Mexican Congress Approved a new national security law restricting the activities of foreign law enforcement agencies, in a move that critics say will endanger intelligence sources and threaten the future of international anti-narcotics operations.
The law passed Tuesday deprives foreign agents of diplomatic immunity and requires foreign officials in the country to share any intelligence obtained with Mexican officials.
Without ostensibly targeting officials in a particular country, the new law would likely have an impact on U.S. agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which maintains a strong presence in Mexico.
“You’re going to see a situation where the efforts of US agencies, especially with the DEA, are going to be drastically diminished,” said Mike Vigil, the DEA’s former head of international operations. “They want to relegate agencies like the DEA to do nothing but stay in the office and just pass on information.”
The DEA works closely with Mexican security officials and creates much of the intelligence used in the so-called war on drugs. But US operations have at times provoked a nationalist backlash, and despite billions of dollars in US military aid and attempts at judicial reform, Mexico’s militarized crackdown on crime has left more than 200,000 dead and an estimated 70,000 missing.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador suddenly sent the bill to Congress in early December after complaining about the way the DEA is acting in Mexico.
“Under other governments, they came to Mexico as if they owned the place. They didn’t just conduct intelligence operations, they went looking for targets. [Mexican] the security forces launched the operations, but the decisions were taken by these [foreign] agencies. It doesn’t happen anymore, ”he said.
The law also follows the detention of the country’s former defense secretary for drugs in the United States.
General Salvador Cienfuegos was arrested in November upon landing at Los Angeles airport, but was later repatriated amid pressure from Mexico City – although he was not under investigation in his country original at the time.
Analysts attribute Amlo’s eagerness to secure Cienfuegos’ release in part to the Mexican president’s growing dependence on the military – not only for security operations, but also for other activities ranging from construction projects, a chain of government banks and the management of the country’s seaports.
Ricardo Monreal, Senate whip with López Obrador’s ruling party Morena, called the law “an effort to strengthen the principle of reciprocity in matters of national security.”
But the law has raised alarm on both sides of the border.
United States Attorney General William Barr said in a December 9 statement that the law “can only benefit violent transnational criminal organizations and other criminals we jointly fight.”
Under the new rules, foreign agents in Mexico would be required to share any intelligence obtained in Mexico with Mexican officials, raising concerns that information could leak to criminal groups and corrupt officials.
López Obrador insisted that the armed forces and the Mexican Secretariat for Security and Citizen Protection “are no longer infiltrated” by organized crime.
Analysts scoff at the idea that the leaks no longer happen. “The big concern for US agencies is that it will compromise agents, it will compromise informants, and it will compromise operations and investigations if this happens,” Vigil said.
The National Security Act comes as relations between the United States and Mexico – increasingly close on security matters in recent decades – threaten to turn somewhat nervous as a new U.S. president takes over his duties in January.
López Obrador, who got along well with Donald Trump, showed muffled enthusiasm for the arrival of Joe Biden.
“They want to play the nationalist card and take advantage of the power vacuum in the United States,” said Bárbara González, political analyst in Monterrey. “Nationalist chauvinism plays well with [López Obradorls] base, but ultimately leaves us with our hands tied and less secure. “