Home News Stories 2008 July Targeting Gangs Overseas
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Targeting Gangs Overseas

Targeting Street Gangs
In Their Birthplaces Overseas



One of our major domestic crime challenges involves violent street gangs with global ties—in particular, MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang.

Within the U.S., we join hands with our local, state, and federal partners to target these gangs. But another vital and relatively new player is our legal attaché office in San Salvador, which works closely with its counterparts in the Central American nations of El Salvador, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras—the part of the world where MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang originated and still thrive.

The San Salvador Legal Attaché, which became fully operational in January 2007 and is one of more than 60 legal attachés where our agents work as diplomatic liaisons in U.S. embassies, is headed by Special Agent Leo Navarette. He and his staff spend most of their time on gang-related issues—helping to apprehend and extradite gang fugitives; providing criminal histories and arrest warrant information on gang associates; and locating witnesses to testify at U.S. trials…all in close cooperation with our partners.

The legal attaché is also involved in several initiatives that help overseas law enforcement and prosecutors get a better handle on gangs in their own countries, which helps diminish the violence and crime being exported to the U.S. by these gangs.

For example:

  • The Central American Fingerprint Exploitation (or CAFÉ), which will be operational in El Salvador next month and other nations soon after, will permit our partner nations to automatically search and share prints to help identify criminals and solve crimes.
  • The Transnational Anti-Gang (TAG) Unit is a bilateral initiative made up of prosecutors, law enforcement and analytical personnel from El Salvador’s Policia Nacional Civil (PNC), and two of our agents stationed in the country.
  • The Police Officer Exchange Program, coordinated by the legal attaché, enables the PNC and the Los Angeles Police Department/Sheriff’s Office to share officers.

The legal attaché has coordinated our involvement in a number of investigations led by our global partners, including the murder of American citizen Dorothy Ascoli in Guatemala, the slayings of three Salvadoran congressmen, and the killing of a former Guatemalan government advisor. The office also coordinates our role at the International Law Enforcement Academy in San Salvador, where we help provide training on gangs, crisis management, crime scene processing, and executive management.

Of course, our San Salvador Legal Attaché strongly supports all of our investigative priorities. A few examples:

  • Counterterrorism: For the Bureau’s top priority, we have established a Counterterrorism Working Group in the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador to help assess the threat to the United States. Also, in late 2006—before the office was even fully operational and in conjunction with the U.S. Embassy in Belize and the Belize Police Department—we helped locate and deport James Ujaama, a material witness in a counterterrorism case out of New York.
  • Counterintelligence: Working with the State Department, we reach out to the American Chamber of Commerce in El Salvador and brief U.S. companies there on the counterintelligence threats.
  • Cyber crime: We recruited police officers and prosecutors to attend an International Law Enforcement Academy cyber training workshop in nearby Costa Rica in April 2007 to help criminal justice personnel in the region build up their own cyber capabilities.

FBI Violent Gangs webpage
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