Read an excerpt of Andrew Hogan’s new book about his experience: “Hunting El Chapo.”
“Hunting El Chapo: The Inside Story of the American Lawman Who Captured the World’s Most Wanted Drug-Lord”
By: Andrew Hogan and Douglas Century
Brady and I knew that we’d need to refocus SEMAR back onto the manhunt for Chapo, so we went directly to meet with Admiral Garra in his office. I could see that Garra was tired, his eyes dark and puffy; he was clearly disappointed by the results of the Mayo raid.
Garra seemed annoyed by our very presence in his doorway. He didn’t say a word; he merely raised his eyebrows as an indication for us to get to the point.
“Señor,” I said. “Top-Tier hasn’t dropped.” “You’ve still got him within that block?”
“Yes, surprisingly, Top-Tier is still pinging in the same place,” I said. “Chapo seems comfortable in Culiacán. We might turn this to our advantage. He must think that all the military activity in La Paz was for the mission launched against Mayo. He’s still going about his business. He just had flowers sent to all his girls for El Día del Amor y la Amistad, but there’s no way he’s coming out. Not now.”
“So you’re suggesting . . . ?” “Going to ground,” I nodded. “In Culiacán?”
The name of the cartel stronghold—often called the City of Crosses, for its makeshift shrines to hundreds of murdered narcos—hung between us for a long time in the command center barracks.
A mug shot parade flashed across my mind: Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, Rafael Caro Quintero, Héctor Luis “El Güero” Palma, Amado Carrillo Fuentes, Mayo Zambada, Manuel Salcido Uzeta (a.k.a. “Cochiloco”), the Arellano Félix brothers, Chapo Guzmán . . . virtually all of Mexico’s most infamous narcotraffickers had called Culiacán home. Going into the capital of Sinaloa was a daunting thought, like trying to wrest control of Chicago away from Al Capone’s grip back in the heyday of Prohibition.
I stared at Garra, and he at me. We both seemed to acknowl- edge that it was the only option, but we also both knew the im- mense dangers ahead.
Nothing like this had ever been considered, let alone attempted. For SEMAR, and for two American federal agents, leading the capture op in Culiacán would be like walking on the moon.
GARRA PICKED UP his phone and made a quick call to Admiral Furia in Mexico City. He turned to look at Brady and me.
“Pack your gear tonight,” Garra said. “We’ll leave at oh-eight- hundred hours tomorrow.”
That evening, the marines threw together a quick going-away party in a remote sandy corner of the base, among the cardónes— giant cactuses—and blue fan palm trees. They lit a bonfire, and SEMAR had their own version of a food truck slinging plates full of carnitas, tacos de barbacoa, and the marines’ favorite, tacos de sangre—soft-shelled corn tortillas filled with blood sausage.
Sitting around the fire, I thought back to when I was eighteen, those Thursday nights with our varsity football team in Patton- ville, when we’d huddle around the campfire and share stories in preparation for the big game under the Friday night lights.
I sensed a similar camaraderie taking shape there at La Paz— jokes cracked in Spanish, blood tacos devoured, cold cans of Tecate downed one after another. All the marines were in high spirits, knowing that in the morning they’d be leaving La Paz behind for good.
I nodded at Brady. We were about to make the big leap.
We would be crossing El Charco and heading into the heart of Sinaloa itself.
THE NEXT MORNING, February 15, 2014, I woke before sunrise and lay on my bunk, staring at the ceiling. The more I thought about entering Sinaloa, the more I felt my gut tighten. I reached for my iPhone and texted my father:
“Can’t even begin to explain what’s happened the last week, Dad. We’re going to have to root him out of his hole, and it’s not going to be pretty. But it’s our only option.”
“When you going in?” my dad texted back.
“We’re gearing up now. Moving bases and command center into enemy territory. We wave the green flag Monday,” I wrote. “Going to burn the city down.”