"I take these recent threats seriously," said George Grayson, a professor at the College of William & Mary and an expert on Mexican politics. "These cartels have such firepower and have so many cadres that if you're on the wrong side, you're life is certainly in danger."A little more caution on the part of the authorities in Nogales seems completely prudent, even if the threat is false or just some local boss blowing smoke. It's hard to know exactly what sort of logic is guiding the many different players in the region, and it only takes one to act on the threat.
Grayson said the threat likely came from the Sinaloa Cartel, which is headed by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who is being sought by American and Mexican authorities. The U.S. State Department is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.
"The cartels are more likely to go after local police," Grayson said. "You threaten an FBI agent and it does sound alarm bells across Washington. The same with Drug Enforcement Administration."
Phil Jordan, former DEA intelligence chief along the U.S.-Mexico border, believes Guzman may have been behind the threats in order to divert law enforcement attention away from the heavily-travelled drug corridor between El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico. But he doesn't think Mexican cartels will actually target American law enforcement.
"Let me tell you something about the cartels – whether they're from Colombia or Mexico or Russia – they do not under any circumstances want to spend time in American jails," Jordan told ABCNews.com. "The cartels are not going to take us on on American soil. They have cells all over the U.S. but they don't want that type of attention."
Jordan added, "Chapo Guzman is no dummy. If he can put out stuff like that so we can send reinforcements to the Nogales sector, he knows we'll have to send people from the Texas border to help and you'll see an increase in drug loads moving through Texas."
However, even assuming it is legitimate, it seems unlikely that it's coming from Chapo or someone of his stature. As Jordan says, he's no dummy, so why would he risk the redoubled efforts from the US government that would come from targeting American law-enforcement, especially over a mere $250,000? That would be pretty silly indeed. (And I think the distinction Grayson draws between local law enforcement and the FBI is exaggerated; if a foreign gang took to killing American authorities for doing their job, it would be a huge, huge deal, even if they were just locals.) If we estimate his fortune at $250 million (which is far more conservative than the most common figure tossed about), than the shipment in question, of which he wouldn't be entitled to 100 percent, would represent 1/1000th of his total worth. The status quo is Chapo's friend, and targeting honest American cops would upend it. After so many years in the game, you'd think Chapo would know that losing $250,000 from time to time is part of the equation, an equation that is nonetheless very profitable for him.