- The Washington Times - Friday, March 27, 2009

American truck drivers operating near the U.S.-Mexico border are being warned of increasing violence among warring drug cartels and told to stay on alert against attacks or hijackings.

“Violence amongst Mexican drug cartels in the border states, on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border, has exponentially increased in the past year,” according to the alert from First Observer, a trucking security program funded by a Homeland Security grant.

“Truck drivers carry a risk as they are involved in operations that might interest these criminals,” the alert said.

The alert cited the efforts of Mexican President Feilpe Calderon to crack down on cross-border smuggling of drugs, which it says has hurt the cartels’ operations.

“With these difficulties, the cartels’ gangs have become more aggressive and dangerous with their tactics,” the alert said. “Violent crimes have surged throughout border cities and the violence that primarily occurred on the Mexican side has begun to spill into the United States.”

Though the alert did not come from the federal government itself, Sterline Payne, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration, said the agency agreed with the assessment.

TSA “concurs with the issuance of the alert and the information contained within,” Ms. Payne said.

David Ogden, deputy attorney general, told the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday that the department “has identified the Mexican drug trafficking organizations as the greatest organized crime threat facing the United States today.”

About 5,300 people were slain in drug-related fighting along the U.S.-Mexico border in 2008. The full threat of the drug cartel’s operations also includes kidnapping, bribery, extortion, money laundering and smuggling weapons from the U.S. into Mexico.

“Truck drivers may face an elevated risk of being a crime victim as their loads represent a potentially easy payoff for criminals,” said Don L. Rondeau, director of the Highway Information Sharing and Analysis Center which was also created by the Homeland Security grant.

“We’re strongly urging American trucking companies and owner-operators to exercise extreme caution when making deliveries or pickups along the Mexican border,” Mr. Rondeau said.

The highway center issued several guidelines for trucking companies who have scheduled deliveries in Mexico, advising them to stick to toll roads, to create a distress code to call for help, to report in with dispatchers after all scheduled and unscheduled stops, and to ensure in advance that cellular phones can get roaming service.

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