WASHINGTON – The Drug Enforcement Administration has grown into a global intelligence organization whose reach extends far beyond international drug trafficking, according to new U.S. government cables.
Citing documents from the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, The New York Times reported in its Sunday edition that the DEA's operations had become so expansive the agency has had to fend off foreign politicians who want to use it against their political enemies.
One August 2009 cable reported Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli as having sent an urgent BlackBerry message to the U.S. ambassador asking the DEA go after his political enemies.
"I need help with tapping phones," the paper quoted the president as saying.
The request was denied, which sparked new tensions between the two countries.
Martinelli, who, according to the cables, "made no distinction between legitimate security targets and political enemies," retaliated by proposing a law that would have ended the DEA's work with specially vetted Panamanian police units.
Then he tried to subvert the drug agency's control over the program by assigning nonvetted officers to the counternarcotics unit, The Times said.
At the beginning of the year, the United States faced a similar situation in Paraguay.
Diplomatic dispatches sent from that South American country described the DEA fighting requests from that country's government to help spy on an insurgent group, known as the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP).
The leftist group suspected of having ties to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had conducted several high-profile kidnappings and was trying to finance its activities through collecting ransom.
According to The Times, when the diplomats refused to give Paraguay access to the drug agency's wiretapping system, Interior Minister Rafael Filizzola threatened to shut it down, saying: "Counternarcotics are important, but won't topple our government. The EPP could."
A May 2008 cable from the West African nation of Guinea reported that the country's biggest narcotics kingpin was Ousman Conte, the son of the then-president, Lansana Conte.
A March 2008 cable from Guinea said diplomats had discovered that before police there had destroyed a huge narcotics seizure, the drugs had been replaced by flour.
Army officer Lansana Conte was arrested in February 2009, two months after a junta led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara seized power on the death of his father after 24 years at the head of the west African nation.
He was released on bail in July this year after spending more than 16 months in prison for alleged drug trafficking.
An October 2009 cable from the U.S. embassy in Mexico said leaders of the military there had issued private pleas for closer collaboration with the drug agency because they did not trust their own police force.
The cable said Mexico's Defence Secretary, Guillermo Galvan, "will try to keep military actions in its own channels rather than working more broadly with Mexico's law enforcement community."
In Sierra Leone, the attorney general solicited $2.5 million in bribes from defendants in a major cocaine-trafficking prosecution, according to a March 2009 cable, quoted by The Times.
But the country's president, Ernest Koroma, had intervened to scuttle the deal.
Cables from Myanmar describe DEA informants reporting both on how the military junta enriches itself with drug money and on the political activities of the junta's opponents, the paper noted.
U.S. government officials declined to discuss what they said was information that should never have been made public, the report said.
WikiLeaks has enraged Washington by releasing thousands of diplomatic cables and Vice President Joe Biden described WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as a "hi-tech terrorist."
US officials are believed to be considering how to indict Assange for espionage.
© AFP 2013