Measured by FBI homicide data, the United States, and especially New York City, was dramatically safer in 2018 yet people felt less secure. Here’s why. The structural change to North American geopolitics brought about by the fall of the Berlin Wall and NAFTA’s trade war rotation from Atlantic to Pacific port cities explained why, despite far fewer US homicides, 21st Century North American insecurity — what Mexican’s called “La Inseguridad” — felt intimate and pervasive. The existential security threat wasn’t intercontinental thermonuclear Star Wars, it became “shadow people” such as Trump’s drug-dealing rapist on the NAFTA Railway. “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime,” exploded the the central myth of American national security guaranteed by the vast expanses of Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and apartness. Trump wanted The Wall on the southern land bridge. His opponents said it was “immoral” and “expensive” but rarely “a diversion”. Security between ports was, relatively speaking, irrelevant compared to security at ports themselves. Ports authorities became high-profile targets and frontline war zones for military-paramilitary war between the federal governments of Canada, Mexico, the United States, and empires of transnational organized crime.
Murder is an infamous crime from private crimes of passion between lovers to world-making crimes like 9/11 at the Port Authority’s World Trade Center. Despite Never Forget rhetoric replayed on mass media over almost two decades, none of the 9/11/2001 WTC murders are counted in a definitive, annual data set of United States homicide, the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report. Nor in local NYPD criminology data sets. For 2001, NYPD reported 649 cases of “Murder & Non-Negligent Manslaughter” and thus discounted thousands of 9/11 victims (Citywide Seven Major Felony Offenses 2000–2017, 2018). Among those discounted: 84 Port Authority employees, including 37 Port Authority police, murdered en masse. Just because thousands of simultaneous arson victims at Lower Manhattan center of world trade are statistically exceptional, does that mean they did not count?
Paradoxically, discounting 9/11 in quantitative criminology was so common that New York City’s Mayor on 9/11, Rudy Giuliani, claimed in 2016 “we didn’t have any successful radical Islamic terrorist attack in the United States” between 2000 and 2008. That Giuliani’s claim was technically true, going strictly by FBI murder data, revealed the absurd disconnect Never Forget propaganda and obviously miscounted security data. Data-driven criminology methods that undercounted outliers such as mass murder by arson at the World Trade Center, or treated industrialized killing and corpse disposal in North American port cities as out of scope, provided deceptive conclusions about the national security of the United States in the new millennium.
Counting corpses and isolating causes of death was a challenging criminology data research problem in North America circa 2018. In September 2018, the director of Jalisco’s state forensic lab, on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, lost his job when citizens complained about the aroma of 273 decomposing bodies emanating from “wandering”, ad hoc, overflow morgues on 18-wheel tractor-trailers. (Plural.) By the time that story emerged, the director himself spent the previous two months searching for his own “disappeared” daughter, Indira, an attorney for Guadalajara police (Search for the Daughter of Jalisco’s Forensic Science Titular, 2018). Bodies overflowed into trailers in Jalisco, Mexico in 2018 and in Ohio, USA in 2017 (Too many Bodies in Ohio Morgue, so Coroner Gets Death Trailer, 2017). Hypothetically, what happened at one end of the NAFTA Railroad impacted the other end and vice versa.
In the United States, the apex of homicide in the 1980s and post-Berlin Wall Pax Americana left scattered killing fields with little explanation from criminology and less justice from courts. Going by the best available national data, we do not know who did much of the killing in many thousands of cases; some of our best criminology data sources about the era are still effectively crippled by disclaimers, qualifications, and unknowns (Can You Use This Data Set to Find Serial Killers?, 2017). The dirtiness of the data is symptomatic of the fogginess of war: in 1996 William Pollard, Detective, Organized Crime Intelligence Division, Los Angeles Police Department testified to the United States Senate about a transnational industry of “shadow people” who performed contract killing in and out of Los Angeles International Airport:
Mr. Pollard. Along with our resident populations, there is a growing number of tourist or “shadow people,” transient individuals who come and go, many times engaging in criminal activities. While in the past, no real structure was observed in the Jewish or Armenian groups, today, investigators from the Los Angeles Police Department and the Glendale Police Department see a growth of structures in several Armenian criminal groups.
Other Russian groups that still do not appear to have a structure in the United States seem to be arms of structured groups in the former Soviet Union. This lack of observable structure is the main reason why law enforcement in Southern California did not see organized crime as the upcoming problem it is today.
Senator ROTH. Detective Pollard, it is hard to see you because of the screen. You testified about “shadow people” who are hired by Russian organized criminal groups to travel to the United States to commit murder and other violent crimes. Can you provide us with examples of crimes in the Los Angeles area that you suspect were committed by these “shadow people”?
Mr. Pollard. Yes, Senator. Probably the best example would be the Carole Little murders, which is the garment industry case that I referred to. In that case, there have been 5 murders, 5 attempted murders, and numerous other violent crimes. It is well-believed that most of these, or a good percentage of them at least, have been done by these “shadow people” or visitors coming in. It leaves detectives with dead-ends when they are investigating.
Senator ROTH. Did they go back to Russia afterwards — is that what happens?
Mr. Pollard. Yes. The information we get from the street sources indicates that they will come in on a flight from Moscow to Los Angeles on a Saturday; there is another flight from Los Angeles to Moscow on Wednesday. They will come in on one of those flights, do whatever they have been hired to do, and be out on the next flight. (RUSSIAN ORGANIZED CRIME IN THE UNITED STATES, 1996)
The 1993 Carole Little murders centered on a fashion brand in LA’s downtown garment district illustrated two unique aspects of solving organized crime murder: a) cooperating adversaries are proactively organized for execution and cover up, and b) as an investigator wary of apophenia, you may doubt your own pattern-matching hypotheses about premeditated, organized killing: “There’s always doubting Thomases [who] think this happens only in movies. They don’t want to believe it,” (Garment Business’s Two Years of Terror, 1995). Misusing murder data is easy since it is flawed, killers are politically and economically organized to destroy the most important evidence and reporters, and there are natural cognitive bias to deny extreme hypotheses — whether despite or because of the extremity of the crimes. FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report data should be approached skeptically: its data is biased, damaged, incomplete, and essential. Patterns in it may be false on account of technical data collection and maintenance problems. The standard of care for the murder data researcher is thus how to contextualize what is unknown and obfuscated — evidentiary characteristics that can themselves produce insight or spread misinformation (Widespread Blurring of Satellite Images Reveals Secret Facilities, 2018).
Micro-economic “broken windows” criminology overemphasized the 90s post-Berlin Wall fall from pinnacle data points and underemphasized the mid-century geopolitical phase change, time-boxed by the Berlin Wall as tangible physical boundary, 1961–1989, bracketed by two relatively stable periods under 100 New York homicides. So, when modern headlines proclaimed the lowest murder rates “in 50 years”, they described a chaotic dynamic: a blitzkrieg in the 1980s at already sustained highs over 200 homicides that ended almost-instantly in the mid-1990s, and reverted to deviation within historical norms after 9/11. The Cold War between competing trade blocs was “cold” only in terms of intercontinental nuclear weapons and horrifically “hot” in terms of “dirty wars” with rifles and handguns waged by well-organized transnational soldiers without flags nor uniforms. To the extent this story is a non-linear mess of actors without clear identities, it is representative of the underlying data and the killing that produced it.
Despite the magnitude of our ignorance about municipal police performance with respect to the ultimate crime, the conventional wisdom among elite crime fighters like NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani and influential Manhattan Institute criminologists is that local responses to local signals of disorder (eg, “broken windows”) delivered safer cities in the 1990s (The Idea That Made America’s Cities Safer, 2018). The Manhattan Institute PR campaign that NYC became almost-instantly safer between 1994 and 1998 because of local window repair and not, for example, the Cold War Peace Dividend nor 1993’s new $6 trillion dollar free trade zone that re-ordered American trade ports takes dangerous liberties: it is an ahistorical, self-congratulatory “data story” masquerading as science.
As the center of Atlantic trade among North America port cities, New York City crime and security is disproportionately and inextricably bound to transnational crime and security. When US killing plateaued in 1993, there were 7901 unsolved homicides in the United States according the Murder Accountability Project; of those, 17% (1388) of those were unsolved in New York City. NYC crime collapsed from 1994 to 1998 as dust settled from the concurrent implosions of the Berlin Wall, Iron Curtain, Soviet Red Army in Afghanistan, and the Soviet Union Eastern bloc itself. America’s largest port of entry, LA-Long Beach was close second in that period and in 2018 was also stable at 50 year lows for per capita homicide, primarily realized 1994–1998.
Those simultaneous shocks were so sudden that a State Department policy planner famously argued history itself ended in 1989 and “Western liberal democracy” faced no systemic competitors. Assuming “the end of history” and “last man” on a global scale was a geopolitical prerequisite for the micro-economic criminology hypotheses that the security frontier in a metropolis like Gotham was localized to window repair and graffiti removal. Both ideas appeared quaint on the eve of 2019 when:
- United States combat forces quagmired in the same “great game” Afghan opium districts from which Soviet warfighters withdrew in 1989.
- Parts of Mexico fell to war zones of competing narco-states.
- Off of Lake Michigan, Chicago neighborhoods along NAFTA railyards and “the heroin highway” went by “Chiraq”; Baltimore killing hit per capita records.
- Fentanyl poisoning was so pervasive it reversed the US national mortality trend.
- Russia’s mafia state proved overt asset control inside the Oval Office.
Even without the benefit of hindsight, “end of history” ideas were dubious in the first place. Of “The End of History” story that captivated so many Very Serious People, the cigarette-smoking, neo-conservative Brooklynite who published it told the New York Times: “I don’t believe a word of it,” (What Is Fukuyama Saying? And to Whom Is He Saying It?, 1989).
Trump attorney and former New York City Mayor, Rudolph William Louis Giuliani, “Rudy” (NYT Archives), prosecuted La Cosa Nostra leadership, self-promoted 9/11 justice for thousands of murder victims, and misattributed NYC’s Cold War peace dividend to locally policing disorder such as “broken windows”. According to Giuliani, “obviously murder and graffiti are two vastly different crimes. But they are part of the same continuum, and a climate that tolerates one is more likely to tolerate the other,” (Post Mortem: How Medical Examiners Explain Suspicious Death, 2007). A core problem for “broken windows” criminology is thus how to count, for example, broken windows.
With New York City municipal security officials focused on local signals of disorder in the 90s (MacDonald, 2006), New York’s post-Cold War organized criminal class globalized as NAFTA opened and the Iron Curtain collapsed. The 1980s East Coast drug distribution war pivoted from Atlantic and Gulf Cartel ports to Pacific Cartel ports integrated with NAFTA truck and rail networks. When industrialized killing and mass graves exploded across Mexican plazas, frontline Mexican commanders faced federal trial in New York jurisdictions and billion-dollar war chest seizures by Brooklyn-based federal prosecutors. Billions that bankers, businessmen, and lawyers already “legalized”. Citibank fingerprints carried President Salinas Family blood money from Mexico through clean facilities, Bank of New York “thieves in law” washed Cali cartel money through “Benex”; there is so much illegal money, HSBC built special windows to collect physical Pacific Cartel cash.
On federal trial in New York’s Eastern District in 2018 was the world’s most prolific drug distributor and alleged author at least 33 murders, Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera. “El Chapo”. Shorty. “Don Joaquin”. As in: “Don Joaquín knows I [didn’t] like to fuck around with ephedrine”. Forty years ago, Guzman lived through a 1978 federal police-Mexican military operation that killed his uncle and eight associates in his native Sinaloa, a Pacific state on Mexico’s Gulf of California. The confidential US Embassy telegram to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance with news of that southwest combat characterized his uncle as “the second most significant narcotics violator not only in Mexico but worldwide”.
Guzman’s Sinaloa contemporaries torture-murdered DEA agent Enrique in “Kiki” Camarena in 1985 prompting the Reagan Administration’s 1986 National Security Decision Directive to escalate drug war. In that context, Administrations Reagan and Bush innovated:
- The $630 million per year “Operation Cyclone” that orchestrated networks of Saudi money and Pakistani logistics to supply Riyadh’s Wahabbi warriors in Afghan poppy fields and mountain passes with shoulder-fired US Stinger missiles against Soviet supply convoys and helicopters.
- South Florida Task Force response to mass emigration from Cuba, rampant narcotics trafficking on all coastlines, and global guerilla war.
- Private, illegal Contra war in Nicaragua against the express action of Congress.
- Extraordinary rendition from Honduras of a conspirator to Kiki’s murder which established the legal precedents that President Bush later scaled to the Global War on Terrorism centered in Afghanistan (Unchaining the Law: The Legality of Extraterritorial Abduction in Lieu of Extradition, 1992).
- 1989 drug regime change in Panama and Noriega’s 1991 trial in Miami for which 26 United States Marines paid the ultimate price.
- NAFTA and a pre-Merida Initiative US-Mexican security architecture with President Salinas and Guillermo González Calderoni who “until he fled to the U.S. in February 1993, he was the most powerful commander in the Mexican Federal Judicial Police (MFJP), Mexico’s equivalent of the FBI. The Comandante, as he is known, remains a legendary figure in law enforcement circles” (The Comandante, 1997).
Decades later, the latest kingpin in the saga stood trial as the war went on: “Don Joaquin” from who Eastern District, New York federal prosecutors now want $16 billion dollars. Which is the approximate cost of the The Wall that has the federal government shut down, and the President threatening border shut down, as of this writing on 12/29/2018. To put $16B in perspective: that’s ~400% what courts ordered Silverstein’s insurance pay out for the Twin Towers after 12 years of litigation. Four times. (As of 2015, Silverstein also won future options for further litigation (Reuters, 2015). ) Indeed the magnitude of the crimes with which Guzman is charged in Brooklyn are so significant that the New York Times formally appealed to the federal court about sealed records and official secrecy impinging First Amendment press freedoms (Feuer, 2018). If you think you or the impaneled jury is authorized to know what happened with respect to New York drug trade war in the Early 90s, you are not. Government prosecutors blocked questions of key operational witnesses; the judge blocked testimony about presidential-level corruption in Mexico on the grounds that the named individuals “would suffer embarrassment” (Feuer, 2018).
Federal courts shed little, diffuse light on what remained a sprawling, well-organized intercontinental crime war. On December 2, 1993, US-Colombian “Search Bloc” forces fatally shot Medellin’s Pablo Escobar. That same day, Chapo’s Colombian partner, and Escobar’s North Valley rival with a face obliterated by plastic surgery known in English translation as “Lollipop”, financed a Colombian hit team to execute Brooklyn’s Vladimir Beigelman on the streets of Queens (State of New Jersey, DOJ). A fact to which Lollipop confessed as a witness at Guzman’s tightly managed trial inside the Brooklyn Federal Court Building this December 2018.
Escobar and Beigelman’s coincidental homicide on the same December day at the end of 1993 — one in Brooklyn, one in Medellin — coincided with the post-1975 plateau of homicide in the United States after which it fell off a statistical cliff. The reverse was true in Mexico border plazas connected to US port facilities: well-organized, well-controlled combat operations exploded whole cities and disappeared cops and journalists into barrels of acid and industrial ovens (Why the U.S. Considers Parts of Mexico as Dangerous as Syria, Somalia, 2018).
Killing, like everything else, was outsourced to where life was much cheaper and as close to the US consumer as possible. Guzman himself survived ambush at Mexico’s Guadalajara airport on Mexico’s Pacific Coast; mistaken identity left the wrong white Lincoln Town Car riddled with bullets and a popular Catholic bishop dead. Captured a month later by the Guatemalan army, and transferred to the safe confines of Mexican federal prison, Chapo converted trafficking with Lollipop’s North Valley Cartel from light aircraft to NAFTA-accelerated intermodal containers. Lollipop was eventually arrested in Brazil and forfeited $1B to the United States Treasury as part of his cooperation agreement. According to his (Lollipop’s) December 2018 testimony, the commercial transformation from aviation to container trafficking was based on intelligence Guzman purchased from the US asset in the Mexican security state, “Comandante” Calderoni.
By 1995, the Washington Post wrote contemporaneously about Calderoni and Chapo’s transformation of hemispheric trafficking from the perspective of DC bureaucrats: “U.S. officials in 1992 began observing smugglers were shifting from aircraft to ships, containers and other means to reduce the risks of detection” (DRUG FLIGHTS CROSS PENTAGON’S SUPER RADAR SCREEN, 1995). “Comandante” Calderoni was fatally shot in the head outside his defense attorney’s office in McAllen, Texas, a port of entry to Reynosa, Mexico, in 2003. The murder is unsolved. In 2000, he answered questions for PBS Drug Wars:
Why did you have to leave Mexico?
Because the FBI, as far as I know, made it known to (President of Mexico) Carlos Salinas de Gortari what I was saying about him. That made it so I had to leave. . . .
How did the DEA react when you told them about (President) Salinas?
Nobody has wanted to believe it completely, or maybe politics has told them that they shouldn’t believe it. Or maybe the CIA says I am not a trustworthy source
Chapo Guzman first “escaped” Mexican prison the day before President Bush (Jan 19, 2001) was sworn-in and 16 years later extradited to the United States the same day President Trump was sworn-in (Jan 20, 2017). Hypothetically, those political coincidences, and the fact that Guzman is still alive, signal his transnational political relevance. Rather than looking at Giuliani and the Manhattan Institute’s corner-level responses to explain the unique speed and magnitude of what happened to NYC homicide patterns after 1993, zoom up (A Curious Disconnect, 2017).
Former President George HW Bush died the same day, November 30, 2018, that President Trump inked a new NAFTA in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Hypothetically, the advent of the $6 trillion free trade zone in the southwest transformed the geopolitics of New York ports as a world trade centers on the transnational crime spectrum. Boss for DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center described NAFTA as “the best thing that happened to product distribution since Nike signed up Michael Jordan,” (Drugs Surge From Mexico As US Hunts For Solution, 1996). Relatively speaking, local graffiti was so microscopic compared to billion-dollar illegal intercontinental businesses operating cocaine soldiers at internet-speed across trillion-dollar trade zones it was effectively moot to the subjective everyday experience of feeling safe and secure.