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Trump Aims To Designate Mexican Drug Cartels As Terrorist Groups

Nov 28, 2019
Originally published on November 28, 2019 7:29 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The State Department's list of designated terrorist groups might soon grow. In an interview with Bill O'Reilly on Tuesday, the former Fox News host, President Trump says he plans on designating Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILL O'REILLY: So you are going to designate...

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Something's going to have to...

O'REILLY: You're going to designate the Mexican cartels as terror groups?

TRUMP: Yeah, I will be. I will be designating the - absolutely.

MARTIN: We should note the president has a habit of making promises that never come to fruition. But even the suggestion of this has raised concerns in Mexico. The specific worry - that the Trump administration might use U.S. military force on Mexican soil to combat the cartels. The foreign minister says Mexico will never accept any action that violates their national sovereignty. Jack Riley is with us this morning. He spent three decades at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Mr. Riley, thank you so much for joining us.

JACK RILEY: Thank you, and good morning.

MARTIN: Good morning, and Happy Thanksgiving. So based on your long experience, is designating drug cartels as terrorist groups - is that a wise idea?

RILEY: You know, this is something that myself and others have been advocating for a number of years. I think I even discussed this during my congressional testimony in 2016. I think it's a game changer. Clearly, the cartels, with their financial backing and the death and misery that they've caused both in Mexico and United States, at least in my opinion, meet the threshold as a terrorist organization. And I think this shows real leadership on the part of the president. I commend him. And I hope we can get it done because it's a game changer.

MARTIN: So let's explain what the criteria are to meet the definition of a terror group.

RILEY: Well, normally, the considerations are some ideological way of operating. And I think if you look at the cartels as we know them today and over the last 20 years, their disregard for the rule of law and the institutions that support the rule of law and, really, the control of an illegal economy within a democracy, certainly in my mind, meets the criteria. And if you look at some of the other criminal organizations that have been designated terrorist organizations - Hamas, clearly ISIS, Al-Qaida and even the FARC in Colombia, the difference there is those organizations rarely operate on U.S. soil. But if you look at the cartels, they're in virtually every corner of this country, in every city, small and large, urban and rural. And I think that constitutes a real national security threat.

MARTIN: So what does this look like, then? I mean, you've already got Mexico saying, we don't want to see the U.S. military here. That's where their mind is going - that this is going to turn into some kind of military operation, that there could be drone strikes on Mexican soil. Is that what this would mean?

RILEY: No, I don't think we'd go to that extreme. What this does is bring additional resources, interagency cooperation in terms of all the agencies - intelligence agencies and our U.S. law enforcement agencies. It provides additional resources and training to our Mexican counterparts who would be involved in these types of operations or coordination. And I think at that level, we could see some substantial damage done to the cartels without military intervention.

MARTIN: But what you're talking about - getting our U.S. agencies to work together more - I mean, hasn't that already been happening?

RILEY: It has been happening, but there still is a lack of resources. The other thing this designation does is it opens up some different law enforcement tactics that we could use and also be able to use more widely than we are today - some of the laws relating to terrorist organizations so that we could bring to justice in the United States more of the cartel leadership and the people that are really calling the shots down there.

MARTIN: Are you concerned about what kind of damage this could do to the diplomatic relationship between the United States and its southern neighbor?

RILEY: You know, I - that's one of the things that has concerned me the most. You know, 15 years ago when I was leading the DEA office in El Paso, we really had very little communication with our Mexican counterparts. We have really built bridges. You only have to look at the capture of Chapo Guzman. We would've not been able to do that without their help. And I think there's a good working relationship there. This would bring additional resources and training and coordination, which I think is necessary.

MARTIN: All right. Jack Riley, longtime official with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Mr. Riley, we appreciate your time. Thank you.

RILEY: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.