Here is an excerpt from Todd Bensman's article on GlobalPost.com:
"All is quiet now on Coahuila Street. But traces of the violence that destroyed the lives of two American brothers with businesses here linger. A blackened structure is all that's left of Alan Gamboa's once-profitable radio communications business, after it was drenched in diesel and burned to the ground the night of Dec. 5. His brother, Ricardo Gamboa, is still missing — and feared dead — after being kidnapped by cartel gangsters on Coahuila Street the previous morning. Violence and kidnappings have become almost commonplace in Mexico, as the country's civil drug war rages. Often, the murder and kidnap victims are American residents of border cities like Laredo, who are involved in the drug trade. But the violence that upended the Gamboa brothers' lives is different. By all accounts, they were not drug dealers. Their only transgression, it seems, was to rent a house to the U.S. State Department and Drug Enforcement Administration, which set up an anti-cartel intelligence operation with Mexican federal police in the rented space. The brothers' tragic story offers a rare glimpse into a part of Mexico's drug war that gets little notice. The narrative of the conflict as a fight to the death between drug cartels and the Mexican government often excludes another player: the U.S. government. And as the Gamboa tale demonstrates, the American government's actions in Mexico can also lead to casualties." Link to Full Article
Analysis: This is a very interesting article regarding the innocent civilians that end up involved in Mexico's drug war, and a view point that isn't often explored. Human intelligence sources and the general assistance of locals are required in any counterdrug operation. Sometimes those sources of intelligence or assistance are what the intelligence community calls "witting," or completely knowledgeable about their role and potential consequences of their involvement. Sometimes they are "unwitting," which means they don't know the full identities of the people they are working with or their intentions.
In this case, it appears Americans who reside in Texas but work in Mexico provided assistance to the US Government unwittingly, and are now being punished by cartel enforcers because they see them and their families as collaborators. So the debate becomes, should the US State Department have been more forthcoming about their intended uses for the Gamboa house, or should the Gamboas have been less naive and more inquisitive about their new renters? I think a strong argument can be made for both sides.
As for the State Department, as long as they followed US and Mexican laws regarding the rental transaction, I'm willing to bet they had no legal requirement to tell the Gamboa brothers (who are estranged) anything about their planned use of the house. For example, if you own a house and rent it out to a nice couple with steady income and great credit, you can't demand that they tell you if they plan to use it to make pornographic movies, even though that might change your desire to rent your home out to them. Also, the information surrounding the planned use of the home may have been classified or, at the least, operationally sensitive, and the State Department may not have been allowed to share that information with the Gamboas. I do find it interesting that the Gamboas didn't dig a little deeper during the transaction - although it appears that Ricardo knew little to nothing about the rental since his brother Alan managed it. I would be HIGHLY suspicious if all those armored vehicles showed up at my front door with a bunch of G-Men offering eight months rent in advance.
As for the Gamboa brothers, their situation is tragic, and made more so by their apparent naivete. Nuevo Laredo is one of the more violent border cities in Mexico, and not much happens there that the Gulf cartel and their enforcers - Los Zetas - don't know about. I find it hard to believe the Gamboas thought their actions in any capacity would go unchecked. However, I'll give the Gamboa brothers the benefit of the doubt by believing they really didn't think the rental circumstances were unusual. I don't know if they truly believed they could stay neutral - or at least untouched - in the drug war in a place like Nuevo Laredo, but they were probably trying hard to do so. As it is with all Mexican kidnapping cases, I'm not optimistic about Ricardo's chances with his abductors, but I hope he's returned safely to his family.
This case is a good example of the difficulties both the Mexican and US Governments have in obtaining reliable, willing, and uncorrupted human sources on both sides of the border, but particularly in Mexico. I would imagine that any potential unwitting, clean sources like the Gamboas would have no interest whatsoever in assisting either government for fear of cartel retribution. Thus, government agencies are resigned to conducting operations in a more clandestine fashion. While not informing landlords or car salesmen or restaurant owners or others of their roles in assisting the US or Mexican Governments may well be legal and operationally necessary, it places these individuals and their families in danger because of the appearance of collusion. While some may say this is the cost of doing business in such a dangerous place against such a formidable foe, I'm sure the Gamboas and others trying to stay out of the drug war feel that's a price they shouldn't have to pay.