How Drug Cartels Prey on Migrants—Jaeson Jones
Near the southern border, highly militarized cartels in Mexico vie for control and charge thousands of dollars per migrant. They’ve exploited corruption and essentially become a “parallel government” in border areas, says retired Texas Department of Public Safety Captain Jaeson Jones. “People to them are a commodity,” he says.
In this episode, Jones breaks down the inner workings of how these highly sophisticated cartels operate, how they prey on migrants, and how they produce the deadly fentanyl and methamphetamine that kills thousands of Americans every year.
Jan Jekielek: Jaeson Jones, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Jaeson Jones: Thanks for having me. It’s good to be with you.
Mr. Jekielek: So Jaeson, you’ve been focusing on looking at the U.S.- Mexico border for some time, actually, I think for 20 years, and you were in law enforcement for a big part of that. We’re going to talk about all this today, especially from the perspective of the role of cartels. Before we do that, I want you to tell me a little bit about that background, how you actually worked, looking at the border in these different capacities. It’s quite amazing.
Mr. Jones: After graduating from the DPS Academy, which is the Texas Department of Public Safety, I told them I was from Austin and I sure would like to stay. They sent me to El Paso, Texas. From 1999 to around 2001 is when I really began to see a lot of changes as a Texas highway patrolman there. I was seeing things with pursuits linked to bailouts and drug things we had never seen before. Then from there I promoted up. A few years later I became a DPS narcotics sargent in the DPS Narcotics Service.
Now I’m 1290 miles on the other end of that border in Brownsville, Texas and buying drugs from a group who call themselves the Los Zetas. At the time, I’ll tell you Jan, we had no idea even who they were or what their background was. Then later in 2009 I [was] promoted to lieutenant and I was a lieutenant in Laredo, Texas, as the Los Zetas Cartel and the Gulf Cartel began to split. That war began to cross into the U.S., first time we’d seen anything like this.
Then [I was] promoted to captain at headquarters in Austin, Texas. I led the State Fusion Center, which is one of the largest centers for a state agency in the country, very large with problem solving analysts and agents for the Intel and Counterterrorism division. Then in 2014, I was asked by the Texas Ranger chief to come over and lead his border security operations center. It’s a great honor to be able to do that, as an intel and counterterrorism captain, it’s a rarity that doesn’t usually happen.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s incredible. So now you’re actually retired from counterintelligence and law enforcement. What is it that you do now exactly?
Mr. Jones: I was really frustrated. Texas spent 2.2 billion on border security during my time with the Border Security Operations Center. What we saw and what was being published to America was the immigration issue and the unaccompanied alien children. But what was happening in the violence to migrants in Mexico by the Los Zetas Cartel that had become hyperviolent and then the violence and how it was spreading into the U.S. —those other layers were not being discussed.
It’s always the immigration layer. It’s never about how human trafficking was taking over at our border, the human smuggling issue, and fentanyl pouring into the country, which we know is going to be a killer. But also the fact that the cartels themselves had gone through a quantum leap in change, from originally organized crime, to what we see now as a parallel government.
I decided I had a lot of experience on that border actually doing the job. The best way to fight it and combat it, is to really illumiminate it and that’s what we’ve been doing ever since. We created a company called Tripwires and Triggers where we try to share with news agencies around the country what’s really happening and more importantly, how it affects the American people.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s do that here. I just got notification as I was prepping an hour ago—”Illegal border crossings hit more than 101,500 in February.” That was on our Epoch Times app. I popped it open and there you were talking to our border reporter Charlotte Cuthbertson about these numbers, which actually haven’t been published yet.
Mr. Jones: Sure. Just to put it in perspective, for the month of January we had 78,000 apprehensions along the southwest border. In one month’s time, in a 30 day period, we’ve now jumped over 23,000. Now that’s just in that one month period. But if you go back to 2019, when we had the last border crisis under President Trump, at that time for February, even during the crisis when we apprehended almost a million people at our southwest border, they only had 72,000 apprehensions. So what it really goes to show is where we are in the pressure being felt at the border, and also what’s to come. Remember Jan, we’ve not hit the summer months yet when the heatwave hits us. In the month of February, for one week we had a serious cold front that hit Texas, hit us really hard. That slows down the normal movements of migration. So it tells us when the summer months hit, get ready. We’re going to see some things we’ve never seen before at that southwest border in regards to the number of people surging, and how that affects us in our country.
Mr. Jekielek: Texas Governor Abbott is saying there is a crisis. The White House seems to be downplaying that there’s a crisis. What you’re describing sounds to me like a crisis. How would you describe it?
Mr. Jones: It is a crisis. There’s no doubt about it. Governor Abbott just got allocated $800 million from Texas taxpayers, and sent 500 Texas highway patrolman, Texas Rangers, CID investigators, intel and counterterrorism officers and agents, along with all of his aircraft. So don’t doubt there’s a crisis down there. Despite what we call it, the data shows that. That’s what you and I were just talking about. We’re going to see larger apprehensions of migrants crossing into the United States in 2021, than we saw in 2019. That’s not because I think it or I feel it, the data shows that that’s what’s coming.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s go into this other layer, as you were describing it, the cartel layer. The most important question here is, what is the relationship exactly between migrants or illegal immigrants—different names are used here for these folks that are coming across—what is the relationship between people coming across the border illegally, and the cartels themselves.
Mr. Jones: When you talk about the cartels and when they are sitting across from you, Jan, and you’re debriefing them, you have to remember that people to them are a commodity. When you talk about women and children and family units crossing, that statement that I just made, it’s probably hard for a lot of the viewers to really comprehend. But that’s how they look at people—as a commodity.
So if you’re moving through the country of Mexico or Central America and other places, you are paying what is known as the piso, or the tax to go through their plazas, through their areas or to be transported. When you get to Mexico’s northern border, our southern border, before you cross into the U.S. you have to pay the plaza boss within the cartels who then pay the smuggling organizations to then bring you across into the U.S.
Depending upon your nationality, depending upon your country of origin as well and then how far you’re going to be moved into the United States, that determines the amount of money you’re charged. Your ethnicity also matters. That is also a determining factor with the cartels and the independent smugglers who work in contract for the cartels. All of those prices are negotiated upfront.
What we’re really seeing happening right now is, as the cartels are being hit with just a lot of people, they themselves are having to come up with their own processes to ensure which folks have paid and which have not. It’s hard to believe that that could be an issue today in 2021, but that’s exactly what is happening at our southern border right now.
Mr. Jekielek: That sounds really kind of crazy that the cartels are overwhelmed by the numbers. Is that what you’re saying?
Mr. Jones: That’s exactly what I’m saying. Absolutely.
Mr. Jekielek: We had a story about a week ago, related to how these cartels were actually using wristbands to try to track the number of migrants or illegal immigrants coming through.
Mr. Jones: Yes, absolutely. We broke that story with a law enforcement officer along the southwest border, specifically the area of Roma, Texas. For the folks [out there,] that lies between McAllen and Laredo, Texas. What is really happening there and what you need to know is occurring is that the cartels themselves and the independent smugglers who work for the cartels have had to create a process.
So what they’re doing is when you come into a stash house on the Miguel Aleman side, that’s the Mexico side right before crossing into Texas, they are putting on these wristbands which basically look like a band that most Americans are probably familiar with if you go to a waterpark. On that band you’ve got a specific marking that identifies—like one of the first ones we saw was a turtle, for example. That identifies a specific smuggling group working with Cartel del Golfo, or what is also known as the Gulf Cartel. It had the word metal on it. Now that word metal meant that the piso, or the tax had been paid.
Then the final thing and the most concerning, Jan, was the number. There was a numbering system on it. That number was specifically assigned to that migrant. That’s where they had taken their what we call the PII or personal identifying information, meaning that now they had the migrants cell number, the destination where they were going and any identification they may have had in their wallet or on their person at the time.
There’s another part to this and that is their country of origin. They pick up the phone, they call the family, they validate the family and how they’re linked. Then they get their address and their phone number. Now here’s why that’s important, because we’re going to into a realm of debt bondage. The prices at the border—the cartels are really charging a lot more than we’ve seen historically.
I’ll give you a great example. Cartel del Noreste and the Gulf Cartel are charging for migrants who come from Honduras and Guatemala and Venezuela $3,000 to cross. Now that’s just at the river. A lot of them can’t pay that, that’s a lot of money. So they’ll pay a thousand up front. Now they’re indebted. Now they move into the United States. They cross, but they are indebted to a criminal organization in a foreign country, while living in the United States.
These are areas that for the first time, we really began to see increasing in numbers tremendously in 2019 and now continuing on. When you think of the wristbands that we were seeing, all of that has to do with the fact that I talked about earlier. The cartels are feeling the pressure, because they just have so many numbers.
So they’re creating a process. We broke that story on February 14th. In the last three weeks, we are now seeing that same type of wristband process being used 37 miles away in another small community in Penitas Texas, but the common denominator there is the Gulf Cartel. That is their domain and their area which they control.
Mr. Jekielek: You’re telling me that you have some significant number of people that have come across that are in this kind of debt bondage, and essentially could be easily pressured into criminal or other activity by these cartels while they’re on the U.S. side. This is really disturbing.
Mr. Jones: Well, it is. At the end of the day, that is a form of human trafficking. A lot of the viewers, when you talk about human trafficking, they’re more familiar with the sex side of this, but that’s just one layer. Human trafficking also has forced labor and it has debt bondage, which we’re talking about right now. That’s really the final phase of human trafficking.
You and I can remember a time in this country, I know many of you in your audience can, when human trafficking was a problem that occurred in underdeveloped nations. We were protected for the most part by our oceans. That’s not the case anymore. The game has changed.
In Texas, for example, we didn’t even have a human trafficking law on the books until 2001. So, it shows you how things are changing and evolving. But also, and I just want to throw this out there, that all of this is fixable. It may surprise the folks out there. We just have to update new laws to combat these things, and hold those accountable for these actions.
We always talk about the immigration issue, or we talk about the drug trafficking issue or the human trafficking, human smuggling, weapons, etc. But we never talk about the core problem, and that is the Mexican cartels. We will never have success, Jan, until our country goes after them and holds them accountable for what has occurred.
Mr. Jekielek: What proportion would you say from what you know of the people that are coming across the border illegally are using the cartel route?
Mr. Jones: The proportion is all of them. You have to understand, could you run away from them— jump through into the water and run into the United States before they could catch you? Absolutely. Does that happen? You bet. But it’s very small numbers. They control everything of the movements of these people. It’s just how it works in Mexico.
For me, this is really an important part of this conversation, Jan, because the underlying layers of how this process works—the way the cartels and the smuggling groups treat these migrants—would stun the average citizen, the way they talk about them. When you’re in the room debriefing these cartel members, they just look at them as they’re nothing, just nothing. The amount of sexual assaults and mass killings that they put on these migrants are really, really something.
To validate what I’m talking about to the folks watching out there—just google San Fernando massacre. This is a massacre where the Los Zetas killed over 72 migrants in San Fernando as they approached the border with Matamoros. If you’ll Google the Allende massacre, that’s over 300 executed.
So a lot of horrible massacres have been happening, and that story goes unreported based on how the cartels operate and the way they pay off all their journalists in Mexico. So those are some of the challenges that law enforcement has seen for over a decade. But again, it lies behind the layer of “law enforcement sensitive” that most journalists don’t have access to, that we’ve seen.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s fascinating. Quick question, what exactly does plaza boss mean, what is this plaza?
Mr. Jones: Along the border regions, the cartels battle. You will hear all the time that they battle for control of drug routes. That’s not true at all. That was the way it was in 1988. That’s not the way it is in 2021. They battle for control. A plaza is like a municipality. I’ll give you a great example—Miguel Aleman, which sits on the other side of Roma, Texas, or Reynosa, which sits on the other side of McAllen, Texas. That municipality is run by the cartels.
The thing that makes a cartel different than a gang—and you’ll hear from a lot of experts that have never built a program or sat across from a cartel member—you’ll hear all the time that a cartel is a gang. I want to assure the American people that is not true. A gang in the United States, for example, may say they control a block or a couple of blocks. But at the end of the day, that’s not true. The police chief, the mayor, the people of that city control it.
In Mexico, it is truly different. You have your local police chief or Comandante, along with law enforcement that are completely under the control of the cartels, and in addition, the mayor and the governor. Just to give the folks an example. I’ve been on Title 3 investigations where we are listening to the plaza boss, the man who is in charge for collecting the tax—which is the piso from these migrants—and moving all weapons, drugs, and money flows in and out of these plazas.
On the phone listening to them talk, and a general from Sedena calls in and says, “Hey, I’m taking over your area. I’ll be there next week. Where do you want to meet up to discuss payment.” It’s how it works. And that story is what really needs to be told. Because once we start breaking down those layers, Jan, is when we really began to create policies in the United States government to fix this issue.
Mr. Jekielek: When we hear about caravans coming from Central America, or even further south, from South America, those caravans not even in Mexico, they’re controlled by the same cartels?
Mr. Jones: Yes, different ones along the way, depending on what country or different smuggling groups. Absolutely. You have to remember, when you think caravan, why did the caravans begin in the first place? You have to remember that’s mostly a new phenomenon in the last few years. If you think back 10 years ago, we never talked about a caravan. The reason for it is because the violence that was happening to individual migrants, or family units that were passing through. The murders, the sexual assaults, those numbers are horrific.
So what they did on their own was to begin uniting and moving in mass groups to actually prevent organized crime and different cartels and smuggling groups from taking advantage of them. There’s safety in numbers. So there is some blowback, when you see what’s happening right now, where Central America is trying to break up those caravans.
Yes, that’s great for us, because we don’t feel the surge of a lot of people all at once, but for them, this is where they become more exposed. We’re seeing that right now in Honduras as they make their way into Guatemala, before they hit the Mexican border.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s this other layer that we’ve been increasingly hearing about that it’s not just folks from the Central and South American countries that are coming through. People are going from other countries around the world into these countries to join these caravans and come up, because the opportunity exists there. What would you say to that?
Mr. Jones: Absolutely. If we were on the border right now and we were talking to migrants that are being apprehended, they would tell you that the Biden administration said to come, and they have come. That’s just the facts of it. Throughout the campaign, the Biden administration said that if people are going to cross, they’re going to be let in the country. You have to understand that was like a beacon to folks all over the world.
Now this year, we’re going to see some things we didn’t see in 2019. Then we’re going to see things we didn’t see in 2014, when we had all of the unaccompanied alien children. Part of that is, for about the last 9 to 10 months, people have been crossing from China, from Africa and the routes they take are really incredible.
They come down the Horn of Africa, they come across on big ships, usually to South America and they make their way north. So make no doubt we will see some things in 2021 with the movement of what’s known as special interest aliens, which are people who come from a country with a terrorism nexus. We’re going to see more of them this year than we’ve ever seen crossing, historically.
Mr. Jekielek: To your point. I just saw that when we were taping earlier today, Reuters reported that the Mexican president was quoted as saying, “They see President Biden as the migrant president, and so they feel they’re going to reach the United States. We need to work together to regulate the flow.”
Mr. Jones: They do. They do, and to be quite frank, it’s a little too late for that. People have already crossed the world to come. They’re not going to stop at this point. Now it’s really a tactical game at the southwest border. What countries can attempt to do is to really delay the movements and the numbers. That’s where foreign policy is going to be going to have to play a real role.
But I would caution the Biden administration right now, and I’m just being very frank. We’re goings to see numbers that we’ve not seen, probably ever. I can tell you right now in South America, I’m extremely concerned about the numbers of special interest aliens hitting the Darien Gap, because the beacon has gone out. This isn’t just me saying this, Jan.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, leadership will tell you perception drives migration patterns. When you’re sitting down there on the border and you’re actually talking to these people, they’ll tell you. “Hey, why did you come?” “We were told to come, if we come now we can get in.” So that’s the real facts on the ground as to what’s driving this.
Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned a special interest aliens. What is that exactly?
Mr. Jones: There are three forms of people under the U.S. government, specifically CBP, [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] break down into different categories. It’s an important thing to do, because it allows the Homeland Security enterprise to focus on priorities. Yes, you have Mexican citizens that come, but you also have what are known as OTM’s [Other Than Mexicans]. Now, those are people who are not Mexican citizens, but they’re not special interest aliens, meaning they’re mostly your Central American, your South Americans that are coming.
But there’s another category, and that category is known as SIA’s. [Special Interest Aliens.] Those are people who come from a country with a terrorism nexus. For the Homeland Security enterprise, we have a lot of programs out there [for those] coming through South America and Central America before they hit Mexico, where we prioritize what we do to make sure that those individuals are not terrorists before they get to our southern border.
This is where I get really nervous when large numbers like we’re seeing right now are surging, because as those numbers increase, it’s much easier for those folks to blend in, and that the programs we have in place without going into any detail at all on that, become not as effective. So those are some of the concerns. That is how the Homeland Security enterprise really prioritizes and focuses on those that can cause harm to the American people.
Mr. Jekielek: There are nearly 2000 miles of U.S.- Mexico border. What portion of that on the Mexico side would you say is controlled by these various cartels?
Mr. Jones: This is where I get so frustrated. We have incredible agencies like the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security Investigation, but they keep things that they know very closely held. They protect their investigations like it’s 1988, Jan. The cartels have gone through such quantum leaps in how they control and become a parallel government in Mexico. These stories are not getting out.
When you talk about what level of control does the cartel have at our southern border, it is 100 percent. They control it all. When you talk about what percentage of that do they have on our side of the border, let me say this again, and the federal agencies are not going to like it, but they know it’s true. It’s 100 percent. This is how you can have a million people moved into the United States being apprehended, nevermind the hundreds of thousands that aren’t captured, that are able to get through, what are known as “got aways,” or those that are never even seen and observed.
In addition, think of the millions of pounds of drugs that are coming through our southern border. The way the cartel operates is they use what is known as the “halcone network.” Those are falcons or lookouts, and I have seen them as far as 30 miles into the United States. If you’re on that river, Jan, every bend in the river is what the cartels call a “gate.” That’s not my statement; that’s their statement.
They have halcones that check, just like law enforcement in the United States. They work in an 8, a 10, or a 12-hour shift depending upon which cartel you’re talking about. They are everywhere. When I tell you everywhere, in a small space in South Texas, they are in trees, they’re on the ground. These folks are everywhere operating on two-way handheld encrypted radios that are provided by the cartel that communicate back to what is known as [inaudible]. But then they also have encrypted apps that they use.
So whenever they’re going to move a commodity, whatever that commodity is, what they do is they look to ensure that law enforcement is nowhere in the area using their network on our side, and then they shoot that gap. Or what they will do is they will cause a diversion. They’ll send 50 to 100 folks directly to border patrol’s largest numbers on purpose, and then as agents from both sides surge in to apprehend these people, now they shoot drugs on both sides of them. It is very coordinated.
I have spent countless hours on that border working with analysts at local, state, and federal levels to try to figure out what’s the best day or a best time to do enforcement action—that is not at all how it works. It’s anytime there’s a gap, they shoot it, and they move the product. It is very coordinated and it would stun the average American citizen, how efficiently it operates.
Mr. Jekielek: This is fascinating. To your point, we imagine these cartels as advanced gangs of sorts, but you’re basically describing them as almost like a state-level entities or at least city-level entities. So there’s been this whole shift from how we imagine it, which is these advanced gangs, to highly, highly sophisticated operations—100 percent on both sides of the border. I’m still trying to fathom what you’re saying here.
Mr. Jones: The way I like to describe it when I’m talking to the folks is that the cartels have gone through quantum leaps. I can put it in a timeline for you in the evolution real quick. They adjusted from organized crime into an insurgency in 2006. That is when President Calderón began using his own military to go after them. What they did is they didn’t just step back, they begin fighting back against Mexican military forces. That’s really where the insurgency started.
Then around 2009 as the Los Zetas began to break away from the Cartel Del Golfo and become their own cartel, what they brought to the game because of their background were discipline and hyperviolence. Remember, many of them were former Special Forces.
So what they brought to the game was a hyperviolence—and I’m very critical of the federal government’s failure to understand and monitor this tripwire—because this is when all of the other cartels in 2009 were forced to either raise their capabilities or fall behind. This is also when we began see mass killings of migrants like I described earlier, or the mass killing of folks in the casino in Monterrey where 53 were executed, all of that done by Miguel Treviño in the Los Zetas.
The final transition as to where we see them today really occurred in 2015. We began to see that as Operation Jalisco commenced, where the Mexican government went after Jalisco New Generation Cartel [CJNG] leadership a, guy by the name of El Mencho, Their helicopters were shot down, and it was an absolutely failed operation. This was the final transition where we see them today into a parallel government.
Just to give the folks an example of the level of control that they have in that country. You may remember the incident in October of 2019 where Chapo Guzmán’s son, Ovidio, was arrested. President AMLO [Andrés Manuel López Obrador] was forced to release him back to the Sinaloa Cartel. What’s not known publicly at that time is that what was happening is Sinaloa Cartel surged throughout Culiacan and they demanded his release. Then they went to the families of all of those soldiers back at the compound and held them at knifepoint and said, “If you don’t release him, we’re going to execute them.”
So this shows the sheer level and strength with which both Sinaloa and CJNG have become, and why we talk about the cartels as a parallel government today. Things have truly changed and that’s why I always describe it as a quantum leap. When you talk about the Mexican cartels, please understand, Sinaloa is in 54 nations around the world. It’s not a U.S.- Mexico issue anymore, it’s much bigger. Jalisco New Generation Cartel is now in over 48 countries, so the game has truly changed.
Mr. Jekielek: So these are transnational organizations.
Mr. Jones: They absolutely are.
Mr. Jekielek: Again, it’s incredible to hear it laid out this way. I was looking at this video, part of one of the episodes that Lara Logan shot with you, actually in Roma across the border from Miguel Aleman, a four-day firefight between different cartels. It’s unbelievable to fathom that this is happening, and basically right on the border.
Mr. Jones: Absolutely, and it has been. That gun battle that we captured, Lara was the first national correspondent to capture a gun battle at our border. That particular gun battle lasted over an hour and a half. It was on and off. It involved everything from armored vehicles, to .50 caliber belt-fed machine guns, to 40 mm grenades going off which we could hear, we could see tracer rounds and explosions. It was incredible.
Those happen, just so you know, Jan, in that particular area, that was in a small community, Miguel Aleman, that sits on the other side of Roma, Texas. That’s between Cártel del Golfo and Cártel del Noreste. Now, they have been at war there since about July 2019. It’s been going on a lot. The problem is just when to go there to be able to see it and that’s what I do. I really try to expose all the tripwires that are happening and how it affects the American people.
Mr. Jekielek: Just to be clear, when you say “tripwires,” what do you mean exactly?
Mr. Jones: Tactics change every single day within an environment and that’s the reason I call it what I do—tripwires and triggers. You monitor the daily tripwires, then you can set a trigger to understand what is going to come next. Those who are very effective within the communities monitor everything. They monitor and they lay out how it’s happening, who’s doing it and that evolution, so that you can set a trigger to say, “Are we right in where they’re going, based on data and based on intelligence overlaid?” That’s what we do every day here.
Mr. Jekielek: Jaeson, something that’s really, really important to me and I’m wondering if you could lay out how the connections work here, because you’ve described now these transnational organizations that are functioning. We know there are large quantities of fentanyl coming through Mexico into the United States, this killer opiate type drug that’s basically ravaged the American society. Of course, not the only one, I want to talk about drugs in general. What is the connection here between the Chinese Communist Party, the fentanyl that’s being produced, or the precursors to fentanyl—I don’t know how it works—and how it gets into the U.S. and these cartels?
Mr. Jones: The relationship goes back about 20 years now. It is so intertwined between Chinese in Mexico who are working, obviously, directly with China that we’ve now got Chinese individuals that are directly married into the Sinaloa Cartel. These relationships go back a very long time. When they need to order up large amounts of chemical precursors, they just go to the individual that’s within the cartel who is directly linked to China, and they order mass shipments at a time. I’m talking quite a few shipping containers at a time worth of chemical precursors.
Today, most of that for fentanyl is what we call NPP or 4A-NPP chemicals that allow them to create fentanyl in their in their fentanyl labs. When you talk about methamphetamine, most of that is pseudoephedrine, and it’s all ordered from China and brought in. So make no doubt, China is using this in a non-conventional warfare model, which is exactly how they operate.
If you really look at how and why they’re doing it, if you go back to the Opium Wars that they dealt with, they understand very clearly what that poison can do against U.S. populace. So they’re shipping it, and have been doing it for some time. One of the real tripwires that was missed by the U.S. government happened in 2007, when a Chinese national was arrested in Mexico with $213 million in cash, and from there it has just spun out of control.
When we talk about meth and fentanyl today, Jan, we have to—and I really hope that this comes across to the folks—don’t look at the historical drug problem we’ve had in this country [and compare it] to where it is today. If you look at the overdose death data, fentanyl and meth together, or separate, are killers. It’s a poison on our country and you can see it in the overdose death data.
Mr. Jekielek: I don’t think we can say it’s an exponential growth, but it’s a very, very steep growth curve. Again, there are many disturbing things in this interview. That’s horrific.
Mr. Jones: It is. It is horrific what it has done in our country and how it’s destroying families, but it is also very fixable. The intersection is the cartels. It really is, and we are not their only customer. I get so frustrated, because I watch national news a lot of times and I see some of these pundits who have never debriefed a cartel member, or built programs, or have monitored their daily activities, talk about how it’s a U.S. Mexico problem. Things have evolved so much.
I’ll give you a quick example. A kilo of cocaine, in Australia right now from the cartels, is running about $130,000 – $180,000, depending upon how many kilos are sent. Russia, $100,000. Europe, it was much more but it’s down now to about 90 to 80, because of just the sheer amount that they’ve been sending to Europe. So, the game has changed. It is not a U.S.-Mexico problem. The cartels are global and they are sending their product all over the world.
Mr. Jekielek: When it comes to fentanyl, and meth, you outline those specifically. What portion of that is coming from China or the precursors?
Mr. Jones: All of it. But that will change and it will change soon. We broke the story in, I guess it was August of last year. We worked with an incredible guy who just retired from the Drug Enforcement Administration as a ranking supervisor in Mexico. What we were able to find out is that Sinaloa Cartel had been hiring chemists right out of colleges in Mexico, who were then coming to work for the Sinaloa Cartel.
They had hired, in 2018, between 10 to 15 of them. Their sole job was not only to manage the production of fentanyl, but also to try to change the analogues so that they would no longer be so reliant on chemicals coming from China, but from other chemicals more readily available. Those things have been happening since 2018. It won’t be long before the cartels already have tried to figure out how to beat the system and weed out China in this process. That’s happening right now as we speak.
Mr. Jekielek: When we were talking offline, I was stunned by these super labs, as you describe them that make methamphetamine. You were describing that one of these super labs and one cartel had 100 of them, makes three to seven tons of meth a week. These are just astronomical numbers. You actually shared with me a video of a walkthrough of one of these meth labs. Can you tell me what we’re seeing?
Mr. Jones: What you’re seeing is a meth lab that was seized in August of 2019, by the Drug Enforcement Administration working with their partners in Mexico from the Mexican government. That lab was pretty large. It’s what’s considered a mega-lab. It had 27 reactors, as you see there.
One thing I really want you to notice too is two things: First, is the trees. Notice how the trees are dead, and you’re seeing black markings on them. That’s not from a fire, those are chemical burns from the reaction of the type of chemicals being used to make meth. In addition, look at the barrels and look at the labels. Do you see the China markings on them? Goes to show the direct involvement that’s occurring.
One of the things that was pretty disturbing, is that DEA found that when they were done with those big drums, what they did is they just rolled them down to the local creek and they just dumped them in there. Then all of that chemical waste and those chemicals then flowed down to the main rivers, which are drinking water for the local communities. So, they’re contaminating the jungle with these things and they are everywhere.
Just to give you a quick example of that. [Inaudible], who was the Drug Enforcement administrator under President Trump, said during Operation Python last year, that CJNG in Mexico was operating, just this one cartel, over 100 meth labs in Mexico—never mind the fentanyl labs—just CJNG. And that really expands to the breadth of why we’re seeing the level of overdoses in the United States, but more importantly, who is responsible.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s talk about dealing with this. I think you’re making a very convincing case that the cartels are deeply, deeply involved in this migrant or illegal immigrant crisis. How do we deal with these cartels which seemed to have amassed almost unimaginable levels of power and function with relative impunity almost?
Mr. Jones: There are several things: First and foremost, we have to fix our reporting system in this country. In 1929, the United States went to a system known as the Uniform Crime Report. Basically, what that is, that’s how 18,000 law enforcement agencies across this country collect all of their crime data, give it to the FBI, and then once a year, they push this out.
It sounds pretty good, but how it works is that it’s very outdated. So it captures murders, it captures manslaughter, it captures sexual assaults, robberies, thefts, larceny, etc. That sounds good, but here’s what it doesn’t capture— that’s everything, Jan, that you and I have talked about, which is drug trafficking. Now we’ve been in a supposed a drug war in this country for over 50 years. Yet, as a nation, we still aren’t capturing all of the drugs seized amongst 18,000 agencies.
I can go on: murders linked to the cartels, kidnappings, extortions, pursuits linked to the cartels, human smuggling, human trafficking. Here I get really frustrated. You hear about human trafficking every day. But amongst 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, that data is not collected. If as a nation, we can’t get the little things right, we’re never going to get the big things right. So, fixing that is one key component.
Second, designating the Mexican cartels as foreign terrorist organizations is absolutely essential and what we’ve been trying to accomplish here for four years. That doesn’t mean we go to war with the cartels. That’s a big misunderstanding. What it allows, Jan, is the tools of national power to come to bare. By priority, every agency at local, state, federal, DOD, and the intelligence community’s must focus on the cartels. Here’s the authority that it provides which is extremely, extremely important to talk about.
So we have thousands, upon thousands of cartel operatives throughout every major city or in small communities in this country. It allows those who are here who are terrorists to be deported from the country immediately. I don’t have to run a two-year investigation to get them on a criminal charge.
Second, it limits their mobility globally, because now we can put them on watch lists and we limit their activities to just Mexico, unless they flee via boat or their own aircraft. Third, and final, and this is a very important one. You hear all the time about “follow the money” investigations. That sounds really good, but at the end of the day, it’s still an investigation and investigators domestically have to go through those requirements to conduct investigation, which takes time by design.
If we have the authority, we can go after their money real time anywhere in the world. So think of what we’re really doing. We’re removing them from our country, we’re removing their mobility globally, we’re isolating them to Mexico, and now we’re creating an environment over time with which the Mexican government can then go after them when they have a president that’s willing to do so. That’s another issue. But for us on the U.S. policy side, we know those are wins and we know that’s the way to go, but we’ve not been able to get that done.
Mr. Jekielek: I have to ask, what would be the safeguards to make sure that it’s only these actual cartel members that are targeted with these terrorist designations? Because this is obviously a big concern.
Mr. Jones: It is and I understand why, but it is an easy fix too. What you do is you just limit the scope and you put that in the policies from the Department of Justice, and in all government agencies that are going to go after them and use those authorities and those powers—that it only applies to those who are known to have been cartel operatives from Mexico. That’s it, and you limit that scope to that, not to anyone that’s just a drug trafficker.
Do you see what I’m getting it? Really what this will do, Jan, is it will pivot the United States government from focusing on drug trafficking domestically, to going after those wherever they operate globally, to limit their ability to operate, everyone in the community. I will tell you, I work very closely with the U.S. intelligence agencies, with those in the Department of Defense and others. They have to have the authority and the priority by the government in order to get involved in this.
U.S. intelligence agencies are not going to focus on the cartels, when it’s just considered a drug issue. We’ve got to make them [known] as terrorists, so that by authority and priority, they get involved, otherwise they are not going to. That’s just the core issue. You would be stunned at the level of how our government operates. If we don’t get that, we’re never going to have wins against these cartels, because they follow every rule, every process and every policy. That’s the way it works, we’re a country of laws.
Mr. Jekielek: Jaeson, any final thoughts before we finish up?
Mr. Jones: There are a lot of citizens out there that are losing loved ones, Jan. There are a lot. I was just in New York City last week speaking on this and these families feel that they have been forgotten. From May 2019 to May 2020, 81,230 citizens have been lost to overdose deaths in this country. There are two main drugs responsible for that, and that is fentanyl and methamphetamine.
I want them to know that there are people out there doing what they can to get this fixed and that there are solutions. When we implement this, when we go after that and we begin to take action against these cartels, destroy their labs and really focus on them, this is how we win. I want them to know that this is winnable, but it’s going to take leadership and change in U.S. policy, and those of us that have built programs to go after them know exactly how to do it. We’ve got to do it—we’ve got to do it now.
Mr. Jekielek: Jaeson Jones, such a pleasure to have you on.
Mr. Jones: Thanks for having me. It’s great to be with you.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.