10/29/13 — More information has surfaced about the allegations of U.S. spying on Mexico that add to the claims that broke earlier in September. The classified documents leaked by whistleblower and ex-contractor of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Edward Snowden initially alleged that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) spied on Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018) during his campaign for the Mexican presidency. More reports have since been released, this time claiming the NSA hacked the email of Peña Nieto’s predecessor, Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), thus allowing the agency to eavesdrop on the Mexican government while he was in office.
The claims were reported on by German newspaper Der Spiegel on October 20, just over six weeks after President Obama spoke with Peña Nieto about the earlier allegations, vowing to bring about a profound investigation into the matter. The new report describes the U.S. operation called “Flatliquid” in which the NSA gained access to Calderón’s public email account, an account that Mexican Cabinet members also used. As Der Spiegel writes, “this email domain…contained ‘diplomatic, economic, and leadership communications which continue to provide insight into Mexico’s political system and internal stability.’” The NSA had also prioritized its areas of interest in Mexico to monitor, ranking the drug trade as the most important, followed by Mexico’s political leadership, economic stability, military capabilities, human rights, international trade relations, and counterespionage, writes the German news report.
The hacking of former President Calderón’s email while in office comes as a surprise given the close relationship the United States and Mexico had during his presidency. The countries reached unprecedented levels of cooperation in security issues, largely through the $1.9 billion (USD) Mérida Initiative still in effect today. In response to the espionage claims, Calderón took to Twitter, stating this is “more than just personal, it’s an affront to the nation’s institutions.” Meanwhile, Mexico’s government stated publicly, “This practice is unacceptable, illegitimate, and against Mexican and international law.” Said Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs José Antonio Meade, “We don’t want an explanation; we are demanding an investigation.” Nevertheless, critics point out that Mexico’s reaction has been rather reserved, largely because it needs to balance its response against maintaining amicable relations with its powerful ally with whom it shares close economic, political, and social ties.
This is not the first time in recent years the United States has spied on Mexico. In 2009, the NSA launched Operation “Whitetamale,” under which it monitored various high-ranking officials in Mexico’s Ministry of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública, SSP), tapping their emails, and providing access to confident information about security issues, notably drug cartels. Mexico is also not the only alleged target of U.S. espionage, as claims of NSA spying on other major U.S. allies including Brazil, France, and Germany continue to surface. Given the high stakes and serious damage the spying has had and could have on such diplomatic relations, the United States has vowed to revise its surveillance programs by the end of the year. “We’ve begun to review the way that we gather intelligence,” the NSA explained, “so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share.”