(NewsNation) — The man who led the decadeslong manhunt for Mexican cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has “no doubt” that cartels are using the American military, both as a distribution market and a recruitment pool.
The comments by Jack Riley, former deputy administrator for the Drug Enforcement Administration, come on the heels of a Pentagon report that shows America’s fentanyl crisis is invading the military, not unlike the rest of America.
The Pentagon reported that in 2016, fentanyl was involved in 36% of fatal overdoses. Five years later, 88% of overdoses were fentanyl-related.
“Why wouldn’t the cartels, who are in virtually every corner of our country, want to access that not only as a market, but to try to recruit people who want to help them?” Riley said Monday on “CUOMO.” Members of the armed forces “have weapons training, military training, which is really crucial for the cartels to maintain control.”
Riley led the DEA’s Chicago field office before ascending to the agency’s No. 2 post in Washington. He chronicled his hunt for Guzman in his book “Drug Warrior” that spans his three-decade career in the DEA.
The deadly drug trafficking business is being driven overwhelmingly by the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels, which produce and smuggle the majority of fentanyl into the U.S., primarily through the southern border.
Only about 5-10% of it is seized, according to DEA estimates.
Calling the military “the transportation company of the world,” Riley said he worries about the convergence of cartel-related activities and people who are sympathetic to terrorism.
“We’ve seen it in some areas, and clearly this is a major concern for us, and I think should be considered a national security issue,” he said.
Lawmakers have echoed that sentiment, even calling for drug cartels to be classified as terrorist organizations. Doing so, they argue, could unlock money and resources to help stem the flow of drugs.
Attorneys general across 21 states have called on President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations.
Riley believes that’s one piece of a larger effort he says need to be undertaken to corral the cartels.
“This is an ongoing issue that’s a threat to national security, and It’s about time that people stand up, realize this isn’t going away until we come together on all levels … and we take a stand,” Riley said. “Right now, unfortunately, you can see from the deaths of fentanyl both in the military and the general population we’re leaking oil.”