The Chapo Secrets the Press Should Be Squealing About

Update: For those who haven’t already read it, this post, Sean Penn, Intelligence Dangle, will help explain this one. 

The frenzy among journalists about Sean Penn’s Chapo Guzmán story has continued over two days now. As is typical of press frenzies, it is largely divorced from the actual details involved.

So I’d like to revisit the question of what Penn may have withheld from his story — because the press is frenzying over the wrong thing.

The Rolling Stone says “Some names have had
 to be changed, locations not named.” As with the rest of the disclosure statement, the language here is notable, as the passive voice avoids saying not only whose names got withheld, but who made the decision to withhold them.

Subsequent reporting, handed over from Mexican intelligence, makes clear that authorities know those details pertaining to Chapo’s side. Kate del Castillo and Penn first went to Guadalajara, where they stayed in Villa Ganz. From there they were driven to an air strip in Tepic, Nayarait, where they were flown in a private plane to Cosalá, Sinaloa and then driven to a location on the border of Durango. Del Castillo’s primary interlocutor is named as Andrés Granados Flores, though she also met with Óscar Manuel Gómez Núñez (the latter of whom was arrested weeks after the Penn meeting as the mastermind of Chapo’s escape last year).

Penn’s own narrative makes it clear that both Alfredo and Iván Guzmán, Chapo’s sons, attended the meeting. The only Sinaloans whose names he may have changed were “Alonzo” (who is likely to be Granados)  and, possibly, some bodyguard type in Chapo’s presence, Rodrigo. He may have protected the identity of others, but not by changing their name, as the disclosure describes.

In other words, the key players in this story whose names were changed were not Chapo’s men, but the two men who linked him with del Castillo in the first place, Espinoza (whom I call Spiny) and El Alto. It is true Rolling Stone did not name locations; at it turns out, Mexican authorities were following so closely, with cameras, anyway, hiding the locations didn’t help Chapo much.

Curiously, those two men, Spiny and El Alto, don’t show up in the pictures released to the press, even though the caption on one describes them as del Castillo, Penn, and “their companions.”

So the Rolling Stone protected these mysterious interlocutors more religiously than they did Chapo’s family. As Jann Wenner described to the NYT (which, of course, played a complicit role in magnifying all this), Chapo didn’t actually have an interest in “editing” Penn’s work.

Mr. Guzmán, he said, did not speak English and seemed to have little interest in editing Mr. Penn’s work. “In this case, it was a small thing to do in exchange for what we got,” Mr. Wenner said.

But there is one detail, in addition to the locations, that Penn did withhold, purportedly at the request of Chapo, one which I haven’t seen any participant in the press frenzy complain about.

He cites (but asks me not to name in print) a host of corrupt major corporations, both within Mexico and abroad. He notes with delighted disdain several through which his money has been laundered, and who take their own cynical slice of the narco pie.

This is particularly odd, given that the complicity of Americans, including our banks, is one theme of Penn’s own framing of this adventure.

The laws of conscience, which we pretend to be derived from nature, proceed from custom.” —Montaigne

[snip]

Still, today, there are little boys in Sinaloa who draw play-money pesos, whose fathers and grandfathers before them harvested the only product they’d ever known to morph those play pesos into real dollars. They wonder at our outrage as we, our children, friends, neighbors, bosses, banks, brothers and sisters finance the whole damn thing.

If Penn is sincere in his stated desire to end the war on drugs, ending the profits for American banks tied to illicit trafficking would need to be one of the first steps.

But he doesn’t name those companies that are laundering Chapo’s money, which will continue to be laundering Sinaloa cartel money even as Guzmán gets removed from the network.

Of course, Spiny and El Alto probably share Chapo’s desire to keep those names out of print, in part because they’re part of the power structure that the banks bolster, in part because banks sometimes narc on their customers to save their own hides.

But it’s funny how the press, too, seems uninterested in learning the names of the banks that continue to prop up both our own country’s power structure as well as facilitate traffickers like Guzmán.

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.

17 replies
  1. emptywheel says:

    Incidentally: something I noticed today but not before: Penn dedicated this piece, in addition to the parents of slain Chicago kids, to the prosecutor who got assassinated for going after Pablo Escobar.

  2. ne plus ultra says:

    The big question that comes up for me after reading El Universal – when did arribaron replace llegaron in Mexican Spanish? One nation, under Nafta … we’re starting to speak the same language despite ourselves.

    That article says that the Marine operation in Cosala, Sinaloa began on October 6th, 4 days after the Sean & Kate plus el Chapo meeting. You pointed out how Sean’s associate told him Oct. 3rd an operation was to take place (or whatever the awkward grammar that allowed Oct. 3rd to depend from the operation or from the telling.) Is the Oct. 6th assault that same operation, or were there two?

    • emptywheel says:

      Remember Chapo told del Castillo that it started on the 6th. That reference to the 3rd always seemed like dick-waving to me: it is absolutely unknowable by anyone not involved in staging that attack. Like giving the pictures to El Universal, it makes it clear they’re not hiding. (Though I’m still being called a conspiracy theorist for pointing these details out.)

      • martin says:

        quote”(Though I’m still being called a conspiracy theorist for pointing these details out.)”unquote

        emptywheel? Conspiracy theorist? Hahahaha! Now THAT’s funny. I’d submit whoever it is who called you one is wearing the tinfoil hat.

        • bmaz says:

          Hey “Martin”, you ever going to have the intellectual honesty to admit that you are just another sock puppet for “Wallace” and several other inconsistent names on this site you have previously and disingenuously occupied, and in contravention of our crystal clear rules??
          .
          We seem to be having more than one issue with that lately, though you are nowhere near as good at the sham masquerade as certain others. That actually might be a point in your favor, believe it or not, should you have the honesty to come clean.

          • martin says:

            quote”Hey “Martin”, you ever going to have the intellectual honesty to admit that you are just another sock puppet for “Wallace and several other inconsistent names on this site you have previously and disingenuously occupied, and in contravention of our crystal clear rules??” unquote

            Hey bmaz. I’ll make you a deal. The moment you have the intellectual honesty to admit there’s no difference between a lawyer and a slimy scum-sucking bottom-dwelling scavenger catfish..I’ll admit I’m a sock puppet for whoever. Deal?

            On the other hand..nevermind. When it comes to honesty…intellectually is beside the point, I’ll make you a bet. I have more in my dick than you as a lawyer will EVER have in your entire body. Here’s the proof. Yeah, I’m the same person. Now…YOUR CALL …big boy. Let’s hear YOUR “honesty”.

            However, your snide insinuation that I was trying to “hide” behind another username is bullshit. You want honesty? Here it is. After you “banned” me for simply expressing my opinion on your sports thread, as an experiment, I tried to post a few times under the same names that I’ve used in the past to no avail. I simply tried an experiment using an alternate email to find out how the system works here. Had I used my previous username..it wouldn’t work. I tried. Moreover, you would have immediately banned me again. I know. But I never tried to hide it. It’s your SYSTEM that demanded and allowed it.

            So there you have it.

            So..at the risk of you banning me again..hell yeah, I’m the same person. At least I’ve refrained from posting on your sports turf. And..I’ve tried to post relevant opinions and questions too. Of course, you don’t give a damn about that.

            quote:”We seem to be having more than one issue with that lately, though you are nowhere near as good at the sham masquerade as certain others.”

            Sham? Son, when you decided to become a lawyer, you accepted the biggest sham on the entire planet. You know it. I know it. So don’t lecture me about masquerades. Now, how bout it Mr. Intellectually Honest. Your turn.

            “That actually might be a point in your favor, believe it or not, should you have the honesty to come clean.”

            I’ve played your game. Your call bmaz.

            Oh..one more thing, about those so called “crystal clear rules”. Show me where I “accepted” them. In fact..they’re no where to be found on the entire site. At least, I’ve never seen them, nor had to “check” any kind of box where I “accepted” them regardless if I read them. So, where are they?
            I’d be happy to sign them..and ABIDE by them. I just have to SEE them.

            In the meantime, should you decide to kiss off the “point in my favor”..so be it. All it will prove is your own dishonesty.

            Now, excuse me. I’ve got an appointment with a Banana Nut Bread.

  3. RUKidding says:

    Thanks for this info. I have nothing to add, but I’ll say this: when I first heard about Penn’s meeting with Chapo, I scratched my head. Why would he do that? THEN I thought: I wonder if Penn is following the money?? After all, for those who take the time to research and study the “ways of the world,” it’s known that the Mexican Drug Cartels launder their money through various big banks (one of which, HSBC, used to employ our current USAG, Loretta Lynch).
    *
    Now THAT would be a story! Of course, National Propaganda Radio refused to speculate on that and just gave bare bones info, plus numerous references to how citizens were just so “outraged” at LIEbruly LIEbrul Penn, who was interviewing a known and deadly criminal thug of dusky hue. Yeah yeah… well Penn’s actions are somewhat questionable, but still, there’s an interesting story to be told there.
    *
    I guess we’ll see what comes out in the wash. I think I heard something on National Propaganda Radio to the effect that someone or other (Loretta Lynch? I don’t know) had said that Penn had “done nothing wrong,” and could not be charged with anything. Ye olde: nothing to see here, kids, move along now. Which made me wonder what “goods” Penn had and could threaten the PTB with.
    *
    Intriguing.

    • martin says:

      quote”……when I first heard about Penn’s meeting with Chapo, I scratched my head. Why would he do that? “unquote

      Me too. But after just watching Penn, the actor, in a late movie on Netflix two nights ago, called “The GUNMAN”..I’m thinking his ego has got the best of him. Perhaps he’s just working on his actor chops? Although, seems to me, perhaps his “actor” status might just be what the CIA doctor ordered. Perfect choice. Btw, the movie almost channels this story..in a way. Pretty good too.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Hiding, not disclosing allegations of money laundering by large multinational corporations, for the benefit of a major drug kingpin? That does seem to be Mr. Penn burying the lede; such money laundering is what turns illegal gains into easily spendable global profits. I can understand RS wanting to second source such an inflammatory allegation, admittedly a tough item to achieve. But one would think it exceptionally important to try. I wonder if RS ever asked Alfred McCoy about how to do it.

    • rg says:

      Along with hiding the lede: this afternoon on the local radio, I heard an Arizona DEA official/spokesman go on about how the capture of Guzman will not affect future trafficking, but what he knows will be valuable in terms of identifying top corrupt Mexicans who facilitate such trafficking, as if there aren’t any Americans involved, and certainly no Arizonians.

  5. martin says:

    Oh, btw, this is the exact same reason I changed my user name before. YOUR SYSTEM FUCKED UP and wouldn’t let me post until I changed my name. I wasn’t banned. It was the system here. It fucked up somehow. otherwise, I would have kept on using the same username. I NEVER..ahem..as you claim..”disingenuously occupied” any name whatsoever. The system here demanded it. Now, I think you owe me an apology.

    • bmaz says:

      You are lying through your teeth, and NOBODY here owes you squat. You are a jerk and a troll.
      .
      First you appeared here as “BloodyPitchFork”. That didn’t go well.
      .
      Then, you reappeared as “Chronicle”, that didn’t go well either.
      .
      Then, after making a complete ass of yourself, you reappeared, yet again, as “Wallace”. But, of course, you made a complete ass of yourself under that temporary sock puppet name too.
      .
      And, now, here you are under yet a fourth sock puppet name, this time as “Martin”. Still spewing the same two bit tripe. And being ultra belligerent about it simply because you have been busted.

  6. Evangelista says:

    Ms. M,

    Being a bit backward, I was slow to uptake on the El Chapo Interview and then Arrest story. I am still only starting, but, characteristically, I started in backward, with the end, the violent assault-on-compound, escape by route apparently pre-prepared, and then apparent arrest-without-violence by regular police authority, and, since then, what I perceive safety in custody.

    The elements that have struck me are the similarities to the Osama bin Laden compound-assault incident: The violent storming, shooting in, and the assault troops being Mexican Navy Cilantros (or whatever Mexico’s US Navy Seals equivalent are called).

    I am, for this start, beginning my reading and reviewing with a perception that Presidente Niento’s intentio was to not take El Chapo alive, to carry out a Mexican-Mirror-Image of El Norte’s Osama-Neutralization Action, for big political effect and elimination of further embarrassments, and dificulties from El Chapo’s popularity amongst the Poveros population, many of whose economic securities through the decades were tied to Mexico’s production of drugos to feed the hungry, nay, voracious, El Norte market.

    El Chapo did not get to where he got being estupido, or over-trusting or naive, and he seems, in his interviews, to be in full possession of his faculties. Being still alive (even if reduced to the lowest of lows amongst all criminals, a Whistleblower) and successfully transitioned from assassinatable most-wanted to relative safety in Mexican custody, suggests El Chapo had/has pretty good Intell infrastructure, wherefore he probably knew he was scheduled for a ‘Seal Team Six’ rerun sequel, and, I suspect, engineered his interview interlude as part of a plan to thwart any intentions El Presidenté may have had to enhance his stature with a paraphrase of Julius Hilarious Clinton-Siezure’s infamouse paraphrase of “Weenie, Weedy, y El Chapo mori– ¿Qué? ¿El Chapo á escapo?” (pardon my colloquial).

    Reviewing the sequences and actions through this lense puts them in an interesting light, especially things that seem funny on reading, e.g., the intrepid reporter’s notice of a casualty of body-search, which could have missed ‘a wire’ (but not a weapon). OK, this is not funny but hilarious, since ‘a wire’, where El Chapo would have already known (indicated by many circumstanitals) that his time-to-capture was shortening, would be no concern to him, though it might be to the intrepid RS reporter: “Did HuffPo buy in to scoop me?!”.

    The indications, to me, as far as I have gotten in my reviewing, are of El Chapo insuring himself, sending messages and warnings, turning potential whistleblower to expand the game from the standard American simple-minded “El Chapo’s The Guy”, with its understood concommitant “get him and God will regain control” to a potential Exposé, as necessary, or of everybody participating in the drug-trade.

    This fits better to the intelligente El Chapo who rose to the position he did in the networking of the drug-trade than the Damon Runion character with a dream of a featuring movie that the media-blizzard narrative seems to be intellectually fixed on and unable to think beyond.

    Not that I don’t like the idea of a movie. I do. I am especially inspired by “Kate del Castillo”, whose name, porqué tengo demasiado de Chicano, stumbles me. Changing “Kat é” to “Katya” is more comfortable for me, and brings in a Russian angle, and the Cold War, which is hot right now. With Katya a Russian and El Chapo’s confederata, Putin could be brought in in a movie, maybe with his shirt off lifting the manhole-cover to let El Chapo out of the sewer (played by maybe Arnold, who would have to keep his pants on in respect for Putin’s moral image) and handing him the getaway car keys. I will have to read and sequence the whole story to work up a full Treatment…

    There is a lot of love for drugs in Hollywood, and where drugs are involved the wars are always turf-wars, whether local, national, international or world-wide. The present action in Mexico is just consolidation, the World Drug International Group, which already owns the governments involved, including the El Norte, Mexicano and EU ones, who instigated the Afghan war, when the Taliban cut to zero opium production, who are now pushing out the no longer needed independent operators. And, yes, it would be nice if this was conspiracy theory…

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