MEXICO CITY — Anti-drug agents are usually extremely cautious about spilling the beans on their secret world, which lies somewhere between espionage, police work and battlefield.
But here’s a rare inside look, offered by a veteran of the drug war. Mike Vigil, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s former chief of international operations, served more than three decades in the agency, including 18 years abroad, and more time than any other DEA agent in Mexico.
Now an independent consultant who still advises Mexican security forces, Vigil has detailed his work in a new memoir called “Deal.”
Vigil’s known as the agent who best infiltrated Mexico’s and Colombia’s violent cartels. And he lives to tell the tales.
He has many thrilling ones: pretending to be a trafficker and setting up cocaine deals; working to take down corrupt soldiers and police; watching a drug lord offer him $3 million for his freedom, and smiling as he turned it down.
But, no doubt, the DEA is a controversial operator. The US government has spent billions to break up narco networks in Latin America and elsewhere, only to see millions of Americans still abusing drugs. Some of the agency’s tactics, at times backed by elite military operatives, have also come under criticism.
And times have changed since Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs” in 1971. US citizens in many states are even voting to legalize pot. On this issue, Vigil is a defender of the DEA’s official, prohibitionist line about marijuana being a highly addictive gateway drug — claims that are increasingly disputed.
Still, whatever the debate, agents like Vigil have some of the sharpest inside knowledge of drug cartels wreaking havoc on the Americas.
In a recent interview, GlobalPost asked Vigil to dish on some crime family secrets and to explain why he still backs the drug war. Excerpts follow.