In contrast to the counter-terrorism narrative used to defend the US government's mass spying program, unfolding revelations suggest the program's Latin America efforts are focused on much besides terrorism. First, evidence arose that the US spying program, alone and in coordination with spying programs of other nations, is engaging in industrial espionage against Brazilian companies and the Brazil government's mines and energy ministry. Now, new revelations suggest that the US spying program targeted current and former Mexican presidents, along with other high level Mexican government officials, for surveillance to advance the war on drugs.
Jens Glüsing, Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach, and Holger Stark provide the new revelations regarding Mexico today in a Der Spiegel article, including that the US National Security Agency, working with the US Central Intelligence Agency, has since at least May 2010 snooped on the email communications of high level Mexican government officials including Presidents Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto, as well as cabinet members. The article goes on to explain that another spying operation the NSA called "whitetamale" focused on a Mexican government department conducting Mexico's drug war:
In August 2009, according to internal documents, the agency gained access to the emails of various high-ranking officials in Mexico's Public Security Secretariat that combats the drug trade and human trafficking. This hacking operation allowed the NSA not only to obtain information on several drug cartels, but also to gain access to "diplomatic talking-points." In the space of a single year, according to the internal documents, this operation produced 260 classified reports that allowed US politicians to conduct successful talks on political issues and to plan international investments.
It may be more than a coincidence that August 2009 is also when the Mexican government enacted legislation decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of various drugs including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, and methamphetamine.
In the summer of 2012, the NSA added on to its Mexico agenda targeted spying on the communications of then-presidential candidate Peña Nieto as well as people closely and remotely connected to him. The Der Spiegel article suggests a motivation for the spying arose from Peña Nieto's campaign promise to change the Mexico government's drug war policy:
First and foremost, though, Peña Nieto promised voters he would change Mexico's strategy in the war on drugs, announcing he would withdraw the military from the fight against the drug cartels as soon as possible and invest more money in social programs instead. Yet at the same time, he assured Washington there would be no U-turn in Mexico's strategy regarding the cartels. So what were Peña Nieto's true thoughts at the time? What were his advisers telling him?
The NSA's intelligence agents in Texas must have been asking themselves such questions when they authorized an unusual type of operation known as structural surveillance. For two weeks in the early summer of 2012, the NSA unit responsible for monitoring the Mexican government analyzed data that included the cell phone communications of Peña Nieto and "nine of his close associates," as an internal presentation from June 2012 shows. Analysts used software to connect this data into a network, shown in a graphic that resembles a swarm of bees. The software then filtered out Peña Nieto's most relevant contacts and entered them into a databank called "DishFire." From then on, these individuals' cell phones were singled out for surveillance.
According to the internal documents, this led to the agency intercepting 85,489 text messages, some sent by Peña Nieto himself and some by his associates. This technology "might find a needle in a haystack," the analysts noted, adding that it could do so "in a repeatable and efficient way."
It would not be surprising to see evidence emerge that the US government conducts similar spying on political officials and candidates in other countries where dissatisfaction with the international war on drugs is growing. This is, after all, a war the United States government has spent over one trillion dollars and over 40 years fighting.
Flickr/Edmundo D. Montalvão