Mexican drug lord assassinated by killer clowns


Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix , the eldest of seven brothers of the Tijuana cartel.

Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix, the eldest brother in Mexico's once-dominant Tijuana drug cartel, was shot to death by gunmen disguised as clowns at a children's party on Friday.

The 63-year-old drug lord was also known by the nicknames "El Pelón" (the baldie) or Menso, ("stupid/crazy"). He was assassinated by a man in a clown suit during a family gathering at an upscale resort in Cabo San Lucas, a popular tourist destination on the Baja California peninsula, state special investigations prosecutor Isai Arias told Associated Press on Saturday:

An official of the Baja California Sur state prosecutor's office told the AP that the costumes included a wig and a round red nose.

Read the rest

How children become "cannon fodder" for Mexican drug cartels

Wired's Danger Room blog points to this new report [PDF] by the NGO International Crisis Group, which details how Mexican drug cartels recruit and coerce kids as young as 11 years old to kill. Narcos “have recruited thousands of street gang members, school drop-outs and unskilled workers” over the last decade, and the report claims “cartel bosses will treat the young killers as cannon fodder, throwing them into suicidal attacks on security forces.” [Wired.com]

Drug cartel violence in Mexico, an animated video explainer

Jess Bachman at Visual.ly says,

We just produced this animated short on the escalating drug cartel violence on the US-Mexico border. This is some horrific stuff that is a lot closer than Afghanistan and Syria and something we play a much larger role in, yet it get's no national coverage. Additionally its not even mentioned as part of the gun control debate. Mexico has strict gun laws... where do the cartels arm themselves? Imported from the U.S. of course. Our gun policy is not just a domestic one. Here's to hoping we can keep the drug war at the forefront this term.

The Science and tragedy of "Bath Salts"

At PBS NewsHour, Jenny Marder has a truly epic report on so-called "bath salts," a term commonly used to refer to a variable cocktail of drugs linked to a number of violent episodes throughout the US. Her investigative feauture is the most extensive and authoritative I've seen on the topic, a long read full of the stuff that makes great reporting great: nitty-gritty chemistry mysteries, personal stories about the people who use the drug, and big-picture questions about why the stuff is so widely available, and why it seems to be so destructive. Don't miss the slide shows and video that accompany the beautifully laid-out feature. There's even an instructional animated gif!

Users are often hyper-agitated, hot and sweating, she said. Their heart rate is dangerously high, their blood pressure is up, and seizures are common. Often even high doses of common sedatives don't help them. Doctors instead must turn to antipsychotics or other powerful medications.

Early on, doctors began noticing something else that was strange. Compared with other drugs, bath salts didn't follow a normal dose-response pattern. With cocaine or methamphetamine, the drug entered the bloodstream, and, within hours, began to wear off. Not so for bath salts. “Some patients were in the hospital for 5 days, 10 days, 14 days,” Ryan said. “In some cases, they were under heavy sedation. As you try to taper off the sedation, the paranoia came back and the delusions."

As Ryan was scrambling to grasp the scope of the problem in Louisiana, scientists 1,000 miles away were beginning to tease out the drug's chemistry. What was it about this substance, they wondered, that could make a man cut his own throat or a mother leave her 2-year-old in the middle of a highway?

Read: "Bath Salts: The Drug That Never Lets Go" (newshour.org)

(Disclosure: I've worked with Jenny before, on PBS Newshour stories with science correspondent Miles O'Brien).

Google execs: our technology can be used to fight narcoviolence in Mexico

In a Washington Post op-ed, Google's executive chairman (and former CEO) Eric Schmidt and Google Ideas director Jared Cohen argue the case for technology as a tool to aid citizen activists in places like Juarez, Mexico. Schmidt and Cohen recently visited the drug-war-wracked border town, and describe the climate of violence there as "surreal."

In Juarez, we saw fearful human beings — sources — who need to get their information into the right hands. With our packet-switching mind-set, we realized that there may be a technological workaround to the fear: Sources don’t need to physically turn to corrupt authorities, distant journalists or diffuse nonprofits, and rely on their hope that the possible benefit is worth the risk of exposing themselves.

Technology can help intermediate this exchange, like servers passing packets on the Internet. Sources don’t need to pierce their anonymity. They don’t need to trust a single person or institution. Why can’t they simply throw encrypted packets into the network and let the tools move information to the right destinations?

In a sense, we are talking about dual crowdsourcing: Citizens crowdsource incident awareness up, and responders crowdsource justice down, nearly in real time. The trick is that anonymity is provided to everyone, although such a system would know a unique ID for every user to maintain records and provide rewards. This bare-bones model could take many forms: official and nonprofit first responders, investigative journalists, whistleblowers, neighborhood watches.

I'll be interested to hear what people in Juarez, and throughout Mexico, think of the editorial. The notion that crypto, Tor, or other anonymity-aiding online tools might help peaceful observers is not a new one, and not one that activists in Mexico need outsiders to teach them about. There are plenty of smart geeks in Mexico who are well aware of the need for, and usefulness of, such tools. But Google execs speaking directly to the conflict, and how widely-available free tools might help, is a new and notable thing. Red the rest here. (thanks, @martinxhodgson)

Mexican drug cartels now using Claymore mines

Just after a horrific week of news about mounting body counts in Mexico from the drug war, Danger Room points to news that at least one narco arsenal was found to include Claymore Mines. The mines can be triggered with an electronic remote, and are capable of spewing 700 steel balls in any direction, with a wounding range of 50 yards. Here's a video.

56-year-old Texas grandma gets life without parole on first-time drug charges

In Fort Worth, Texas, Elisa Castillo—a 56-year-old grandmother with no prior drug offenses— has been sentenced to life without parole. She maintains her innocence, and never "touched the drugs that sent her to prison," points out the ACLU; "Her fate was sealed, in large part because she didn't have a card to play when negotiating her sentence." The Houston Chronicle has more.

Richard Branson: It’s time to end the failed war on drugs

"Just as prohibition of alcohol failed in the United States in the 1920s, the war on drugs has failed globally. Over the past 50 years, more than $1 trillion has been spent fighting this battle, and all we have to show for it is increased drug use, overflowing jails, billions of pounds and dollars of taxpayers’ money wasted, and thriving crime syndicates."—Virgin CEO Richard Branson, calling for an end to the "war on drugs."

Subpoena for AG Holder imminent in "Fast and Furious" guns-for-narcos investigation


(Eric Holder. Photo: REUTERS)

A congressional subpoena directed to Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to be issued soon, according to CBS News, and will order him to hand over documents to lawmakers showing when he became aware of "Fast and Furious," a "gunwalking" operation that supplied guns to Mexican drug cartels. Snip from CBS:

CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports the the subpoena will come from the House Oversight Committee, led by Republican Darrell Issa. It will ask for communications among senior Justice Department officials related to Fast and Furious and "gunwalking." The subpoena will list those officials, says Attkisson - more than a dozen of them - by name.

In Fast and Furious, the ATF allegedly allowed thousands of assault rifles and other weapons into the hands of suspected traffickers for Mexican drug cartels. The idea was to see where the weapons ended up, and take down a cartel. But the guns have been found at many crime scenes in Mexico and the U.S., including the murder scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry last December.

In related news, the very latest in a series of reports at the Los Angeles Times about "Fast and Furious" reveals that guns from that covert US operation were found literally inside the home of a narco boss in violence-plagued Ciudad Juarez, Mexico:

High-powered assault weapons illegally purchased under the ATF's Fast and Furious program in Phoenix ended up in a home belonging to the purported top Sinaloa cartel enforcer in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, whose organization was terrorizing that city with the worst violence in the Mexican drug wars.

Photo, Los Angeles Times: The arsenal uncovered by police in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, which included weapons from the ATF's ill-fated "Fast and Furious" operation. Note the highly classy "Scarface"-dollar-bill poster above the bookshelf, a favorite motif among gangsters worldwide.