Did the CIA Agents in Mexico Shoot at Their Pursuers?

The NYT’s story on the CIA officers shot at in Mexico–and possibly the WaPo one as well–appear to be partly a response to the publication of the CIA connection in Mexico’s lefty La Jornada, which published a series of stories on the event yesterday.  But there are details in those stories not treated in the US stories I’ve seen–details that increase my questions about whether the CIA guys shot at their pursuers.

The NYT, for example, repeats the Mexico Navy’s clarification of its original release that their captain wasn’t actually driving the car, but was sitting in the back seat.

The Mexican Navy said Tuesday in a statement that an American was driving the vehicle and that during the attack the captain, who was handling logistics and translating for the men, remained in the back seat calling for help on his cellphone.

The men were wounded, the Navy said, when the rain of bullets managed to tear through the car’s protective armor.

This appears to be an attempt to answer how the Americans got hurt inside a bullet proof car. But it actually presents more problems than it answers. The pictures of the Land Cruiser show three main kinds of bullet damage to the car: the tires appear to have been shot out (and something may have happened to the back right wheel), at least four bullets hit–and may have pierced–the rear window of the vehicle, and a ton of shots hit–but don’t appear to have pierced–the passenger window. But there appears to be less damage to the driver side, mostly bullets in the steel. Did the bullets enter the rear window and go past the Mexican captain to injure Americans in the front seat? And how do such shots injure people in the leg and stomach–through the steel doors? Remember, too, that some reports say 30 bullets hit the car, but 60 shell casings were found at the scene.

Which is why I find it interesting that Mexico’s Attorney General is asking the Federales for the guns used in the attack.

Oh, and by the way, according to this article, the CIA officers were shooting instructors who were training the Mexican Navy’s special forces on, among other things, sharpshooting.  Are you telling me shooting instructors had no guns in the car–not even the Mexican Navy captain–as reports say over and over?

Though of course if they were really training the Navy on shooting, it’d be more likely that they were JSOC or retired JSOC, which might explain why all these stories came out saying they’re CIA, which is bad, but still not as bad as active duty military would be.

Incidentally, in one of La Jornada’s stories, a Labor Party Senator, Ricardo Monreal bitches not only that Felipe Calderón lets the Americans fly drones in Mexico, but also that he allows US agents to be armed in the country.

And if the Americans–or the Mexican captain, now sitting in the backseat–did return fire, then it might explain another detail reported by La Jornada.

The paper reports that there were actually 18 police involved in the attack, not just the 12 in custody; there was an initial group of police in civilian clothes, and then a later group in uniform, who ultimately stopped the attack (family members of some of the men in custody say they were among the later, uniformed group). More interesting, three of the five (civilian) cars used in the attack are reportedly not in the custody of the Attorney General conducting the investigation. Is there evidence on those cars–such as bullet marks of their own–that somebody in Mexico or the US would like to bury?

Also note, the same article says that when the uniformed police showed up one of the agents yelled out that they were diplomats traveling with a Navy guy, which is what stopped the shooting. Uh, during a gun battle? Yelled? And in what language, given that the Navy captain was purportedly their translator (even the one attached to the US embassy in Mexico)? Did he open the door to yell?

All that’s assuming these guys are really fancy shooting instructors, though. One of La Jornada’s stories reports both that the kind of training these men were doing has been going on since the last Administration (presumably meaning the Fox Administration, which ended in 2006), but also that they’ve been engaged in it just since last Tuesday (remember, one of the two agents is not based in Mexico and was just here on a special assignment, so that’s possible).

Then there’s the question of where the Americans were headed. La Jornada–and the original Navy release–say they were headed to a training camp in Xalatlaco, which is marked on the map above. The fight took place close to the town of Huitzilac, as the Americans were pulling into a dirt road, where the police said they were hunting kidnappers. Except reports say the Americans were coming from Mexico City. It seems like it would only make sense to go through Huitzilac and Tres Marías to get to Xalatlaco if you were coming from Cuernavaca–there are more direct routes from Mexico City. As I noted, there was a shoot out in Cuernavaca the night before this attack, and the CIA agents were originally taken there, only later to be taken to a Navy hospital in Mexico City and then brought back to the States, so it would be interesting if they were coming from Cuernavaca.

Finally, there’s this. La Jornada includes this story in their package on the shooting, without an explanation of what it has to do with the shooting. It talks about the cooperation and intelligence sharing between the US and Mexico on law enforcement–including drugs and money laundering. But it also focuses on US participation in interrogations. And it notes that both the Mexican Navy (in whose company the CIA agents were traveling) and the Attorney General (who is investigating the shooting) conduct such information sharing. Among the two notable cases of cooperation the article discusses is this one, in which the Navy captured a guy they believed to be El Chapo Guzman’s son, but who turned out to be a used car dealer.


After working months with U.S. intelligence, the Mexican navy said it believed it had nabbed a big prize in a known Guadalajara narco-haven: the son of Mexico’s top fugitive drug lord.

But it turned out they got the wrong man.

The man arrested Thursday as the presumed son of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is really Felix Beltran Leon, 23, and not Alfredo Guzman Salazar, as the Mexican Navy had presented him, the Attorney General’s Office said Friday.

Mexico and the US blamed each other for the faulty intelligence.

The Attorney General’s Office issued a statement earlier Friday saying the original information on his identity came from the United States.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said the information came from Mexico.

“The Mexican Navy and Mexican law enforcement have said this is El Chapo’s son and that’s what we took,” said DEA spokesman Rusty Payne, noting that the DEA is working separately to confirm the man’s identity.

Now, the article may be entirely unrelated, or it may imply there’s a tie they can’t confirm between this earlier botched operation and the shooting last week.

As the WaPo reported yesterday, one of the guys in the incident, Stan Dove Boss had a post office box in the same facility as a guy involved in renditions. And the Federales claimed they were investigating a kidnapping, which si another name for capture and interrogation, particularly of the kind we’ve been doing in the last decade.

Were these guys in Mexico for shooting lessons, or interrogations?

Update: In addition to all the reasons why the Mexicans and Americans would have for hiding whatever these spooks were doing in Mexico, there’s also the recent example of the DEA-related shooting in Honduras. A report released earlier this month makes it clear our government has been lying its ass off about what went on in the May 11 shooting.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

11 replies
  1. What Could Go Wrong says:

    well, in addition to the DEA murdering innocent Honduran civilians and this episode in Mexico, now the usa is getting involved again for the gazillionth time in former United Fruit territory (and remember, the usa has permanent troops / agents / bases in Colombia):

    200 US Marines join anti-drug effort in Guatemala

    A team of 200 US Marines has begun patrolling Guatemala’s western coast this week in what a military spokesman says is an unprecedented operation to beat drug traffickers in the Central America region.

    Guatemalan authorities say they signed a treaty allowing the operation on July 16.

    Less than a month later an Air Force C-5 cargo plane landed in Guatemala City loaded with the Marines and their four helicopters.


  2. OrionATL says:

    i have no idea what paramilitary folk are allowed or told to do in such attacks, but civilians being transported under guard in, e.g., iraq, are told if something happens, get down and stay down. never open a window or door. never leave the vehicle.

  3. Uh Oh We Got Trouble Brewing says:

    in the end, it is always – always – the little things (i.e., getting your armoured embassy vehcile with dip plates shot to sh*t) that cause the unraveling.

    Mexicans raise questions over CIA role in drug war

    Mexican politicians demanded answers from their government on Wednesday after reports that two Americans wounded when federal police opened fire on a US embassy car were working for the CIA.

    The US and Mexican governments have said little about the victims’ work since last week’s shooting, a silence that has put a spotlight on the growing but often secretive US role in Mexico’s brutal drug war.

    Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, a member of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, had already raised questions about the CIA’s presence on Tuesday.

    “The Mexican government must give a complete report on what the CIA is doing here, with whom it is working and what is the extent of its work,” Ebrard said. “Everything is in the dark.”

    Mexican President Felipe Calderon has refused to disclose the number of US law enforcement agents in Mexico. Under Mexican law, foreign agents or soldiers are forbidden from taking part in operations or carrying weapons in the country.

    “The expansion of the US presence within Mexican soil is unprecedented,” Edgardo Buscaglia, a security expert and senior research scholar at New York’s Columbia University said. “We are reaching levels – not in terms of soldiers but in terms of American intelligence – that are close to Afghanistan.”


  4. emptywheel says:

    @OrionATL: Yeah, there wouldn’t be a good reason to open the door on a properly functioning bullet proof car. Though it sounds like the shooting was the worst after the car had come to a stop (one report said the engine stopped–though it does look like something happened to that back wheel).

    So it may change things if you’re sitting there like a duck.

  5. MadDog says:

    You and the other resident Wheelies have a surfeit of fine posts today.

    First, a minor typo EW, and it made me laugh:

    “…And the Federales claimed they were investigating a kidnapping, which si another name for capture and interrogation, particularly of the kind we’ve been doing in the last decade…”

    I’m sure you meant “is” and it was merely a typing transposition (something I find myself doing all too frequently).

    However, given that the post is tied directly to Mexico, perhaps you actually did mean “Sí”.

    Nevermind! *g*

    As we both commented earlier this AM, I too find the “official” US explanation too dubious to be at all credible.

    And thanks for effectively translating La Jornada’s stories! Like you, I wonder why the US media coverage can’t seem to find their own assholes with both hands discover any of the pertinent details about the incident. You know, stuff like “training the Mexican Navy’s special forces on, among other things, sharpshooting.”

    On the question regarding whether the 2 CIA operatives and their Mexican Navy colleague had arms with them in the car, the answer is probably “yes, but”.

    If the detail about training for sharpshooting is truthful (I’m not saying it is or isn’t), then the traveling compañeros may have had long guns with them.

    However, it is quite normal that when traveling with long guns, they are packed away in gun cases. Particularly if they are the type of weapons used for long-distance shooting where the owners want to protect the rather delicate scopes.

  6. jo6pac says:

    This really pretty simple the cia is taking out the competition in Mexico and in other narco South American countries they control. The other side is fighting back. It’s nothing new as the late Gary Webb wrote about in his book.

  7. Send In The Marines says:

    this is the problem that the usa Tax Payer faces – the usa government established all of these “Commands” and now has to find a use for them (i.e., Southern Command, Africa Command, etc etc) and so has to search hig and low to come up with some plausible effort.

    usa increases drug monitoring in Guatemalan, Honduran waters

    The USA military is ramping up anti-drug trafficking efforts in Guatemalan and Honduran waters to keep up with shifting smuggling routes.

    USA Southern Command, based in Doral, Florida, is responsible for coordinating military operations in Latin American and the Caribbean, sent 171 Marines and four helicopters to Guatemala this month as part of Operation Martillo.


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