>Users:   login   |  register       > email     > people    

The Evolution of Security Threat Groups into the Twenty-First Century - Part I
By William Sturgeon
Published: 04/27/2009

Mexican drug money Editors note: Corrections.com author, William Sturgeon, is an emergency preparedness and counterterrorism planning expert. He has more than 35 years of experience in the criminal justice field, and has managed security operations for sheriffs’ offices and correctional agencies across the United States.

It is hard to believe that it has been almost thirty years since the first “formal” Gang Intelligence Units were formed. Through the years, Gang Intelligence Units have developed the knowledge, skills, and abilities to manage Security Threat Groups within correctional institutions.

As the influence of ‘formal’ prison gangs and other groups became clear to correctional professionals, they initiated gang management techniques. They gained gang intelligence and disseminated it to the administration and line staff; they monitored housing and working assignments of gang members; and, they identified and validated gang members and leaders.

It was the Gang Intelligence Units that “coined” the term “Security Threat Groups.” It became clear to the Gang Intelligence Units that more than the traditional prison gangs were threatening the security of the institutions. There were white supremacy groups who were religious based as well as racist; there were members of organized crime groups; there was an influx of organized street gang members, and domestic terrorists; and, there were members of the major motorcycle gangs, etc. The dynamics of jail/prison life was changing as the Security Threat Groups gained power.

Yet, for more than a decade, Gang Intelligence Units have been able, for the most part, to disrupting the activities of the Security Threat Groups within correctional institutions. Now, however, I believe that the Gang Intelligence Units will soon be facing new challenges. These new challenges are directly associated with the criminals that who up the Mexican Drug Cartels and their associates.

What makes the Mexican Cartel members different from other Security Threat Groups is the level of military training, violence and organization of some of their members? Currently, the drug cartel wars are being waged in Mexico and along the American border with Mexico. Currently, it is the border states that are dealing with the cartel members, while there is evidence that the cartels are extending their influence throughout the United States. Many of the Mexican Drug Cartel members belong to an extremely violent and well-trained group call Los Zetas or Zetas. Who are the Zetas? They are former members of the Mexican Army’s elite airborne Special Forces group who have gone to work for the Mexican Drug Cartel.

The leaders of the Zetas were trained at Fort Benning, GA. “They weren’t just any military officers…They were special elite forces trained in the United States…They were trained in counterinsurgency strategies, in which extreme degrees of cruelty are allowed…They seek not only to eliminate their adversaries but to leave a message for those remaining alive and to intimidate, paralyze, terrorize the population.” [1]

A Justice Department memorandum has been issued warning “that Mexican commandos were trained by U.S. forces, but switched sides. They are now using their deadly skills to work for the drug cartels.” The Zetas’ extreme violent tentacles have breached the Mexican border into many states of the United States, specifically, but not inclusively, Arizona, Texas, California, and New Mexico. The group may also have ventured as far as Nashville, TN, and Atlanta, GA. [2]

Many law enforcement agencies believe that the Zetas have started their own drug cartel as well as continuing to act as “muscle” for the existing Mexican Drug Cartels. Additionally, there is significant evidence that Zetas use street gangs to distribute their drugs in the United States. In fact, the FBI has reported that Los Zetas has control over such U.S.-based gangs as the Mexican Mafia, the Texas Syndicate, MS-13, and Hermanos Pistoleros Latinos. [3] It is only going to be a matter of time before “official” Zetas will join their American-gang associates (STGs) in American correctional and detention facilities. In fact, if the truth were known, some public and private detention facilities are presently incarcerating numerous Mexican Cartel members, both males and females, and some Zetas.

The influence of the Los Zetas on offender populations can be dramatic. Because of their military training they present an overall threat to every facet of an institution’s security operations. This is how the Los Zetas offenders could influence the security of an institution:
  • Their elite military training in counter-insurgence tactics has trained them in escape and evasion, martial arts, etc. (As part of their escape and evasion training they have been trained to compromise fences, defeat intrusion detection and video surveillance.)
  • They will use the “traditional” prison gang members to do the grunt work (Those who refuse will be dealt with in a violent way – they eliminate their rivals.) They will elevate the level of violence directed at rivals and staff - this group does not hesitate in killing law enforcement officers.) At least 20 inmates died inside the high security area of a prison in the border city of Ciudad Juarez…in what looks to have been a massacre carried out by members of one gang against rivals… [4]
  • They will use every tactic to include fear, intimidation, money, sex, etc., to compromise the staff and the administration
The administrators of correctional or detention facilities who incarcerate Zetas will have to pay special attention to the staff who interact with Los Zetas, to ensure that the staff does not get compromised by the Zetas offenders. Agencies must guarantee that staff is rotated frequently, have a direct route to reporting incidents where they have been threatened or approached to break the rules, and receive special training on how to interact with Zeta offenders.. What must not be forgotten is that Zetas have the “real world” ability to reach outside the institution and go after the families of staff – a tactic that they are more than willing to employ.

On April 18, 2009, eight people were killed during an assault on a prison convoy west of Mexico City. “At least 20 assailants launched a running gun battle… Saturday. Police called it a well-planned attack intended to free Jeronimo Gamez, cousin of Arturo Beltran Leyva, the reputed leader of one of Mexico’s most powerful cartels.” [5]

I believe that the Los Zetas, because of their highly specialized training, propensity for violence, organizational sophistication and total disregard for the law, are the catalysts for the next wave of gang evolution. As this evolution unfolds, violence on American streets, as well as in correctional and detention institutions, will escalate radically.

Part II of this series will be a discussion on what security measures, technology, and training will be needed to manage Security Threat Groups in the Twenty-first Century.

References and Suggested Reading
[1] Schroeder, HSToday Magazine March 2009 pp 29.
[2] Mexican Drug Commandos, INFOWARS.COM, May 2005, http://www.infowars.com/articles/worl/mexican_drug_commandos.
[3] Grayson, George E. Los Zetas: the Ruthless Army Spawned by a Mexican Drug Cartel, May 2008 Foreign Policy Research Institute. http://www.fpri.org/enotes/200805.grayson.loszetas.html
[4] Intellpuke, Free Internet Press, March 04, 2009, http:freeinterpress.com/story. [4] Intellpuke, Free Internet Press, March 04, 2009, http:freeinterpress.com/story.php?sid=20451 php?sid=20451
.”[5] (Mark Stevenson, Associated Press Writer,http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090420/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/lt_drug_war_mexico

Part II - The Evolution of Security Threat Groups into the Twenty-First Century

Visit the Bill Sturgeon page


  1. wsturgeon on 04/27/2009:

    Here is the web site http://www.niagarafallsreporter.com/column408.htmlhe web site - It's old age. Bill Sturgeon

  2. wsturgeon on 04/27/2009:

  3. wsturgeon on 04/27/2009:

    Checkout this web site for information on Los Zetas. Does anyone think the current "Swine Flu" scare will cause additional troubles for American law enforecement and corrections. Checkout your pandemic contingency plans. Bill Sturgeon

Login to let us know what you think

User Name:   


Forgot password?

correctsource logo

Use of this web site constitutes acceptance of The Corrections Connection User Agreement
The Corrections Connection ©. Copyright 1996 - 2021 © . All Rights Reserved | 15 Mill Wharf Plaza Scituate Mass. 02066 (617) 471 4445 Fax: (617) 608 9015