MEXICO CITY – In a damning blow to its fight against drug traffickers, the Mexican government Monday acknowledged severe penetration of a top law-enforcement agency by a drug gang that might have bought intelligence on U.S. operations from renegade employees.
At least 35 officials and agents from an elite unit within the federal attorney general’s office have been fired or arrested in an investigation that began in July following tips from an informant.
The officials, including a senior intelligence director, are believed to have been leaking sensitive information to the very traffickers they were investigating for as long as four years, prosecutors said.
In exchange, prosecutors said, the corrupt government officials received monthly payments of $150,000 to $450,000 each from the Beltran-Leyva cartel, a drug gang based in the Pacific state of Sinaloa that is engaged in a bloody fight with rivals for domination of the region’s lucrative drug trade.
The group also has been linked to crimes including the May killing of Edgar Millan Gomez, acting chief of a federal police agency, who authorities believe was targeted in revenge for the arrest of alleged traffickers, including top cartel operative Alfredo Beltran Leyva.
The accused officials were members of the agency, known by its initials in Spanish, SIEDO, in charge of probing drug and weapons smuggling as well as kidnapping and terrorism. Unlike many agencies within a notoriously corrupt police system, SIEDO has a generally good reputation in U.S. government circles.
The case, which represents an unusually serious breach of Mexican security, was launched after an informer with the code name “Felipe” turned himself in at the Mexican Embassy in Washington. He revealed the names of senior SIEDO officials on the cartel’s payroll and was quickly put into a U.S. witness-protection program, according to sources in the attorney general’s office.
“Felipe” told Mexican investigators he had worked for Interpol and then for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico where he relayed information to members of the Beltran-Leyva gang, according to several Mexican media reports.
The embassy declined comment.
In Washington, officials with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said the investigation was ongoing and it was premature to confirm details.
Whether those reports are true, it is certainly possible that information on activities by the DEA in Mexico could be gleaned from within SIEDO, and the alleged spies could have had access to it.
“They handed over secret information and details of operations against the Beltran-Leyva criminal organization,” Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora told a news conference, including details on raids of traffickers’ hideouts and evidence seized.
The full extent and scale to which counter-narcotics operations might have been compromised is not known.
“This investigation is not finished,” Medina Mora said.