by: Jorge Carrasco A. and J. Jesús Esquivel Proceso
With the approval of Felipe Calderón’s Administration, the U.S. Government finally got what it always wanted: To set up a super spy center in Mexico City. It was the escalation of the drug war in the country what opened the door to all U.S. intelligence agencies, including the military, to operate out of the Federal District without having to disguise their agents as diplomats.
The establishment of the Office of Bi-national Intelligence (OBI) was authorized by Calderon, after negotiations with Washington, which began under the government of his predecessor, Vicente Fox Quesada. The creation of the super spy center was authorized by the director of the Center for Investigation and National Security (CISEN), Guillermo Valdés Castellanos, without taking into account any objections from the Mexican military.
Through the OBI, Calderon has given the green light to U.S. Intelligence agents to spy on organized crime syndicates and drug cartels. They can also spy on Mexican government agencies, including the Secretariat of National Defense, Navy, and the diplomatic missions in Mexico.
The building headquarters, which includes offices from the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and the U.S. Department of Treasury is located at 265 Paseo de la Reforma Avenue, approximately 250 meters from the U.S. embassy.
The most significant presence at the OBI building is that of the Pentagon, which includes the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the National Security Agency (NSA). It is followed by the U.S. Department of Justice, also with three agencies: the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
With two services, there is the Department of Homeland Security: Coast Guard Intelligence (CGI) and the Bureau of Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE), while the Treasury Department has officers of the Bureau of Intelligence on Terrorism and Financial Affairs (TFI) .
In addition, the OBI opened two remote offices: one in Ciudad Juarez and one in Tijuana, housing U.S. agents and “task force commanders” who coordinate operations against drug trafficking with the support of Mexican Government personnel.
It is not known how many intelligence agents from the U.S. are operating in Mexico with the authorization of the Mexican Federal Government, since the creation of this center was announced on August 31st. The maintain that the exact number is “classified.”
The building occupied by the OBI in the Federal District is right next to the Mexican Stock Exchange and is part of what the security and intelligence services in Mexico define as a “soft target area” in reference to the possibility of an attack on U.S. interests in Mexico.
At this strategic point for Washington in the Mexican Federal District, there are also facilities for transnational corporations such as Ford, American Airlines, as well as Marriott and Sheraton hotels, among others.
The building where the OBI is located gives the impression of an ordinary business facility, with banks, insurance, telecommunications, commercial offices and private offices. The only thing that stands out is the entry and departure of U.S. citizens.
The building directory lists the names of the occupants all the way up to the 21st floor. However, after the 22nd floor, there are three penthouses that are only listed as “occupied.” And on the roof there is a dozen satellite dishes placed just above the logo of the telecommunications company Axtel.
“It’s the best covert location for the agencies to operate,” said the source that provided the location of the OBI. The ordinary appearance of the building is the way in which the United States often disguise intelligence centers around the world.
The reception and parking are guarded by private security services, while Federal District Police provide outside support.
Furthermore, the city government has installed special surveillance cameras with sirens to observe the movement of pedestrians and vehicles outside the building.
The scope and power of the OBI in Mexico is similar to the El Paso Intelligence Center, in Texas (EPIC), which dates back to 1974 and operates exclusively to combat drug trafficking, weapons and money laundering on the border between Mexico and United States.
EPIC has been credited for creating the strategies launched against drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico. Among the most successful are Operation White Tiger, which was used to investigate the activities of the Hank Rhon family in 1997, the capture and extradition, a year earlier, of Gulf Drug Cartel Leader Juan Garcia Abrego, and the discovery of narco-graves in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, in 1998.
Overrun by drug trafficking, the government of Felipe Calderón agreed to the establishment of the OBI in Mexico a proposal of the then head of National Intelligence in the United States, Admiral Dennis Blair, who last March was accompanied by Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, during his working visit to Mexico.
According to the formal agreement, the new U.S. office workers interact with their Mexican counterparts, under the coordination of the State Department and the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs (SRE).
For the Pentagon, the strong presence of its agents in Mexico is intended to merge the intelligence and espionage services of both countries to identify and exploit the vulnerabilities of drug trafficking organizations and organized crime gangs.
Under this directive, issued on 18 March by Gen. Victor Eugene Renuart, then head of Northern Command (NORTHCOM), Mexico has carried out several operations against drug traffickers.
Since then, among some of the actions taken the drug lords have been the killing of Arturo Beltran Leyva, (aka El Barbas), Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, and Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen (aka Tony Tormenta), in addition to the arrests of other drug lords, such as Edgar ‘Barbie’ Valdez Villarreal.
Since the killing of Beltran Leyva in December of 2009, U.S. intelligence services, mainly the DEA, have mentioned their participation in various operations, against the very Arturo Beltran Leyva, Barbie Valdez, Teodoro Garcia Simental (aka El Teo), Jose Gerardo Alvarez Vazquez (aka El Indio or El Chayán), operator of the Beltran Leyva organization and Carlos Ramon Castro, a drug dealer who worked for several organizations.
As part of the Mexican government’s need to justify the militarization of the fight against drug trafficking, the Pentagon has strengthened its cooperation with the Mexican military. In early 2009, just as the Department of State and the Mexican Exterior Relations Secretariat (SRE) fine-tuned the details for the establishment of the OBI, the U.S. Department of Defense stepped up military training for Mexicans in Mexico and in several U.S. military bases.
The training has been an unprecedented event in the history of military relations between the two countries. For the first time, the Pentagon has brought counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism expertise from Iraq and Afghanistan to their offices in central Mexico.
In the case of Mexico, the training courses are developed and run by the Defense Department, and are focused on intelligence and tactical operations against drug trafficking, terrorism and the implementation of counterinsurgency tactics.
In addition to the courses offered in Mexico, the Mexican military has significantly increased the number of special forces troops in the Army, Air Force and the Navy to attend specialized intelligence training in U.S. military bases.
The main example of this cooperation is the presence -for the first time in the bilateral relationship- a member of the Mexican Army as a “liaison” between the Mexican military (Central Command) and the Northern Command in Colorado (NORTHCOM), according to a military source who spoke to the Mexican magazine Proceso.
On Wednesday 10, The Washington Post published on its front page a note informing that the liaison will also serve as deputy commander of the Institute for Security and Cooperation in the Western Hemisphere at Fort Benning, Georgia. From the sixties to the eighties, these facilities housed in the so-called School of the Americas, which went down in history as a supplying center for Latin American dictators, which are characterized by the systematic violation of human rights.
A U.S. official, who told the Post on condition of anonymity, said that given the seriousness of the drug violence in Mexico, “we have received direct instruction from the President (Barack Obama) and the highest levels in government, to really examine what more can be done in this counter-narcotics cooperation with Mexico.”
The establishment of the Office of Bi-national Intelligence (OBI) implies that for the first time in the history of Mexico, surveillance, supervision and qualification of work against organized crime between federal government agencies, including the military, rests in part on foreign officials.
According to the document unveiled by the White House on March 25, 2009 on the establishment of the OBI, the office is also responsible for overseeing the proper use of resources that Washington provides the Calderon administration in combating drug trafficking through the ‘Merida Initiative.’
“We will be coordinating our efforts with the government of Mexico through high-level contacts, which in part are related to the new intelligence services responsible for overseeing the implementation of Merida Initiative,” according to the document released by the White House (published by Proceso).
A year later, on March 23, 2010, Hillary Clinton announced during her working visit to the Federal District, in the context of the implementation of Plan Merida, the establishment of two “pilot programs” in the Tijuana-San Diego and Ciudad Juárez-El Paso corridors.
The two governments declared in a joint statement, that in the case of Ciudad Juárez, the program considers the development of “a model for the Mexican Government to collect and analyze tactical intelligence” as well as to “take action against drug trafficking, extortion, kidnapping and other criminal activities.”
However, the actual operations of the OBI in security and intelligence services, Mexicans will be subordinates of the U.S.. Agencies of the U.S. Government will play the role as experts in intelligence work, apart from previous advisory roles in order to increase Mexico’s ability to use information resources against drug cartel operations.