An armor-fitted Toyota SUV bearing the US embassy license plate came under intense gunfire on a dirt road in Mexico en route to the El Capulín naval training base on August 24. Two CIA agents – Jess Hoods Garner and Stan Dove Boss – were on the front seats at the time of the incident, with a Mexican naval officer and, tentatively, an informant codenamed Capita who covers the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel on the back seat. Reportedly, 8 cars and 20 ununiformed men were involved in the attack later described as an ambush by the US Department of State. Some of the assailants remained in the hiding throughout the episode, watching the situation unravel and waiting to seize the US intelligence operatives or to kill them if the raid went off-script.
Carefully filtered accounts of the incident started to surface in the media hours after the shooting. Supposedly, the unidentified naval officer and the CIA agents were driving to the El Capulín where US advisors train Mexican security forces in counter-narcotics operations when they saw a Voyager SUV with passengers brandishing firearms trailing. Two other cars – an X-Trail jeep with black windows and a blue Chevy – joined the pursuit a couple of minutes later. In a tactic typical of the Mexican drug cartels' hit-and-runs, the vehicle with diplomatic license plates was sprayed with bullets as it attempted but failed to get back to the Mexico City-Cuernavaca highway.
The US embassy car drove into a nearby gas station where it stayed surrounded by the attackers' vehicles. The Mexican naval officer called the El Capulín base for help and was instructed to try moving towards Cuernavaca. When the Toyota rushed out of the gas station parking and the chase resumed, gunfire from the Chevy using AK-47, the weapon of choice in the Mexicandrug cartels, left the car riddled with bullets and flat-tired, and wounded both Americans in it. A death toll seemed imminent but the federal police showed up at this point and the attackers disappeared. The wounded CIA operatives were taken to the Cuernavaca hospital to be forwarded to the US after minimal treatment either to avoid exposing them to the risk of further attacks or to prevent their being interrogated by the Mexican investigators. No doubt, the questions that might be asked could concern the objectives behind their mission in Mexico. It is clear that both were anti-drug agents. Over the couple of years they had spent working in Mexico, Jess Hoods Garner and Stan Dove Boss rendered crucial assistance in cracking down on criminal groups in several parts of the country, the record including the hunt which culminated in the killing of Mexican drug lord Ignacio Coronel.
The two CIA agents, like scores of their colleagues, were supposed to share with the Mexican law-enforcers the experience in fighting drug groups, interrogation, and infiltration gained in Iraq and Afghanistan. The activity unfolded in the framework of the 2006 Mérida Initiative of US assistance to Mexico, but it must be taken into account that a secret agenda that always loomed behind the program was to erase the slightest possibility that Mexican drug cartels would some day achieve the ability to market narcotics in the US independently from their more powerful local peers. The reason why Washington's agents instigate wars between drug cartels is that the US is thus trying to conquer the entire niche for its own players as the drug business steadily inches towards at least partial legalization. In the process, the US agencies are doing their best to insulate their own country from the rivalries between drug groups and the bloody conflicts into which they recurrently escalate. The policy appears to work so far, meaning that the 60,000 deaths in the Mexican drug war count as the same number of lives saved in the US…
Naturally, Washington has to keep the Mexican administration confident that the cooperation with the US in fighting the drug cartels makes perfect sense. To an extent, the mission is being handled by the US propaganda – the US media claim that the accomplishments on the anti-narcotic front in Mexico are real and constantly praise president Felipe Calderon for hosting the secret CIA and Pentagon bases in the country and crushing the resistance to the policy mounted by the opposition and, on an individual basis, by outspoken Mexican nationalists. No doubt, the documents setting the do's and dont's for the US in Mexico state that their direct involvement in field operations is out of question, but Washington has a reputation for ignoring formalities and the partners' objections whenever it feels that its own interests are at stake.
Interacting with locals in Mexico, the US relies heavily on the Mexican navy which is known to be the top combat-ready and least corrupt part of the country's forces. In particular, bloggers write that the Mexican navy's infrastructures were occasionally used by the CIA and DEA as detention facilities where drug cartel members were held and interrogated and that quite a few of those unannouncedly taken into custody eventually perished. US oversight is pervasive in Mexico's law-enforcement agencies and armed forces, their officers being fully aware that it is up to the US partners to certify them as immune to corruption and eligible for promotions or perks. Servility in all forms flourishes under the arrangement, and there is no shortage of volunteers to do all kinds of dirty jobs in the US interests in the Mexican officers corps. Crippled bodies of drug traffickers are routinely discovered in various parts of the country, even on Paseo de la Reforma, the main avenue cutting through Mexico City. Serious investigations seldom follow, and one gets an impression that the CIA practice of maintaining secret jails that has caused a series of scandals to erupt across Europe is being transplanted to Mexico.
The above should give an idea why the role of Capita, described by the media as an informant from within a drug cartel, in the recent shooting incident remained obscure. The actual story could be that the drug trafficker was being transported to a CIA interrogation facility sited at the El Capulín base, which explains why the CIA operatives were carrying machine guns, and the navy officer was in charge of the logistics. The CIA agents were about to return fire when things took a rough turn but the navy officer convinced them to refrain from shooting since otherwise the transfer and the CIA involvement would be virtually impossible to conceal.
Bloggers attribute the attack to Hector Beltrán-Leyva's cartel which lost over 30 members in 2010-2012 in killings disguised as rival groups' offensives. The cartel's sources in the government supposedly leaked the information that the executions without verdicts had been carried out by US contractors, and the cartel could plan to seize the CIA agents with the goal of having them confirm that this was the case and supply specific details. The extremely nervous reaction of the US officials in Mexico to the incident and the fact that all of the US advisors in the country were alerted about the elevated danger level fit neatly into the picture. No doubt, US agents are currently seeking out moles in the Mexican administration, and worries must have been high in the US embassy during the discussions of the ambush that the attack could be the first in a series of those yet to come. Around 2 million Americans, mostly retired senior citizens, live in Mexico, and the population group is fairly vulnerable. The US death toll in the country is rising, with 35 Americans killed in 2007, 11 – in 2010, and at least 130 – in 2011. The US media already pinpointed the paradox that these days more Americans are killed in Mexico than in Afghanistan.
Hostility towards Americans tends to be widespread in Mexico. Past US interventions in the country and occupations of chunks of Mexican territory are integral to the historical record, and the neoliberal US economic expansion is oftentimes read by Mexicans as a modern form of the traditional aggressive conduct. With the grievances list in minds, Mexicans complain that their country is sliding towards the condition of a US protectorate. It is clear that discontent at the US advisors' pervasive influence is not uncommon in the Mexican army and law-enforcement agencies, but the emotion cannot be displayed under the current circumstances. Drug supplies to the US may look like a form of resistance to the Empire to some of the Mexican officers, and it is also true that many of the Mexican intellectuals favor the spread of drug addiction in the US as it erodes the power perceived as unfriendly and invasive. As for the Mexican lore, extolling drug cartel members, especially those of them who share revenues with the people living in the areas from which drug flows head for the US, has long become a staple. In Mexico, the term narco isurgencia, which clearly has a positive connotation, often serves as a replacement for the expression “drug cartel”. The drug groups are similar to military units organizationally, heavily armed, mobile, and capable of confronting the regular army as equals. Narco isurgencia, as a result, is seen as a threat to the US states bordering Mexico and to the wider national security.
Locked in ruthless rivalries, the drug cartels – or the narco insurgencia – uniformly regard the US and its intelligence community as enemies. The struggle has a distinct romantic appeal, for the young and not only. A musical genre called nacro corrido – romantic ballads about Mexicans, in many cases, drug traffickers, who rise against the evil gringo – is gaining popularity across Mexico. Strange as it might seem, the drug lords turned nacro comandante are emerging as heroes of the popular resistance to the US expansion.