A major drug cartel has infiltrated the Mexican attorney general’s office and may have paid a spy inside the US embassy for details of the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) operations, Mexican prosecutors said on Monday.
The DEA’s intelligence chief expressed concern about the alleged spy’s claims but said he couldn’t confirm that the embassy had been infiltrated and that it was too early to pull out undercover agents for fear their identities may have been compromised.
Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said five officials of his Organized Crime unit were arrested on allegations they served as informants for the Beltran-Leyva cartel. He said there were indications other spies still work inside his agency.
The embassy employee, who also at one time worked for Interpol at the Mexico City airport, is now a protected witness after telling Mexican officials in Washington that he leaked details of DEA operations to the cartel, an attorney general’s official said on condition of anonymity.
“We are not planning changing anyone at the embassy at this point,” DEA intelligence chief Anthony Placido said at a Washington news conference called to celebrate Mexico’s capture of Eduardo Arellano Felix, a leading member of a violent Tijuana-based cartel.
“Law enforcement work anywhere in the world, and certainly in Mexico, can be perilous,” Placido said in response to a question about whether the infiltration endangered undercover agents. “Is it dangerous? Absolutely.”
US Ambassador Tony Garza said the DEA and the US Marshals provided information on Arellano Felix’s whereabouts to Mexican authorities that helped them locate him.
The revelations of corruption inside the control centers of the US-Mexican anti-drug effort were a major blow to Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s anti-drug campaign, in which he has sent tens of thousands of troops and federal police to combat cartels.
Calderon himself has long acknowledged corruption is widespread in police forces, and Placido said that with billions of dollars flowing to the cartels from the US, some corruption is inevitable on both sides of the border.
Monday’s case represents the most serious known infiltration of anti-crime agencies since the 1997 arrest of General Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, then head of Mexico’s anti-drug agency.
In Mexico City, Assistant Attorney General Marisela Morales said two top employees of her organized-crime unit and at least three federal police agents assigned to it may have been passing information on surveillance targets and potential raids for at least four years.
One was an assistant intelligence director and the other served as a liaison in requesting searches and assigning officers to carry them out. The agents and officials each received between US$150,000 and US$450,000 per month for the information, Morales said.
All but one were arrested weeks ago.
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