Aug 30, 2012

Laura's Blog: Gag order on shooting of Embassy personnel?

A week after a van with diplomatic plates was ambushed by Mexican Federal Police members, wounding two CIA agents, neither the U.S. or Mexican governments have much to say about the incident.

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland treated a question on the attack like the political hot potato it is. She seemed to plead for the next question, and the lack of diligence by the reporter made for an easy dodge.
QUESTION: Additionally, there’s been an increasing controversy in Mexico over the incident with the U.S. diplomatic convoy, particularly the firing on the U.S. diplomatic van. The Embassy in Mexico initially classified it as an ambush. The Mexican Government says it was an accident. Which is it? And then can you confirm some of the – what were these two individuals (inaudible) link – to what U.S. agency were they linked?
MS. NULAND: As you know, the Mexican Government is investigating this incident. Our Embassy is cooperating in that investigation and trying to assist it in any way that we can. I’m not going to get ahead of the investigation – I think we’re going to wait and see what that concludes – nor am I going to get into speculating on any of the specifics until we see what the investigation leads to.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up: Have you taken any extra steps to protect U.S. borders in Mexico after this incident?
MS. NULAND: Well, we --
QUESTION: Are you worried about this?
MS. NULAND: We always are in a strong security posture around the world as necessary, but we don’t speak about any of the details of that.
Anything else? Please.
It seems both the U.S. and Mexican governments have handed down a gag order on the strange incident. On the U.S. side the DEA came out with a statement denying that any of their agents were involved. On Tuesday, the New York Times reported what the Mexican paper La Jornada had reported earlier:
The two Americans who were wounded when gunmen fired on an American Embassy vehicle last week were Central Intelligence Agency employees sent as part of a multiagency effort to bolster Mexican efforts to fight drug traffickers, officials said on Tuesday.
What do we know and not know about the ambush?

1. The van was taking the two CIA agents to train new Navy recruits at a firing range outside Mexico City. It was clearly identified and well-known to people in the area. The U.S. government has often cited its preference for the Navy and mistrust of the Army in Mexico, so Navy war games having nothing to do with water are common in this drug war.
2. A green Chrysler drove up and blocked the way of the Toyota van. The driver immediately threw the car into reverse to escape. (First question: If this were indeed a case of mistaken identity, how did the driver immediately know this was an attack?)
3. A second car cut off passage from behind. Shots were fired but the Toyota was armored.
4,. The Toyota again tried to escape and manage to proceed to a gas station where it continued to be fired on, with some bullets penetrating the protective shields and injuring the passengers.
5. The assailants fled when police and Navy vehicles arrived on the scene. They were later captured. 6. Twelve Federal Police agents have been arrested.

What does this bizarre incident indicate?

So far both governments seem to be preparing some version of a case of "mistaken identity". The NYT quotes anonymous US government officials as stating that "no evidence had emerged so far that the Americans were targeted because of their affiliation."

However, both Reforma and La Jornada gathered detailed interviews from local residents stating that anybody could see that the vehicle had diplomatic plates and that the agents' comings and goings are common knowledge in the area. The possibility that the Federal Police did not know who they were shooting at is extremely low.

The next obvious question is: why did the Mexican police shoot the CIA agents?

Speculation has emerged that these police were in cahoots with an organized crime group. That's pretty common here. Generally speaking, when organized crime shoots a U.S. agent, it's to send a message, not just to get rid of somebody. They know that the action will have binational ramifications.

In this scenario, it's hard to say what the potential message was. I´m not going to speculate on that until we know more.

The officers' families have offered explanations that it was a simple mistake and/or that their relatives were fired on first. They were quoted as fearing a frame-up to "stay on the United States' good side".

If history is any indication, we may never know what really happened. One certainly gets the impression that this incident is not something either drug-war ally wants to talk about. Compare the response of the U.S. government to the shooting of ICE agent Jaime Zapata on Feb. 15, 2011, when it immediately demanded justice and participated in the investigation. 

Incidentally, the Mexican government also called that a case of mistaken identity, and probably will continue to claim all such cases are mistaken identity, since admitting that US agents are targeted could jeopardize the many programs that send U.S. agents to Mexico

The ambush also shows once again that U.S. funding to the Mexican federal police force, which has run in the millions since the Merida Initiative began in 2008, is funding a force that attacks U.S. agents, not to mention the massive evidence of violation of Mexicans' human rights and attacks on their lives.

The NYT article notes the evident irony:
Through programs like the $1.6 billion Merida initiative, the United States has spent millions of dollars on training and equipping the federal police.
This incident further derails the Washington argument that the police force is an acceptable option for funding the drug war since it is being "reformed".

The conservative Wall Street Journal noted the "embarrassment" to the Mexican government of having its Federal Police Force go for the jugular of the hand that feeds it:
The incident has proved an embarrassment for the Mexican government, which receives millions of dollars annually in U.S. aid for its drug war and which has touted its federal police as the most professional force.
In addition to the embarrassment of Federal Police misbehavior, there is the issue of why CIA agents are training young Mexican Navy recruits to shoot their own people.

U.S. growing involvement in Mexico has raised the eyebrows and the ire of some members of Congress here in Mexico City. Since the ambush, they have called for a hearing and demanded that the Calderon administration give out information on the extent and the activities of U.S. agents.

This is a question that many of us have had for a long time now.

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