election would be if Chapo is killed or captured. U.S. authorities, meanwhile, are uncertain about who might succeed Calderón — Vice President Joe Biden met with all of the leading candidates on a visit to Mexico in March — and whether that successor will have any appetite to continue battling the cartels. With so many dead and so little progress, the Mexican populace has grown war-weary. Several U.S. officials told me that the critical window for capturing Chapo is between now and when Calderón leaves office.

In addition to the threat of capture, there is the threat of competition. By some estimates, the Zetas now control more Mexican territory than Chapo does, even if they don’t move nearly as many drugs. Zeta gunmen have made bloody incursions on Chapo’s turf, going so far as to penetrate the previously inviolable stronghold of his own home state, Sinaloa. In 2008, Chapo’s lover, Zulema Hernández, was discovered dead in the trunk of a car, her body carved with the letter “Z.” “It’s like the evolution of the dinosaurs, and the coming of the T. Rex,” Antonio Mazzitelli told me. “The T. Rex is the Zetas.”

Chapo and his colleagues were never peaceful types; in the last few years, they have waged vicious wars of acquisition to seize the lucrative smuggling routes through Juárez and Tijuana. But to fend off the Zetas, Sinaloa is resorting to new levels of barbarism. In March, the cartel dumped a collection of dismembered bodies in Zeta territory and posted a series of open letters on the walls around them, deriding the Zetas as “a bunch of drunks and car-washers.” Each message was signed, “Sincerely, El Chapo.”

One thing Chapo has always done is innovate. Even as he engages in violent brinkmanship along the border, the cartel is expanding to new markets in Europe, where a kilo of cocaine can sell for three times what it does in the U.S., and in Australia, where authorities believe that Chapo is now a major cocaine supplier. There are also indications that the cartel is exploring opportunities in Southeast Asia, China and Japan — places Chapo and Martínez first visited as younger men. And Chapo’s great comparative advantage still lies along that fraught boundary between Mexico and the United States. Even if the kingpin is killed or captured, one of his associates will quite likely take his place, and the smuggling infrastructure that Chapo created will endure, channeling the product, reaping the profits and feeding, with barely a blip in service, the enduring demand on this side of the border — what the historian Héctor Aguilar Camín once referred to as “the insatiable North American nose.”

* Patrick Radden Keefe is a staff writer for The New Yorker and a fellow at the Century Foundation. From 2010 to 2011, he was a policy adviser in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Editor: Greg Veis

A version of this article appeared in print on June 17, 2012, on page MM36 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: The Snow Kings of Mexico.

Drugs & Democracy Info <drugs@tni.org>
Transnational Institute (TNI)

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Some cry ‘coup’ as Egypt’s highest court annuls parliament, military extends power

Cairo (CNN) — Egypt’s highest court declared the parliament invalid Thursday, and the country’s interim military rulers promptly declared full legislative authority, triggering a new level of chaos and confusion in the country’s leadership.

The Supreme Constitutional Court found that all articles making up the law that regulated parliamentary elections are invalid, said Showee Elsayed, a constitutional lawyer.

The ruling means that parliament must be dissolved, state TV reported.

Parliament has been in session for just over four months. It is dominated by Islamists, a group long viewed with suspicion by the military.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, in control of the country since Mubarak’s ouster, said that it now has full legislative power and will announce a 100-person assembly that will write the country’s new constitution by Friday.

The real obstacle to democracy in Egypt

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest Islamist party, said SCAF leaders were taking matters into their own hands “against any true democracy they spoke of.”

The court also ruled that former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik. the last prime minister to serve under ousted President Hosni Mubarak, may run in a presidential election runoff this weekend.

The court rejected a law barring former members of Mubarak’s regime from running in the election.

The runoff Saturday and Sunday pits Shafik against Mohamed Morsi, head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm.

“We do not need a court ruling to ban Shafik,” said Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan. “We will put all our efforts into the upcoming elections so that Morsi wins and we avoid the rebirth of the old regime overnight.”

“All this equals a complete coup d’etat through which the military council is writing off the most noble stage in the nation’s history,” said Mohamed el-Beltagy, a member of parliament and a senior member of Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party, in a Facebook posting. “This is the Egypt which Shafik and the military council desire.”

Shafik, at a news conference in Cairo, praised the high court for rejecting the rule preventing former regime members from running. “The age of settling accounts is over and gone. The age of using the law and the country’s institutions against any individual is over,” he said.

Some analysts also called it a coup.

“Egypt just witnessed the smoothest military coup,” said Hossam Bahgat of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, in a tweet after the high court’s decisions Thursday. “We’d be outraged if we weren’t so exhausted.”

Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, said the court rulings are the “worst possible outcome” for Egypt and the transition to civilian rule is “effectively over.”

“Egypt is entering into a very dangerous stage and I think a lot of people were caught by surprise,” he said.

Riot police and military personnel, some in armored vehicles, were outside the court ahead of the rulings. Military intelligence officers were also present.

After the ruling about Shafik was announced, a crowd of citizens shouted their disapproval. Military police moved to block the road in front of the court — a major Cairo artery.

Protesters outside the court chanted slogans against the former Mubarak regime and Shafik.

For Egypt’s trapped and teeming, revolution has barely begun

Ahmed Yousef, a protester with the April 6 Movement, said: “The military wants Shafik, the court will not rule against him — but we don’t care, we will continue to fight against him.”

“Those who don’t want to see a return to the oppression of the past … are very unhappy with this ruling,” CNN’s Ben Wedeman said from Cairo.

Many voters were unhappy with both choices in the runoff.

Morsi and Shafik are the most non-revolutionary of all candidates and represent “two typically tyrannical institutions: the first (Morsi) being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the second (Shafik) a senior official of the former regime,” Sonya Farid wrote for Al Arabiya earlier.

“Everything about Egypt’s revolution has been unexpected, and the first-round results in the country’s first-ever competitive presidential elections are no different,” Omar Ashour, director of Middle East studies at the University of Exeter and a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution in Doha, Qatar, wrote for Project Syndicate previously.

Egypt’s voters “overwhelmingly chose the revolution over the old regime … but their failure to unite on a single platform directly benefited Shafik,” Ashour said.

The rulings come a day after Egypt’s military-led government imposed a de facto martial law, extending the arrest powers of security forces.

Egypt’s Justice Ministry issued a decree Wednesday granting military officers the authority to arrest civilians, state-run Egy News reported.

The mandate remains in effect until a new constitution is introduced, and could mean those detained could remain in jail for that long, the agency said.

Lawyers for the Muslim Brotherhood filed a court appeal Thursday against the decree.

A decades-old emergency law that critics said gave authorities broad leeway to arrest citizens and hold them indefinitely without charges expired on May 31.

The political scene in Egypt remains tense after the parliament failed to agree on a committee to write a new constitution defining the powers of the president and the parliament.

Are you there? Share photos and videos with us on CNN iReport.

Mohamed Fadel Fahmy reported from Cairo for CNN; CNN’s Josh Levs reported from Atlanta; CNN’s Ben Wedeman, Amir Ahmed, Laura Smith-Spark, and Mark Bixler contributed to this report.


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58 killed, more than 150 wounded in Iraq

Baghdad (CNN) — A string of car and roadside bombs exploded in northern and central Iraq Wednesday morning, killing at least 58 people and wounding 156 others, police officials said.

Most of the victims were Shiite Muslim pilgrims, police said.

The attacks Wednesday come after mortar rounds landed on pilgrims in northwestern Baghdad’s Kadhimiya Shiite neighborhood Sunday leaving at least seven people dead and 20 others wounded.

Hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims have begun walking to Kadhimya for the annual commemoration of the death of Imam Moussa al-Kadhim on Saturday. Many will be traveling by foot or by car, some from across the country, especially southern Shiite provinces.

The shrine to al-Kadhim in Baghdad is one of Shiite Islam’s holiest sites. Al-Kadhim is among 12 revered imams in Shiite Islam.

Wednesday’s attacks are the deadliest since February 23, 2011 when nearly 50 people were killed and more than 200 were wounded. A similar number people died on March 20 of this year in attacks across the country.

Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, thousands of Shiite pilgrims have been killed and wounded by Sunni extremists, including groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq.

While the attacks continue, violence in Iraq is down dramatically since the peak of sectarian violence between 2005 and 2007.

During May, 132 people were killed and 248 others were wounded in violence across the country.

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Decriminalize marijuana? Four ways America’s views of pot are changing

Decriminalize marijuana? Four ways America’s views of pot are changing

Polls show national opinion toward marijuana use steadily changing toward greater acceptance, and laws are changing and ballot initiatives are coming before voters. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for instance, wants to decriminalize possession of small quantities of pot. Here is a look at how America’s views on marijuana are changing in four key areas.

Polls show national opinion toward marijuana use steadily changing toward greater acceptance, and laws are changing and ballot initiatives are coming before voters. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for instance, wants to decriminalize possession of small quantities of pot. Here is a look at how America’s views on marijuana are changing in four key areas.

1. Polls

For more than 20 years, national polls have shown increasing acceptance of marijuana use, proponents of legalization note. But acceptance has not yet hit a critical mass, opponents counter. They point to the failure of California’s Proposition 19 in 2010, which would have allowed small amounts of marijuana for personal use while regulating and taxing it.

Polls offer different views on whether – and how much – views of marijuana have changed since then.

Some experts say the first state to approve marijuana for casual use is right around the corner, perhaps as soon as this November.

According to a Rasmussen Reports poll released in May, 56 percent of Americans now support legalizing cannabis and regulating it the way alcohol and tobacco are. Some 36 percent were opposed.

Dale Gieringer, state coordinator of California NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), said the Rasmussen poll marked a high water moment for the legal marijuana movement, suggesting that it showed “the strongest support ever recorded.”

According to the telephone poll in April, 47 percent of adults also “believe the country should legalize and tax marijuana in order to help solve the nation’s fiscal problems.” Forty-two percent of respondents disagreed, while 10 percent are undecided.

Another poll by Angus Reid also suggested that Americans broadly agreed that marijuana crimes should be punished less harshly than some others. Three of four Americans favor the use of fines or probation in lieu of criminal sanctions for marijuana offenders, according to the May poll.

In addition, 74 percent of respondents said they favored the imposition of “alternative penalties,” such as fines, probation, or community service, rather than prison for violators of marijuana possession laws. By contrast, only 41 percent of respondents favored such penalties for credit-card fraud, and only one-third for drunk driving offenders.

A May poll by the University of Southern California Dornsife/Los Angeles Times, however, suggested that California voters still reject legal marijuana by similar margins to 2010. Prop. 19 failed with 54 percent voting against and 46 percent in favor. The USC poll found that 50 percent of California voters remain opposed to legal marijuana, while 46 percent are in favor of “general or recreational use by adults.”

2. Decriminalization

Decriminalization is not legalization. The terms are often used interchangeably but mistakenly, say experts.

Decriminalization means that the use (or possession, in some cases) of an established quantity of marijuana remains illegal, but the penalties are not harsh; often simply fines, similar to a traffic citation, and no imprisonment.

Legalization means that the use or possession of marijuana is not illegal. There are no penalties attached.

Currently, the private, nonmedical possession of marijuana by an adult has been decriminalized in eight states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, and Oregon.

Five additional states – Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio – treat marijuana possession offenses as a fine-only misdemeanor offense. Alaska law imposes no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults.

Since 1996, 17 states and the District of Columbia have legalized its use for medical conditions.

New York Governor Cuomo’s bill to reduce the criminal misdemeanor to a violation with a fine up to $100 would save thousands of New Yorkers –disproportionately black and Hispanic youths – from unnecessary arrests and criminal charges, the governor says.

Rhode Island is also considering decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana under legislation set for a vote in the General Assembly. The state House and the Senate are both scheduled to debate and vote on the measure Tuesday.

The legislation would replace criminal penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana with a $150 civil fine. Minors caught with pot would also have to complete a drug-awareness program and community service.

“Many states will attempt the decriminalization process before legalization,” says Tod Burke, professor of criminal justice and associate dean at Radford University in Virginia. “It is a means to take baby-steps towards the possible legalization.”

The rationale for what New York, and possibly Rhode Island, is recommending might make sense for them, says Professor Burke. “However, it is important to understand that one states’ rationale for the decriminalization or legalization of marijuana is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” he says. “Each state must decide what is in the best interest of its citizenry.”

3. Medical marijuana

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have enacted medical cannabis legislation laws, following California’s Proposition 215 in 1996. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed the state’s new law Friday. Massachusetts voters will decide on medical marijuana in November. Rhode Island legalized marijuana dispensaries last month. New Hampshire lawmakers will likely send medical marijuana legislation to Gov. John Lynch this week.

4. Legal marijuana for recreational use

Legalization measures have already qualified for the 2012 November ballot in Washington State and Colorado, and a similar measure in Oregon is likely to qualify. But California, which led the way with the failed Prop. 19, has no legalization measures pending, according to Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML California.

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Afghan leader condemns NATO airstrike; U.S. defense secretary visits Kabul

Afghan President Hamid Karzai will cut short his China trip to return to Afghanistan after a NATO strike reportedly killed civilians

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned a NATO airstrike this week that a provincial official says killed women and children, in a statement that came just as U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived Thursday in Kabul for talks.

A provincial official has said civilians were among the dead in the airstrike, while the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said initial reports revealed only two injuries.

ISAF is aware of the claims of civilian casualties and is looking into what took place, a spokesman for the coalition said.

The NATO airstrike Wednesday in eastern Afghanistan’s Logar province, along the volatile Pakistan border, is likely to strain already tense relations with the United States.

In the statement, Karzai said he was cutting short a trip to China, where he has been attending a summit.

“NATO operations that inflict human and material losses to civilians can in no way be justifiable, acceptable and tolerable,” he said.

Panetta did not address the controversy over the airstrike in his public remarks while in Kabul.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan on Thursday condemned “in the strongest terms” the deaths of civilians in Logar and in militant attacks in Kandahar, Faryab and Paktika a day earlier.

Together, the attacks killed 40 civilians, including 10 children, and injured at least 67 others, the U.N. body said, in what was the single deadliest day for civilian deaths in 2012.

While militant attacks have caused by far the greatest number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, its statement said, “UNAMA has also repeatedly expressed concern that aerial operations have resulted in more civilian deaths and injuries than any other tactic used by pro-government forces since the present armed conflict began.”

Sahib Khan, a member of Afghan parliament from Logar province, told CNN he believed four insurgents also were killed in the NATO airstrike in the Baraki Barak district of Logar province.

He said the bodies of 18 civilians, including women and children, had been brought to the provincial capital, Pule Alam, but that the bodies of the four insurgents had been taken elsewhere.

An investigation team has gone to the area to determine how many militants were in the building hit in the airstrike, said Khan. He said insurgents had fired on a U.S. military convoy from the house.

Panetta: U.S. running out of patience with Pakistan on militant havens

The allegations of civilian casualties came ahead of discussions between Panetta and U.S. Army Gen. John Allen, commander of ISAF troops, and Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak.

The training of Afghan security forces was likely to be high on the list of discussion topics.

With American troops due to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 under a timetable announced by President Barack Obama, the U.S. military is beefing up its training of Afghan forces. At that time, security duties will be fully turned over to the Afghan government, although some U.S. forces will remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014 as military advisers.

The latest allegations of civilian casualties also come at a critical time for the United States.

While U.S. military and political officials have said publicly that Afghanistan will be ready to take over security of its country by the time NATO troops depart, critics have said there are questions about whether Afghan forces can stand on their own.

Violence has increased in recent weeks, coinciding with the start of the Taliban’s summer fighting season.

On what was his fourth visit to Afghanistan, Panetta praised the efforts of U.S. forces, saying that thanks to them, a “turning point” had been reached after 10 years of war.

He acknowledged that there had been an “uptick in violence,” but said that was because ISAF forces had taken the fight to the Taliban.

“We’ve been able to put this country in the right direction. The reality is we have weakened the Taliban,” the defense secretary told an audience of U.S. troops.

But while Afghan forces are gaining in strength and capability, he said, international forces still have work to do. “This is still not going to be an easy fight. We still have a lot of challenges to confront. We have a resilient enemy that will use any tactic they can to come at us.”

Panetta said that ISAF forces would continue to support Afghanistan beyond the agreed troop drawdown, with an “enduring presence” past 2014, and that the goal was to ensure a safer future for the United States as well as for the Afghan people.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met Thursday with Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak.

Asked what message U.S. troops should give to Afghan commanders concerned about what would follow the transition to Afghan control, Panetta said: “We are not going anyplace. We are committed to an Afghanistan … that can secure and govern itself.

“We have lost a lot of people in battle, and we continue to lose people. One thing we have to make damn sure of is that those lives were not lost in vain.”

Panetta’s brief trip to Kabul did not include a meeting with Karzai, who was en route back to Afghanistan at the time the U.S. defense secretary was wrapping up his trip.

The last meeting between the two, in March, came on the heels of allegations that a U.S. soldier left his base in southern Kandahar province and went on a shooting spree in two villages that left 17 people dead.

At the time, Karzai called the shootings a cruel act against the people of Afghanistan, and told Panetta that Afghans have lost trust in international forces.

The shooting spree followed revelations that U.S. troops inadvertently burned copies of the Quran and other Islamic religious materials, which sparked massive, violent protests.

Military officials said the materials had been seized from Afghan prisoners because they contained extremist messages.

CNN’s Mohammed Jamjoom and Masoud Popalzai contributed to this report.

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Assad’s Response to Syria Unrest Leaves His Own Sect Divided

BEIRUT, Lebanon — After Jaber Abboud, a baker from Baniyas, Syria, first lashed out publicly at President Bashar al-Assad for failing to promote real change, his neighbors ignored it.

But Mr. Abboud and most of his community are Alawites, the same religious sect as the president. When the popular uprising broke out, many believed that if the Assad family fell, they were doomed. They closed ranks and turned on Mr. Abboud, boycotting his pastry shop and ultimately forcing him to leave town.

“The neighborhood is split — half are dejected and subservient, the rest are beasts,” he said in a telephone interview from nearby Latakia. “It is depressing to go there, it’s like a town full of ghosts, divided, security everywhere.”

As the Syrian conflict escalates to new levels of sectarian strife, Mr. Assad is leaning ever more heavily on his religious base for support. The Alawite core of the elite security forces is still with him, as are many Syrians from minority groups.

But interviews with a dozen Alawites indicated a complex split even within their ranks. Some Alawites are frustrated that security forces have not yet managed to crush the opposition, while others say that Mr. Assad is risking the future of the Alawites by pushing them to the brink of civil war with Sunni Muslims.

Mr. Assad’s ruling Baath Party professes a secular, pan-Arab socialism, but Sunnis, who make up about 74 percent of the population, have long bridled at what they see as sectarian rule by the Alawites, who are nominally Shiite Muslims and make up only 13 percent of the population.

People like Mr. Abboud say they feel stranded in a no man’s land. Blackballed by their own Alawite community, they find that the Islamists who dominate parts of the armed opposition regard them with murderous suspicion. A few with opposition credentials have been killed.

On the other extreme are Alawites who criticize Mr. Assad as being too soft, saying that his father and predecessor as president, Hafez al-Assad, would have quashed the threat by now.

With Alawite youths dying by the hundreds to defend the government, voices are raised at funerals and elsewhere asking questions like, “Why is the government not doing enough to protect us?” according to the Alawites interviewed.

There were also anti-Assad chants in Alawite neighborhoods like Zahra in Homs, like: “Bashar became a Sunni!” (Mr. Assad’s wife, Asma al-Akhras, comes from a prominent family of Sunni Muslims from Homs.)

Alawite-Sunni tensions reached a new peak after a spate of mass killings, particularly the May 25 Houla massacre of 108 Sunni Muslims, including 49 children. Survivors from Houla and people living near the slaughter last Wednesday in the farming hamlet of Qubeir said the attackers came from Alawite villages. The United Nations said suspicions in Houla were focused on pro-government militiamen known in Arabic as shabiha. Alawites dominate their ranks.

“For the first time, we began to hear directly from our Sunni neighbors that we should leave Damascus and return to our villages,” said Abu Ali, 50, a real estate agent. He said that once the school year ended he expected a flood of such departures out of fear of revenge attacks.

Fear of reprisals has prompted dire warnings from some Alawites that their future is on the line. Afaq Ahmad, a defector from the air force intelligence branch, posted a 10-minute plea on YouTube saying that Alawites have to stop committing collective suicide. He has gained prominence partly because Alawite defectors are rare.

“Does the family of Bashar al-Assad deserve to be the leaders of the Alawites?” Mr. Ahmad asked. “In the face of crimes like this, we cannot stay silent. We should stick to our religious and humanitarian principles because otherwise, history will show no mercy.”

Officials in the Assad government often say that its secular ideology has preserved the harmony among what it calls the “glorious mosaic” of Syria’s many overlapping religions, ethnic groups and tribes. But its critics call that a front for Alawite domination, reversing centuries of fierce discrimination that is reflected in Syrian geography. Scorned as nonbelievers during about 400 years of Ottoman rule and forced to pay a special tax, the Alawites sequestered themselves in impoverished mountain redoubts overlooking the Mediterranean.

But Mr. Abboud and most of his community are Alawites, the same religious sect as the president. When the popular uprising broke out, many believed that if the Assad family fell, they were doomed. They closed ranks and turned on Mr. Abboud, boycotting his pastry shop and ultimately forcing him to leave town.

“The neighborhood is split — half are dejected and subservient, the rest are beasts,” he said in a telephone interview from nearby Latakia. “It is depressing to go there, it’s like a town full of ghosts, divided, security everywhere.”

As the Syrian conflict escalates to new levels of sectarian strife, Mr. Assad is leaning ever more heavily on his religious base for support. The Alawite core of the elite security forces is still with him, as are many Syrians from minority groups.

But interviews with a dozen Alawites indicated a complex split even within their ranks. Some Alawites are frustrated that security forces have not yet managed to crush the opposition, while others say that Mr. Assad is risking the future of the Alawites by pushing them to the brink of civil war with Sunni Muslims.

Mr. Assad’s ruling Baath Party professes a secular, pan-Arab socialism, but Sunnis, who make up about 74 percent of the population, have long bridled at what they see as sectarian rule by the Alawites, who are nominally Shiite Muslims and make up only 13 percent of the population.

People like Mr. Abboud say they feel stranded in a no man’s land. Blackballed by their own Alawite community, they find that the Islamists who dominate parts of the armed opposition regard them with murderous suspicion. A few with opposition credentials have been killed.

On the other extreme are Alawites who criticize Mr. Assad as being too soft, saying that his father and predecessor as president, Hafez al-Assad, would have quashed the threat by now.

With Alawite youths dying by the hundreds to defend the government, voices are raised at funerals and elsewhere asking questions like, “Why is the government not doing enough to protect us?” according to the Alawites interviewed.

There were also anti-Assad chants in Alawite neighborhoods like Zahra in Homs, like: “Bashar became a Sunni!” (Mr. Assad’s wife, Asma al-Akhras, comes from a prominent family of Sunni Muslims from Homs.)

Alawite-Sunni tensions reached a new peak after a spate of mass killings, particularly the May 25 Houla massacre of 108 Sunni Muslims, including 49 children. Survivors from Houla and people living near the slaughter last Wednesday in the farming hamlet of Qubeir said the attackers came from Alawite villages. The United Nations said suspicions in Houla were focused on pro-government militiamen known in Arabic as shabiha. Alawites dominate their ranks.

“For the first time, we began to hear directly from our Sunni neighbors that we should leave Damascus and return to our villages,” said Abu Ali, 50, a real estate agent. He said that once the school year ended he expected a flood of such departures out of fear of revenge attacks.

Fear of reprisals has prompted dire warnings from some Alawites that their future is on the line. Afaq Ahmad, a defector from the air force intelligence branch, posted a 10-minute plea on YouTube saying that Alawites have to stop committing collective suicide. He has gained prominence partly because Alawite defectors are rare.

“Does the family of Bashar al-Assad deserve to be the leaders of the Alawites?” Mr. Ahmad asked. “In the face of crimes like this, we cannot stay silent. We should stick to our religious and humanitarian principles because otherwise, history will show no mercy.”

Officials in the Assad government often say that its secular ideology has preserved the harmony among what it calls the “glorious mosaic” of Syria’s many overlapping religions, ethnic groups and tribes. But its critics call that a front for Alawite domination, reversing centuries of fierce discrimination that is reflected in Syrian geography. Scorned as nonbelievers during about 400 years of Ottoman rule and forced to pay a special tax, the Alawites sequestered themselves in impoverished mountain redoubts overlooking the Mediterranean.

France, as the colonial power, created a separate coastal Alawite state that lasted from 1920 to 1936.

With independence, Alawites were drawn to the military and the secularist Baath Party. The coup that brought Hafez al-Assad to power in 1970 cemented their control, shocking the traditional Sunni ruling class. He stocked the secret police and the military with Alawites, creating such a fear of them that Syrians talking about the sect in public called them “Germans.”

The late president formed the elite units, now controlled by his son Maher, that are the main military force of repression. The government showed no forbearance toward its Alawite critics — they were considered traitors, often jailed for twice as long as Sunni Muslims for their role in clandestine political organizations. Now, even watching satellite channels critical of the Syrian government, like Al Jazeera, is considered treachery in Alawite communities.

The intolerance of dissent means there is no uniquely Alawite opposition movement. (There is a Facebook page,Alawites in the Syrian Revolution, and the campaign to resurrect nonviolent protests involves many young, urban Alawites.)

The first Alawite joined the executive committee of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in exile, only in April. Many others had been deterred by both the Sunni Muslim dominance of the group and concern for family members back home.

In Baniyas, along Syria’s roughly 100 miles of Mediterranean coast, the fate of Mr. Abboud, the baker, at the hands of the community helps to explain the reluctance.

Mr. Abboud, 57, a former soccer coach, said he had been arrested three times and badly beaten. Two of his three children received death threats, neighbors tried repeatedly to set fire to his house and friends he had known since childhood avoided him. Even his three sisters shunned him.

Until the uprising, the worst Sunni-Alawite vendetta came during the skirmishing between the Muslim Brotherhood and the government about 30 years ago. In the most notorious attack, Muslim extremists singled out Alawite military cadets in Aleppo for execution, letting others go free. The Alawites have never forgotten.

In Damascus in the 1980s, new Alawite communities were formed to ring the capital, which the city’s natives sometimes derisively call “settlements.” Salam, 28, a businessman, who grew up in one such area, said that early in the uprising, the government distributed automatic rifles there. “They told us, ‘The Sunnis are going to kill you,’ ” Salam said in an interview over Skype. “They scared us. Of course some people in our community are narrow-minded; they believed them and, unfortunately, many people accepted the weapons.”

Alawite opposition sympathizers in smaller towns tend to stay silent because they are so few. “The people will kill them,” said Wajdy Mustafa, a longtime Alawite activist now living in exile in California. Yet they fear seeking haven among the Sunnis, too, lest they be killed for their sect, he said.

There is much talk that if the government collapses, the Alawites might withdraw back into the mountains. Others speculate that mass killings by Alawite militias are aimed at consolidating control in parts of the country that they could defend in a prolonged conflict with the Sunnis.

Amid the siege mentality, however, come occasional glimmers of a different mind-set.

Reem, 28, with long, curly black hair, helps organize anti-Assad rallies in Damascus. At the start of the uprising she could not show her face in her village above Tartus, she said. Eventually she went, prompting catcalls from pro-Assad neighbors.

But on her most recent visit a month ago, no one cursed her activism, said Reem, who gave only one name to avoid recriminations. “They have begun to understand the real face of the Syrian crisis, that it is a popular revolution against a dictatorship, not against an Alawite regime,” she said, describing the shock registered by young people in the village when she described how young Alawites, Sunnis and Druze stand together in antigovernment protests in Damascus.

“They are amazed to hear that an Alawite woman without a veil and in tight jeans can demonstrate hand in hand with a Sunni woman covered in black,” she said.

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US: “War on Drugs”: America’s second lost war of the last 50 years

The Obama administration has begun, quietly and sensitively, to mark the 50th anniversary of when the United States sent its first “advisers” to Vietnam, and marched into a quagmire-war that would end in enemy victory and divide America.

America is,  simultaneously, 42 years into another lost war.  President Nixon, in 1970 declared the “War on Drugs”, and began to spend billions of dollars, build a vast bureaucracy,  and arrest thousands of young people.
Our governments remain knee deep in the big muddy today. An estimated 100 million Americans have smoked marijuana, including two (and almost certainly three) drug-using recent presidents.  Possession arrests clog the courts.  Drug cartels are moving to control the business along the Interstate 5 corridor.  Drug gangsters are killing each other in once-peaceful British Columbia.

In his new book “Cronkite,” author Douglas Brinkley writes of the legendary CBS News anchorman, a “company man” who served as America’s cheerleader for the space program and Cold War.  But on an eye-opening trip to Vietnam in 1968, he concluded and reported that the U.S. war effort in Southeast Asia would at best achieve stalemate.
In 2006, at the age of 89, Cronkite  likened the War on Drugs to the War in Vietnam as unwinnable and a drain on lives . . . but with those waging it unwilling to admit to error or vast waste.  “Uncle Walter” wrote:

“I covered the Vietnam War.  I remember the lies that were told, the lives that were lost — and the shock when, 27 years after the war ended, former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara admitted he knew it was a mistake all along.

“Today, our nation is fighting two wars:  One abroad and one at home. While the war in Iraq is in the headlines, the other war is still being fought on our own streets.  Its casualties are the wasted lives of our own citizens.

“I am speaking of the War on Drugs. “And I cannot help but wonder how many more lives, and how much more money, will be wasted before another Robert McNamara admits what is plain for all to see:  The War on Drugs is a failure.”

Cronkite asked, in Brinkley’s words, “whether arresting 1.5 million Americans a year on drug charges (half of them marijuana arrests) made sense financially to taxpayers.”

The Pacific Northwest was a center of resistance to the Vietnam War. The region, on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border, is now trying to talk sense to power on the failing drug war.  Will power listen?

Voters in Seattle, in 2003, adopted an ordinance putting marijuana possession at the bottom of the Seattle Police Department’s enforcement priorities.  The state of Washington will vote this November on an initiative to legalize, regulate and tax sales of small amount of cannabis.

Up north, ex-Vancouver mayors and B.C. attorneys general of all political stripes have united to send a message to Canada’s federal government:

Enforcement isn’t working.  The current policy simply plays into gangs’ hands.  Drugs have become stuff of barter, with B.C. Bud flowing out of  the country, with cocaine and meth and heroin coming in.

Vancouver has even defended, against both our Drug Enforcement Administration and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, the city’s first-of-its-kind safe injection center.  It offers clean needles to addicts, but also medical treatment and education and opportunities to beat addiction.  It has cut down on street deaths.

A key question about Washington’s Initiative 502:  Will the heavy-handed  feds come in, threaten the state, deliver stern warnings about property compensation — and, generally, try to scare us out of doing what is sensible and years overdue?

Soldiers who fought and died in Vietnam were, in numbers disproportionate, poor and/or black and/or Hispanic.  President Lyndon Johnson was the parent of Head Start, but architect of a war that was killing 500 young Americans a week when Cronkite went to Vietnam in 1968.

The similarities could be seen this week in New York, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for an end to criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of pot, and — surprisingly — New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg backed him up.

Since 1990, with Gotham City cops using stop-and-frisk tactics, marijuana possession arrests in New York City have soared from 2,000 to 50,000 a year.  More than 80 percent of those busted are African-American or Hispanic.

“This is an issue that disproportionately affects young people,” Cuomo said.  “They wind up with a permanent stain on their record for something that would otherwise be a violation.  The charge makes it difficult for them to get a job.”

The busts also make it difficult for law enforcement to do their jobs: Take the 6,000 arrests in Manhattan last year for smoking pot in the open.

As Manhattan District Attorney (and former Seattle lawyer) Cyrus Vance put it, “The human costs to each defendant changed with a misdemeanor are serious.  And the drain on our resources in our office and the NYPD to process those 6,000 cases is significant.”

Enough!  Basta, as they say in Italian.  Decriminalization will not produce a society of druggies.  A shift from enforcement to taxation, treatment and education can only bring better results, and allow our police agencies to concentrate on serious crime.

In his autobiography, and in a new biography by David Maraniss, Barack Obama is seen smoking pot at his elite Honolulu high school.  He would see it as a dead end path and pull back, not because of enforcement but out of ambition and self-discipline.

Will this President, who ended one overseas war and is ending another, see fit — if reelected — to pull America out of the War on Drugs?  What did the famous 2008 Obama poster say?  “Hope.”

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The End of Counterinsurgency and the Scalable Force | Stratfor

By George Friedman

The U.S. military for years has debated the utility of counterinsurgency operations. Drawing from a sentiment that harkens back to the Vietnam War, many within the military have long opposed counterinsurgency operations. Others see counterinsurgency as the unavoidable future of U.S. warfare. The debate is between those who believe the purpose of a conventional military force is to defeat another conventional military force and those who believe conventional military conflicts increasingly will be replaced by conflicts more akin to recent counterinsurgency operations. In such conflicts, the purpose of a counterinsurgency is to transform an occupied society in order to undermine the insurgents.

Understanding this debate requires the understanding that counterinsurgency is not a type of warfare; it is one strategy by which a disproportionately powerful conventional force approaches asymmetric warfare. As its name implies, it is a response to an insurgency, a type of asymmetric conflict undertaken by small units with close links to the occupied population to defeat a larger conventional force. Insurgents typically are highly motivated — otherwise they collapse easily — and usually possess superior intelligence to a foreign occupational force. Small units operating with superior intelligence are able to evade more powerful conventional forces and can strike such forces at their own discretion. Insurgents are not expected to defeat the occupying force through direct military force. Rather, the assumption is that the occupying force has less interest in the outcome of the war than the insurgents and that over time, the inability to defeat the insurgency will compel the occupying force to withdraw.


According to counterinsurgency theory, the strength of an insurgency lies in the relationship between insurgents and the general population. The relationship provides a logistical base and an intelligence apparatus. It also provides sanctuary by allowing the insurgents to blend into the population and disappear under pressure. Counterinsurgency argues that severing this relationship is essential. The means for this consist of offering the population economic incentives, making deals with the traditional leadership and protecting the population from the insurgents, who might conduct retributive attacks for collaborating with the occupying force.

The weakness of counterinsurgency is the assumption that the population would turn against the insurgents for economic incentives or that the counterinsurgents can protect the population from the insurgents. Some values, such as nationalism and religion, are very real among many populations, and the occupying force’s ability to alter these values is dubious, no matter how helpful, sincere and sympathetic the occupying force is. Moreover, protecting the population from insurgents is difficult. In many cases, insurgents are the husbands, brothers and sons of civilians. The population may want the economic benefits offered by the occupying force, but that does not mean citizens will betray or ostracize their friends and relatives. In the end, it is a specious assumption that a mass of foreigners can do more than intimidate a population. The degree to which they can intimidate them is doubtful as well.

An Alternative to Counterinsurgency?

There is of course another dimension of asymmetric warfare, which encapsulates guerrilla warfare and special operations warfare. This is warfare by which highly trained light infantry forces are deployed on a clearly defined mission but are not dependent on the local population. Instead, these forces avoid the general population, operating on their own supplies or supplies obtained with minimal contact with the population. Notably, either side could adopt these tactics. What is most important in considering guerrilla warfare from the perspective of the counterinsurgent is that it is not merely a tactic for the insurgent; it is also a potential alternative to counterinsurgency itself. 

Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that the U.S. military is not very good at counterinsurgency. One could argue that the United States should improve its counterinsurgency capabilities, but there is little evidence that it could master such capabilities. There is, however, another form of light infantry warfare to consider, and it is a form of warfare the United States is good at. The alternative does not seek to win over the population but is designed to achieve very definable military objectives, from the destruction of facilities to harassing, engaging and possibly destroying enemy forces, including insurgents.

Special Operations Forces are highly useful for meeting these objectives, but we should also include other types of forces. The U.S. Marine Corps is one such example. Rather than occupying territory, and certainly rather than trying to change public opinion, these forces have a conventional mission carried out in relatively small unit operations. Their goal is to assert military force in highly defined if limited missions designed to bypass the population and strike at the opposition’s capabilities. This is exemplified best in counterterrorist operations or the assault on specific facilities. These operations are cheap and do not require occupation. More important, these operations are designed to terminate without incurring political cost — the bane of prolonged counterinsurgency operations. The alternative to counterinsurgency is to avoid occupational warfare by rigorously defining more limited missions.

To illustrate these operations, consider what we regard as a major emerging threat: Non-state actors potentially acquiring land-based anti-ship missiles. Globalism brings with it intensified maritime trade. Meanwhile, we have seen the dissemination of many weapons to non-state actors. It is easy to imagine that the next stage of diffusion would be mobile, land-based anti-ship missiles. A guerrilla group or insurgency, armed with such weapons, could take advantage of land cover for mobility but strike at naval vessels. In fact, we have already seen several instances where groups employ this strategy. Hezbollah did so in operations against Israel in 2006. Pirates off the coast of Africa are a non-state threat to maritime shipping, though they have yet to use such weapons. Likewise, we see this potential in suicide boat bombs launched from the coast of Yemen.

The world is filled with chokepoints, where the ocean narrows and constricts the flow of ships into corridors within range of land-based anti-ship systems. Some chokepoints, such as the Strait of Hormuz, the Strait of Malacca and the Strait of Gibraltar, are natural, while others, such as the Panama and Suez canals, are man-made, and they are vulnerable to weapons far less sophisticated than anti-ship missiles. These chokepoints, as well as other critical coastal waters, represent the vulnerabilities of the global economic system to state and non-state actors. Occupying them is the logical next step up from piracy.

Providing naval escorts to protect commercial vessels would not solve the problem. The escorts would not be in a position to attack the land-based attackers, whose location would be unknown. Airstrikes are possible, but as we have learned in places like Kosovo, camouflage is an effective counter to airstrikes despite its shortcomings.

These are the circumstances under which scalable, self-contained units would be needed. U.S. Marines, who have forces of sufficient scale to engage attackers in relatively larger areas, are particularly well suited for such missions. Special operations teams would be useful against identified and static hard targets, but amphibious light infantry in various sized units would provide the ability to search, identify and destroy attackers who are constantly moving or redeploying. Because these would be land-sea operations, cooperation between naval forces and ground forces would be critical. These clearly are Marine missions, and potentially urgent ones.

This is one mission among many that can be imagined for smaller-unit operations against non-state actors in a hybrid war scenario, which would avoid the obvious pitfalls of counterinsurgency. Most of all, it would provide boots on the ground distinguishing between targets, camouflage and innocent victims and still be able to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles and other assets.

The issue is not between peer-to-peer conflict and counterinsurgency. While increasingly rare, peer-to-peer conflict still represents the existential threat to any country. But the real problem is matching the force to the mission without committing to occupation — or worse still, the social transformation of the country.

Scale and Mission

The type of government that Afghanistan has is not a matter of national interest to the United States. What is of national interest is that terrorist attacks are not planned, practiced or launched from Afghanistan. Neither occupation nor transformation of the social structure is necessary to achieve this mission. What is necessary will vary in every conflict, but the key in each conflict is to contain the commitment to the smallest level possible. There are three reasons for this. First, doing so defines the mission in such a way that it can be attained. This imposes realism on the mission. Moreover, minimizing commitment avoids the scenario in which prudent withdrawal is deemed politically unacceptable. Last, it avoids the consequences of attempting to transform an entire country.

Military intervention should be a rare occurrence; when it does occur, it should be scaled to the size of the mission. In the chokepoint scenario addressed above, the goal is not to defeat an insurgency; an insurgency cannot be defeated without occupying and transforming the occupied society. The goal is to prevent the use of land based missiles against ships. Missions to destroy capabilities are politically defensible and avoid occupational warfare. They are effective counters to insurgents without turning into counterinsurgencies.

These missions require a light force readily transportable by multiple means to a target area. They should be capable of using force from the squad level to larger levels if necessary. Forces deployed must be able to return as needed and remain in theater without needing to be on the ground, taking casualties and engaging in warfare against non-essential targets and inevitably against civilians. In other words, the mission should not incur unnecessary political costs.

The key is to recognize the failure of counterinsurgency, that warfare is conducted on varying scales of size and that any force must be able to adapt to the mission, ideally operating without large onshore facilities and without moving to occupation.

The current debate over counterinsurgency opens the door to a careful consideration of not only the scalability of forces but also the imperative that the mission includes occupation only in the most extreme cases. Occupation leads to resistance, resistance leads to counterattacks and counterattacks lead to counterinsurgencies. Agile insertion of forces, normally from the sea, could beget disciplined strategic and operational planning and war termination strategies. Wars are easier to end when all that is required is for ships to sail away.

Not all wars can be handled this way, but wars that can’t need to be considered very carefully. The record for these wars does not instill optimism. 

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Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran

WASHINGTON — From his first months in office, President Obamasecretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons, according to participants in the program.

Mr. Obama decided to accelerate the attacks — begun in the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games — even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed it to escape Iran’s Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet. Computer security experts who began studying the worm, which had been developed by the United States and Israel, gave it a name: Stuxnet.

At a tense meeting in the White House Situation Room within days of the worm’s “escape,” Mr. Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency at the time, Leon E. Panetta, considered whether America’s most ambitious attempt to slow the progress of Iran’s nuclear efforts had been fatally compromised.

“Should we shut this thing down?” Mr. Obama asked, according to members of the president’s national security team who were in the room.

Told it was unclear how much the Iranians knew about the code, and offered evidence that it was still causing havoc, Mr. Obama decided that the cyberattacks should proceed. In the following weeks, the Natanz plant was hit by a newer version of the computer worm, and then another after that. The last of that series of attacks, a few weeks after Stuxnet was detected around the world, temporarily took out nearly 1,000 of the 5,000 centrifuges Iran had spinning at the time to purify uranium.

This account of the American and Israeli effort to undermine the Iranian nuclear program is based on interviews over the past 18 months with current and former American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program, as well as a range of outside experts. None would allow their names to be used because the effort remains highly classified, and parts of it continue to this day.

These officials gave differing assessments of how successful the sabotage program was in slowing Iran’s progress toward developing the ability to build nuclear weapons. Internal Obama administration estimates say the effort was set back by 18 months to two years, but some experts inside and outside the government are more skeptical, noting that Iran’s enrichment levels have steadily recovered, giving the country enough fuel today for five or more weapons, with additional enrichment.

Whether Iran is still trying to design and build a weapon is in dispute. The most recent United States intelligence estimate concludes that Iran suspended major parts of its weaponization effort after 2003, though there is evidence that some remnants of it continue.

Iran initially denied that its enrichment facilities had been hit by Stuxnet, then said it had found the worm and contained it. Last year, the nation announced that it had begun its own military cyberunit, and Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Jalali, the head of Iran’s Passive Defense Organization, said that the Iranian military was prepared “to fight our enemies” in “cyberspace and Internet warfare.” But there has been scant evidence that it has begun to strike back.

The United States government only recently acknowledged developing cyberweapons, and it has never admitted using them. There have been reports of one-time attacks against personal computers used by members of Al Qaeda, and of contemplated attacks against the computers that run air defense systems, including during the NATO-led air attack on Libya last year. But Olympic Games was of an entirely different type and sophistication.

It appears to be the first time the United States has repeatedly used cyberweapons to cripple another country’s infrastructure, achieving, with computer code, what until then could be accomplished only by bombing a country or sending in agents to plant explosives. The code itself is 50 times as big as the typical computer worm, Carey Nachenberg, a vice president of Symantec, one of the many groups that have dissected the code, said at a symposium at Stanford University in April. Those forensic investigations into the inner workings of the code, while picking apart how it worked, came to no conclusions about who was responsible.

A similar process is now under way to figure out the origins of another cyberweapon calledFlame that was recently discovered to have attacked the computers of Iranian officials, sweeping up information from those machines. But the computer code appears to be at least five years old, and American officials say that it was not part of Olympic Games. They have declined to say whether the United States was responsible for the Flame attack


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