Did US DEA forces pose as Mexican troops to capture drug kingpin?

Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ GuzmánThe notorious drug lord Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán captured the attention of the world’s media a few weeks ago, when he escaped from a maximum security prison in Mexico through a secret tunnel. But his cinematic prison breakout may have overshadowed the story of his arrest, which, according to recent reports, may be as interesting as that of his latest escape from prison.

Guzmán was arrested in a pre-dawn raid on February 22, 2014. He was reportedly captured in Mazatlán, a resort town in Mexico’s west-coast state of Sinaloa, by an elite squad of Mexican marines. The marines, we were told at the time, were receiving crucial intelligence support from a several United States government agencies. Or at least that is the official story of the drug kingpin’s arrest. On July 18, however, Mexico’s leading investigative newsmagazine, Proceso, published a lead article alleging that Guzmán was not arrested by Mexican marines, but by American operatives disguised as Mexican marines.

The article was written by J. Jesús Esquivel, a longtime reporter on intelligence and security affairs, who has authored two books on the history of operations conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other American security and intelligence agencies in Mexico. In his July 18 article, Esquivel says he was told by two American officials —who he does not name— that Mexican marines had little to do with Guzmán’s capture. The drug lord was tracked down by the US Marshals Service and the DEA through a web of informants and electronic tracking devices. Once they knew they had him, he two agencies, supported by a third American agency, which Esquivel does not identify, raided Guzmán’s hotel suite in Mazatlán, dressed in Mexican marine uniforms and driving vehicles bearing Mexican navy insignia.

The Intercept, which covered Proceso’s story on Thursday, correctly stated that, if the newsmagazine’s allegations are true, they would not mark the first time that American government agents posing as Mexican troops have conducted counternarcotics operations in Mexico. The practice has been revealed before, most recently by The Wall Street Journal. But, if true, Proceso’s allegations would seem to indicate an unprecedented degree of operational activity by US intelligence and security agencies south of the border. Additionally, it is alleged that the American agencies deliberately chose to keep their Mexican counterparts in the dark until after Guzmán had been captured, because they feared that the drug kingpin would be notified by informants inside the Mexican government. If this information is accurate, it would indicate that the line separating the Mexican drug cartels from the country’s government remains markedly blurry.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 24 July 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/07/24/01-1742/

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Revealed: DEA’s massive phone tapping scheme that preceded NSA’s

Drug Enforcement AdministrationBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
For nearly a decade before 9/11 and the controversial phone tapping program enacted by the National Security Agency, another American intelligence organization, the Drug Enforcement Administration, operated a mass phone surveillance scheme. The scheme, which is no longer in effect, collected data on billions of phone exchanges involving Americans and became a blueprint for NSA’s post-9/11 monitoring efforts. The DEA surveillance program was first disclosed in a report by the Department of Justice in January of this year. But its history, as well as its full extent, were fully revealed on Tuesday by USA Today.

The paper said the DEA program was initiated in 1992, during the presidency of George Bush, Sr., and was aimed at monitoring call data to and from “designated foreign countries” that were “linked to drug trafficking”. But the program grew to monitor data on every call made to and from the US to as many as 116 nations, said the paper, including every country in the Americas. In all, billions of calls were monitored in the over two decades that the program lasted. Citing interviews with “more than a dozen current and former intelligence officials”, USA Today said the DEA surveillance program did not access the content of intercepted phone calls, but rather the pen-register data, namely which numbers were dialed and when.

The intercepted information enabled the DEA to trace transnational networks of traffickers and money handlers used by large drug cartels. Information acquired through the program was also used for non-narcotics-related investigations, said the paper. However, the two-decade-long program did not utilize court warrants, and was thus very similar to the NSA’s controversial wiretapping scheme revealed by a series of whistleblowers in the years following 9/11. USA Today said the DEA stopped the surveillance program in September of 2013. Shortly after that, said the paper, the database containing the information collected through the program was deliberately purged.

News you may have missed #890

Kim Kuk-giBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►US DEA agents given prostitutes and gifts by drug cartels. US Drug Enforcement Administration agents allegedly had “sex parties” with prostitutes hired by Colombian drug cartels overseas over a period of several years, according to a report released Thursday by the Justice Department. Former police officers in Colombia also alleged that three DEA supervisory special agents were provided money, expensive gifts and weapons from drug cartel members. Seven of the 10 DEA agents alleged to have participated in gatherings with prostitutes and received suspensions of two to 10 days.
►►Polish lieutenant accused of spying for Russia. A Polish Air Force pilot allegedly copied several thousand flight plans for F-16 fighters and handed them to Russian intelligence. According to Polish media, the airman was arrested by authorities last November, but the information has only recently emerged. The pilot was allegedly suspended from his duties, his passport was confiscated, and he was banned from leaving the country. Some reports suggest that soon after the arrest of the lieutenant, a Russian diplomat was expelled from the country for spying.
►►North Korea claims arrest of South Korean spies. North Korea said it had arrested two South Koreans engaged in espionage. The two arrested men, identified as Kim Kuk-gi (see photo) and Choe Chun-gil, were presented at a press conference in Pyongyang attended by journalists and foreign diplomats. A North Korean media report said Kim and Choe had gathered information about North Korea’s “party, state and military secrets”. It was not immediately clear where or when the two men were arrested. In Seoul, the country’s intelligence agency said the charge that the two men were working for the agency was “absolutely groundless”.

Will former US government informant face terror charges in India?

David HeadleyBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A former United States government informant, who helped an Islamist militant group plan the 2008 Mumbai attacks in India, has been sentenced to 35 years in prison. David Coleman Headley, a former US Drug Enforcement Administration informant, was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2009 for helping to plot an attack by Islamist radicals on a Danish newspaper. It eventually became apparent that Headley had been a member of Pakistani militant group Lashkar e-Taiba and had also helped plan the 2008 attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai. The terrorist plot involved at least a dozen attacks on tourist and other civilian targets in India’s largest city, conducted by small cells of highly trained LeT members who had arrived from Pakistan by boat. The coordinated attacks, which began on November 26 and ended three days later, killed 164 and wounded over 300 people. According to the FBI, Headley, who was born to a Pakistani father and an American mother, took advantage of his Western manners and physique to travel to Mumbai posing as an American tourist, in order to help map out the LeT operation. On Thursday, a court in Chicago sentenced Headley to 35 years in prison. Prior to his sentencing, Headley had pleaded guilty to all 12 counts brought against him by US prosecutors and is said to be cooperating with authorities —which is reportedly why he was spared the death penalty. However, the question in the minds of many terrorism observers is, will Headley be extradited to India to face charges there for what is often referred to as ‘India’s 9/11’? The answer is not so simple. Read more of this post

Judge orders CIA to release files on drug kingpin Pablo Escobar

Pablo EscobarBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
In the late 1980s, it was nearly impossible to sit through a primetime news bulletin without coming across the name ‘Pablo Escobar’. Born in 1949 in the town of Rionegro, Colombia, Escobar rose to become the leader of the Medellín cartel, history’s most notorious narcotics smuggling ring. By 1986, the Medellín cartel controlled over 80 percent of the global cocaine market, shipping daily around 15 tons of the drug (worth an estimated street value of $500,000) to the United States. In 1989, Forbes magazine included Escobar on his list of the world’s richest persons, with an estimated net worth of $3 billion. By that time, the Medellín cartel had become powerful enough to directly threaten the very institutional integrity of the Colombian state. At the same time, Escobar carefully cultivated his ‘Robin Hood’ image by regularly building hospitals, schools, and churches in some of Colombia’s most impoverished regions. He was thus able to surround himself with a sea of grateful and devoted supporters, who directly depended on his generosity for their livelihood. They also shielded him from the reach of the Colombian and United States government forces, which repeatedly went after him without success. Eventually, the Colombian government, in association with the US Drug Enforcement Administration and the Central Intelligence Agency, managed to stop Escobar by creating a rival organization called Los PEPES —a Spanish-language acronym that stands for ‘People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar’. Los PEPES, which consisted of members of rival drug smuggling cartels, as well as trained mercenaries belonging to Colombian rightwing militias, went after Escobar’s closest associates with indescribable ruthlessness. They hunted down and eventually tortured and killed several of his relatives, advisors and bodyguards. Ultimately, in 1993, they helped the Colombian National Police corner Escobar and shoot him dead at a Medellín barrio. The celebrations in Washington and Bogotá didn’t last long; as soon as Los PEPES disbanded, many of its leading members regrouped to found the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a rightwing paramilitary group that has since killed thousands of civilians in Colombia’s bitter civil war. The AUC, which funds its operations through kidnappings and drug trafficking, is today a designated terrorist group by most Western governments, including the United States and the European Union. Read more of this post

Is US considering transferring convicted arms smuggler to Russia?

Viktor BoutBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Former Soviet military intelligence officer Viktor Bout is one of the world’s most notorious weapons dealers. In 2008, Bout, known informally as ‘the merchant of death’, was finally arrested in Bangkok by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, with the cooperation of the Royal Thai Police. He was eventually extradited to the US and convicted to a 25-year prison term, which he is serving at the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center in New York. Last week, it emerged that the US Bureau of Prisons was about to transfer Bout to the Florence Federal Correctional Facility in Colorado. Widely referred to as ‘Supermax’, the Florence facility houses some of America’s most notorious prison inmates. It seems a proper fit for someone like Bout, who for decades supplied weapons to African warlords, who is accused by the United States of having supplied weapons to the Taliban, and who was arrested while trying to sell arms to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). On Tuesday, however, it was suddenly reported that the Bureau had decided to delay Bout’s transfer to Supermax. Bout’s attorney, Albert Y. Dayan, said he had been notified in a letter that the Bureau was “re-evaluating where to send Bout” and that it was “reconsidering its plan” to send the notorious weapons merchant to the Colorado maximum security facility. As might be expected, Dayan called the news “a credit [to] the Bureau of Prisons and the US Attorney’s office”; but the question, of course, is why did the Bureau decide on the delay, and what does the US Department of Justice know about it? The answer could perhaps be found in an interview given on Wednesday by no other than the US Attorney General, Eric Holder. Read more of this post

Did US agencies fail to heed warnings of 2008 Mumbai attacks?

David Coleman Headley

David Headley

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
We have written before that the CIA alerted Indian authorities prior to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people, including six American citizens. The incident, which was perpetrated by Pakistani-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, is routinely described as the most sophisticated and spectacular terrorist strike since 9/11.  But there are numerous questions about the complex relationship between the United States, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, which is widely believed to be protecting the terrorist group. Many of these questions center on David Coleman Headley, an American citizen, born in Washington, DC, who is currently in US custody, having confessed to helping plan the Mumbai attacks. According to Headley’s own court testimony, he worked for the ISI; moreover, despite early denials, the US government eventually admitted that Headley was a paid informant for the US Drug Enforcement Administration. There is, however, intense speculation in India and Pakistan that Headley, who is of Pakistani background, is in fact a CIA agent-gone-rogue, who used his CIA connections to pursue his militant plans undisturbed (something with the CIA flatly denies). Such rumors are reinforced by the US authorities’ puzzling refusal to allow Indian government investigators of the Mumbai attacks access to Headley. The curious relationship between US intelligence agencies and David Headley has been probed by several media outlets, including The New York Times, which in March of 2010 pointed out that Headley “moved effortlessly between the United States, Pakistan and India for nearly seven years, training at a militant camp in Pakistan on five occasions”. Now a new documentary by investigative group ProPublica, which aired on Tuesday as part of PBS’ Frontline television series, has unearthed new information that shows US government agencies failed to heed “repeated warnings over seven years”, which might have helped prevent the Mumbai attacks. Read more of this post