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The operation was initially code-named "Lowrider," but officially known as the Northern Command Aerial Sensor Platform. And like so many military enterprises since 9/11, the contract was privatized: Without a bidding process, the government farmed it out to a large private defense company, Sierra Nevada Corporation, to provide the planes, pilots and crews for the classified missions.
For years, in response to the mounting violence, the U.S. and Mexican governments have been secretly sharing intelligence on drug traffickers. But the previously unreported spy-plane operation underscores how deeply involved the U.S. military has become in the war against the cartels, even as the general public has remained largely unaware of the extent of its operations.
In private, because of the classified nature of the program, insiders raise a number of questions, not just about the effectiveness of the missions, but also about the way a secret intelligence contract was awarded, and about the potential risks to American flight crews.
According to a source involved in the surveillance program, the manned spy planes take off from Texas and cross the border, flying deep into Mexico to conduct “pattern of life” reconnaissance missions. It’s a technique the U.S. military has used in the wars in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The pilots quietly watch from the air and learn the schedules and itineraries of America’s adversaries. Sources say this program employs just two aircraft, which are outfitted with sophisticated electronic-intercept technology and cameras capable of tracking a suspect from 6 miles away.
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Translated by un vato for Borderland Beat
MEXICO, DF. (proceso.com.mx).--The Mexican Office of Attorney General (PGR: Procuraduria General de la Republica) has decided to restrict official reports about organized crime in the country for 12 years, such as the number of cartels, their names and their areas of operation.
The agency headed by Jesus Murillo Karam argues that disclosure of these facts would affect law enforcement strategies (used) to fight organized crime and would, in addition, even risk the lives of criminals themselves, according to Reforma (journal).
MEXICO CITY - It is being hailed as the first-ever Mexican counterpart to the CIA. But for this new “superministry” of government, established secretly over the past few weeks by just-installed President Enrique Peña Nieto, the main targets are the powerful and bloody organized crime networks that control the vast drug trade. The objective of the National Intelligence Center (CNI) is to gather all the information generated by every Mexican governmental body linked to security and law enforcement. The project has been in planning stages since Peña Nieto’s campaign for the presidency began last year, but details have only now been revealed by Mexican news magazine Proceso. Government officials who spoke anonymously with Proceso say they fear the Mexican Government lacks the necessary knowledge to face a task of this magnitude. Indeed several U.S. government agencies had tried to make something similar happen in Mexico under the last administration of President Felipe Calderon.
According to the sources, Peña Nieto’s aim is to emulate the intelligence operations, tactics and spy activities of the CIA, which centralizes relevant information in one single entity. According to Santiago-based America Economia, another task that will be handled by the CNI will be to take over all the missing people cases related to organized crime. Peña Nieto is hoping to maintain one of his central electoral promises of slowly demilitarizing the fight against organized crime undertaken by Calderon. The CNI will help, for example, in the studying of different options and scenarios before launching any type of operative against a certain cartel, drug trafficker or element of organized crime. According to Proceso, shortly after being elected, Peña Nieto asked Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, who he later named Interior Minister, to hire U.S. consulting agencies specialized in intelligence and security to help build the new agency, which should be officially inaugurated later this year.
Pentagon bolsters US training in Mexico's drug fight
WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon is stepping up aid for Mexico's bloody drug war with a new U.S.-based special operations headquarters to teach Mexican security forces how to hunt drug cartels the same way special operations teams hunt al-Qaida, according to documents and interviews with multiple U.S. officials.
Such assistance could help newly elected Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto establish a military force to focus on drug criminal networks that have terrorized Mexico's northern states and threatened the Southwest U.S. border.
Based at the U.S. Northern Command in Colorado, Special Operations Command-North will build on a commando program that has brought Mexican military, intelligence and law enforcement officials to study U.S. counterterrorist operations from the U.S. to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, to show them how special forces troops built an interagency network to target al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden and his followers. The special operations team within Northcom will be turned into a new headquarters, led by a general instead of a colonel, and was established in a Dec. 31 memo signed by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. That move gives the group more autonomy, and the number of people could eventually triple from 30 to 150, meaning the headquarters could expand its training missions with Mexican personnel, even though no new money is being assigned to the mission.The special operations program has already helped Mexican officials set up their own intelligence center in Mexico City to target criminal networks, patterned after similar centers in war zones built to target al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Iraq, two current U.S. officials said.
Mexican military, intelligence and law enforcement chiefs have already toured the Joint Special Operations Command headquarters at Fort Bragg in North Carolina to see how U.S. officers coordinate efforts by special operations aircraft, naval vessels and air- and sea-based raiders, according to one current military official. A small group of top Mexican military and intelligence officials also visited the command's targeting center at the Balad air base in Iraq before the U.S. troop withdrawal there in 2011, a former U.S. official said. U.S. officials stress that sharing this expertise does not mean U.S. special operations teams will be conducting raids against targets in Mexico, nor will they be entering the country with their own weapons. Mexico forbids U.S. military or law enforcement officers to carry guns inside their borders, with few exceptions, though American commandos have conducted training missions in the past, two current and one former U.S. military official said. They were speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss such sensitive missions.