DEA Negotiated With Mexican Drug Cartel Members: Report

In this courtroom artist's drawing Jesus Vincente Zambada-Niebla appears before U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo Tuesday, F
In this courtroom artist's drawing Jesus Vincente Zambada-Niebla appears before U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010, in Chicago, with his attorneys Ed Panzer, second from left, and George Santangelo, left. Zambada-Niebla, accused of leading Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he conspired to import large quantities of heroin and literally tons of cocaine into the United States. (AP Photo/Verna Sadock)

Agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Justice Department officials have met in secret with members of Mexican drug cartels in exchange for information on rival drug organizations, a new extensive investigative report by Mexico's El Universal newspaper startlingly concludes.

According to the report, U.S. agents held more than 50 secret meetings with cartel operatives on Mexican territory between 2000 and 2012 -- without informing Mexican authorities.

Without the presence of Mexican authorities, as bilateral agreements stipulate, without informing the Mexican government, the agents of the DEA met with members of the cartels in Mexican territory, to obtain information about their rivals and at the same time and establish at the same time a network of informants of narco-traffickers, who signed cooperation agreements, subject to results, so that they can obtain future benefits, including charges being dropped in the United States.

El Universal based its reports on extensive interviews, as well as official American and Mexican documents.

Several of the documents were related to the Chicago trial of Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla, the son of Sinaloa leader Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada.

As Business Insider noted in 2012, Zambada-Niebla alleged while in detention in Chicago that the U.S. government struck a deal with Mexico's Sinaloa cartel to finance and arm the drug traffickers in exchange for information. Zambada-Niebla was arrested after having met with DEA officials, and believed that the alleged deal implied he was immune from arrest or prosecution.

According to the documents made public for the first time by El Universal , DEA agent Manuel Castanon said the following about that meeting:

On March 17, 2009, I met for approximately 30 minutes in a hotel room in Mexico City with Vicente Zambada-Neibla and two other individuals -- DEA agent David Herrod and a cooperation source ("CS") with whom I had worked since 2005. In the meeting on March 17, 2009, I did all of the talking on behalf of DEA. Agent Herrod does not speak Spanish. The next day, I learned that Zambada-Neibla had been arrested early in the morning by the Mexican military. The next day, three other agents and I met Zambada-Neibla at the prison where he was housed. He reiterated his desire to cooperate. He said he did not want to be in Mexico. That was the last time I talked with him.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that according to El Universal, officials from the DEA and an unspecified U.S. attorney's office had met with members of Mexican drug cartels. The El Universal report instead indicates authorities from the broader DOJ held such meetings.