NSA’s Latin American Mandate
Spying on Mexico has been a US hobby for years. Fittingly, it was Edward Snowden who disclosed what we all suspected: Mexican officials and their citizens are fair game, their authorities of key importance to interests in Washington. The German weekly Der Spiegel reported on Sunday that the email of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s had been hacked via Mexico’s Presidencia domain. Just as this storm was brewing, Le Monde reported that the National Security Agency had secretly monitored 70.3 million phone communications in France over 30 years from December 10 last year to January 8 this year (AFP, Oct 22).
What does it suggest? Business as usual, despite the official statement from the Mexican foreign ministry that this was “unacceptable, illegitimate and against Mexican and international law.” Last month, Brazil’s Globo TV network revealed that the NSA had been gazing at the emails of current Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto before he succeeded Calderon in December 2012. Nieto could not be trusted, given his electoral platform of winding down military engagement with the drug cartels while telling the Obama administration that no change on the policy would take place.
The Mexican state has always been regarded as a bastard child of colonial strife – first, of Spanish ambition, then, the eagle eye of the United States. Such children are unruly. And, in the words of another Mexican president Porfirio Diaz, they are so far from God, and so close to the United States. Washington is banking on the fact that Mexico, while fretting a bit, will go about its business of trade and maintaining cross-border security. 80 percent of its exports go to the US.
Such overlording on Washington’s part is to be expected. President Woodrow Wilson may have embraced open diplomacy, but he was, especially in matters concerning Latin America, vulnerable to cant. He was concerned about instability near home, a sense that the darker savages down south were bound to misbehave in their experiments with government. This was particularly so with Gen. Victoriano Huerta, who had overthrown President Francisco Madero two weeks before Wilson assumed office.
Even more interesting is a note from the Central Intelligence Agency, published on its website titled “Intelligence Throughout History: Woodrow Wilson and the Mexican Revolution.” It praises Wilson’s “analytical method” in gathering sources from the US neighbour. Photography and “tapping telephone lines”, including German and Austrian phones, also featured. Signals intelligence (SIGINT) “turned out to be especially useful in the spring of 1915 in preventing Huerta’s return to Mexico from exile in Spain, to which he fled in July 1914.”
This pressing interest, even obsession, in stabilising the south persisted into the 1940s, suggesting that US authorities have tended to regard Mexican sovereignty as more footnote than body. They are to be observed rather than trusted. The future Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman E. Borlaugh was sent as part of a political-agrarian mission at the behest of the Rockefeller Foundation. The aim was to modernise the supposedly archaic Mexican agrarian system. Mexico became a guinea pig of seed technology, intensive farming, the use of pesticides and insecticides. The aim: to calm the peasantry and hope that the wooing ideology of communism would not take hold. The result was the not so Green Revolution, something that Borlaugh has become a secular saint for, but which has cost, in various forms, livelihoods and lives.
The modern scale of interest in Mexico varies in terms of priorities. The US intelligence services, according to Snowden’s disclosures, tend to rank their strategic objectives on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being high priority, 5 being of lowest significance. In terms of Mexico, the drug trade earns the gold medal; the country’s leadership gets a passing grade of importance at 3. In operational terms, the exploitation of the “key mail server in the Mexican Presidencia domain within the Mexican Presidential network” via operation “Flatliquid” proved to be a “lucrative source”. The NSA document barely contains the excitement of its authors, given that the email domain also gained them access to “diplomatic, economic and leadership communications which continue to provide insight into Mexico’s political system and internal stability.”
Stability has been the watchword. In August 2009, again according to Der Spiegel, an operation called “Whitetamale” was employed whereby the NSA hacked the emails of high-ranking officials in Mexico’s Public Security Secretariat. Access was thereby obtained to “diplomatic talking-points” and knowledge of various drug cartels. The motivations here were as much economic and political.
The spy regime on Latin America is Washington’s extension of what it has done since President Monroe decided that the South was a sphere of American interests exclusive to that of Europe. The Europeans might have been marauders, keen on exercising influence in the Americas (their great gifts were small pox, the conquistadores and envy), and the fledgling American state wished to have that exclusive bite of the cherry. The playground was big yet too small for other powers.
The NSA is merely the extension of that project. Their masters have made it clear who the enemies are: Everybody, for all time.
Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and ran with Julian Assange for the WikiLeaks Party as a senate candidate for Victoria. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org