I came across this book a few weeks ago, as the trial of El Chapo wound down in a New York Federal Courthouse. Having read about the hunt for Russ Ulbricht, the founder of Silk Road, I was up for another modern crime story written by the federal agent who lead the chase.
Andrew Hogan was a Special Agent with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) who lead the hunt across Mexico for Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the infamous boss of the Sinaloa drug cartel. Guzmán escaped federal custody in Mexico twice. Before his conviction earlier this year in US Federal Court, he was captured on three separate occasions. He’s unlikely to complete the hat-trick in escapes when he is transferred to the Supermax prison in Colorado to serve out his life sentence for drug trafficking, kidnapping, and murder.
The story starts with the first time Chapo came onto the international stage in 1993. While trying to assassinate a target, his gunmen killed a beloved Catholic bishop at a public airport who happened to be in a vehicle that matched the description of the target vehicle. The fallout from that tactical error pushed Guzman to the top of everyone’s capture list.
Hogan picked up the trail early in his career while working out of the DEA Phoenix Field Office. Working with his task force, they found their way into the Sinaloa cartel money laundering operation. The Sinaloa Cartel had a multi-layered operation that insulated Chapo from direct interaction with his employees. Chapo communicated through text message to his various employees, eventually using a complex mirrored communication network to prevent capture. Hogan’s team began a targeted undercover operation into the money flow that yielded significant intelligence on the cartel’s operations.
This story shared several of the same disturbing themes with the Ulbricht investigation. First, despite Chapo’s stature within the global community, Hogan, a lone field agent, was the only agent targeting him. There was also the typical inter-agency turf wars, this time with an added flavor of CIA intervention. Thankfully, Hogan detested this lack of cooperation, and actively worked to deconflict and bring in other agencies with specializations. He worked in-depth with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), other DEA agents, as well as deputy US Marshals for the takedown. Each agency brought its own expertise to the table, and the result was a recipe for success.
In the book, Hogan gave detailed operational events, with over a quarter of the book dedicated to the climactic chase. In the end, they successfully captured El Chapo, beating all of the odds, with the extensive help of the Mexican Marines.
If you’re not a Spanish-speaker, you will struggle with this book. Hogan uses a substantial amount of Spanish slang and quotes, some of which are defined, many others are not. I also wish that he did a better job of delineating days and times when it came to the tactical operations. It was hard for me to keep up with events as they happened because time was not used consistently as a frame of reference.
Hogan left the DEA after the capture, only to see Guzman escape again, later to be recaptured and extradited. This was a great story of the dedication and professionalism in federal law enforcement.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★