On February 20, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced Operation Chrystal Shield, a nationwide initiative targeting what are referred to as “transportation hubs” where methamphetamine is trafficked in bulk after crossing the U.S. border. The goal is to stop wider distribution before reaching neighborhoods across the country.
The DEA is focusing enforcement efforts in eight major cities: Atlanta, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Phoenix, and St. Louis. Data provided from these field divisions account for more than 75 percent of all methamphetamine seizures in 2019. But is it too little too late? From FY2017 to FY2019, DEA seizures drastically increased 127 percent from 49,507 pounds to 112,146 pounds, and arrests rose 22 percent during the time frame.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection seizure data also show an increase in Mexican cartel meth year over year, culminating in FY2019 with 68,585 pounds–an all-time record. The early numbers for FY2020 indicate that cartels might be doubling production. In the first five months, CBP agents at the ports of entry where most of the controlled substances are seized have already reached 62,645 pounds.
Office of Field Operations Nationwide Drug Seizures
Numbers reflect FY 2014 – FY 2019 and FY20 To Date (TD).
On March 5, CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan disclosed that in the first five months of FY2020, at least 69,217 total pounds of meth were seized in the United States.
We remain absolutely relentless in our counter-narcotics mission. The men & women of @CBP remain committed to keeping drugs out of our communities. In February, seizures of the 4 major drugs were up, including a 75% increase in fentanyl seized and a 30% increase in meth seized. pic.twitter.com/jsDkCE9ufH
— Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan (@CBPMarkMorgan) March 5, 2020
Over the last few months, massive domestic seizures occurred across the country. On January 24, an Arizona state trooper stopped a vehicle on Interstate 15 and discovered 362 pounds. It was the largest seizure by Arizona DPS in agency history. The driver was previously arrested for murder.
On February 15, DEA agents responded to a home in the Forest Park, Georgia, and discovered 1,300 pounds of pure, crystal meth and a conversion lab linked to Cartel Jalisco New Generation (CJNG). An additional 100 gallons of “sludge” were also found. It was estimated that if cooked, the precursors would have produced an extra 500 to 700 pounds of product.
On February 20, the DEA and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department in California seized meth from a residence and storage facilities, yielding an unprecedented 2,669 pounds over two days.
On February 23, Lewisville police officers in Texas were tipped to nearly 600 pounds of methamphetamine concealed in a tractor-trailer. It was one of the largest seizures in that department’s history.
On February 29, CBP agents encountered a woman and her son, both U.S. citizens, driving a 2004 Toyota 4 Runner on the Hidalgo International Bridge in Texas. A secondary inspection revealed 23 packages of meth weighing 134.5 pounds and one pack of heroin weighing 5.73 pounds.
“People in leadership positions need to be held accountable to the families that are losing their loved ones every day to this poison across the country. There has to be accountability,” Derek Maltz a former Special Agent in Charge with the DEA said.
Maltz was quick to point out that the U.S. cannot be stuck doing the same thing and hoping for a different outcome.
“You have to have a different approach today because what we are currently doing isn’t working any longer,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that the people tasked with targeting the cartels aren’t doing an incredible job. They are, they are doing everything in their power and authorities granted to degrade and target the cartels. The problem is the cartels have changed, and new tools and technologies are needed to win.”
Maltz is particularly concerned with meth “superlabs” in Mexico.
“One Sinaloa superlab is capable of producing seven tons of meth in three days. We are not going after those labs in Mexico except using the same old investigative methods.”
As Operation Chrystal Shield gets underway across the country and CBP continues border enforcement efforts, it is clear there is a void in the conversation. A refreshed bi-national effort is needed to stop cartel production in Mexico with a shared understanding of what success looks like.
Jaeson Jones is a retired Captain from the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division and a Breitbart Texas contributor. While on duty, he managed daily operations for the Texas Rangers Border Security Operations Center.