Mexican Bombings Highlight Poor Intel

(International Relations and Security Network, 13/09/2007)


Eleven bombs exploded in the early morning hours of 10 September, destroying gas pipelines operated by Mexican state-run energy company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) in the state of Veracruz.


Operations of hundreds of companies in at least 10 Mexican states are still offline, collectively costing the Mexican economy over US$200 million and leaving idle some 10,000 Mexican workers.

It is the third bomb attack in as many months orchestrated by the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR), a guerrilla group many believed until 10 September to be little more than an under-funded gathering of peasants from Oaxaca.


Some facts have solidified. The EPR has the sophistication to cause significant damage to selected targets and will continue its campaign until demands are met. After the second bombing, which shut down Pemex operations in Guanajuato and Queretaro in July, this first theory was forwarded as a strong one. It is now considered a fact.


Second, the Mexican intelligence system is not prepared to deal with this domestic threat.


In a 12 September editorial published by Mexican daily El Universal , at least one columnist believes the Mexican intelligence system is broken. The truth is likely not far from his opinion.


According to the author, an agent placed in Oaxaca, the EPR's center of activity, warned of another attack over a month ago. Agents working with the US' Central Intelligence Agency office in Mexico City echoed these warnings with their own analysis that suggested the EPR would strike again, and soon. Neither report could narrow down the type of attack, whether it would be a bombing or the kidnapping of a politically exposed person, but both suggested the EPR would strike again.


One of Mexico's intelligence organizations, the Center for Research on National Security (CISEN), was responsible for processing this information. Its director, Guillermo Valdes, is a political appointee, a friend of President Felipe Calderon, and according to the El Universal columnist, has no idea how to run an intelligence organization. His curriculum vitae reads more like that of a political scientist, not a seasoned intelligence officer.


Soon after the bombings in July, Valdes was contacted by his boss, Interior Secretary Francisco Acuña, who put pressure on him to unravel the EPR's operations and make sure bombings did not happen again. Every Monday, Acuña, Valdes and others responsible for national security meet with the president, but few if any concrete steps have apparently been taken in stopping the EPR.


Yet Pemex operates over 62,000 kilometers of pipeline in Mexico, of which at least 4,000 kilometers are considered strategic assets. As Pemex director Jesus Reyes Heroles pointed out on 12 September, the company alone cannot protect these installations. But the army has business elsewhere. Suggestions that the army's preoccupation with Mexico's primary national security concern, organized crime, has displaced attention from the EPR and future bombings may be more accurate than many care to believe.


Reports stating that the government official responsible for the security of strategic pipeline assets, Gernaro Garcia Luna, has not met once with officials from Mexico's Defense Department in the past two months confirm suspicions that the army either does not care about the EPR or is thinly stretched across Mexico, dealing with the steady level of organized criminal violence.


Meanwhile, Mexican intelligence has forwarded educated guesses about the EPR's ability to infiltrate Pemex.


Through ties with the Union of Mexican Oil Workers, the EPR might have obtained classified information regarding the organizational nature of the Pemex pipe network. Only with this information, intelligence officials explain, could the EPR have placed bombs in the precise locations where interrupted gas supplies would cause maximum economic damage.


In the 10 September bombing ,12 bombs were placed in 12 specific locations. All but one exploded. There are no leads, no suspects and little evidence to suggest the attack was not organized and implemented by sophisticated professionals. Such a clean operation hints at insider connections, but no evidence of such ties has been made public, if even discovered.


Fortunately, the EPR has no intention of causing human casualties. But as the organization's bombing campaign continues, the economic damage to national and international business operations in Mexico will not go unnoticed by international media and perhaps investors.


So far, the EPR has had a very successful run of sabotage. It has established itself as more than a nuisance and more sophisticated than a group of dusty peasants - and for now, President Calderon's administration seems unable to do anything about it.