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British agents meet with US agents about cartels

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EL PASO, Texas — As Mexican drug cartels make inroads into Europe, British authorities hope to learn investigation techniques and tactics the U.S. has developed in decades of battling drug-smuggling organizations along the border.

Three undercover agents from the Serious Organised Crime Agency of the United Kingdom are meeting with U.S. agents in El Paso, along the U.S. border with Mexico, to discuss drug trafficking organizations.

"The most important lesson that we have shared with SOCA, is that if they are not prepared to deal with the Mexican cartels, they will spread like a cancer and will entrench themselves in the economy and community in an attempt to 'legitimize' their illicit profits. They must also be aware of the violence that will undoubtedly follow," Oscar Hagelsieb with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations office in El Paso said Thursday.

Hagelsieb said authorities believe Mexico's Sinaloa cartel has drug distribution networks in England and has also established footholds in France and the Netherlands, among other places in Europe. He did not provide additional details.

Hagelsieb said Mexican crime groups have previously made attempts to establish a presence in Europe, "but not to the scope we are seeing now. The Sinaloa is the first cartel that can have an impact worldwide."

The British agents met with U.S. authorities in Texas to talk about surveillance tactics, special operations teams and cyber-crime units. The agents will head next week to Miami to learn about port operations in the U.S. On Thursday, they watched how ICE investigators and private contractors tore apart a car where a cargo of marijuana was intercepted. The seizure was made by Customs and Border Protection agents at the Paso del Norte Bridge in this West Texas city.

SOCA was created in 2006 and is responsible for investigating drug trafficking, criminal organizations, cybercrime, counterfeiting, the use of firearms and serious robberies.

In a statement read by one of the British undercover agents, the agency said it wanted its agents to come to El Paso because "it's always better to be exposed to the problems and the environment first hand."

"We want to learn from the special agents about the local, regional and international impact of the widely reported scale of drug trafficking that takes place across this border," the statement said.

The British agents were also interested in how El Paso has managed to remain one of the safest cities in the U.S. even though it's across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez, a city afflicted by one of the highest murder rates in the hemisphere.

Hagelsieb said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations collaborates with local agencies, targeting specific criminal groups and gathering intelligence on them. "We are able to intercept them at points of entry before they cross back and forth."