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DEA Launders Money for Mexican Drug Cartels

To what length should governments enable crime in order to catch criminals? That’s the ethical issue raised by a New York Times article that reports DEA agents have laundered millions of dollars in drug proceeds to battle Mexican cartels. More than 40,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since 2006.

The U.S. runs numerous undercover laundering operations with and against Mexican cartels, which means it shares culpability for violence and lost lives. “We tried to make sure there was always close supervision of these operations so that we were accomplishing our objectives, and agents weren’t laundering money for the sake of laundering money,” said a former senior agency official who now works for a private contracting firm involved in the stings. As the drug markets expand to Africa, Europe and the Middle East, both the amount of money trading hands and the body count are likely to swell. –ARK

The New York Times:

The agents, primarily with the Drug Enforcement Administration, have handled shipments of hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal cash across borders, those officials said, to identify how criminal organizations move their money, where they keep their assets and, most important, who their leaders are.

… The officials said that while the D.E.A. conducted such operations in other countries, it began doing so in Mexico only in the past few years. The high-risk activities raise delicate questions about the agency’s effectiveness in bringing down drug kingpins, underscore diplomatic concerns about Mexican sovereignty, and blur the line between surveillance and facilitating crime. As it launders drug money, the agency often allows cartels to continue their operations over months or even years before making seizures or arrests.

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