Leaked U.S. cables discuss notorious Mexican drug lord and Panamanian president's request for wiretaps of political enemies

The U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks offer unvarnished insights into the personal proclivities of world leaders.
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, December 26, 2010; 5:41 PM

MEXICO CITY - The leader of the Mexican military told U.S. authorities last year that the head of the Sinaloa drug cartel moves among 10 to 15 known locations, but that capturing Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was "difficult" because the most wanted man in Mexico surrounds himself with hundreds of armed men and a sophisticated web of snitches, according to a leaked diplomatic cable.

Mexico's defense secretary, Gen. Guillermo Galvan, told Adm. Dennis C. Blair, then the Obama administration's director of national intelligence, that the Mexican army was implementing plans to capture Guzman, "but that Chapo commands the support of a large network of informers and has security circles of up to 300 men that make launching capture operations difficult," according to a report sent by U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual on Oct 26, 2009 and released by WikiLeaks to news organizations.

Guzman is the boss of Mexico's dominant trafficking organization, and an almost legendary drug lord here, the subject of books and songs, a billionaire mastermind who escaped from a Mexican federal prison, reportedly in a laundry basket.

In his meeting with U.S. counterparts, Galvan complained that it was difficult to mount joint operations with Mexican police because "leaks of planning and information by corrupted officials have compromised past efforts."

Galvan told the American intelligence officials that his forces were "willing to accept any training" the U.S. government could provide.

The Mexican government has repeatedly denied that Mexican military forces are receiving training from U.S. armed forces, but diplomatic cables leaked earlier this year appear to confirm that Mexican marines have been receiving special operations training from U.S. counterparts and that Mexican army troops were seeking the same.

Galvan told U.S. officials that he expected the Mexican military to continue its controversial leadership role in the fight against the cartels for the next seven to 10 years. He suggested that "increased U.S. intelligence assistance could shorten that time frame."

In response to the leaked cables, first reported by the New York Times, the Mexican military and federal police said they were pursuing Guzman and his Sinaloa cartel with the same zeal as any of Mexico's other major drug organizations.

Intelligence from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration that was shared with Mexican marines has resulted in a series of "capture or kill" operations against high-value targets in the Mexican drug world.

Another leaked cable indicates that Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli was pressuring the DEA to use its wiretaps in Panama against Martinelli's political opponents.

"He clearly made no distinction between legitimate security targets and political enemies," then-U.S. Ambassador Barbara Stephenson wrote in her Aug. 22, 2009 report.

Stephenson, in her cable, stated that Martinelli first asked her in a BlackBerry message: "I need help tapping phones." The ambassador wrote of Martinelli's "bullying style" and "autocratic tendencies." His "near-obsession with wiretaps betrays a simplistic and naive attitude toward the criminal investigative process," Stephenson wrote. "He appears to believe that wiretaps are the solution to all of his crime problems."

In her cable, the U.S. ambassador stressed that Martinelli's requests were rebuffed. "We will not be party to any effort to expand wiretaps to domestic political targets." But the cable highlights the extent of U.S. listening in Panama, complete with a "wire room" staffed by DEA agents.

Martinelli's office said in a statement Saturday that "help in tapping the telephones of politicians was never requested," and that "any such interpretation of that request is completely mistaken."

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