Monday, September 17, 2012

Fallout continues after attack on CIA agents, as Mexico and U.S. disagree over what happened at Tres Marías

MGR News Analysis -
A mere misunderstanding, or murder in the making at Three Marys?

*Updates below*
In late August two American CIA agents, operating clandestinely in Mexico, were saved from the unpleasant effects of AK-47 and AR-15 rounds (136 of them, to be exact) by the Level 7 armor plating of their Toyota Land Cruiser - but just barely. By the time Federal Police units arrived on the scene and ordered a cease fire, shrapnel had already penetrated the vehicle and slightly wounded the men, as well as the Mexican marine officer accompanying them as translator and aide-de-camp. It was a business trip the agents surely will never forget.

The curious details of the case - such as we have them - are reported here.

We really don't know anything about the men. The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City dutifully released their names and ages, but claimed it didn't know who they worked for, or what they were doing in the country. As it turned out, those names were mere CIA handles which have been used before by the agency. Much of the American press missed that little detail, and failed to update their stories even after The Washington Post, in its invariably precise manner, nicely got to the bottom of things.

The U.S. agents were spirited out of the country within hours after their release from a hospital. It was all smooth sailing when they went through the migra checkpoint at Mexico City International Airport, where federal immigration agents carefully study the passports of outbound visitors to verify that they were lawfully admitted in the first place, and have the mandatory visa cards or tourist stubs required of every traveler. No one seemed to care when the only visas these two Americans could produce were from a previous trip to Afghanistan. And if the Mexican INM agents were wondering what such a visa had to do with a visit to their country, they kept their concerns to themselves. Since then, nobody on either side of the border has had much to say about a case which has embarrassed beleaguered drug war partners, while raising an obvious question: can anybody in Mexican officialdom be fully trusted?

Twelve Mexican federal police officers who riddled the diplomatic license plate bearing Toyota with automatic weapons fire remain in custody. They're facing serious criminal charges: excessive use of force, failure to follow prescribed protocol and conspiracy with organized criminal elements. They were out of uniform at the time of the attack, a circumstance which has given rise to all kinds of speculation and much conspiracy-theory generation. In an ongoing pre-indictment criminal proceeding 51 federal police agents involved in Mexico's side of the investigation have delivered their testimony - called declarations in this country - setting forth their preliminary forensic findings. That evidence will be crucial when a federal judge rules next month on whether the government has made out a prima facie case against the 12 officers. The question on everybody's mind is whether the accused men were trigger-happy, understandably nervous or actually carrying out a plan to murder - and if so, why.

The men's defense attorneys, by the way, insist that the officers were under the mistaken impression that the fleeing Toyota and its desperate-to-escape occupants were in some way connected with the kidnapping of a Mexican government official (a functionary of the National Institute of Anthropology and History) who had been seized by unknown criminals only hours before. Today the Federal Police delivered documents to the court concerning that case which may tend to corroborate the defense - one which has been endorsed by high ranking military commanders said to be familiar with events.

But the U.S. government is apparently having none of it. In its Saturday's (Sept. 15) edition, Mexico City's reliable El Universal quoted an unidentified FBI agent who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Based upon the evidence we've analyzed so far, this was a direct attack which had nothing to do with confusion," the agent told the paper. He also claimed that more than 12 officers participated in the sustained, nearly fatal assault on the defenseless CIA operatives and their terrified escort.

Such are the bizarre "bilateral challenges" faced by two foxhole buddies who duke it out daily with international drug runners, while the line between friend and foe grows frighteningly more obscure.

Sept. 24 - Late last week, during a routine press conference covering multiple matters, Mexico's attorney general revealed that there is a digital record of the entire Tres Marías shootout - but police and prosecutors have no idea what's on it. The recording is in a format which Mexico "does not have the capacity to open," she told reporters, adding that the country has solicited technical help from other nations. The AG refused to say where the recording device was located, but the only logical conclusion is that it must have been on board the Toyota, and probably was CIA-issue equipment. Nobody asked her if Mexico has requested software-read assistance from its partner to the north . . .

In a related development, a PRD representative speaking on the floor of Mexico's lower chamber, the Cámara de Diputados, demanded to know who the Americans were, and just what they were doing here. Many continue to insist that the presumed CIA operatives return to this country to give official declarations before a judge who is investigating the incident. The chances of that happening are slim.

Oct. 4 - A federal judge has ruled that there is sufficient evidence to detain the 12 accused police officers for another 40 days. Of greater interest are stories which continue to appear in the Spanish press, alleging that the men were hired by organized crime to kill the two CIA agents on Mexican soil. The mens' attorneys vigorously deny those claims, of course, but acknowledge that they've heard the same thing. Where did the claims of a hired assassination attempt arise? According to El Universal, with unnamed "high-ranking American officials." The oddest part of the story is that Beltrán Leyva, a cartel supposedly out of business for two years, is the group referred to as the possible master-mind.

Mexico's Milenio network is running its own story on the case today, which dismisses outright all of the conspiracy hype, especially the U.S. claim of organized crime involvement. Milenio reports that 13, not 12, officers are now facing charges which include use of excessive force and failure to follow operational protocol. The story, which reads more like a government press release than a journalistic analysis, attributes the attack to "confusion." Milenio promises a "step by step" account of just what happened at Tres Marías in its tomorrow's (Oct. 5) edition.

Nov. 1 - Mexico's attorney general says that sufficient evidence exists to try 14 officers who were involved in the Tres Marías attack. The victims, unidentified CIA agents, gave sworn testimony to Mexican criminal investigators in Washington last month.

Nov. 9 - The preliminary investigations in this case are over and a federal judge has issued formal arrest warrants for 14 officers who participated in the attack. Mexican prosecutors insist that they were out to kill the CIA agents, and that this was not a case of confusion or mistaken identity. The key remaining questions are why and for whom they acted. The judge found insufficient evidence to try the officers for organized crime activity, rejecting the claim they were working for Beltrán Leyva.

Nov. 13 - The inspector general of Mexico's Federal Police has been relieved of duty and arrested in connection with the Tres Marías case, accused of attempting to cover-up the incident and falsifying evidence - with perhaps additional charges to follow.

Nov. 19 - "A direct attack" against CIA agents, with 152 shots fired at their armored vehicle.


  1. El Universal, reliable? You must be kidding. What is next, Telerisa is the BBC?

  2. Yes, I consider El Universal to be a highly responsible and reliable newspaper, read and relied upon as widely abroad as in Mexico. What's the matter, did your classified ad for that 1967 Volkswagen Bug produce no offers over $40?