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'MS-13' is one of nation's most dangerous gangs

MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha 13)


Information about the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang has been updated.
visit the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang page >

  1. Introduction
  2. The Growth of MS-13
  3. Membership



The MS-13 gang, aka Mara Salvatrucha 13, is one of the most violently dangerous gangs in the United States - and one of the most organized.  The MS-13 gang has cliques, or factions, located throughout the United States and is unique in that it retains is ties to its El Salvador counterparts.  With cliques in Washington DC, Oregon, Alaska, Arkansas, Texas, Nevada, Utah, Oklahoma, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Canada, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and several other South American countries, the MS-13 gang is truly "international" and on the verge of becoming the first gang to be categorized as an "organized crime" entity.

Gang members, who sport numerous tattoos on their bodies and faces, wear blue and white colors taken from the El Salvadoran flag.  Their membership is estimated to total over 36,000 in the Honduras alone.  Members typically range in age from 11 to 40 years old.  Their progressive increase in violent activities and careless disregard for the law (threats and attacks against law enforcement officials is common), has made them the most feared gang in the United States.  MS-13 criminal activities include drug smuggling, gun running, people smuggling, hits for hire, theft, drug sales, arson, and of course, strong arming the locals.  Their wide-ranging activities and elevated status has even caught the eye of the FBI who recently initiated wide-scale raids against known and suspected gang members netting hundreds of arrests across the country.


Their penchant for violence is renowned.  Members often arrive in the United States with fighting skills gained in military training and are particularly adept with machetes.  In March 2004, the Maldon Institute, a Washington DC based think tank, released a report detailing the violent methods MS-13 used, including their increasingly typical (and disturbing) calling card.  MS-13 often leaves behind dismembered corpses, complete with the decapitated head, at the scene of their murders.  Often a grim note is attached to the body. 

In a recent Texas incident, a MS-13 gang member admitted that he had led the gang rape of a 24 year-old woman and then kicked her in the neck with such force that it killed her.  During questioning, the MS-13 member further acknowledged robbing and beating a small child in Houston and to stabbing an Alexander, Texas man three times in an attempt to kill him.  When asked if he though murdering someone elevated his status within the gang he replied:

Hell Yeah.  The crazier you are known to be, the more respect the gang gives you.  In my gang, my street name is "psycho".

 The Growth of MS-13

Like many gangs, MS-13 was named after "La Mara", a street in El Salvador and "13th Street" in Los Angeles.  The gang originated in El Salvador and initially consisted of violent guerillas who fought in El Salvador's civil war.  As the war neared its end, the gang moved operations into the nearby Honduras.  In the Honduras, where membership topped 36,000, the gang rose to such power that the Honduran government instigated a crackdown on all gangs and even passed a law aimed specifically at busting up gangs and organized crime.  Code named "Strong Arm", the Honduran government arrested more than 4,000 gang members in 2003, often solely because they wore tattoos or colors of known gangs.  Under Honduran law, gang members can receive up to 12 years in prison if they are a leader of a local clique and up to 9 years for simply being a member of a gang. 

The recent Honduran gang law amendments enraged the MS-13 group.  They carried out their revenge in 2002 in the form of a slaughter that took place on the outskirts of the city of Tegucigalpa.  A car carrying two men armed with AK-47s and M-16 automatic weapons, cut off a public bus forcing it to stop.  The men quickly boarded the bus and opened fire on the passengers killing 28 people including 7 small children.  They left a slang-ridden message, written on a red poster board and weighted down with rocks, on the hood of the bus.  When MS-13 subsequently felt excessive pressure in Honduras, they promptly migrated to Mexico.

This pattern continued in Mexico and in early 2004, the Mexican government began a campaign to eradicate MS-13.  Authorities arrested 300 gang members in response to what they called "a threat to National security".  Arrestees were charged with drug trafficking and smuggling of firearms across Mexico and Central America.

The Mara Salvatrucha gang moved into the Los Angeles area in the late 1980's as immigrants from El Salvador began arriving in the city.  The early Los Angeles MS-13 gangs sought to protect El Salvadorian immigrants from the ruthless LA gangs.  As with many gangs who's original intent was to protect others, the gang soon came to prey upon the Salvadorian community themselves.  Once profits were recognized, Mara Salvatrucha cliques began to spread across the United States at an alarming rate.  By the 1990's, MS-13's reach had spread across the country and had planted its roots deep on the East Coast.  The early cliques located on the eastern coast were independent and not well organized.  In the early 2000's, the gang hierarchy changed radically when leadership for these newly unified units, came from as far away as California and El Salvador.  Cells continued popping up all over the country.

In Texas and the Rio Grande area, MS-13 has become particularly profitable.  U.S. and Mexican authorities acknowledge that MS-13 has been heavily involved in drug smuggling and human trafficking operations.  They estimate that there are over 200 active cells (cells are groups of at least 20 members) operating in the states that border Mexico.  Rumors abound concerning high-profile terrorist organizations contacting MS-13 for assistance in crossing borders in these areas.


Membership in MS-13 has grown rapidly.  In Charlotte, North Carolina, membership is estimated to be 200+.  Police have implicated MS-13 in at least 11 murders in the Charlotte area in 2000 alone.  In northern Virginia and southern Maryland, around the Washington DC area, local authorities estimate MS-13 membership to be between 5,000 and 6,000 members - by far the largest gang in the area.  In July of 2003, the Washington DC area encountered three murders attributed to MS-13.  The first was the murder of a federal informant.  The second was the shooting death of a 17 year old boy.  The third was the death of a 16 year old boy who had both of his hands completely chopped off.

Members is MS-13 cells are often initiated by being "jumped in".  In one Washington DC event, witnessed by a reporter, the inductee was an 11-year old boy - he sought membership in MS-13 so they would protect him from bullies in his neighborhood.  The rights of passage included placing the boy in a circle of gang members.  The five strongest members stepped inside the circle with the 11-year old boy.  As members began counting slowly to 13, the boy was beaten and kicked repeatedly until he reached the point of unconsciousness.  If he had been a girl, the rights of passage would have included being gang raped by six gang members.

While most gangs offer simple initiation rights, such as being "jumped in", where you are beaten or punched for several minutes in order to prove your worth, for many MS-13 cells, initiations are a little more stringent.  In these cells, in order to join MS-13 you must first commit a violent act against someone else - either a beating, a rape, or a murder. 

The MS-13 tell-tale body markings will typically include numerous body and facial tattoos containing the texts "MS", "13", or "18".  Various symbols are used including dice, crossbones, or daggers.  Often the symbols signify the members area of specialization.  For instance, if a member has a tattoo of a grenade on his back it means that particular person specializes in explosives.

One of the defining factors of MS-13 is their absolute intolerance for anyone who informs the police of their activities.  Court papers in Nassau County detail recorded telephone conversations where a MS-13 member bragged how he had put a stop to a informant - "I put one in the chest and three in the head."

Once a member is brought in to the gang, they are in for life.  They cannot act without the boss's consent - they cannot kill without reason, cannot talk to the police, cannot skip gang meetings, nor can they leave the gang.  MS-13 has no tolerance for gang members who drop out.  In March of 2004, 16-year old Edgar Guzman, was brought before the US Bureau of Immigration and Customers Enforcement in Colorado.  He had entered the United States illegally, traveling from Guatemala on foot.  In Guatemala he had been a member of the MS-13 gang.  His sole reason for leaving his native country was to escape the gang life, live with his Aunt in Georgia, and begin school.  He begged authorities not to deport him

If I had stayed in Guatemala, members of the Salvatrucha gang would have killed me.  I've seen them hit people with baseball bats and shoot them.  I know they kill people.  I know that if I go back to Guatemala they will torture me.  They will kill me if I go back to Guatemala.  They will kill me because I left the gang.

On March 10, 2004, Edgar was released from jail and deported.  On March 20, 2004, 10 days after he was deported, Edgar was found dead from multiple gunshot wounds.  He had hidden in his home for 10 days and eventually left the confines of his house when his grandmother had unexpectedly died.  He barely made it 5 blocks from his home before members found him and delivered the punishment that was deemed appropriate for his deserting the gang.  Death is almost always the only means of escaping the clutches of MS-13.

One of the reasons for MS-13's success is their flexibility.  When they enter a new area where they are not known, they will wear their colors in a flashy display in order to promote intimidation.  Once the authorities catch wind of their presence, they will change their colors, carry their bandanas in their pocket, and change their markings to say, 76 or 67 (which total up to 13).

Flexible, organized, and highly violent - Mara Salvatrucha 13 has carved a niche in our society and dug in their heels, refusing to back down even from high profile authorities such as the Federal Police.


(1) The Brownsville Herald, 2004
(2)  The Washington Post, August 12, 2002
(3)  The Washington Post, December 10, 2004
(4)  The Washington Times, September 28, 2004

U.S. steps up battle against Salvadoran gang MS-13


A street gang based in El Salvador has rapidly spread in the USA and raised enough concern for the Justice Department to create a new task force to battle it. But the head of the task force says the gang has no al-Qaeda connections, despite a suggestion Monday by El Salvador's president that there may be a link.

Juan Carlos Miralda Bueso, 29, left, a former member of the MS-13 gang peers from his high security cell in Honduras.

By Ginnette Riquelme, AP

"The FBI, in concert with the U.S. intelligence community and governments of several Central American republics, have determined that there is no basis in fact to support this allegation of al-Qaeda or even radical Islamic ties to MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha)," says Robert Clifford, director of the new task force. Clifford is in El Salvador this week to discuss cooperation with his Central American counterparts.

Last year, Honduran Security Minister Oscar Alvarez raised alarm when he said al-Qaeda might be trying to recruit Central American gang members to help terrorists infiltrate the USA. On Monday, Salvadoran President Tony Saca said he could "not rule out a link between terrorists and Central American gang members."

Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, said last month, "We know from El Salvadoran law enforcement that al-Qaeda is meeting with violent gang leaders in El Salvador. We have also had reports that Middle Easterners have been sighted on the banks of the Rio Grande."

Clifford dismisses these claims: "To have something as sophisticated as al-Qaeda overtly align and identify itself with a group of misfits is improbable."

Thousands of members

With or without that connection, the FBI says MS-13 is a threat to domestic security. Clifford says MS-13 has expanded rapidly throughout the USA in the past two years. During that time, there have been 18 MS-13-related killings in North Carolina, 11 in Northern Virginia and at least eight in Los Angeles. Members are showing up in places as disparate as Boston and Omaha.

MS-13 sprang up in California in the late 1980s, when Salvadoran refugees who fled the violent civil war back home formed protection groups against existing gangs in their neighborhoods. In time, they turned to illegal activities.

By the 1990s, U.S. law enforcement was taking note of the group. Many members were deported to El Salvador, where they set up branches and, in many cases, returned to the USA. There are 8,000 to 10,000 members of MS-13 in 31 states, says the National Drug Intelligence Center, an arm of the Justice Department. The international membership is about 50,000.

The FBI task force, based in Washington, was quietly created two months ago, Clifford says. He declines to say how many people are on the team. He has been with the FBI for 17 years, most recently as the legal attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Athens and chief of FBI operations for the region stretching from Albania to Syria.

When Chris Swecker, assistant director of criminal investigations at the FBI, offered Clifford the job, the attaché had "little knowledge" of the Salvadoran gang, he says. But a week later, he was on his way to Washington.

Clifford is coordinating his operation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Bureau of Prisons, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as local law enforcement agencies.

Local and state authorities that have been dealing with MS-13 for years have done "an excellent job," Clifford says. And there is "certainly success in getting prosecutions."

But, he stresses, the arrogance, violence and dramatic expansion of the gang across the USA calls for a more comprehensive and coordinated fight, which the FBI intends to lead. "After 9/11, our focus went to terrorism. But now we are coming back around and want to address these gangsters not as thugs but as part of a criminal enterprise ... and disrupt and dismantle them as we did the Mafia," he says.

Information sharing key

High on the agenda for the new task force is greater information sharing with Mexico and Central America. For example, Clifford says, the United States needs to ensure that when MS-13 gangsters are deported to El Salvador, authorities here are given a list of charges against the deportees and a list of their contacts.

Rodrigo Avila, El Salvador's vice minister of security, says that an average of 250 criminals a month are deported to El Salvador from the USA and that a dozen of them are gang members.

FBI spokesman Bill Carter says Clifford's task force is part of the bureau's broad new gang strategy. The larger initiative will include a $10 million gang-intelligence center, which will be established at FBI headquarters in Washington next year and will serve as an intelligence repository on gangs operating in the USA, Carter says.

Clifford, meanwhile, is not the only U.S. official in El Salvador this week talking about gangs. Representatives of the Homeland Security Department and police and sheriff's departments from across the USA were attending a four-day international gang-enforcement conference here that ends today. "It's all about networking," explains Harvey Smith, a California consultant who set up the conference. "The gang members are communicating nicely. Now we have to."

In-depth look its members, enemies and its threat to our national security

Some of the most notorious and dangerous criminals in the United States are part of one gang.  It's not the Bloods, it's not the Crips, but a gang called MS-13.  'Live and Direct' takes MSNBC into the streets to investgate how the gang is terrorizing neighborhoods and treating their friends and enemies with brutal, bloody force.

RITA COSBY, HOST, 'LIVE AND DIRECT':  [This gang has committed one of the most] horrific crime scenes ever witnessed by law enforcement, young men, women and children brutally murdered with machetes.  These innocent victims were slaughtered and dismembered for no reason at the hand of MS-13. 

La Mara Salvatrucha, more commonly known as the MS-13, are considered by the FBI to be the most dangerous gang in the U.S., leaving their mark from El Salvador to Honduras to Guatemala to New Mexico, and now on U.S.  soil.

In the last decade, the United States has experienced a dramatic increase in the number and size of this transnational street gang, which has quickly became a nationwide problem. 

SAM DEALY, “READER'S DIGEST”:  This is a problem that the federal government actually created.

COSBY:  Sam Dealy is a reporter for “Reader's Digest,” which did an investigative expose on the MS-13 gang. 

DEALY:  Our default policy throughout much of the past decade has been simply to, when you catch these guys, deport them.  And they head back to Guatemala, or El Salvador, or Honduras, and weak states back there can't control them. 

COSBY:  The majority of MS-13 members are foreign-born and are frequently involved in human and drug smuggling and immigration violations.  Like most street gangs, MS-13 members are also committed to such crimes as robbery, extortion, rape and murder.  They also run a well-financed prostitution ring. 

This notorious gang, best known for their violent methods, can now be found in 33 states, with an estimated 10,000 members and more than 40,000 in Central America.  The FBI says MS-13 are the fastest growing and most violent of the nation's street gangs.  So much so, even other gangs fear them. 

And you will be stunned to hear that this ruthless gang who will kill for the sake of killing has made its way to cities and suburbs across the country, even settling into small communities and boldly announcing their presence with violence. 

Northern Virginia is reported to have the strongest number of MS-13 members in a single city.  And there are many cities infected now by MS-13. 

TOM PICKARD, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FBI:  These people are actually dividing up parts of the country or areas of the country to suit their drug network. 

COSBY:  The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently sent out a memo warning Border Patrol agents that they could now become targets of hired assassins as retaliation for tighter border security.  The memo identified the higher guns as La Matta.  The memo went on to say that MS-13 is upset because law enforcement is hurting their gang smuggling business. 

Former Texas border agent Jim Dorcy is very concerned. 

JIM DORCY, FORMER BORDER CONTROL AGENT:  I think it's a real serious threat.  The Border Patrol is a real problem for the professional smugglers.  They're cutting into their incomes. 

COSBY:  What makes MS-13 so deadly is their skill with the machete, and most have had extensive military training in El Salvador, making them a double threat.  The machete, typically used for cutting crops in El Salvador, is now the weapon of choice for this fearless gang. 

The MS-13 are identified by their numerous tattoos on their bodies and faces.  They wear blue and white colors taken from the El Salvadoran flag. 

Northern Virginia, Southern Maryland and around the Washington, D.C., area are having their problems now with MS-13, with a bigger concentration in Long Island, New York, and California, California being the U.S.  birthplace for this gang which settled there in the early 1980s and one of the states with the biggest numbers still today. 

Last month, a Virginia woman was abducted at knifepoint by a group of MS-13 gang members.  They took her to Florida where police say they raped and assaulted her.  She eventually was able to fight off the men and escape.  The gang members have since been charged with false imprisonment. 

And this type of brutal force is not unusual for that gang.  It's believed that the reign of terror for America's largest gang, known as MS-13, extends now into 33 states.  And even in the toughest cities, police say these gang members are among the most dangerous criminals they have ever encountered. 


As part of a LIVE & DIRECT special investigation, I rode along with the Miami police gang unit to see firsthand how they're trying to keep these violent thugs off the streets. 

COSBY:  Miami is a paradise, with subtropical weather all year round, a tourist hub attracting thousands of vacationers each year, enjoying the beautiful beaches, the beautiful people, and the night life. 

But even in a sizzling city like Miami, with all that it has to offer, lurks the threat of the MS-13 gang.  Like other cities in the United States, Miami, too, is feeling the heat from a gang who wants to claim new territory. 

Miami Police Chief John Timoney arranged to get us inside the city's top gang unit as they prepare to hit the streets in search of MS-13 activity. 

Sergeant Milton Montas De Oca, who heads up the gang unit, keeps his team out in the field to make sure the MS-13 gang members feel law enforcement's presence. 

How tough are some of the members of MS-13? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  MS-13 is probably one of the most violent and structured gangs that we've come across in a long time.  MS-13 gang historically is a very violent gang.  They use violence to their advantage to make sure that whatever message they're sending out is heard by everyone. 

COSBY:  How do they handle officers?  Do they hesitate to go after officers? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  One of the officers was actually the spearhead of the investigation, they actually left a bullet with his name on it on his doorstep.  So when they do that, that shows a lot of courage on their part, you know, of being very bold.  Not only do they know where you live, but now they're putting a bullet with your name on it on your doorstep.

COSBY:  How young are some members of MS-13 that you've run across? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right down to middle-school age. 

COSBY:  Middle school? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  About 12, yes, middle school.  That's when we start to notice gang activity.  We focus on these kids because somewhat, for the most part, they are still, you know, save-able, you know, if we can get to them before the bad guys do. 

We do, and we're trying to help them get out of that frame of mind.  But the kids are influenced at that age.  They're very influential.  And if what's popular to become a thug and live a thug life, then that's what they're going to do. 

COSBY:  On this night, we saw markings where gang members staked out their territory.  Believe it or not, some of the markings were even plastered on the wall of an eatery where police officers are known to go. 

What does this mean? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, we don't know.  Somebody is claiming to be affiliated with these gangs. 

COSBY:  You seem to keep a particular eye on MS-13.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, the reason we do that is because we've seen what they're capable of doing.  And so here in the city of Miami we've been, you know, we've been somewhat fortunate that my team actually comes out here every night and, you know, we work these guys. 

COSBY:  To join the gang, MS-13, it's pretty brutal.  What do they ask the guys to do for initiation? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There's three different rituals that they perform.  They either walk the line, get jumped in, or for the females they have the option of being sexed in. 

COSBY:  Police Chief John Timoney says MS-13 shows no mercy and plenty of brutality. 

JOHN TIMONEY, MIAMI POLICE CHIEF:  It's a vicious, violent gang.  It has its own vicious, violent initiation, whether it's male or female.  You know, we've got some tough individuals that have gone through these initiation rights. 

There was such kind of a rude awakening to all of us because, you know, we were used to gangs just being in L.A.  But then all of a sudden in the last five to 10 years, they popped up, particularly MS-13 in communities we just wouldn't expect.  They surfaced, and they surfaced fast.

They're also engaged, by the way, in drug dealing and anything else on the underground economy, you know, on the underground economy that will, one, get them some revenues, get them attention, help them recruit more people. 

COSBY:  Well, keeping MS-13 gang members from carrying out their illegal and often very deadly activities has become a tough challenge for law enforcement. 

Joining us now to talk more about MS-13 is Robert Clark, supervisory special agent on the FBI National Gang Task Force.  And we also have with us a former gang member, Juan Pacheco, who is originally from El Salvador. 

Juan, why did you join the gang? 

So instead of, you know, sending out these messages, kind of like painting and sending all these emotional poison out there, and making people believe that Latinos are the cause of the gang problem, we need to come to the realization that gangs are the effect of ineffective communities. 


— Juan Pacheco

Former Gang Member


JUAN PACHECO, FORMER GANG MEMBER:  There were a lot of reasons.  You know, right now, we have certain situations out in our community where young people feel isolated, feel vulnerable.  There's a lack of recreation, a lack of role models. 

And one of the negative things that's been happening is that, you know, young people in our society—unfortunately, the media and people out there are painting every Latino to be a gang member.  And that's false. 

And also the other mistake that people in the media are making is in painting every gang member as a criminal.  Most of the young people that join these gangs join because they don't have a sense of belonging.  They join because they don't feel a sense of community. 

So instead of, you know, sending out these messages, kind of like painting and sending all these emotional poison out there, and making people believe that Latinos are the cause of the gang problem, we need to come to the realization that gangs are the effect of ineffective communities. 

COSBY:  No, and that's a very good point, especially and, Juan, in the case, you know, you come from another country.  A lot of people, there's a language barrier. 

PACHECO:  Definitely.

COSBY:  You're looking for somebody, I totally agree.  In this case, though, some of the folks, some of the folks who are members of MS-13, whether it's this gang or others—but MS-13 is a particularly brutal gang. 

Tell us about just the initiation of those who are gang members?  And, of course, again, it's not all Latinos.  But in this case those who are members of—tell us about some of the terms that I came to know from going out there.  The term “jump in,” “walk the line,” “sexed in,” tell us about these.  What is this?

PACHECO:  Well, there are certain rights of passage that young people have to go through to get inside and prove themselves, right?  It goes to show you how far communities have failed these young people. 

If a young person is willing to go out there and beat somebody up or hurt them, just think about the psychic negativity has dished upon this young person. 

COSBY:  And what is “sexed in”?  Walk us through the terms, Juan, what is “jump in” and “walk the line”?  What is that? 

PACHECO:  “Jump in” means you have to go through some kind of like physical assault.  Now, again, like I said, you know, if a young person goes through a physical assault, there's something wrong in his community.

COSBY:  Yes, what, a sense of desperation...

PACHECO:  Oh, a sense of desperation, a sense of disconnect, you know?

COSBY:  What is that?  What is “sexed in”?  What is that? 

PACHECO:  Well, you know, some girls actually have to go through their own initiation.  And it sounds just the way it sounds.  That's what it means.

COSBY:  They have to have sex with the other members? 

PACHECO:  And it's not only MS-13.  You know, other gangs have different, you know, similar ways of initiating young people. 

COSBY:  Now, you know, it is like, as you said, it is a very desperate. Robert, you've been tracking MS-13 for a long time.  How much of a problem and how hard is it to track?  Because a lot of them do come from these different countries where they're disjointed.  But they come through a lot of borders, right? 

ROBERT W. CLARK, MS-13 NATIONAL GANG TASK FORCE:  Yes, it is.  It becomes difficult because we have to try and coordinate the resources from not only throughout the United States at the state, local and federal level, but we have to try and coordinate the intelligence and information with our international partners, as well, with them going back-and-forth across the borders. 

And we need to understand that MS-13 has a presence in five countries.  So if you could imagine the daunting task that we have at trying to coordinate all of our efforts and investigative resources over five countries, it becomes difficult. 

COSBY:  I understand it's hard.  We're looking at shots of tattoos, too, Robert.  But a lot of them, what, don't use that as a marking anymore, right? 

CLARK:  Yes. 

COSBY:  How tough is that for you to track down? 

CLARK:  Well, what they have now become smarter because of law enforcement efforts and presence.  They know that the tattoos draws attention to them.  So a lot of them are starting to get tattoos removed and a lot of them are not getting tattooed at all. 

COSBY:  You know, Juan, we just have a little bit left, but you're doing some really good things helping folks get out of gangs, find other reasons for hope.  How tough has that been? 

CLARK:  Well, and again, in coordinating with our international partners, we have seen that these intervention and prevention programs can actually have a positive effect. 

And we want to see those things have such a positive effect in the United States that not only in our proactive efforts do we ensure the safety for our children for tomorrow, but the children of people who come from Central America looking for a better life in the United States, that we ensure that for them, as well. 

COSBY:  And, both of you, stick with us.  I want to bring in if I could now Marcy Forman.  She's the director of investigation for immigration and also customs enforcement. 

Marcy, some pretty incredible numbers about a lot of arrests that have taken place.  You've supplied us with 16 hot spots around the country where these gangs have been arrested in a variety of cities around the country.  How difficult is it to track down an organization like this, Marcy? 

MARCY FORMAN, DIRECTOR OF INVESTIGATIONS, ICE:  Well, it's working collaboratively with our partners, our state, local and federal partners.  We work together. 

The state and locals are the experts.  They're the boots on the ground.  And ICE, working in partnership with the state, local and federal agencies, have a very good success rate in identifying these individuals. 

COSBY:  You know, you also gave us a video of ICE deporting some MS-13 gang members.  How difficult is it to make sure these guys never get back into the country?  What are the other countries doing?  Are they cracking down? 

FORMAN:  We're certainly working in partnership with our foreign countries.  ICE has over 56 foreign attache offices located throughout the world.  And working with the foreign governments, we're looking to ensure that these individuals do not come back into the United States. 

COSBY:  And, Marcy, real quick, I know there's different levels.  There's obviously those who join for belonging, there's those who join for much more severe reasons.  Are you worried about what could be coming across the border? 

FORMAN:  Oh, we're certainly worried.  You know, we certainly want to maintain the integrity of our immigration system.  And it's certainly a vulnerability.  And we're looking to disrupt, dismantle and prosecute these individuals so they can no longer terrorize our communities.

COSBY:  You know, and Juan, I want to get you in just real quick, if I could here.  You're trying to help now some young kids avoid gang violence. 

PACHECO:  Definitely.

COSBY:  How tough has that been?  Do you feel like you're making some inroads, real quick?

PACHECO:  I think one of the toughest jobs that we have is letting the communities understand that if the suppression aspect, meaning, you know, incarceration, deportation and prosecution failed us in the late '80s, and we're trying that method again to solve a community and public health issue, it will fail us again.

We need to concentrate more efforts on the prevention and intervention side of helping our young brothers, you know.  But who out there thinks in their minds and in their hearts to go out in their streets and give a gang member a hug or give one of these young people who need help?

COSBY:  Yes, start at the root of the problem. 

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Last modified: 12/30/11