An Assessment of Likelihood: Potential Cooperation Between Mexican Drug Cartels and Al Qaeda or ISIS – Stark Differences in Group Identity, Ideology, Decision-making Makes Cooperation Unlikely

This mid-2018 report has been professionally converted for accurate flowing-text e-book format reproduction. The likelihood of cooperative relationships between Mexican drug cartels and Al Qaeda’s core or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a matter of debate and U.S. national security. Despite the significance of the issue, the topic is widely void of objective analysis. When analyzed and compared, the organizational attributes of strategy toward the United States, group identity, ideology, and decision-making authority show stark differences between these groups. With these organizational attributes established and then placed in the context of what makes cooperative relationships work within the private sector, cooperation between groups emerges as highly unlikely. While the occurrence of a relationship between these groups is doubtful, if it were to occur, the implications to U.S. national security could be catastrophic. As such, this study concludes with a policy recommendation that the United States must continue to publicly monitor the potential relationships to deter them.

This study identifies conditions, if any, that could result in operational cooperation between Mexican drug cartels and Islamic transnational terrorist groups. Historically, some governmental organizations and the media have speculated on this topic because of oversimplified use of terminology and a lack of understanding of how such factors as organizational identity and intra-group trust, strategy, ideology, and organizational structure influence violent sub-state groups’ decision-making. Admittedly, a proven nexus between narcotics and terrorism does exist in some countries at some times; however, this does not imply a direct cooperative relationship between these organizations everywhere.

Narco-terrorism has been argued to be both a means and an end, which further confuses what narco-terrorism is and where a nexus between the two exist—as well as if that nexus is a cooperative relationship. Peruvian counter drug units first coined narco-terrorism in 1983 as a descriptor for the use of terror tactics by drug organizations. The United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) now defines narco-terrorism as “participation of groups or associated individuals in taxing, providing security for, otherwise aiding or abetting drug trafficking endeavors in an effort to further, or fund terrorist activities.” Notably, the Peruvian description is referring to narco-terrorism as an ends, and the DEA is referring to narco-terrorism as a means, which represents the confluence of narco-trafficking and terrorism. Looking at case studies of narco-terrorism provides no additional clarity on the topic of what narco-terrorism actually is, as it can be explained as both a means and an end.

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