Undercover U.S. narcotics agents have laundered or smuggled millions of dollars in drug proceeds as part of Washington's expanding role in Mexico’s fight against drug cartels, reports the New York Times. Agents, most from the Drug Enforcement Administration, have handled shipments of hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal cash to learn how criminals move their money, where they keep their assets, and who their leaders are.
Agents deposited drug proceeds in accounts designated by traffickers, or in shell accounts set up by agents. The Times says the high-risk activities raise questions about the agency's effectiveness in bringing down drug kingpins, “underscore diplomatic concerns about Mexican sovereignty, and blur the line between surveillance and facilitating crime.” As it launders drug money, the DEA often allows cartels to continue their operations over months or years before making seizures or arrests. A former agency official said, “My rule was that if we are going to launder money, we better show results. Otherwise, the DEA could wind up being the largest money launderer in the business, and that money results in violence and deaths.”