Pubdate: Tue, 28 Oct 2008
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2008 Los Angeles Times
Author: Tracy Wilkinson
Bookmark: (Mexico)
Bookmark: (Corruption - Outside U.S.)

Mexico Under Siege


At Least 35 Officials and Agents From an Elite Unit Have Been Fired 
or Arrested Following Tips From an Informant Involving the So-Called 
Beltran Leyva Cartel.

Reporting from Mexico City -- In a damning blow to its fight against 
drug traffickers, the Mexican government Monday acknowledged severe 
penetration of a top law enforcement agency by a vicious gang that 
may even have bought intelligence on U.S. operations from renegade employees.

At least 35 officials and agents from an elite unit within the 
federal attorney general's office have been fired or arrested in an 
investigation that began July 31 following tips from an informer.

The officials, including a senior intelligence director, are believed 
to have been leaking sensitive information to the very traffickers 
they were investigating for as long as four years, prosecutors said.

In exchange, prosecutors said, the corrupt government officials 
received monthly payments of $150,000 to $450,000 each from the 
so-called Beltran Leyva cartel, a drug gang based in the Pacific 
state of Sinaloa that is engaged in a bloody fight with rivals for 
domination of the region's lucrative trade.

The group has also been linked to crimes, including the May killing 
of Edgar Millan Gomez, acting chief of a federal police agency, who 
authorities believe was targeted in re-venge for the arrest of 
alleged traffickers including top cartel operative Alfredo Beltran Leyva.

Good Reputation

The accused officials were members of the agency in charge of probing 
drug and weapons smuggling as well as kidnapping and terrorism, known 
by its initials in Spanish, SIEDO. Unlike many agencies within a 
notoriously corrupt police system, the SIEDO has a generally good 
reputation in U.S. government circles.

The case, which represents an unusually serious breach of Mexican 
security, was launched after an informer with the code name Felipe 
turned himself in at the Mexican Embassy in Washington. He revealed 
the names of senior SIEDO officials on the cartel's payroll and was 
quickly put into a U.S. witness protection program, sources in the 
attorney general's office said Monday.

"Felipe" told Mexican investigators that he had worked for Interpol 
and then for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, where he relayed information 
to members of the Beltran Leyva gang, according to several Mexican 
media reports.

The embassy declined to comment. And in Washington, senior Drug 
Enforcement Administration officials said the investigation was 
ongoing, and that it was premature to confirm details.

Whether or not those reports are true, it is certainly possible that 
intelligence on activities by the DEA in Mexico could be gleaned from 
within SIEDO, and the alleged spies could have had access to it.

"They handed over secret information and details of operations 
against the Beltran Leyva criminal organization," Atty. Gen. Eduardo 
Medina Mora said during a news conference -- including details on 
raids of traffickers' hide-outs and the evidence seized.

Extent Unclear

The full extent to which counter-narcotics operations may have been 
compromised is still not known.

"This investigation is not finished," Medina Mora said.

Although 35 people from SIEDO have been implicated, a spokesman for 
the attorney general's office said, five officials are likely to face 
the most serious charges, including illegal release of classified information.

They include Fernando Rivera Hernandez, a senior director of 
intelligence, and Miguel Colorado Gonzalez, SIEDO's general technical 
coordinator, both of whom have been in detention since August.

Colorado Gonzalez has also been named in a U.S. federal indictment 
filed Friday in the District of Columbia. He is accused of criminal 
association in the production and distribution of cocaine in the U.S. 
The U.S. is seeking his extradition.

The three others are federal agents, one of whom is a fugitive, 
prosecutors said. Medina Mora said SIEDO would be restructured and 
purged of its corrupt members through tighter screening and tougher 
punishment for lawbreakers. Reforming Mexico's underpaid and poorly 
trained police forces is a central component in President Felipe 
Calderon's two-year-long offensive against drug traffickers but one 
that has yet to show abundant progress.

SIEDO's predecessor agency within the attorney general's office was 
shut down in 2003 after half a dozen of its agents were arrested on 
suspicion they were helping drug traffickers.

Nearly 4,000 people have been killed in Mexico this year in 
drug-related violence as gangs fight Calderon's security forces and 
one another. The U.S. has pledged an additional $400 million to 
Mexico for help in training police and judicial agencies, but the 
money has not arrived.

Calderon wins praise from U.S. officials for attacking traffickers 
head on, but the mounting death toll and spread of violence to much 
of the country could eventually erode public support for the campaign.

Cases such as this also leave American law enforcement officers wary 
of sharing intelligence with Mexico.
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