Zambada Niebla Case Exposes US Drug War Quid Pro Quo
Prosecutor, DEA Agent Confirm Intel From Sinaloa Mafia Used to Undermine Juarez, Beltran Leyva Drug Organizations
U.S. government officials have long presented the drug war through the media as a type of "Dirty Harry” movie, in which hardscrabble cops are engaged in a pitched battle with hardened street criminals who threaten the very social fabric of life behind America’s gated communities.
Of course it’s a big pretense, with the truth being closer to what really goes on in the marketplace of the US everyday. The drug war is, in reality, a drug business in which backroom deals are cut to advance the profit motives of the business entities involved, whether they be narco-trafficking organizations, or weapons manufacturers or government bureaucracies — and the aspiring, greedy careerists who inhabit their leadership ranks.
But even the US government makes mistakes, and in this case it’s the government’s own agents and prosecutors who have that egg on their face via affidavits filed in early December in a controversial criminal case now pending in the Windy City. The pleadings supposedly advance the government’s case against a major Mexican narco-trafficker, Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla. In reality, though — for any person of a critical mind reading them — the court documents demonstrate the insidious nature of the cooperation that exists between the US government and Mexico’s Sinaloa mafia organization.
Nowhere has the peel on that sour fruit been stripped back more cleanly with the paring knife of truth, revealing the bloody pulp inside, than in the ongoing narco-trafficking case against the rising Mexican Sinaloa Cartel capo Zambada Niebla — son of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia, who, together with business associate Joaquin Guzman Loera (El Chapo), serves as a godfather of the Sinaloa organization.
Mexican soldiers arrested Zambada Niebla in late March 2009 after he met with DEA agents in a posh Mexico City hotel, a meeting arranged by a US government informant who also is a close confident of Ismael Zambada and Chapo Guzman. That informant, Mexican attorney Humberto Loya Castro, by the US government’s own admission in court pleadings in the Zambada Niebla case, serves as an intermediary between the Sinaloa Cartel leadership and US government agencies seeking to obtain information on rival narco-trafficking organizations.
"Toward that end, on June 3, 2005, the CS [informant Loya Castro] signed a cooperation agreement with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California,” states an affidavit filed in the Zambada Niebla case by Loya Castro’s handler, DEA agent Manuel Castanon. “… Thereafter, I began to work with the CS. Over the years, the CS’ cooperation resulted in the seizure of several significant loads of narcotics and precursor chemicals. The CS’ cooperation also resulted in other real-time intelligence that was very useful to the United States government.”
According to Zambada Niebla, he and the rest of the Sinaloa leadership, through the informant Loya Castro, negotiated a quid-pro-quo immunity deal with the US government in which they were guaranteed protection from prosecution in exchange for providing US law enforcers and intelligence agencies with information that could be used to compromise rival Mexican cartels and their operations.
From U.S. government pleadings filed in the case earlier this month, and so far ignored by the US mainstream media:
[Zambada Niebla’s] theory to support his affirmative defense of public authority [acting with US government sanction] and his motion to dismiss on an alleged grant of immunity rests on the premise that, as part of his cooperation with the US government, the CS [informant Loya Castro] obtained information from the leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel “about rival cartel leaders and their associates” and supplied that information to the US government “in return for carte blanche for the Sinaloa Cartel to continue their narcotics business in the United States and Mexico without interference and in return for immunity and protection from arrest from the United States and Mexican authorities.”
The alleged deal assured protection for the Sinaloa Cartel’s business operations while also undermining its competition — such as the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes organization out of Juarez, Mexico, the murder capital of the world.
At the same time, the information provided by the Sinaloa Cartel to US agencies against its rivals assures a steady flow of drug busts and media victory headlines for US agencies and for the Mexican government. That propaganda is necessary for hoodwinking their citizens into believing that progress is being made in the drug war and thereby assuring the continued funding of bloated drug-war budgets and support for failed policies that have cost the lives of some 50,000 Mexican citizens since late 2006 and ended any hope of a productive life for hundreds of thousands of US citizens — most wasting away in US prisons and not a small number the victims of street homicides linked to drug deals gone bad.
This is the true picture of the drug war in America and across the border in Mexico. It’s a bloody business that throws off a lot of money, power and privilege for those pulling the strings — both the “good” guys and the “bad” guys. In the case of Zambada Niebla, however, he, in his view, got the short end of the stick, betrayed due to some combination of bad timing and inner-circle power struggles that led to his arrest and ultimate extradition to the United States in February 2010, and he now faces the possibility of life behind bars pending the outcome of his trial in federal court in Chicago.
So it makes perfect sense that Zambada Niebla would have an incentive to spill the beans on the sham that is the drug war and reveal the pretense for what it is by outlining the special relationship that exists between the US government and the Sinaloa drug organization.
US prosecutors, of course, deny that any such immunity/cooperation arrangement is in place between US agencies and Zambada Niebla, or the broader leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel. And they claim Zambada Niebla has no evidence to prove the existence of such a pact.
At the same time US prosecutors have invoked national security via the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA) in his trial in an attempt to assure certain sensitive and/or embarrassing evidence is not made available to Zambada Niebla’s attorneys.
Lawyers for the accused Mexican narco-trafficker last month filed a motion asking the court to block U.S. prosecutors’ efforts to use CIPA as a means of excluding the defense from discussions with the judge over the treatment of evidence deemed classified material. Zambada Niebla’s attorneys contend they must be part of those discussions since the supposed classified material goes to the heart of their client's claims in the case.
From the motion filed in October by Zambada Niebla’s attorneys:
Mr. Zambada Niebla is alleged in the indictment to be a high-ranking member of the Sinaloa cartel. We believe that the information [the US government is seeking to cloak under national security] is material to the defense in that it may … contain information pertaining to agreements between agents of the United States government and the leaders of the Sinaloa cartel as well as policy arrangements between the United States government and the Mexican government pertaining to special treatment that was to be afforded to high-ranking members of the Sinaloa Cartel. Thus, Mr. Zambada Niebla’s counsel should be granted high-level security clearances to review the sensitive information.
However, the judge in the case recently went along with US prosecutors on that front, issuing an order that allows the government to introduce that supposedly classified evidence “ex parte” [to the judge alone] so that a determination can be made by the judge as to whether the evidence should be made off limits for discovery by Zambada Niebla’s attorneys.
So the stage is set for Zambada Niebla’s trial. He must now prove his narco-trafficking activities, and those of the leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel, had sanction from the US government — absent a host of “classified information” that the US government seeks to keep hidden from his defense attorneys and the public at large.
However, some key questions arise with respect to the nature of the relationship between the US government, the Sinaloa Cartel leadership (in particular Chapo Guzman and Ismael Zambada) and the informant Loya Castro. Both the government and Zambada Niebla, through their court pleadings, concede that Loya Castro was close enough to both Chapo Guzman and Ismael Zambada that information could be easily passed back and fort between the Sinaloa leadership and US government law enforcers.
If the relationship was that close, then why would US law enforcers not choose to use Loya Castro to set up a sting on Chapo Guzman and Ismael Zambada, thereby taking down the top leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel? And if those Sinaloa godfathers had any inkling that Loya Castro, who they knew to be cooperating with US law enforcers, might betray them, then why has he been allowed to live and continue serving as a US informant?
The mere fact that the top leaders of the Sinaloa criminal organization knew Loya Castro was a US informant should have been enough to guarantee him an ugly death — unless Chapo Guzman and Ismael Zambada believed there was some sort of arrangement in place that made Loya Castro more useful to them alive than dead. That’s simple common sense in the drug world.
In addition, the fact that the US government, in its own court pleadings, verifies that Loya Castro served as a go-between for them in communicating with the leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel is a type of implicit verification that some type of deal was in place that worked to the satisfaction of both parties.
Whether a formal legal pact existed assuring immunity specifically for Zambada Niebla, though, is another question, and such an official bargain may not, in fact, have been struck. But it seems clear, based on the prosecutors’ own pleadings, that there was a working arrangement between the US government and the top dogs of the Sinaloa organization.
More from DEA agent Castanon’s affidavit:
The CS [Loya Castro] told me that he had been instructed to meet with Zambada Niebla by Joaquin Guzman-Loera [Chapo]. The CS [again, who was known by the Sinaloa leadership to be a US informant] had been told by Guzman-Lorea that Ismael Zambada-Garcia was interested in having his son, Zambada Niebla, cooperate with the DEA in order to work off his pending charges in the United States. The CS told me that he had then met with Zambada Niebla to discuss the possibility of Zambada Neibla approaching DEA to cooperate.
All the King’s Men
Perhaps any deal that might exist between the Sinaloa leadership is limited to Chapo Guzman and Ismael Zambada, perhaps it was put in place by a US intelligence agency under the guise of law enforcement, or through some secret pact cobbled together by the US State Department that does not have to be honored by the Justice Department because it applies only in Mexico. In this case, the devil is in the details, and in all those scenarios, the cloak of national security could easily be invoked to prevent evidence of the pact surfacing in a court of law.
None of this can be ruled out, but nor can it be verified so long as the US government can play by two sets of rules, one for its citizens and those accused in its courts, and another for government agents acting in an “official” capacity under the protection of national security.
And Zambada Niebla, in such a case, easily becomes a pawn in such a king’s game. It is no stretch to assume that as a rising leader in the Sinaloa Cartel, with a powerful father presently at the helm of the mafia organization, that he had many enemies who saw him as a future threat, possibly even Chapo Guzman himself sees it that way.
In any event, it is clear that the informant Loya Castro moved between both worlds freely, with his identity as a double agent well-known in both worlds, yet he was not skinned alive by the Sinaloa organization nor was he locked up by US law enforcement, nor used by US agencies to set up Chapo Guzman or Ismael Zambada for capture or assassination.
Why is that?
Well, one US prosecutor, Patrick Hearn, who was involved in prosecuting another case against Zambada Niebla still pending in federal court in Washington, D.C., goes a long way in answering that question.
From an affidavit provided by Hearn and filed in the Zambada Niebla case currently pending in Chicago:
… I was the lead trial attorney in the matter of United States v. Vicente Zambada Niebla … currently pending in the United States District Court for the District of Colombia. That case arose out of an investigation into a conspiracy to manufacture, import, and distribute thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the United States between approximately 1992 and January 28, 2003.
… On about March 4, 2009, I received an email from Steve Fraga, my [DEA] case agent in the District of Columbia case. He informed me of an apparent opportunity to interview Zambada Niebla in Mexico. He informed me that DEA agents in Mexico were working with a cooperating source [Loya Castro] who had been indicted by the US Attorney’s Office in San Diego. According to Agent Fraga’s email, the cooperating source had apparently been very effective, and the indictment against the cooperating source had been dismissed.
Agent Fraga told me that the cooperating source [again, Loya Castro] had provided information [likely obtained from the Sinaloa Cartel leadership] leading to a 23-ton cocaine seizure, other seizures related to the Vicente Carrillo-Fuentes drug trafficking organization [based in Juarez, Mexico] and information relating to Arturo Beltran Leyva’s drug trafficking organization.
[Beltran Leyva was a former associate of Chapo Guzman who later became a bitter rival and was eventually assassinated in December 2009 by Mexican Navy special forces assisted by US agents and intelligence. What are the odds of that being unrelated to the special arrangement that exists between the Sinaloa Cartel and the US government?]
Well, kind readers, that’s the scoop so far, down to the pulp of it all. It seems that the argument advanced by Zambada Niebla’s attorneys early on in his case may not be that far from the truth of it all.
The United States government considered the arrangements with the Sinaloa Cartel an acceptable price to pay, because the principal objective was the destruction and dismantling of rival cartels by using the assistance of the Sinaloa Cartel — without regard for the fact that tons of illicit drugs continued to be smuggled into Chicago and other parts of the United States and consumption continued virtually unabated.
Essentially, the theory of the United States government in waging its “war on drugs” has been and continues to be that the “end justifies the means” and that it is more important to receive information about rival drug cartels’ activities from the Sinaloa Cartel in return for being allowed to continue their criminal activities, including and not limited to their smuggling of tons of illegal narcotics into the United States. This is confirmed by recent disclosures by the Congressional Committee’s investigation of the latest Department of Justice, DEA, FBI, and ATF’s “war on drugs” operation known as “Fast & Furious”[an ATF operation in which thousands of weapons purchased at US gun stores by criminal groups were allowed to move across the border into Mexico unimpeded, many going into the hands of Sinaloa Cartel mercenaries.]
This drug war isn’t about Dirty Harry taking on the street thugs for the benefit of family values.
No, this drug war is far more a tale of monarchs and powerful feudal lords maneuvering on a chess board as they divide up the kingdom at the expense of the peasants, who for too long have believed what goes on behind the castle walls does not affect them — until it’s too late, until the king’s horsemen come for you and disappear your life for the benefit of securing their kingdom.
Narco News past coverage of the Zambada Niebla case can be found at these links: