A federal intelligence official was suspended yesterday for his role in a security operation in which a plainclothes agent tailed a candidate for president.
Interior Secretary Alfonso Navarrete Prida told a press conference that the Veracruz sub-delegate of the Center for Investigation and National Security (CISEN) had been removed from office for failing to inform his superiors about an incident Sunday between candidate Ricardo Anaya and the CISEN agent.
After observing that he was being tailed, the National Action Party (PAN) candidate confronted a man in an unmarked Jeep at the entrance to a gas station and asked him why he was following him.
The encounter was filmed and posted to Anaya’s social media accounts Tuesday with an accompanying caption that read:
“During recent days, they have been following me. Today it’s a [Nissan] Tilda. A few days ago, a Jeep. One of the drivers confessed to being from CISEN. Instead of pursuing criminals, they spy on opponents. That’s what they spend state resources on. That’s why we are as we are.”
But Navarrete Prida stressed that it was for security reasons rather than espionage purposes that the intelligence agency was following the opposition party candidate.
He said CISEN and the government of Veracruz had come to an agreement to monitor Anaya’s movements while he was in the state to hold an event marking the end of the official pre-campaign period.
He added that federal authorities thought Anaya had been notified because the governor of Veracruz, who also belongs to the PAN, was aware of the plan.
However, PAN spokesman Fernando Rodríguez Doval denied that Anaya or anyone on his team was informed that CISEN agents would be following them nor had the candidate requested a government security detail.
“It was apparently an irregularity, because he should have been informed,” Navarrete conceded, adding that “the only purpose was to report any mishap” in a state where there are high levels of violent cartel-related crime.
Navarrete added that all of the agents involved in the operation had been summoned and that they may also face sanctions if found guilty of any wrongdoing.
The interior secretary also questioned why Anaya had waited two days to report the incident and when he finally did, why he chose to do so via social media.
Critics of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) have long feared that it uses CISEN as a means to carry out political spying.
Leading presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador has also said that he has been tailed by CISEN agents and pledged to disband the agency should he win the July 1 election.
Last year it was revealed that the federal Attorney General’s office (PGR) had purchased and used advanced spyware against critics of the government and their families. Canadian research organization Citizen Lab said that CISEN was one of the agencies that used the Pegasus software.
Critics have also questioned how monitoring political opponents can be justified in a country where the government has struggled to carry out successful intelligence operations against the much larger threat posed by Mexico’s notorious drug cartels.
Security analyst and former CISEN employee Alejandro Hope wrote in the newspaper El Universal that following candidates was “stupid” and “wasteful.”
He was also critical of the National Security Law, which he said was too broad and vague in the discretion it granted to the intelligence agency.
The law says that CISEN can “carry out intelligence as part of the national security system to aid in preserving the integrity, stability and continuance of the Mexican government, to sustain governability.”
Hope wrote that the language used in the law “says nothing and can allow anything,” adding “it should be reviewed as quickly as possible.”