Thursday, July 11, 2013

U.S. carried out electronic spying in Mexico with help of American contractor - and maybe of Mexico

An "off the books" component of the Mérida Initiative, prosecutors suggest

Guadalajra -
Mexican federal prosecutors are investigating U.S. electronic surveillance in this country which dates at least to 2007, and which may have been authorized by former president Felipe Calderón as part of the Mérida Initiative approved by both countries the same year.

The initiative, so named for the city where it was proposed by Calderón and former president George W. Bush, is a $1.6 billion agreement between the United States and Mexico that provides for U.S. training and equipping of Mexican military and police forces, plus intelligence gathering and sharing. The agreement may have included the "operation of clandestine systems to intercept and record communications in Mexico," according to a report this morning by Excélsior, a respected Mexico City newspaper.

U.S. electronic snooping operations have been and still are being conducted on a nationwide basis, prosecutors believe, and millions of electronic records have been warehoused for future reference. The ostensible purpose of the surveillance was to monitor drug cartel activities and follow the movements of narcotics traffickers.

Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) government has not said whether it was aware of the spying arrangement, but comments by president Enrique Peña Nieto yesterday would suggest that it was not - or that it wants to distance itself from the revelations. The president, who has been in office less than eight months, called operations like the U.S. National Security Agency's PRISM program "totally unacceptable," and ordered his attorney general to open a full inquiry.

A spokesman for the Procuraduría General de la República (PGR) - Mexico's Justice Dept. - pointed out that federal statutes carry up to 20 years in prison for espionage. Those responsible will be held fully accountable, "whoever may fall," said Eduardo Sánchez Hernández during a press conference.

When pressed as to whether the current PRI government was already aware of the spying program allegedly agreed to by the former National Action Party (PAN) administration of president Calderón, Sánchez said only, "The Procuraduría is investigating this matter, and will report on the results as soon as possible. We are going through the (Mérida Initiative) documents now." Sánchez refused to say whether Mexico City is still permitting U.S. electronic surveillance within the country, but added, "Our criminal law has always forbidden foreign espionage."

According to Excélsior, since February 2007 Mexico has allowed the U.S. to intercept telephone and internet communications, accessing electronic information and metadata "from almost all service providers on national territory." The newspaper suggested that Verint Systems, based in Meliville, New York, may have had a $3 million dollar contract with Mexican federal law enforcement agencies to supply equipment and technology for the American surveillance. Verint's website describes it as "a global leader in Actionable Intelligence solutions and value-added services that help organizations worldwide improve enterprise performance and make the world a safer place." Excélsior said that the contract is still in force.

The paper also reported, "Based upon documents from U.S. agencies, former president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa permitted the United States of America to install on national territory a system of communications interception which permits the reception, processing, analysis and store housing of telephone calls and web content, such as chat, email and internet based calls (VoIP)." Excélsior said Verint's contract with Mexican law enforcement agencies made reference to the government's interest in monitoring "drug trafficking and terrorism" as legal justification for the covert U.S. surveillance.

The equipment and technological services allegedly purchased from Verint enabled the interception and capture of communications carried by numerous companies, including Telmex, Telcel, Nextel, Telefónica, Unefon, Iusacell and Cisco Systems, a huge corporation based in San Jose, California which specializes in networking systems, according to Excélsior.

July 11 - Calderón autorizó espionaje de EU en México

July 10 - Peña Nieto: American espionage "totally unacceptable"
July 10 - Mexico turns up heat on U.S. over PRISM surveillance

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© MGRR 2013. All rights reserved. This article may be cited or briefly quoted with proper attribution or a hyperlink, but not reproduced without permission.

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