Through the Office of Bi-National Intelligence (OBI), U.S. intelligence agents are operating in Mexico with the authority of the Mexican government, spying on organizations, drug cartels, even government agencies and diplomatic missions. Authors of the Proceso story Jorge Carrasco and Jesus Esquivel indicate that the cooperative effort was initiated because of the drug war, and it allows agents to operate without having to disguise themselves as diplomats.
The OBI was originally proposed by the then-head of U.S. National Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair. It was authorized by Mexican President Felipe Calderon after former President Vicente Fox negotiated with Washington, D.C. for such an organization. The formal agreement calls for U.S. personnel to interact with Mexican counterparts; i.e., coordination of the State Department and the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
According to the March 25, 2009 White House document establishing the OBI, the office is also responsible for overseeing the use of resources provided by Washington to Calderon to battle narcotics trafficking, especially through the Merida Initiative of 2008 — a cooperative effort of Mexico, Central America, and the United States to combat drug trafficking, organized crime, and money laundering.
The OBI intelligence center was announced August 21. The nondescript building headquarters, near the U.S. embassy in Mexico City, houses offices of the CIA, FBI, and Departments of Justice (DEA and BATF), Treasury, and Homeland Security. It is defined by intelligence services as a “soft-target area” — an undefended potential target.
The occupants of the top three floors are unidentified, and the roof supports a dozen satellite dishes; parking and reception areas are guarded by private security forces. The Mexico City government has installed surveillance cameras in order to observe persons and vehicles outside the building.
The Federal District, where the OBI is centered, is also home to Marriott and Sheraton hotels, as well as facilities for Ford and American Airlines.
The most significant presence in the building is the Pentagon and its agencies: The Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the NSA. According to Proceso, the presence of Pentagon 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.
A number of powerful drug lords have since been killed.
Two remote OBI offices, in Tijuana and Juarez, were opened to house U.S. agents coordinating anti-drug operations with the support of the Mexican government and military personnel. Both governments declared in a joint statement that in the case of Ciudad Juarez, the program plans to develop "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."
The number of U.S. intelligence agents operating in Mexico is classified.
Mexico’s government has also militarized its drug offensive. Part of that effort involves the Pentagon’s cooperation with the Mexican army. The U.S. Department of Defense has subsequently increased military training for Mexicans in Mexico, as well as on several U.S. military bases. Training courses are focused on intelligence, tactical operations against drug trafficking and terrorism, and implementation of counterinsurgency tactics.
Carrasco and Esquivel continued:
The main example of this cooperation is the presence — for the first time in the bilateral relationship — of 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 Proceso.
On Wednesday [November] 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 [were] 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.
An anonymous U.S. official told the Mexican journalists,
We have received direct instruction from the [U.S.] President and the highest levels in government, to really examine what more can be done in this counter-narcotics cooperation with Mexico.
The article concluded:
However, [in] 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.
Austin, Texas political talk-show host Bob Dacy has studied such issues extensively and questions the wisdom of any such agreement with a foreign country:
If we can siphon resources to establish an intelligence/military/government spy hive in Mexico, what’s to prevent them from claiming reciprocity and trying to establish one here?
And if that’s the case, what happened to national sovereignty?
If the integration of Canada, Mexico, and the United States into a North American Union is the goal, then a "coordinated effort" to counter narcotics trafficking and the associated violence is certainly a convenient reason to give in order to move forward with that process.
But yet another gargantuan outflow of resources and money to a foreign country is seen by a growing number of Americans to be irresponsible at best. Considering that the foreign country is Mexico, many have proposed that border protection provides the best guarantee of security for U.S. citizens while at the same time keeping America's resources within its borders.
Protest sign in Mexico reading "Get out FBI": AP Images