Sr. Reporter: Babeu's complete answers on "cartels," terrorism (updated)

2011-06-07T14:14:00Z 2011-06-07T15:53:56Z Sr. Reporter: Babeu's complete answers on "cartels," terrorism (updated)Tim Steller, Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 07, 2011 2:14 pm  • 

Update: I've added a clarification of a data discrepancy at the bottom of this item.

In Sunday's Star, Brady McCombs and I had a couple of stories related to border issues. Unfortunately for those of you outside Southern Arizona, both were "print exclusives" and didn't come online till 2 p.m. today.

The main one is on the likelihood terrorists would choose to enter the USA via the Mexican border. The other is on the expanding use of the term "cartel member" to describe anyone involved in the drug trade.

Both stories relate to statements made by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu. Some of Babeu's answers made it into the stories, but not all. So here is the list of questions I emailed him, with Babeu's emailed answers.

Q: What drug-trafficking group dominates the part of the Arizona-Mexico border that feeds into Pinal County?

A: We have investigated cases involving several of the cartels but the three most active we have seen recently would be the Beltran-Leyva Cartel, Los Zetas Cartel and Sinaloan Cartel.  Out of the three, the Sinaloan Cartel is the most active in Pinal County.

Q: To you, what distinguishes a run-of-the-mill drug trafficker from a "cartel member"? That is, when in the drug-trafficking chain do the traffickers cease to be cartel members?

A: If the drug traffickers are moving the marijuana for the cartels, they  are considered part of the cartels operation and therefore a member of the cartel.  The drug cartels of Mexico run a 40 billion dollar a year business and use lots of traffickers to move their product and money.

Q: What is your understanding of the relationship between the smugglers and traffickers who your deputies encounter and the cartels based in Mexico? Are the people your deputies encounter direct employees of cartels, or "contractors" who would work for anyone?

A: Many of the individuals we catch refuse to tell which cartel they are working for out of fear of being killed.  During many past and current investigations we have been able to link individuals and cases to specific cartels.  Divulging how this is determined would not only compromise many of our cases and other agency cases but it would jeopardize the safety of those involved.

Q: Do you still think it is true, as mentioned in the attached press release, that Pinal County Jail inmate Alexandro Guerrero attacked a Pinal County DO because he feared being released and killed by the Zetas?

A: Yes based on the information we learned during the investigation.

Q: What evidence do you have that Guerrero was at any time a member of the Zetas?

A: Statements he made in court and admissions he made to investigators.  It is customary for law enforcement to release information to the public regarding statements made by suspects, witnesses and victims when notifying the public of events.  There has been no information learned during the investigation which would contradict what he has told us for his justification.

Q: Your spokesman, Tim Gaffney, said in an email to me that the PCSO did not verify the truth of Guerrero's affiliation with the Zetas before sending out the press release. Why not?

A: Your first email question to Tim was “I was just looking back at this release, about the assault on the officer. What did you guys do to verify this inmate's story is true — that he actually worked for the Zetas in Mexico, was an informant and was threatened? Also, is he in protective custody now?

Tim’s answer to you was “Interviewed him post Miranda and he provided details.  We don't have any direct contact info for the Zetas so we can't ask them if it is true.  Yes he is being housed in an isolated area for his safety.”

Your next email question to Tim was “When you say he "provided details," do you mean he gave you details that verified his story, or that he told you the story that you've told us? There are authorities other than the Zetas who know about this sort of thing. What I'm getting at is, why do you think his story is true?

Tim’s answer to you was “What I released was what he told us post Miranda.  It gives credibility to his story that he would take such a desperate act to remain in custody as viciously assaulting a detention officer.  Not sure if you saw the video but even after he knocked the detention officer down he continued to strike him.  The inmate has also stated he was going to plead guilty to the charges because he did it.”

I have always believed in “Transparency” in government which means maximum disclosure with minimum delay.  In this case, we released information to the public regarding a vicious unprovoked attack on a Detention Officer and the statements made by the suspect on why he did it.  At the time of the release, we knew the suspect had made statements in court and later after the assault to our investigators.  The Zetas Cartel does not have a phone number we can call or a website which lists their members.

Q: Did you know that Guerrero has a history of attacking officers in Yuma County jail and the DOC, at times when he did not claim to be afraid of a Zeta hit?

A: We were provided with his disciplinary record showing past  history.  We did not have the investigative report from each of the cases which would show what the investigation determined.

Q: Some analysts I've interviewed say that the use of the words "cartel" and "cartel member" is a rhetorical tactic intended to induce fear and raise political support for the people who use them. Do you agree? Why or why not?

A: I would disagree.  We call them cartel members because that is what they are.  The Mexican Government also uses this term when identifying what the cartels are doing in their own country.  Mexico is in a war against the drug cartels, which have claimed over 35,000 lives and nearly toppled their government.

Q: On terrorism, do you think the U.S.-Mexico border is a more likely transit point for possible terrorists than the legal ports of entry or the Canadian border?

A: During 2010 - 447,731 illegal aliens were apprehended along our U.S. / Mexico.  We know that a considerable number higher than the number apprehended made it into the U.S. undetected.  If the majority of regular illegal immigrants can sneak into America, what does this say about the ability of terrorist sleeper cells?  The porous US/Mexican border is the gravest national security threat facing America.

Q: What advantages does the U.S.-Mexico border offer for possible terrorists wanting to enter the USA?

A: Homeland Security has said repeatedly during briefings, even one including Senator McCain, that they apprehend 1 out of every 2.7 who make it into America undetected.  In an effort to help Americans feel the “Border is More Secure Than Ever” this administration is attempting to change how they account for success.  Their own members including their past and current National Presidents have confirmed their members at times have been given orders to “TBS” (Turn Back South) in an effort to reduce numbers.  Based off of this alone, it is very difficult to believe “The Border is More Secure Than Ever” when you are manipulating the numbers used to track this information.  Bottom line, if the majority of illegals make it into the U.S. undetected, how is this a secured border?

Q: Are you saying that the U.S.-Mexico border is a likely entry point for aspiring terrorists, or that it has the potential to be used?

A: I have been told by U.S Border Patrol, that approximately 45,000 illegal immigrants came from countries other than Mexico including at least four state sponsors of terrorism.

According to the U.S. Border Patrol they arrested nearly 700 people  from "Special Interest Countries" such as Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Yemen.  So yes I am saying it is a likely entry point for terrorists if they decide to do harm to our country.

CLARIFICATION: My colleague Brady McCombs noted there's a conflict between what Babeu said in this last answer and what we reported. I'll let him explain: "Babeu is referring to the 663 people from 'special interest' countries apprehended nationwide in fiscal year 2010. On the U.S.-Mexico border, there were 399 people from these countries apprehended, Homeland Security data shows."

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About this blog

When you're a reporter digging deep, you turn up a lot of dirt. But that doesn't mean you can put all the good dirt in the story.

I've found myself with a lot of extra, good dirt in my new role as senior reporter (hence, Señor Reporter), writing primarily for the Arizona Daily Star's Sunday paper.

Check in often, and let's see what we can turn up.

Contact Tim Steller at (520) 807-8427 or tsteller@tucson.com

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