Task force unites to wipe out Mexico cartels that supply Chicago dealers
CHICAGO — A first-of-its-kind headquarters has opened in Chicago for 70 federal agents, police and prosecutors to work side-by-side, year-round to fight drug traffickers — a set-up meant to end inter-agency rivalry and miscommunication that can hamper investigations.
The recent, fanfare-free opening of the Chicago Strike Force building comes as Mexican cartels now supply more than 90 percent of the narcotics in Chicago, and as street gangs vying for turf to sell those drugs kill each other and bystanders caught in the crossfire.
Inter-agency and -department cooperation is hardly a novel concept, but typically takes the form of occasional meetings or temporary joint task forces on specific investigations, said Jack Riley, the head of Chicago's DEA office.
“But you can't talk to your counterparts in once-a-week meetings — you have to talk as things are happening,” said Riley, who took the lead in pushing for the facility. “When we get information here, it's not put in a pile and forgotten. It's acted on, now.”
Riley gave The Associated Press an exclusive tour of the three-story brick building. Citing security, he asked the AP not to reveal its exact location.
The staff includes city and suburban police, as well as agents from the DEA, FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the IRS and a half-dozen other agencies. In another rarity, federal and state prosecutors also work alongside one another. Riley declined to reveal its budget.
It'll take time to see if the headquarters makes anti-trafficking efforts in Chicago more efficient, said Fred Burton, a security analyst for the global intelligence firm Stratfor.
“It sounds great on paper,” he said. “But getting federal agencies to act in unison can be like herding cats.”
Over the years, competition has led to situations in which agencies end up unknowingly targeting the same traffickers, creating the risk that they could inadvertently foil each other's investigations, Riley said.
Thus, the headquarters was designed to foster camaraderie. Employees' desks all sit in a warehouse-sized room with no dividers or signs identifying who belongs to what agency. Response teams are comprised of members from each agency.
A major focus of their investigations will be the point of contact between major traffickers and local gangs, who serve as street-level salesmen. That's when traffickers are especially vulnerable, Riley said, because they meet at unfamiliar places or use phones that can be wiretapped.
The ultimate goal is to arrest suspects, squeeze them to cooperate and then move along the cartel's chain of command to indict everyone from the street dealer to the kingpins in Mexico. They hope to replicate investigations like one that led to the 2009 indictment of key leaders of the Sinaloa cartel and the extradition of Sinaloa lieutenant Vicente Zambada, who'll stand trial in Chicago this year.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.