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

News you may have missed #825

Ben ZygierBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Australian Mossad officer was facing 20 years in prison. Mossad operative Ben Zygier was facing 20 years in prison on “serious espionage” charges when he hanged himself in an Israeli prison, suggests a report published Wednesday by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The report is the first confirmation of the nature of Zygier’s indictment. Under Israeli criminal law, the only security-related crimes that carry a 20-year prison sentence fall under the heading of “serious espionage”.
►►MS-13 smuggles missile launchers and teams up with Zetas. Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, became El Salvador’s deadliest gang through force of numbers and the power of the handgun. Now if they weren’t deadly enough, the gang is transitioning into adopting heavier weapons while teaming up with Mexico’s Zetas. But according to a recent report, the gang is moving “away from a dependence on handguns via the acquisition of automatic rifles such as AK-47s, along with grenades, rocket propelled grenade launchers, and Light Anti-Tank Weapons”, or LAWs.
►►Secretive US anti-smuggling program marks one-year anniversary. A nascent and somewhat secretive US government anti-smuggling program is marking its first anniversary this week. It is called E2C2, shorthand for Export Enforcement Coordination Center, and 18 law enforcement and intelligence agencies use it to find links between their targets and other investigations. The E2C2 was created by presidential order in 2010, but the collaboration has evolved slowly. According to a Government Accountability Office report, the E2C2 opened nine months late, in part because of “some difficultly” between agencies over how the center would operate.

US expels Venezuelan diplomat over cyberespionage allegations

Livia Acosta NogueraBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The United States has ordered the immediate expulsion of the head of the Venezuelan consulate in Miami, over allegations that she helped coordinate a cyberattack against US government targets in 2008. The diplomat, Livia Acosta Noguera, was declared “persona non grata” (an unwelcome person) by the US Department of State last Friday, and was given 72 hours to leave the country. State Department officials refused to discuss the reasons for Acosta’s expulsion. But the BBC said that the expulsion order was prompted by a letter sent last month to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by four members of the US Congress. The letter’s authors reportedly raised concerns about a documentary aired in December by Univision, a US-based Spanish-language broadcaster, titled “The Iranian Threat”. According to reports, the documentary alleged that Acosta was part of a multinational team of diplomats from Venezuela, Iran and Cuba, who, while stationed in Mexico in 2008, helped orchestrate a cyberespionage operation against US targets. The alleged operation was aimed at computer servers belonging to the US government computer, including some at the Department of Defense, the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the White House. Computer servers at several nuclear power plants across the US were also reportedly targeted. The documentary exposé, which later appeared in print in US-based Spanish-language newspaper El Nuevo Herald, included allegations that Acosta is in fact a member of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service, Venezuela’s foremost external intelligence agency. Read more of this post

Alleged Russian spies in Germany used low-tech methods to evade detection

Anna Chapman

Anna Chapman

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A couple arrested in Germany last week on suspicion of working for Russian intelligence, was using low-tech radio communications to receive orders from Moscow, according to media reports. The two arrestees have been identified as Andreas and Heidrun Anschlag; German prosecutors accuse them of spying for SVR, the successor to the KGB’s First Chief Directorate (PGU), responsible for foreign operations and intelligence collection abroad. They are said to have worked as non-official-cover operatives for the KGB and SVR since at least 1990, when they entered Germany from Mexico, using forged Austrian travel documents. Authorities in Germany say that Heidrun Anschlag, 51, was caught by German police in the act of listening to encrypted radio messages from Moscow. German investigators are reportedly puzzled by the fact that, in the Internet age, when most intelligence operatives employ digital secure communications, the Anschlags insisted on using a low-tech method that mostly died with the end of the Cold War. But intelNews readers will remember the case of former United States State Department analysts Walter and Gwendolyn Myers, who were arrested in 2009 for spying on the US for Cuba for over 30 years. Shortly after the Myers’ arrest, we wrote that the couple appeared to have avoided capture for decades, precisely because their communications with the government of Cuba were too low-tech to be detected by sophisticated US monitors. The latter tend to focus on scanning for encrypted satellite or microwave communications which —among other hi-tech means— are now the communication method of choice for modern clandestine spy networks. But some intelligence agencies, including —apparently— the SVR, appear to insist on using old-school oral cipher signals, based on straightforward number-to-letter codes, which they broadcast to their agents over predetermined shortwave frequencies at specified times. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #501 (United States edition)

  • Ex-double agent Hanssen’s house goes on sale. The five-bedroom home on Talisman Drive in Vienna, Va., offered by Llewellyn Realtors for $725,000 as “perfect for a growing family”, is the former lair of ex-FBI counterintelligence agent Robert Hanssen, who is regarded as one of the most damaging spies ever to betray the US government.
  • Ex-CIA officer critical of US activities in Pakistan. Speaking on Pakistan’s TV show Express 24/7, former CIA officer Robert Baer said there were no less than 16 US intelligence agencies working in Pakistan and none of them talked to each other, with even officials from the New York police department at one point in time conducting investigations in Pakistan.
  • US agents descending on Mexico According to Mexican daily El Diario, the country’s Attorney General’s Office estimates that there are currently over 500 US intelligence operatives working in Mexico, up from just 60 in 2005.

Revelations continue in ex-CIA agent’s trial in Texas

Luis Posada Carriles

Carriles

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A United States government informant testifying at the immigration trial of a former CIA agent has described how he was smuggled into the US from Mexico onboard a luxury boat. It was believed that the former agent, Cuban-born Luis Posada Carriles, had arrived in the US from Honduras in 2005 using a forged Guatemalan passport. But Gilberto Abascal, an anti-Castro Cuban exile who has been an informant for the FBI since 1999, has told a court in Texas that Carriles was smuggled into Miami on a 90-foot luxury yacht, which carried him from Mexico’s Isla Mujeres to a waterfront Cuban restaurant. Abascal told the court that Carriles disembarked the yacht using a small speedboat, before the yacht’s owner, Santiago Alvarez, reported to US Customs in Miami. Remarkably, Carriles’ smuggling went according to plan, despite the fact that the Miami Chief of Police was among the restaurant’s patrons at the time of the speedboat’s arrival. Carriles is a militant anticommunist who is idolized by America’s anti-Castro Cubans, but is considered a terrorist in parts of Latin America due to his self-confessed participation in a string of bombings of hotels in Havana, Cuba, in 1997. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0212

  • Government investigator gets US passports using fake names. A GAO investigator managed to obtain four genuine US passports using fake names and fraudulent documents. He then used one of the fake passports to buy a plane ticket, obtain a boarding pass, and make it through a security checkpoint at a major US airport. The post-9/11 security environment in all its glory.
  • Documents on Argentina’s Operation MEXICO declassified. Operation MEXICO was the codename for a clandestine Argentine rendition program aimed at abducting and murdering leaders of the Montonero Peronist Movement, a leftwing militant group, living in exile in Mexico City in the late 1970s.
  • Mistrial declared in the trial of FBI informant Hal Turner. Turner will still face a single count of unlawfully threatening three Chicago-based federal appeals judges, by writing on his blog that they “deserve to be killed” for upholding a gun control ordinance.

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Analysis: The role of spies in Latin America

Latin America

Latin America

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
These days it’s a full-time job keeping up with intelligence news coming out of Latin America. In recent weeks alone, there were major spy scandals involving the busting of an alleged Colombian espionage ring in Venezuela, the acknowledgment by Bogotá that it spied on Ecuador, and the ongoing high-level intelligence scandal that some say may cause recalls of diplomats between Chile and Peru. So what is going on in Latin America? How widespread is espionage in the continent and is it on the rise? The BBC’s Juan Paullier has consulted several regional and international experts for his well-written analysis on the subject. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0154 [updated]

  • Breaking news: Castro’s sister says she spied for the CIA. Juanita Castro, Fidel and Raúl Castro’s sister, says she voluntarily spied for the CIA from 1961 to 1964, when she left the island for Miami. She said she met a CIA officer called “Enrique” at a hotel in Mexico City in 1961; she was then given the codename “Donna” and codebooks so she could receive encoded instructions from Washington.
  • Was Milan Kundera a communist police informant? Documents unearthed by Czech academics allegedly show that the Czech-born author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being denouncing a Western spy to Czechoslovakia’s StB secret police during his student days.
  • Afghans complain about US spy balloon. A US spy balloon (see previous intelNews coverage) flying over the city of Kandahar in Afghanistan, is prompting privacy complaints from residents.

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