Massive hack targeting Mexico’s Ministry of Defense shines a light on Mexico’s most secretive and powerful agency, seeking to expand its influence over civilian governments, and avoid cooperating with groundbreaking human rights investigations Attempts were made to document journalists’ espionage activities using spyware known as Pegasus.
The details of the data breach are the military’s own internal investigations and allegations that powerful government officials involved in organized crime networks, including drug cartels, involved state governors and the current interior minister.
As Mexican journalists examine the giant hack, the information revealed in news stories so far suggests the military’s growing control over civilian institutions and its close ties with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. revealing the relationship.
The Mexican military has a history of human rights abuses and the massacre of civilians and has long resisted oversight and accountability. It shows how to evade governments, empower them, and manipulate them to protect their own members.
The leak was released by a hacker group known as Guacamaya (Macaw in Spanish) and contains nearly 6 terabytes of data from over 4 million emails. In a manifesto published online, the hackers claimed to be an anti-imperialist group aiming to protect the environment. The country in which they operate is unknown, but they communicated in Spanish.
This week, Lopez Obrador admitted to the hack and said he had “nothing to hide.”
The military did not respond to requests for comment.
Despite warnings from politicians and analysts that the military has become too powerful under Mr. Lopez Obrador, the Senate will this week renew the military’s role as Mexico’s main agency in charge of public security. passed. The bill is now being sent to the President’s desk for his signature.
“The Mexican military is known to be one of the least transparent institutions. These leaks come at a critical time as the Mexican government deepens its military involvement in civilian lives and institutions,” said Stephanie Brewer, Mexico Director of the Washington Office of Latin America. , Research Institute.
Lopez Obrador said that even though the Israeli government had promised not to use Pegasus to spy on Mexican citizens, the leaked emails showed that the military was using Israeli spyware Pegasus to kill journalists. and infected the phones of activists. The New York Times was the first to reveal that the previous administration used Pegasus to spy on journalists, activists and politicians. This was a scandal that rocked the government.
“The military’s power over institutions is a major concern because the military receives more budgetary resources from the government,” Brewer said.
The military also launched an investigation and created files on current and former government officials’ links to organized crime and Mexico’s powerful drug cartels. Cuitlahuac, the governor of Veracruz State Garcia, is reportedly linked to powerful cartels. The accusations he denied this week.
In a hacked email, Defense Ministry officials claimed that the current Minister of the Interior, Adan Augusto Lopez, Highest Security Position for Officials Associated with Organized Crime when he served as governor of Tabasco. A ministry spokesman declined to comment.
Leaks also revealed widespread sexual assault In the military, more than 300 military personnel have been accused of harassment and other violations of their rights, which were kept secret by high-ranking officials for years.
Lopez Obrador scored a major victory in Congress when the Senate passed in September to transfer the National Guard (Mexico’s federal security force) to the control of the Ministry of Defense.
The military’s authority also expanded after the government’s Truth Commission officially announced in August that it was responsible for the disappearance of 43 students from a rural town called Ayotzinapa.
The email hacks showed for the first time the extent to which the military is using its power and connections to protect itself from surveillance in the Ayotsinapa incident.
Ann Email details appeal from the current defense minister He appealed to President Lopez Obrador for the innocence of the junior captain, who was suspected in the student’s disappearance.The defense minister appeared to support the captain’s refusal to cooperate with the government’s investigation.
another Leaked email sent in 2015 It also detailed the commander-in-chief’s request to the defense minister at the time to “prevent excavations” inside military barracks where some of the 43 students may have been taken. What happened to all the students in the end is a mystery, but they are believed to have died, and the whereabouts of their bodies are unknown.
“The emails revealed that even junior lieutenants were trying to evade the surveillance of civilians,” said Cecilia Farfan Mendez, a Mexican security researcher at the University of California, San Diego. “They fear that opening the door to allow surveillance of civilians will open floodgates in the future.”
The mountain of hacked emails also details the military’s expansion into the economy.
Since coming to power in 2018, Mr. Lopez Obrador has relied on the military for most of the massive infrastructure projects totaling about $45 billion, and once they are completed, will hand over the operations and revenues to the military. Announced plans to transfer.
The government has paid the military to build about 1,000 miles of railroads, an international airport and an oil refinery, but no contracts have yet been announced.
However, the Department of Defense’s ambitions for the project appear to be greater than previously known. A data breach revealed that the ministry plans to set up a national tourism office with hotels, parks, museums and even a military-run national airline.
“That company’s profits will go to pensions for members of the military,” the president said this week, confirming the move to the Department of Defense’s tourism division. “It will protect the assets of the country.”
The expansion of military power has alarmed many politicians and analysts, warning that it could lead to more human rights abuses.
Politicians and analysts say expanding into the country’s economy could further shield the military from government surveillance.
Mexico has been a relatively stable country for decades. This was due to the civilian government’s ability to control the military, which enabled it to avert the military-led coups that roiled much of Latin America at the time.
But in 2006, under President Felipe Calderón, the military was given a special role in public security when it deployed troops across the country to combat drug cartels. As the Calderón government established and developed Mexico’s first federal police force, the role and deployment of the military was temporary and would eventually take over public security.
The Federal Police, established in 2010, got off to a rocky start, prosecuting human rights abuses and corruption. But analysts say the early power was slowly improving.
In 2019, Lopez Obrador dissolved the Federal Police and created the National Guard. It is now incorporated into the military.
“Each administration has worked on ways to improve the police force, but the real concern of this administration is that it has abandoned its goal of building a private security force,” Farfan said.
“Instead, the military has been given a lot, and Mexico is fully militarized.”
Oscar López contributed a report from Mexico City.
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