On this day, agents from our criminal enterprise/gang squad are working with local and state officers to build a case against the gang. Members of the team—all in plain clothes and driving unmarked vehicles—are inconspicuously and strategically parked near the site of the establishment. The source inside is wearing a wire, and his conversations can be heard on car-to-car radios. If anything goes wrong, the source will say a code word and the team will quickly be inside.
At a final briefing before the operation began, the team leader—one of our veteran agents—spoke to the group in a parking lot behind a nearby municipal building. He went over the plan again in detail, stressing the danger involved and the need for extreme caution to make sure everyone stayed safe. Then, like a basketball coach before a game, he gathered the team in a circle and read aloud the Bureau’s policy on the use of deadly force.
“Where you have gangs,” Smith said, “you have drugs. And in El Paso, all the drugs are coming from across the border.” A kilo of cocaine in El Paso costs about $20,000, but can be sold in Chicago, Atlanta, New York, or Miami for more than $30,000. There is a lot of money to be made.
Finally, the target arrived, but without any drugs and only vague promises to produce them that day. The team leader sent a text message to the source to leave, and then canceled the operation. “We’ll try again tomorrow,” he said.
False starts and dead ends are typical in such drug cases, Agents Smith and Johns said later. But the work is important. Even though small drug buys won’t break the backs of the cartels, Johns explained, “We gain a lot of intelligence from these operations, and sometimes we develop new sources as a result. And every kilo of coke we take off the streets is one that doesn’t make its way to American kids.”...