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White House blocked DEA plan to kill ‘El Chapo’

September 1, 2013

El Chapo old photo

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the billionaire boss of the Sinaloa Federation, has proved an elusive figure since escaping from Jalisco’s maximum-security Puente Grande  prison in 2001.

Yet the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) knew his whereabouts “on any given day” in recent years and even drew up a plan for his assassination which was eventually rejected by the Barack Obama administration, according to leaked reports from Stratfor, a U.S.-based global intelligence firm.

A series of Stratfor memos published by WikiLeaks in 2012 suggest that the White House refused to sanction the assassination of Guzman, Mexico’s most wanted criminal, under “moral” grounds. The leaked emails, dating from 2007 to 2011, were sent by Fred Burton, Stratfor’s vice president for intelligence and its leading expert on Mexico’s drug war.

Burton suggests that the DEA’s plan to kill Guzman was first formulated under the George Bush administration, which was apparently in favor of the operation.

“If the DEA can specifically locate the Sinaloa boss El Chapo, he will be assassinated,” Burton wrote in November 2007. “A decision memo has been authorized to take him out, as a national security threat.”

However, in February 2010, once Obama had taken up office, Burton wrote, “DEA had a window of opportunity to render El Chapo but the WH [White House] would not let them do it. God forbid we upset our lovely MX neighbors.”

In July 2010, Burton added, “DEA Special Ops submitted a finding to go into MX to whack El Chapo. Obviously, the decision came back as no… DEA’s first mistake was asking permission. Regardless, DEA’s coverage of El Chapo is spot on. On any given day, DEA knows his whereabouts.”

In April 2011, Burton explained the White House’s reluctance to countenance such an operation: “Obama won’t approve a finding for covert action inside MX based on ‘moral ground.’

“One of the scenarios discussed to kill El Chapo or other Zeta HVT’s [high-value targets] was a 1000 yard head shot by a U.S. shooter, to plant the seed of paranoia in the minds of the narcos as to who pulled the trigger,” Burton explained. “CIA ‘Ground Branch’ assets and/or DEA SO [Special Operations] have stated they have the ability and intelligence to pull it off without getting caught.”

Mexico has traditionally been sensitive of U.S. influence and any infringement of its national sovereignty, but as the drug war spiraled out of control and the murder rate rose to unprecedented levels, Burton claimed that, “[Then President] Calderon has told a few that violence has reached a point that he would turn a blind eye to unilateral CIA or DEA actions, if they wanted to go down that path, as long as he has ‘plausible deniability.’”

The notion that Obama blocked the assassination of Guzman for “moral” reasons seems unlikely, as his administration has used unmanned drones to kill thousands of people, including women, children and even U.S. citizens in the Middle East and Africa since 2009. Moreover, the Stratfor memos suggest the DEA or CIA could have killed Guzman with the Mexican government’s blessing and then not claimed responsibility for the operation, leading to suspicion that a rival cartel had been behind the hit.

It is perhaps more likely that the operation was blocked because killing Guzman would have created a power vacuum that would almost certainly have led to an increase in the levels of violence in Mexico, as different factions sought for control of the Sinaloa Federation and rival cartels attempted to move in on their territory.

The purported plan to assassinate Guzman suggests the DEA has long doubted the Mexican government’s commitment and ability to confront the most powerful players in the drug trade, and the DEA’s frustration was evident only last month when it condemned the decision to release Guadalajara Cartel founder Rafael Caro Quintero just 28 years into a 40-year sentence for his role in the abduction, torture and murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena.

“DEA doesn’t believe Mexico gives a rat’s ass about the drugs flowing into CONUS [the continental U.S.]” Burton wrote in July 2010. “Meaning, what they are selling Obama is hot air. There is no internal desire at the highest levels to really do anything to counter the drug flows into the U.S.”

Despite the serious nature of the topic at hand, Burton also showed a sense of humor in the correspondence, joking, “I offerred (sic) my services to kill [Guzman] for the $25 million bounty,” and then warning the recipient of his emails not to disseminate the news to any Mexican source, “or I will have DEA take you away.”

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