Mexico: Beware The Border Balloons


September 5, 2012: The United States continues to experiment with technology that promises to improve border security. For several years the U.S. has used tethered barrage-type moored balloons as a cheap means of aerial surveillance. One operated over the Big Bend area in the 1990s. At one time the U.S. had a half-dozen deployed along the border. Those balloons supposedly carried a surveillance package that was designed to detect low-flying aircraft. Now the Border Patrol has acquired two modern military aerostats (lighter than air craft) of the type used by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan for ground surveillance. In 2004, the U.S. had an aerostat over Baghdad, which could monitor an area between Camp Victory (Baghdad International Airport) and the Green Zone (International Zone) in downtown Baghdad. The Border Patrol has deployed two test balloons at a site near the town of Roma, Texas. The aerostats are filled with helium. One is about 17.8 meters (55 feet) in length, the other 23.3 (72 feet). At least one of the balloons deploys video cameras which provide real-time imagery (including infra-red) of area roads. The video is fed to a command center located at the tether site. The Border Patrol told media that at an altitude of 800 meters (2,500 feet) the balloon’s cameras can observe an area running from the test site to the Rio Grande River and beyond. Balloons are an attractive option for covering some stretches of the border. For one thing, they are much cheaper to operate than aircraft and given looming government budget cuts, cost matters. Balloons are a proven technology, as are the ground surveillance camera packages. The War on Terror has trained a new generation of soldiers to use the technology, and as they exit the military service, outfits like the Border Patrol can hire veterans familiar with the technology. A lot of vets have learned how to quickly interpret Predator video imagery. Is the fellow in the video holding a rifle or a broom? The human decision-maker can quickly tell. Sometimes a computer can’t. National media and plenty of security people as well, criticized the so-called virtual fence (nickname for Secure Border Initiative, or SBInet) as a waste of money. In concept, SBInet proposed using an array of integrated sensors to monitor the border instead of building physical barriers. Technology would also substitute for personnel (ie, more Border Patrol officers). The SBInet sensors, however, had a high failure rate. SBInet was cancelled in January 2011. However, some of the technologies designed for use in that project may yet pull border duty. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently announced that it is considering spending over $700 million on what it calls Integrated Fixed Towers (IFT). This concept combines traditional physical obstacles, like fencing, with various types of sensor technology, to include motion detection, seismic detection, and optical sensors. The sensors are backed up with guard towers and Predator-type unmanned aerial vehicles, and now, perhaps, a wing or two of balloons. (Austin Bay)

September 4, 2012: The navy announced that one of its special forces units arrested a senior Gulf cartel commander on September 3. The prisoner, Mario Cardenas (aka El Gordo), is the brother of Osiel Cardenas, who is currently in jail in the U.S..

September 3, 2012: President Felipe Calderon said in his state of the nation speech that the Cartel War has been worth the effort. Calderon argued that the situation he faced in late 2006, when he became president was dire. Criminal syndicates were operating with impunity. Calderon defended his use of the military in the Cartel War. The Mexican people have confidence in their military and alleged human rights abuses by the armed forces are rare.

Police arrested David Rosales Guzman in the city of Monterrey (Nuevo Leon state). Rosales Guzman is a member of the Gulf cartel. He is implicated in numerous murders committed in the state and is also believed to be involved in several Gulf cartel attacks on the Los Zetas cartel. Prosecutors believe he helped stage the August 14th attack on a bar in Monterrey that left 14 people dead.

The defense ministry (SEDENA) confirmed reports that soldiers had arrested Los Zetas commander Teofilo Rocha-Villalobos in the town of Guadalupe (Zacatecas state) on August 31. Rocha-Villalobos’ son, Teofilo Rocha-Marin, was also arrested.

September 2, 2012: Investigators reported that federal police officers who fired at a U.S. embassy vehicle on August 24th were investigating a kidnapping in the area. Two Americans were wounded in the attack. Mexican authorities said they intend to punish the officers for using excessive force in the incident, which occurred on a back road in Morelos state (central Mexico) not far from Mexico City. The vehicle was an armored Toyota SUV with U.S. embassy diplomatic license plates. U.S. media have reported that the two men who were wounded were CIA agents.

Colombian police have arrested several members of a Colombian gang associated with Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel. The Colombian gang primarily smuggled heroin into the U.S. and European countries.

August 31, 2012: Law enforcement officials have extradited former Arellano Felix cartel leader Eduardo Arellano Felix to the U.S. He faces charges on drug smuggling and money laundering. Police in Tijuana arrested Arellano Felix in 2008.

The Federal Electoral Tribunal declared Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Pena Nieto the official winner of Mexico’s July presidential election. Election officials said that Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (aka AMLO) had failed to prove that vote buying and vote rigging charges had changed the election results.

August 30, 2012: Soldiers found the bodies of four people slain in drug gang violence in the town of Saltillo (Coahuila state).

Marines killed three cartel gunmen and wounded two more in firefight in Veracruz state near the city of Cordoba. A marine motorized patrol received gunfire from a building it was passing. They also freed a kidnapping victim after the gun battle.  

August 29, 2012: The government announced that the state-owned oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) has discovered a deep water oil field off the coast of Tamaulipas state. The field may hold 350 million barrels. It is also part of a larger field which may have four to ten billion barrels of oil.

A judge has ordered the arrest of former Tamaulipas state governor Tomas Yarrington. Yarrington, a PRI member, governed the state from 1999 through 2005. He is accused of accepting several million dollars in bribes from drug cartels and may have helped launder money by helping the cartels buy property in the United States.

August 27, 2012: The government recently let media representatives tour its new intelligence center in Mexico City. The facility is located in a three-story deep bunker 20 meters (sixty feet) below the lawn of the federal police headquarters. The intelligence center is a high technology intelligence fusion and data collection facility. The facility has camera feeds from thousands of street cameras sited in Mexico City and other towns. Officers in the facility can monitor in real time X-ray scanning machines at Mexico-U.S. border crossings as well as multiple video feeds from unmanned aerial vehicles. The facility has regional air traffic feeds and can monitor aircraft flying to and from other nations in Central and South America. According to one source, the center’s computers store 500 million police files

Marines operating in Ciudad Guzman (Jalisco state) arrested four members of the Jalisco New Generation drug cartel. All four members were identified as cartel enforcers (gunmen and hit men). The marines also seized several weapons, several sets of security forces uniforms, and communications gear.

August 25, 2012: Government officials said they are investigating why 12 Federal Police officers fired on an American embassy vehicle traveling on a mountain road in Morelos state (near Mexico City). The 12 police officers are now in official detention. The incident occurred on August 24. Two U.S. embassy employees were in an armored embassy SUV with diplomatic license plates. They were accompanied by a Mexican Navy captain. The U.S. embassy employees, who have not been identified, were wounded. They were treated in a hospital in the city of Cuernavaca. The U.S. State Department issued a statement that called the incident an ambush. Later, a U.S. official told U.S. media that the incident appeared to be a case of mistaken identity. According to a Mexican report, the incident occurred on a dirt road in the mountains. The federal policemen, traveling in three police vehicles, thought the U.S. vehicle was suspicious. The policemen followed the vehicle and displayed their weapons. The U.S. vehicle tried to escape. The vehicles exchanged fire. The Mexican Navy captain phoned for help and Mexican soldiers and marines quickly arrived on the scene.

August 24, 2012: Mexican and American authorities have reported that two U.S. embassy employees were wounded in an incident in Morelos state. Mexican Federal Police fired on the U.S. embassy vehicle in which the Americans were traveling.

August 23, 2012: The rumors of a split in the Zetas cartel now mention names. Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, a cartel gunman, is now thought to be in control of one of the Zetas factions. He is allegedly involved in a struggle with Los Zetas’ founder Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano for control of the organization.

Marines captured and destroyed 15 communications sites operated by drug cartels in Veracruz and Tamaulipas states.




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