The Hybrid Threat: Crime, Terrorism and Insurgency in Mexico

Policy and Research Forum Event in cooperation with the Center for Strategic Leadership, U.S. Army War College


On October 20, 2011, HSPI and the US Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership hosted a Policy and Research Forum event featuring leading subject matter experts who addressed two themes: strategy and doctrine to tackle today’s hybrid threat which intermixes crime, terrorism, and insurgency – including the tactics, techniques, procedures of each (panel 1); and Mexico as a case study (panel 2).

Event Summary

Oct. 20, 2011 – 9:07 p.m.

Counternarcotics Experts Call for United States to Boost Aid to Mexico

By Rob Margetta, CQ Staff

Former counternarcotics officials said Thursday that the idea of drug cartels pushing Mexico toward becoming a failed state is an exaggeration, but the problem posed by the drug organizations is serious and requires much more in the way of U.S. support for the Mexican government.

Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who served as head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Bill Clinton, said the cartels are reaping the financial benefits of a multimillion-dollar illicit trade. That money is the source of their power, he said, allowing them to buy military-grade weapons and sow corruption throughout the Mexican government.

“That amount of money is a blowtorch that melts Democratic institutions,” he said during a forum hosted by The George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute.

That sort of influence imperils the United States, he said, although he added that many of the federal agencies deployed at the border are resistant to corruption and “almost impossible to penetrate.”

“You and I ought to thank God for the FBI,” he said. “They don’t want to confront the FBI.”

But while some have said that Mexico could reach the point where the cartels break down its government entirely, McCaffrey said that won’t happen.

“There’s no danger of a failed state,” he said.

What is possible, he said, is that when the term of Mexican President Felipe Calderon — who has ramped up his country’s anti-cartel activities — expires next year, his successor’s administration could decide to come to an accommodation with the drug organizations. Considering most of the Mexican drug trade flows into American territory, the next administration could deem the drug trade a U.S. problem.

To counter that, the United States needs to take steps such as improving border security, deploying more federal forces to the region and addressing a reform of the immigration system. But just as important, he said, is providing support to Mexico. While America has spent billions in Afghanistan, the Merida Initiative, a program to provide resources and assistance to Mexico through the State Department, was given only $1.3 billion over three years for counternarcotics aid. In terms of hardware, it has thus far provided Mexico with 11 helicopters.

“We’re not even in the ballpark,” he said.

Anthony Placido, former head of the DEA’s intelligence program, concurred that Mexico is not in danger of failing as a state, but is embroiled in a serious regional conflict, one that has spilled south into Central American locations.

“A traditional criminal justice system has become a national security crisis,” he said. “This is not a problem that’s going to go away.”

While lawmakers have discussed whether Mexican cartels should be viewed as terrorist organizations, Placido said that debate may be beside the point. What’s needed, he said, is a government-wide approach that views the gangs as what they’ve become: multinational businesses.

“You have to understand these businesses, the inputs, the outputs the outcomes,” and find ways to break them down, he said.

Retired Army Col. Robert Killebrew took a slightly different tack, saying thinking about the cartels in terrorist terms is outdated. What the federal government needs to do, he said, is look at how crime has become a driver of and integrated into a situation that now resembles insurgency and warfare. And it needs to recognize that the theater has expanded beyond Mexico, and even beyond the United States, Central and South America. Cartels now have allies and connections around the world, he said.

Killebrew recommended scrapping the current U.S. counterterrorism framework, largely focused on al Qaeda and its allies, and reshape the resources involved in that effort into a transnational strategy against crime. He said recent counterterrorism work has yielded positive results, and federal agencies should apply those lessons to the cartels. U.S. forces need to build intelligence gathering and analysis, understand the regional issues that fuel the conflict and leverage its allies.

On that last point, Killebrew, like many of the speakers, said America should continue to build its relationship with Colombia, which is considered a success story in opposing a local narcotics faction. Colombia has expressed interest in addressing the Mexican problem and has trained Mexican police officers, he said.

For such a comprehensive, international effort, he recommended setting the DEA as lead agency, due to its experience in sharing intelligence with police.

Rob Margetta can be reached at [email protected]

Source: CQ Homeland Security
© 2011 CQ Roll Call All Rights Reserved.

Keynote Speaker:

GEN Barry McCaffrey, USA (Ret.)
Former Commander
United States Southern Command
Former Director
White House Office of National Drug Control Policy

Panel I: Strategy and Doctrine: Tackling the Hybrid Threat of Crime, Terrorism and Insurgency

Mark Coomer
Former Associate Deputy Director, Intelligence
White House Office of National Drug Control Policy

Dr. Max Manwaring
Professor of Military Strategy
Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College

Anthony Placido
Former Assistant Administrator and Chief of Intelligence
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

Panel I Moderated by:

Frank J. Cilluffo
Director, HSPI

Panel II: Mexico as a Case Study

COL Robert Killebrew, USA (Ret.)
Non-resident Senior Fellow
Center for a New American Security

Juan Zarate
Senior Fellow, HSPI
Former Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Combating Terrorism
National Security Council

Panel II Moderated by:

Bert Tussing
Director, Homeland Defense and Security Issues
Center for Strategic Leadership, U.S. Army War College

Speaker Biographies

Barry McCaffrey served in the United States Army for 32 years and retired as a four-star General. At retirement he was the most highly decorated serving General, having been awarded three Purple Heart medals for wounds received in his four combat tours - as well as twice awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second highest award for valor. He also twice was awarded the Silver Star for valor. For five years after leaving the military, Barry McCaffrey served as the nation's Cabinet Officer in charge of U.S. Drug Policy. He was confirmed for this position by unanimous vote by the U.S. Senate. More

Mark Coomer joined ITT Defense in April 2009 as Director of Business Development for US Government customers in the Department of Homeland Security and Intelligence Community. Mark also leads ITT Cyber Strategic Planning efforts and coordinates the activities of the ITT Senior Advisory Council. His career encompasses over 37 years of government service in strategic planning and operations, programming and budgeting, project management, and intelligence as an Army Officer and in the Executive Office of the President. More

Dr. Max G. Manwaring is a Professor of Military Strategy in the Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) of the U.S. Army War College (USAWC). He has held the General Douglas MacArthur Chair of Research at the USAWC, and is a retired U.S. Army colonel. He has served in various civilian and military positions, including the U.S. Southern Command, the Defense Intelligence Agency, Dickinson College, and Memphis University. Dr. Manwaring is the author and coauthor of several articles, chapters, and books dealing with Latin American security affairs, political-military affairs, and insurgency and counterinsurgency. More

Anthony Placido led the Drug Enforcement Administration’s intelligence program, including the global collection enterprise. His responsibilities included service as Senior Officer for the United States Intelligence Community; executive leadership for the headquarters based Intelligence Division, the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Fusion Center and the El Paso Intelligence Center; information sharing and exchange protocols; managing a budget of approximately $100 million and developing policy for a staff of approximately 1,300, including more than 900 Intelligence Analysts assigned around the world. More

COL Robert Killebrew, USA (Ret.) writes and consults on national defense issues as a Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security. Prior to his retirement from active duty he served for thirty years in a variety of Special Forces, infantry and staff duties. His assignments ranged included duty in Vietnam with MACVSOG, the Vietnamese Airborne Division, command in mechanized, air assault and airborne units, and staff positions in the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, as director of plans, XVIII Airborne Corps, special assistant to the Chief of Staff of the Army, command of a deployed joint task force and as an instructor in strategy and policy at the Army War College. More

Juan C. Zarate is a Senior Adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a national security consultant and analyst for CBS News. Mr. Zarate sits on the Board of Advisors of Regulatory Data Corps and the National Counterterrorism Center and consults for a range of companies and organizations on national, homeland, and financial-related security, technologies, and investments. Mr. Zarate served as the Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Combating Terrorism from 2005 to 2009. In this role, Mr. Zarate was responsible for developing and overseeing the effective implementation of the U.S. government's counterterrorism strategy. He was also responsible for overseeing all policies related to transnational security threats, including counternarcotics, maritime security, hostages, international organized crime, money laundering, and critical energy infrastructure protection. More


Archibold, Randal C., Damien Cave, and Elisabeth Malkin. (2011) "Mexico's President Works to Lock in Drug War Tactics" New York Times.

Burnett, John. (2011) "Mexican Drug Cartels Now Menace Social Media." NPR.

Killebrew, Robert and Matthew Irvine. (2011) "Security Through Partnership: Fighting Transnational Cartels in the Western Hemisphere." Report. Washington, D.C.: Center for a New American Security.

Longmire, Sylvia M. and John P. Longmire IV. (2008) "Redefining Terrorism: Why Mexican Drug Trafficking is More than Just Organized Crime." Journal of Strategic Security.

Manwaring, Max G. (2009). "A "New" Dynamic in the Western Hemisphere Security Environment: The Mexican Zetas and Other Private Armies." Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College.

McCaffrey, Barry R. and Robert H. Scales. (2010) "Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment." Report. Austin, TX: Texas Department of Agriculture.

Ribando Seelke, Clare. (2010) "Mexico-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress." Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress.

Ribando Seelke, Clare and Kristin M. Finklea. (2010) "U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Mérida Initiative and Beyond." Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress.

(2011) "Has Mérida Evolved? Part One: The Evolution of Drug Cartels and the Threat to Mexico's Governance." Hearing. Washington, D.C.: U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Foreign Affairs and Committee on Homeland Security.

(2011) "Mérida Part Two: Insurgency and Terrorism in Mexico." Hearing. Washington, D.C.: U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Foreign Affairs and Committee on Homeland Security.

(2010) "Joint Publication 3-22: Foreign Internal Defense." Washington, D.C.: Joint Chiefs of Staff.

(2009) "Joint Publication 3-26: Counterterrorism." Washington, D.C.: Joint Chiefs of Staff.

About HSPI's Policy & Research Forum Series

HSPI's Policy & Research Forum Series spotlights cutting-edge security policy solutions and innovative research. The Series is designed to provide thought leaders in the United States and abroad with a uniquely constructive venue in which to discuss current and future security issues and challenges.