The DEA Has Been Laundering Money For Mexican Drug Cartels

The now-infamous “Gunwalker” program, the Justice Department attempted to identify criminal networks in Mexican gangs by selling them illegal weapons. Unfortunately, the program did more to arm the gangs for violence than expose their networks, and some of the guns were even used against US law enforcement officials.

Now, in a similar program, it turns out that the DEA has been laundering money for the Mexican drug cartels. The program was essentially the same as Gunwalker – the laundered money was to be used to expose the criminal networks – but even after years and years of laundering the cash the DEA has never actually taken down one of those networks.

Undercover American narcotics agents have laundered or smuggled millions of dollars in drug proceeds as part of Washington’s expanding role in Mexico’s fight against drug cartels, according to current and former federal law enforcement officials.

The agents, primarily with the Drug Enforcement Administration, have handled shipments of hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal cash across borders, those officials said, to identify how criminal organizations move their money, where they keep their assets and, most important, who their leaders are.

They said agents had deposited the drug proceeds in accounts designated by traffickers, or in shell accounts set up by agents.

The officials said that while the D.E.A. conducted such operations in other countries, it began doing so in Mexico only in the past few years. The high-risk activities raise delicate questions about the agency’s effectiveness in bringing down drug kingpins, underscore diplomatic concerns about Mexican sovereignty, and blur the line between surveillance and facilitating crime. As it launders drug money, the agency often allows cartels to continue their operations over months or even years before making seizures or arrests.

This actually doesn’t seem like such a bad tactic – certainly a better idea than selling guns to criminal gangs – in that you would think that the money trail this cash would leave behind would lead you to the very top of the cartels. But that presumes that the program would be limited in scope, and that at some point the networks would actually be taken down. Which doesn’t seem to be happening.

Regardless, this illustrates the need for a strategic withdrawal from the War on Drugs. We’re not winning. Despite trillions spent on fighting drugs, despite increasingly draconian laws and enforcement, drugs are still bought and used in pretty much every single community in the country from the smallest to the biggest.

If we really wanted to take these cartels down, we’d take the black market they service away from them by ending drug prohibition. I don’t condone drug use or abuse, but I’d rather deal with the fallout from drug abuse (something we deal with anyway) than continue pouring money and lives into a “war on drugs” that’s not accomplishing much of anything.


Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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