Napolitano: U.S. Moving Assets to Mexican Border

Among the burning issues vying for President Obama's attention, the drug war in Mexico is increasingly near the top. Phoenix is now the kidnapping capital of the United States, thanks largely to the cartels operating on both sides of the border. And government agencies are preparing contingency plans for a dramatic rise in the violence. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told NEWSWEEK that more law-enforcement officials will be sent to the border in the coming weeks. She said their mandate would be not just preventing drugs and cartel members from entering the United States but stemming the flow of cash and weapons from the U.S. to Mexico. Napolitano spoke to NEWSWEEK's Mark Hosenball and Dan Ephron. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: How much of the violence in Mexico is already spilling over into the United States? Has the Mexican drug war already erupted in American cities?
Napolitano: I think now we have seen some spillover. There's always been a certain amount of violence between drug-trafficking organizations and the like along the border … But now, for example in cities like Phoenix, there's an increase in kidnappings that I relate to this increase in the drug war in Mexico … We are in constant touch with the sheriffs and so forth in the border area, and I directed that we stay in direct phone touch with them, and … we're in the process of moving some assets to the border. I don't want to give you specifics on that, but we'll have more on that next week.

Inasmuch as you can talk about specifics, how many assets, what kind and when is it going to happen?
Clearly, we're looking at CBP [Bureau of Customs and Border Protection] and ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], and additional efforts by them on the southwest border.

What about using the military?
Let's be clear by what we mean by the military. National Guard—there's a request in from the governors of Arizona and Texas, and those are being reviewed. I'm very familiar with using the National Guard at the border. I was the first governor to ask for the National Guard at the border when I was in Arizona. So we're now reviewing the requests from Texas and Arizona. Arizona's, I think, just came in last night, or at least that was the first time I saw it. We're reviewing it with the president and with the secretary of defense, and hopefully we'll have something to release within the next couple of weeks.

You talked about contingency plans in a couple of different interviews, and I'm wondering, what are the contingency plans for a real uptick in the violence, and what are the triggers? What tells you it's time to put these plans in place?
There were contingency plans left over from the prior administration, and we're looking at those now, but I think the level is such now that we are already taking action at the border. This is getting the highest level of attention. It's getting attention by the president, it's getting attention by me, attention by the secretary of defense and by the attorney general. So we understand and want to support President [Felipe] Calderón's effort to break up these cartels. We understand that a lot of this violence is drug trafficker on drug trafficker, cartel on cartel, and cartel on Mexican officials, both elected and law enforcement. But we also are now seeing that some of the cartel-on-cartel violence is increasing and spilling over into cities along the border or near the border. That's why we're in touch with their local law enforcement. We're looking for ways to support them. That's why we are already beginning to move ICE and customs assets around to have a greater presence on the southwest border. Quite frankly, there are going to be other things we're doing, but I'm not in a position to give you the specifics at this hour in time.

Are there things the United States can do, literally and physically, to help the Mexicans quell this inside Mexico, or do they not want that?
Absolutely. One of the things we're focusing on is stopping the flow of guns and cash south. Because in this drug war, primarily the guns are coming through the United States and … the movement of cash is what funds what the cartels are doing. That's why, for example, when I talk about moving assets, one of the things we're going to be increasing is our inspection of southbound vehicles, looking for guns and cash that are being taken into Mexico illegally to fund this battle.

One of the things that keep getting referred to is that U.S. military report from November that talked about the potential of Mexico becoming a failed state. How accurate is that in your mind?
I thought that was an overestimate. The point of fact is that it is the state that is taking on this drug war. And what we want to do is assist the state, and what we mean there is the federal government of Mexico, the president of Mexico. They're taking the lead here. But the danger that we want to avoid is increasing disruption in Mexico. There is a possibility, remote as it may be, but there is a possibility of becoming a narcostate. But the United States has a direct interest in Mexico. We have people who live and work on both sides of the border. We have a lot of people who have business on both sides of the border. So having a stable and peaceful neighbor is very, very important, and this drug war is very, very important.

Napolitano: U.S. Moving Assets to Mexican Border | U.S.