Operation Xcellerator was an anti-drug initiative of the United States government which lasted from mid-2007 to February 2009. It specifically targeted the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel, considered to be Mexico’s largest and most dangerous drug smuggling and distribution organization. Xcellerator resulted in over 750 arrests and the seizure of tons of narcotics, numerous weapons and vehicles and almost $60 million in cash. It also severely damaged the Sinaloa Cartel’s ability to distribute drugs in the United States and Canada.
The Sinaloa Cartel:
The Sinaloa Cartel is a powerful organization based out of the states of Mexico’s northwest. Founded in the early 1970’s, it traffics illegal narcotics into the United States and Canada, including South American cocaine, heroin from the Asia and marijuana and methamphetamine from Mexico. After the decline of the Cali and Medellín Cartels in the early 1990’s, the Sinaloa Cartel quickly filled the void. Until recently, the cartel operated with impunity in Mexico, as elected officials were bribed, killed or intimidated into leaving them alone.
The Cartel in the United States:
The Sinaloa Cartel necessarily had hundreds of agents in the United States, whose jobs ranged from distribution and organization to production of chemical-based drugs (such as ecstasy) to procuring weapons from gun shows. These agents were also involved in organized-crime rackets such as money laundering. They had some 70 distribution cells, spread out across 26 states. Some of the cells were in large cities such as New York and Los Angeles, but some were in tiny towns such as Stow, Ohio (population 35,000).
Operation Xcellerator was organized by the US Special Operations division and included agents from various agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Immigration and Customs, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Marshals, and countless state and local agencies. All in all, over 200 agents worked on Operation Xcellerator.
The operation was successful in severely damaging the Sinaloa Cartel’s ability to operate in the United States and Canada. Over 750 suspects were arrested and some 23 tons of narcotics were seized, including 25,000 pounds of cocaine, 16,000 pounds of marijuana, 1,200 pounds of methamphetamine and smaller quantities of heroin and ecstasy pills. 169 weapons were seized as well as 149 vehicles, three ships and three airplanes. $59 million in cash was also confiscated along with another $6.5 million in other assets.
Operation Xcellerator wrapped up in February of 2009 with the arrest of 52 suspected cartel members in California, Maryland and Minnesota. It was considered a very successful operation, even though one of the prime targets, Victor Emilio Cazarez Salazar (a cartel leader), was not captured. Michele M. Leonhart, Acting Administrator of the DEA, said in prepared remarks that even though Xcellerator had wrapped up, the agency was not through with the Sinaloa Cartel: “Rest assured that, while this is DEA’s biggest operation against the Sinaloa Cartel and their networks to date, it won’t be our last.”
It is still too early to tell how serious a blow Operation Xcellerator dealt to the Sinaloa Cartel and its operations in the United States. 750 cartel members, millions of dollars, tons of narcotics and hundreds of vehicles and weapons may sound like a lot, but the Sinaloa Cartel has thousands of members, from street-gang level pushers and thugs to powerful, wealthy drug barons. The Sinaloa Cartel earns billions annually and should be able to recover and continue with operations in the United States very quickly. The continued presence of upper-echelon leaders such as Cazarez Salazar is also troubling.
Much will depend on Mexican President Felipe Calderón and his own war on drugs in his nation. Calderón has ordered a nationwide crackdown on drug cartels and organized crime which has escalated into a near full-scale war. Thousands of Mexicans have died in the violence as drug gangs shoot it out in the streets with police and army units. The drug gangs target policemen and politicians: in some cases, entire police forces of towns and cities have resigned out of fear for their lives.
If President Calderón manages to bring down some of the Cartels in Mexico, their presence in the United States is bound to decrease. But if he is unable to defeat them in Mexico, they will always be able to rebuild their operations abroad, no matter how many are arrested and no matter how much is seized in the United States.
U.S. Department of Justice Statement Concerning Operation Xcelerator