The War on Drugs has turned much of northern Mexico into cartel-controlled fiefdoms. Now drug lords are looking to their feudal predecessors for weaponry adaptable to the smuggling trade. On January 26, Mexican soldiers seized a nine-foot-tall, trailer-mounted catapult that hurled four-and-a-half-pound marijuana packets over the Arizona border.
Terry Nelson, a board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), spent three decades in the U.S. Border Patrol, the U.S. Customs Service, and the Department of Homeland Security. He says the catapult idea is new. Yet the nearby presence of a camera tower makes Nelson suspicious that smugglers intended to distract border agents, by "throwing 10,000 pounds of marijuana to move 100,000 pounds of cocaine four miles away."
Drug runners "don't play by Marquis of Queensbury rules," says Nelson. He tells of drugs moved in boats with false-bottomed gas tanks, clothes laced with liquefied cocaine, and boa constrictors with bellies full of heroin. Smugglers "can sit for days on end to come up with different methods," he says, and drug warriors stop less than one-fifth of their schemes.