Mexican drug cartels distribute COVID-19 ‘care packages’ to build community capital

Gulf Cartel MexicoDrug cartels are organizing sophisticated ‘care package’ drives throughout Mexico in an attempt to build political capital and solidify their community support. Nearly every drug cartel in Mexico is organizing its own handout distribution activities, including the Sinaloa Cartel, the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG), the Gulf Cartel, Los Viagras, and a host of splinter groups that came out of Los Zetas.

One of the most well-organized ‘care package’ drives is being carried out by the Sinaloa Cartel. The criminal group’s leader, Joaquín Guzmán (known as “El Chapo”), was arrested in 2016 and is currently incarcerated in a Super Max Federal Prison in the United States state of Colorado. But his family continues to run his operations, including his fashion/streetwear brand, “El Chapo 701”. The brand’s name refers to a 2009 article in Forbes magazine, which listed Guzmán as the world’s 701st richest person, with an estimated fortune of $1 billion.

The Sinaloa Cartel has published videos showing community drives carried out by young people wearing facemasks bearing a stenciled rendition of Guzmán’s portrait —reminiscent of the silhouetted portrait of the Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevarra. They are seen handing out cardboard boxes bearing Guzmán’s portrait and information about his company. The boxes reportedly contain hand sanitizer, oil, rice, sugar, salt, toilet paper, and other necessities.

Dante Sorianello, the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in San Antonio, Texas, said these campaigns by the drug cartels are designed to build “community support”, which the cartels then use “as a buffer between them and the entities of law and order”. Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, adds that these community assistance drives by criminal organizations are not new in Latin America. In the past, drug cartels have built hospitals in Peru, soccer fields in Brazil and churches in Colombia. This is simply the latest manifestation of a time-tested practice by criminal organizations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 May 2020 | Permalink

US arrests Mexican man for spying for Russia in mystery case involving informant

FBI MiamiThe United States Federal Bureau of Investigation has arrested a Mexican man, who is accused of spying in the city of Miami on behalf of the Russian government. Local media reports suggest that the target of the man’s spying was a Russian defector who gave American authorities information about Russian espionage activities on US soil.

In a news release issued on Tuesday, the US Department of Justice identified the man as Hector Alejandro Cabrera Fuentes, a Mexican citizen residing in Singapore. The statement said that Fuentes was arrested on Monday and was charged with “conspiracy” and “acting within the United States on behalf of a foreign government”.

According to the statement, Fuentes was recruited in April of 2019 by an unnamed Russian government official. His first assignment was to rent an apartment in Miami-Dade County using fake identification. One he carried out the assignment, Fuentes allegedly traveled to Russia, where he briefed his handler. He was then asked to return to Miami and drive to an apartment complex, where he was to observe a vehicle belonging to an individual that the Department of Justice statement describes as a “US government source”. Fuentes was tasked with providing his Russian handler with the vehicle’s license plate number.

Having been given a detailed physical description of the vehicle by his Russian handler, Fuentes drove to the apartment complex in Miami, but was stopped at the entrance to the complex by a security guard. While Fuentes was speaking with the security guard, Fuentes’ wife allegedly exited the car and took a photograph of the vehicle in question. According to the FBI, she later shared the photograph with Fuentes’ Russian handler on the mobile phone application WhatsApp. The photograph was discovered by US Customs and Border Protection agents on the smartphone of Fuentes’ wife on Sunday, as the pair tried to board a flight to Mexico City.

The US Department of Justice news release does not identify Fuentes’ alleged espionage target. But an article in The Miami Herald claims that the target is an FBI informant who has provided the Bureau’s counterintelligence division with critical information about Russian espionage operations in the Miami area. Fuentes is scheduled to appear in court for a pretrial detention hearing this coming Friday. His arraignment has been scheduled for March 3. The press release does not explain why Fuentes’ wife was not arrested.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 February 2020 | Permalink

Trial witness claims ‘El Chapo’ gave Mexico’s ex-president $100 million bribe

Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ GuzmánA high-profile witness has told the trial of Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán in New York that the accused bribed the then President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, with $100 million in order to stay out of prison. Guzmán, the leader of the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel, was arrested in February 2014 in Mexico. In January 2017, he was extradited to the United States, where he faces a litany charges ranging from conspiracy to import and distribute drugs to money-laundering and homicide. His trial began at the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, New York, last November.

All of last Tuesday was taken up by the testimony of Alex Cifuentes Villa, a Colombian former drug lord from Medellin who, until his arrest in 2012, was one of Guzmán’s closest collaborators. Villa told the court that Peña Nieto employed mediators to reach out to the Sinaloa cartel soon after he was elected president in 2012. He alleged that the mediators offered to strike a bargain with Guzmán, according to which he would stay out of prison in return for a $250 million bribe. The bribe would be shared between Peña Nieto and his closest government aides and advisors, said Villa. In return, the Mexican president would call off a national manhunt to capture the Sinaloa cartel leader. Following prolonged negotiations, Guzmán agreed to pay Peña Nieto $100 million, said Villa, in order to secure his freedom.

This is not the first time that a witness in the trial of Guzmán has alleged that the Sinaloa cartel leader bribed senior Mexican government officials, including police and military leaders. However, it is the most sensational allegation to have emerged the trial so far, and —if true— points out that even the highest echelons of the Mexican state have succumbed to the moneyed power of the drug cartels. Last November, when Guzmán’s trial began, his lawyers hinted that claims of corruption would be aired against the highest levels of the Mexican government, including two of its recent presidents, which they called “completely corrupt”. At the time, Peña Nieto’s office issued a statement condemning the allegations and saying that the former president had never received bribes from anyone.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 January 2019 | Permalink

Presidential candidate accuses Mexican government of political policing

Ricardo AnayaA high-profile presidential candidate in Mexico accused the government of political policing after he caught an agent of the country’s intelligence agency trailing him during a campaign trip. The candidate, Ricardo Anaya, is a rising rightwing politician who previously served as president of Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies and leader of the largest opposition group in the country, the National Action Party. In December of last year, Anaya announced his candidacy for the presidency, for which he will compete in July. His primary opponents are the center-leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, and José Antonio Meade of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Opposition candidates have long accused the PRI of using state intelligence agencies to spy on them. The accusations surfaced again this week, after Anaya claimed that he was illegally followed by a government intelligence officer during an election campaign trip in Veracruz. The rightist politician said the officer, who was not wearing a uniform, followed his campaign car in a black sports utility vehicle. On Tuesday, Anaya’s campaign team publicized a video showing the presidential candidate walking up to the intelligence officer and asking him who he was. In the video, the officer says he works for Mexico’s National Center for Security and Investigation (CISEN) and claims he is there to protect the candidate from security threats. The officer is then told by Anaya that he never requested a security detail, but responds that he is simply following orders issued by his superiors.

On Wednesday, Mexico’s Secretary of the Interior, Alfonso Navarrete, told reporters that the man in the video is indeed a longtime intelligence employee of CISEN. But he added that the officer’s mission had been to “report potential mishaps” and to protect Anaya from possible attacks by Mexico’s notorious drug cartels. When he was told by reporters that Anaya had not asked to be protected by CISEN, Navarrete claimed that he thought the candidate had been notified by the government about CISEN’s “discreet presence” in his campaign. The interior secretary then said that the incident had been a mistake, and that CISEN simply failed to notify Anaya of its activities. But Anaya dismissed Navarrete’s claims as lies and said he had been followed by other CISEN officers since the beginning of his campaign.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 February 2018 | Permalink

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/

Revealed: NSA spied on millions of French, Mexican phone calls

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States has been spying on millions of private telephone communications in France and Mexico, and even managed to hack into the Mexican president’s personal email account, according to media reports from France and Germany. French newspaper Le Monde said on Monday that France has been targeted for years by the US National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA, America’s largest intelligence agency, is tasked with intercepting communications messages from around the world. The newspaper alleged that most targets of the NSA’s interception have no links to terrorism; instead, the US target list is primarily focused on “high-profile individuals in the politics and business domains”. Le Monde said it acquired the information on the NSA operations in France from former NSA and Central Intelligence Agency technical expert Edward Snowden. Snowden defected from the US last summer and is currently living in Russia, were he has been offered political asylum. According to the French daily, over 70 million French telephone exchanges were intercepted by the NSA between December 10, 2012, and January 8, 2013, under an NSA collection program codenamed US-985D. The number represents over 2.5 million intercepted telephone calls per day in France. Another report, which appeared in German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, claimed that the NSA targeted the email communications of the Mexican government, and managed to hack personal email accounts belonging to numerous senior Mexican government officials. The article, which appeared on Sunday, said that the American signals intelligence agency had implemented Operation FLATLIQUID, which aimed at exploiting mail servers used by senior government officials in Mexico. Read more of this post

Is US-Mexico anti-drug intelligence cooperation about to end?

Enrique Peña NietoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Some senior American officials believe that the anti-drug intelligence cooperation between the United States and Mexico is in its closing stages, following tens of thousands of deaths in the past decade. Intelligence cooperation between the two countries reached unprecedented levels in the post-9/11 era, following the establishment of the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). In the past decade, cooperation between Mexico’s Center for Research and National Security (CISEN) and ODNI, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency, resulted in what some observers call “unprecedented bilateral action” directed against Latin American narcotics cartels. This arrangement culminated under the administration of Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón, when the CIA —and to a lesser extent the US Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Security Agency— were given unprecedented access to Mexican territory and civilian communications networks. However, in an extensive article published Sunday, The Washington Post says the close operational connection between Mexican and US intelligence agencies is quickly winding down. Citing interviews with over “four dozen current and former US and Mexican diplomats, law enforcement agents, military offices and intelligence officials”, the paper suggests that Mexico City is wary about Washington’s involvement in the so-called ‘war on drugs’. The major change on the Mexican side, says The Post, occurred last December with the inauguration of Mexico’s new President, Enrique Peña Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has returned to power after 13 years in opposition. Under Nieto’s administration, the Mexican security establishment, worn out by over 60,000 deaths and as many as 25,000 forced disappearances in the past few years, is intent on shifting its priorities. Instead of focusing on so-called ‘beheading operations’ —arresting or otherwise neutralizing the leadership of drug cartels— it has decided to stabilize the situation by containing —rather than eliminating— the operations of drug networks. Read more of this post