Courtesy of the Washington Post and Wikileaks, a glimpse into US officials' view of catching Chapo:
"Mexico's defense secretary, Gen. Guillermo Galvan, told Adm. Dennis C. Blair... that the Mexican army was implementing plans to capture [Joaquin El Chapo] Guzman, 'but that Chapo commands the support of a large network of informers and has security circles of up to 300 men that make launching capture operations difficult,' according to a report sent by U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual on Oct 26, 2009 and released by WikiLeaks..."
"In his meeting with U.S. counterparts, Galvan complained that it was difficult to mount joint operations with Mexican police because 'leaks of planning and information by corrupted officials have compromised past efforts'."
All very true. What's most interesting to me is the timing: shortly before this cable was sent last year, I was in Sinaloa, in Badiraguato, doing some research on Chapo. Some good sources told me that Chapo was moving around more frequently than ever, and that actually, he was often traveling with only one other bodyguard rather than a big security detail as he usually did. On occasion, I was told, he even drove the truck himself – no authorities would ever suspect a major drug lord of driving his own truck and appearing to be just a farmer.
Still, the information about security circles is no doubt true in general terms. It's quite commonly known that when Chapo arrives in a certain location, that location is vetted (kind of like when a politician or diplomat visits an area) to make sure there is no room for error. I've always maintained that one reason Chapo hasn't been caught is that it's impossible for the Mexican military to simply bomb the village where he happens to be hiding out, because innocent casualties would be far too high. Chapo's said to be smart like that – he not only surrounds himself with loyal henchmen, but also with ordinary locals.
Regarding the mention of informants, this is the real problem and probably not highlighted enough. In 2008, the bodyguard of the general in charge of Sinaloan anti-drug operations was arrested for leaking information to Chapo's people. That bodyguard knew the military's EVERY move – how can one expect the army to catch Chapo if he knows what the general is planning even before the general announces it to his own men?
This is why the marines have been so useful in anti-drug operations, and why they'll definitely need to play a role going forward, particularly if Chapo is to be caught or killed before the end of the Calderon presidency.