This Amistad Dam scenario portrays a threat against an earthen dam, shared between the US and Mexico. The discussion is focused on US-based activities while assuming that additional efforts would be undertaken by the Mexican government.

 Amistad Dam Background

  • 5 mile riprap dam on the Rio Grande River
  • Reservoir volume: 5,658,600 acre ft.
  • Built in 1969 with hydroelectric generation added in 1983
  • Stores water for irrigation, provides seasonal flood control, and generates electricity (9 turbines generating 132 MW)
  • Vulnerabilities against gates and/or water intakes for power generation
  • The dam serves as a bridge and International Border Crossing operated by CBP
  • Dam has shared ownership between US & Mexico
  • Controlled by International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), operating 4-6 dams on Rio Grande
  • The reservoir is crossed by 2 highway bridges (TX-90 & TX 277) and one rail bridge

Cartel Motivations

  • Revenge against rival cartel operating down-river communities
  • Immediate financial gain immediately following the event Drug Trade – Transporting large amount of drugs into US
  • Human Trafficking – Transporting Illegals into US
  • Human Trafficking – Secondary goal to assisting with the import of 2 terror operatives (Hezbollah/Al Qaeda) into the US
  • Weapons Trafficking – Transporting Weapons into Mexico

Scenario Detail

Wednesday, 14:15 CST – DHS CBP receives information from Mexico that Cartel A, based in Guadalupe, Mexico plans to destroy a dam in effort to defend its dominance in the North Eastern region of Mexico. Intelligence was collected following the arrest of a Mexican individual in Ciudad Tecun Uman, Guatemala. The individual was hoping to get out of an automobile accident conviction by sharing details of an upcoming terrorism event being planned in Mexico.

The details provided were unclear, but, analysts working off the tip were able to quickly compile information from other sources which indicate a credible threat with a general area targeted in the North East region of Mexico.

Wednesday, 17:00 CST – The details compiled provide no information on timing, and only minimal location details, but do determine an immediate threat. The general scope identifies that the Cartel A intends to eradicate their rivals in a Mexican river city and take over their rivals business in the immediate area. Efforts are in place to determine potential target cities based on their location, the name of their rivals, and the presence of the rival cartel in communities across the North East region.

Wednesday, 20:00 CST – Authorities in US border towns along the Rio Grande are given notification of the general threat and requested to be cautious and prepared.

Wednesday, 23:00 CST – It is determined that Cartel B is a significant rival of Cartel A with factions in Reynosa, Matamoros, Guerra Los, and Nuevo Laredo. Specific location, date and time information has not been identified and notifications are sent to US communities in the region. Analysts are unable to determine if Cartel A is in possession of the munitions capable of achieving their goals. It is also noted that a similar Cartel Threat was made public in 2010 against the Falcon Dam with the goal of disrupting the business of their rivals, but it was not acted upon.

Thursday, 03:30 CST – Intelligence collected over the past 12 hours supports the reported claim, but, the details on a specific target have not been discovered. Cartel A is believed to have sufficient dynamite and gunpowder to destroy an earthen dam and may have military-grade heavy weapons available as well. An analyst team has been assigned to model the impacts following the destruction of all dams located along the Rio Grande River to determine the munitions required for full destruction.

Thursday, 06:00 CST – Notice is sent by officials at DHS outlining the credible threat, and identifying that they will be providing modeled impacts as soon as they are available. It is advised that security along the borders is to be increased in anticipation of an attack at one of the dams.

Thursday, 06:45 CST – Analysts determine that Amistad and Falcon are the probable targets.

Thursday, 07:30 CST – CBP deploys UAV resources to assist reconnaissance efforts in low population areas.

Thursday, 09:00 CST – Additional resources have been mobilized to support security efforts at the Amistad and Falcon Dams with an ETA of 11:00 EST. Notifications have been sent to the Mexican Army and Military Police of the threat analysis and related US actions.

Thursday, 10:30 CST – Analysis of the potential down-stream impacts from failures of both dams is available and has been distributed. Planning efforts are being made for the provision of disaster assistance to US citizens to include temporary housing, food, water, and shelter activities.

Thursday, 11:30 CST – Confirmation has been received that additional staff from CBP and ICE are on-site at both Amistad and Falcon dams as well as other strategic locations along the Rio Grande. Additional Intelligence has surfaced, identifying that Cartel A may be assisting two Lebanese terrorists in crossing into the US as part of the post-event chaos. Analysts have also identified the potential for post-event activities involving human smuggling and the transport of large quantities of drugs in the immediate aftermath of the event.

Thursday, 14:00 CST – Field intelligence is collecting large amounts of local discussion concerning the event, further supporting its credibility. Citizens in the Mexican communities along the Rio Grande are beginning to flee after word-of-mouth notifications spread across the region, with the largest evacuation happening in Ciudad Acuna. The State of Texas has issued Voluntary Evacuation Notifications for all communities along the Rio Grande. The state is estimating less than 25% participation from the TX citizens. Traffic corridors are showing minimal sign of evacuation.

Thursday, 16:15 CST – The Mexican Military Police have moved resources into the area. The arrest of a key individual from Cartel B in Mexico confirms that the threat is credible with the target being either Amistad or Falcon Dam.

Thursday, 18:00 CST – Helicopter resources from the US and Mexico have begun to work together in a coordinated patrol of the Northern half of the Rio Grande River. US citizens leaving the area are finding minimal difficulties with traffic. The state of Texas is reporting that local law enforcement have observed several citizens militia-type camps in higher elevations near Lake View and Del Rio, Texas.

Thursday, 19:43 CST – A Mexican Police helicopter discovers a small black boat heading inbound to Amistad Dam, along the Mexican shoreline. The immediate visual and FLIR scan identify four individuals, large firearms, and what appears to be diving equipment. The initial verbal warning to the boat results in an immediate gun-fire return. The helicopter retreats over Mexico and away from the river. Moments later a second helicopter approaches aggressively and neutralizes the boat.

Thursday, 20:30 CST – The Mexican Police clear the river of additional threats and report that the attack on the boat resulted in three Cartel fatalities and one arrest. The immediate examination of the boat debris confirm the intent to place two explosive devices at the base of the Amistad Dam.

Thursday, 21:00 CST – Aggressive helicopter and ground efforts have secured large vehicles on both sides of the border, North West of Amistad Dam, West of Comstock, TX, and Immediately East of the confluence of the Pecos and Rio Grande Rivers. Multiple arrests were made as individuals fled the vehicles. Further inspection of the trucks results in the seizure of large quantities of marijuana packaged for manual human transport across the river into the US. In addition, efforts were in place to receive human cargo into the US. It is unclear how many individuals were involved and if all have been accounted for.

Friday, 01:12 CST – A service-type van traveling towards the Unites States stops on top of the Amistad Dam near the flagpoles. CBP Agents immediately take notice and begin an aggressive approach to the vehicle. Twelve individuals emerge from the van with dark clothing, protective armor, and automatic weapons. The resulting gun fight leaves all 13 insurgents dead, as well as two US agents.

Friday, 02:00 CST – The truck remains on the dam with the crossing closed indefinitely. US casualties have been removed from the scene and agents move in to inspect the vehicle and fully secure the scene. High intensity lights have been moved-in to assist. The hasty inspection of the truck reveals three IED-type bombs with un-set manual timer detonators in backpacks. Resources have been requested to secure the explosives and clear the scene at daybreak.

Friday, 14:00 CST – Patrols continue with no additional discoveries. Amistad and Falcon Dams have been closed completely. Resources have arrived at Amistad Dam to deal with the IEDs and authorities are awaiting daybreak to begin the crime scene recording, analysis and removal of the truck and related debris.

Anticipated Impact

  • Flooding effect on personnel and property downstream to Laredo and Nuevo Laredo
  • Falcon Dam (south of Laredo) would slow down the flooding but would require controlled release and would still impact the Rio Grande downstream of Laredo to Brownsville
  • Displacement of people and property in advance of event
  • Damage to transportation infrastructure
  • Damage to residential, commercial, and public property
  • Loss of life due to flooding
  • Long-term closure of Amistad border crossing
  • Potential to over-top and damage Falcon Dam
  • Dry riverbed would support free up-stream movement across border

Intelligence & Law Enforcement Geospatial Support

Various Intelligence & Law Enforcement partners would participate in geospatial-specific support activities related to this event. The following are anticipated actions by responsible entity.


  • Coordinating US air resources for the overall effort.
  • Coordinating with Mexico on US aircraft activities.
  • UAV resources deployed from Sierra Vista, AZ to assist in monitoring border areas with low populations.
  • Mobilizing on-site resources to monitor air traffic along the northeast Texas/Mexico border.
  • Organizing US Air Resources to patrol border in coordination with Mexico.

CBP Commissioners Situation Room             

  • CBP analysts identify Amistad and Falcon Dams as the probable targets, with the destruction of Amistad having the highest impact.
  • Notification sent to all field agents in the region of the credible threat, with geospatial data maintained to track agents.
  • Assessments are in progress to dispatch agents to specific target locations based on their current locations.
  • Spatial data reports are provided to partners on agent locations to include US ports of entry from Amistad Dam, South/South East to the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Map products are provided within a status report identifying all impacted Ports of Entry.
  • Analysis determines that the communities of Reynosa, Matamoros, Guerra Los, and Nuevo Laredo require detailed notifications on the threat.

CBP distributes the past Falcon Dam Scenario information to all LE entities as a preparedness measure.

Further analysis of the intelligence gathered is reviewed by CBP analysts, identifying Amistad Dam as the primary and Falcon Dam as the secondary target.

Notifications are sent to the Mexican Army and Military Police of the threat and related US actions.

Analysts work to determine relevant US road locations for temporary Tactical Checkpoints.


The DHS NOC is notified immediately of the initial threat and analysts begin working with the NICC to perform a hasty assessment of all dams in the North East area of Mexico, within 50 miles of the Texas border.

Spatial data and text reports on all dams of concern are posted to the NOC COP. All spatial data posted is available to partners on the on DHS GII.

Notice is sent to DHS officials outlining the credible threat, and identifying that they will be modeled impacts as soon as they are available. It is advised that security along the borders should be increased in anticipation of an attack at one of the dams.


Producing map/report products for the North Eastern Rio Grande watershed

Shares a publication from a similar Cartel threat in 2010 against the Falcon Dam through the Comprehensive Infrastructure COP, HSIN-CI, and the NOC COP. The previous scenario was intended to disrupt the business of their rivals, however the plans were not acted upon.

Request is sent to DHS HITRAC/NISAC (within NPPD OCIA) to provide individual modeled impacts of catastrophic failures of Amistad and Falcon dams identifying the impact to down-stream communities to include impacted population in both countries and effects on Critical Infrastructure.

Briefing maps are developed and include site photos with down-stream population estimates for Amistad and Falcon dams.

Analytic models of the potential down-stream impacts from failures of both dams is available and has been distributed directly to the stakeholder community and through HSIN, with flood extents uploaded to the GII.

Reports are provided by the TX Protective Security Advisor (PSA) identifying CI assets along the Rio Grande in the areas of Amistad and Falcon Dams. It is requested that the spatial data is provided to the modeling efforts.

TX PSA requests that secondary analysis is conducted to identify cascading effects and interdependencies of the identified CI.


The NRCC is activated immediately following the threat notification.

Coordination begins with the FEMA Region 6 RRCC to estimate potential impacts to the US population.

Coordinating with the FEMA Modeling Task Force (MOTF) to explore additional modeling and geospatial data resources.

The Geospatial Information Unit is augmented with Technical Specialists from USGS and USACE to assist in performing spatial analysis of the extent of water/flood damage following a catastrophic failure of Amistad and/or Falcon Dam.


Upon activation, FEMA Region 6 begins to assist HITRAC in their modeling efforts.

Geospatial analysts compile key local datasets to provide to HITRAC.

Geospatial data specific to the Texas border communities is posted to the DHS GII and FEMA geospatial portal.

Modeled flood extent data from HITRAC is utilized in planning for the provision of disaster assistance to US citizens to include temporary housing, food, water, and shelter.


Leading efforts to determine the munition requirements to destroy an earthen dam. Request sent to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) for analysis.

List distributed to all Law Enforcement entities identifying US communities along the Rio Grande in coordination with the state of Texas Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in preparation for a community alert notification. Agents mobilized in preparation for escalated LE efforts in the area,

Report shared at Secret level identifying munition requirements to destroy Amistad or Falcon dams. Analysts working with CBP to determine the potential Cartel munition inventory.


Analysts working with CBP to support geospatial requirements of the situation.

Agents dispatched/deployed to offices in area cities in preparation for investigation activities.

Aerial resonance resources based in Corpus Christi, TX are offered for support.

Geospatial analysts assisting CBP in maintaining data feeds to the GII in effort to provide a single Blue-Force tracking mechanism for the overall effort.

Staff dispatched to Amistad Dam to support the clean-up efforts and investigate issues involving weapons, drugs, and human trafficking.


Staff embedded with all entities through existing requirements and relationships.

Compiling imagery and Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) data on the two dams to support additional analysis across the intelligence community.

Notification goes out to all partner entities identifying that HSIP data is fully available on the GII and HSIN.

Providing high optical imagery for the region. Imagery acquisitions have been prioritized around dams and built community.

An additional team arrives to support the incident and takes the lead on collecting and compiling vector data for the region to support the situation. Data is being staged initially on HSIN and SIPRNET.


Monitoring the situation and prepared to provide as-needed support to LE partners.

Maintaining all incident information in the Counter Surveillance Unit Reporting (CSUR) Database.

Agents mobilizing to support the requirements of their protection mission and any event issues with funds moving across the border.

Texas Fusion Center

Providing regional intelligence to other federal partners.

SME support available to assist analyst teams.

Geospatial analysts working with the NICC to model CI impacts and interdependencies.

Local crime analysist are monitoring and analyzing the spatial and current crime trends in the US border communities for potential trends related to the event.

Coordinating geospatial products with FEMA Region 6.

Monitoring new and recent SAR reports in the area through the ISE.

Texas Department of Public Safety

Notifies US border communities about a general potential threat and requests an overall increase in preparedness.

State/local LE resources sent to border communities through Mutual Aid agreements.

The TX Emergency Alert System (EAS) sends alert to citizens, notifying them of a voluntary evacuation due to an immediate threat against Amistad and Falcon dams. EAS focused on areas in low elevations along the Rio Grande.

TX National Guard activated to support local LE efforts along Rio Grande.

Updated on September 1, 2018