December 7, 2010
"The fact is governments deal with the United States because it's in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us and not because they think we can keep secrets. -Robert Gates, U.S. Secretary of Defense
WikiLeaks, a website operated by Julian Assange that publishes leaked material provided by insider informants, is in the process of releasing a quarter of a million documents from the U.S. Department of State. These documents were diplomatic cables, or dispatches, sent from U.S. diplomats worldwide to the Department of State, or vice-versa.
These dispatches were allegedly retrieved and passed on to WikiLeaks by Bradley Manning, a low-ranking Army intelligence analyst stationed in Baghdad.
How on earth was a person of his status able to get ahold of such a big batch of material? The military had better find out and correct that situation, as soon as possible.
As for the international fallout from the leaks, that is still continuing. But since they´re out there, we might as well discuss them, right?
Reportedly, none of these diplomatic documents were classified as “top secret”, though many were classified as “secret” or “confidential” or “unclassified.”
It’s fair to point out that any organization, be it public or private, including WikiLeaks itself, has its institutional secrets it doesn’t want revealed. That certainly goes for the U.S State Department. Cables from U.S. diplomats from throughout the world are sent to the State Department to provide observations for analysis back in the State department, to help guide our foreign policy.
I´m reminded of that famous scene from the movie Casablanca, in which Captain Renault declares that “I´m shocked – shocked to find that gambling is going on in here."
By the same token, people are shocked that diplomacy is going on here. Information gathering is part of diplomacy and there is a thin line between information gathering and spying.
Don’t all governments with a diplomatic corps engage in similar activity?
Indeed, a lot of the material I have seen from the WikiLeaks document dump is not that shocking. Much of it was already in the public domain and known to people who follow the news on the internet.
Even the personal descriptions don’t seem too far off the mark. Cables describe French president Nicolas Sarkozy as “thin-skinned” and “authoritarian”, German chancellor Angela Merkel as “risk averse and rarely creative” and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as “vain.” How entertaining!
I’d like to read foreign diplomats’ descriptions of our leaders!
There is a lot of material from the Middle East, indicating, among other things, that it’s not only the U.S. and Israel who are concerned about Iranian nuclear ambitions. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arabs are quite concerned as well. Once again, though, no big surprise.
What about Mexico? What do the WikiLeaks reveal about the ongoing drug cartel violence south of the border?
First the disclaimers. The Mexican foreign ministry has condemned the release of the documents, because the content of the memos is “incomplete and inaccurate.”
Carlos Pascual, American ambassador to Mexico says that the dispatches relating to Mexico (some that he himself authored) “do not represent U.S. policy.”
Yes, well, both governments would feel compelled to say that, now wouldn’t they?
The real question is, though, now that the information is leaked, is it accurate or not?
Katherine Corcoran, of the Associated Press, summed up the information this way:
“Mexico’s 4-year-old assault on drug cartels lacks a clear strategy and a modernized military, and suffers from infighting among security agencies, according to U.S. State Department cables leaked to WikiLeaks.”
According to the diplomatic cables, the Mexican Army is behind the times, it’s slow, avoids risks and ignores intelligence offered it by the U.S.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is concerned with how the stress of it all affects Mexican president Calderon’s “personality and management style.” Pascual says that in meetings, the Mexican president seems “down.”
Secretary Clinton also wants to know if Calderon’s advisors challenge him, asking “Does he like to get into debates with people who disagree with him?”
Ambassador Pascual, in a dispatch sent in November of 2009, wrote that “Mexico’s use of strategic and tactical intelligence is often fractured, ad hoc, and heavily reliant on the United States for leads and operations.” Pascual also complained about turf wars between Mexican security agencies, and that these agencies “would rather hoard intelligence than allow a rival agency to succeed.”
Mexico’s corruption and low prosecution rate are discussed. That’s not exactly a shock.
A memo reports that “Calderon has aggressively attacked Mexico’s drug-trafficking organizations but has struggled with an unwieldy and uncoordinated interagency and spiraling rates of violence that have made him vulnerable to criticism that his anti-crime strategy has failed.”
Shortly before the leak release began, Calderon criticized;
“the spying of the Americans, who have always been very interfering in this sense.” On the other hand, the cables reveal that Calderon has urged the U.S. to increase its political engagement with Latin America.
Geronimo Gutierrez, Mexico’s Undersecretary of the Interior, was a fertile source of quotes
In October of 2009, Gutierrez “expressed a real concern with ‘losing’ certain regions” of the country to the drug cartels. Looking at the big picture, the official said that “It is damaging Mexico’s international reputation, hurting foreign investment, and leading to a sense of government impotence.” And, Gutierrez looked ahead:
“If we do not produce a tangible success that is recognizable to the Mexican people, it will be difficult to sustain the confrontation into the next administration.” (The official has since resigned).
Sometimes a social event like a dinner can be revealing. One dispatch reports a dinner hosted by Mexico’s Attorney General for officials from the U.S Justice Department. There, Gutierrez said that the Merida Initiative (the U.S. aid program for Mexico’s drug war) was cobbled together too quickly to be effective.
A diplomat reports that “In retrospect [Gutierrez] and other GOM (government of Mexico) officials realize that not enough strategic thought went into Merida in the early phase. There was too much emphasis in the initial planning on equipment, which they now know is slow to arrive and even slower to be of direct utility in the fight against the DTOs (drug-trafficking organizations).”
Gutierrez and Jorge Tello (National Security System Coordinator) described the pressure on Calderon to resolve the situation in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s most violent city: “Politically…Calderon has staked so much of his reputation there, with a major show of force that, to date, has not panned out.”
Another part of the problem is Mexico’s low prosecution rates. According to a diplomatic cable “Prosecution rates for organized crime-related offenses are dismal, 2 percent of those detained are brought to trial. Only 2 percent of those arrested in Ciudad Juarez have even been charged with a crime.”
It’s not that the U.S. isn’t willing to help Mexico, reveal the dispatches, but that requires “the development of strong trust through proper vetting”. This cable seems to be referring to the problem of corruption within the security forces. “It would also be excellent to get to the point where there is no longer impunity for Chapo Guzman” the cables say of Mexico’s most wanted man and Forbes magazine billionaire.
It’s despressing, that’s for sure. So is there anything positive to note here?
Well, according to the diplomatic cables, the Mexican Navy receives high marks in its performance. Pascual has reported that the U.S. had information on the whereabouts of drug kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva (chief of the Beltran Leyva cartel) and provided it to the Mexican Army. The Army however, didn’t move fast enough. The Mexican Navy, however, moved faster and sent in the Marines who killed the notorious drug baron. During the struggle for power within the Beltran Leyva cartel after his death, the Marines took out Sergio Villarreal. They also killed “Tony Tormenta” of the Gulf cartel.
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But, as an example of that inter-agency competition, there is friction between the Mexican Army and Mexican Marines, according to the cables. The diplomatic dispatches give higher marks to the Navy than the Army, reporting that Mexico’s Navy “has shown itself capable of responding quickly to actionable intelligence. Its success puts the army…in the difficult position of explaining why it has been reluctant to act on good intelligence and conduct operations against high-level targets.”
There is still plenty of WikiLeaks material on the way, which may provide more insight. But given the information leaked thus far, who can honestly say that it’s wrong? It does seem to fit with what we knew about the situation already.
© 2010 Allan Wall - All Rights Reserved
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Allan Wall recently returned to the U.S. after residing many years in Mexico.