Two WikiLeaks diplomatic cables recently published by El Panama America reveal that it is not just the government that is headed by a mentally unstable person; Panama's intelligence service, the Consejo de Seguridad Nacional, is suffering from similar trouble.
One cable (which for some reason doesn't carry a date but must be from late 2009 because it refers to the Attorney General as a "she"), relates how Panama's chief of intelligence, Olmedo Alfaro, and the head of the DIJ (We think that was one Javier Carrillo at the time) tried to plant what the embassy thought to be a spy inside the Matador DEA wiretapping program by appointing a new wireroom supervisor, and when that failed they tried to insert a Panamanian officer who had not been vetted. Alfaro, when the DEA refused to agree with his appointment, went off against two embassy officials:
On October 7 a DEA agent and a TDY FBI agent who were conducting routine activities in the Matador wireroom (located on the Consejo office complex and still under the control of Consejo) were called into Alfaro's office and told, in a disrespectful tone, that "we know why they fired your boss! How are we supposed to trust you!" (Note: Country DEA attach departed Post two weeks ago for personal reasons. End Note.) He went on to say, "I don't care about DEA because the CIA will give me everything I need." He further complained about delayed payments from DEA for the wireroom. Alfaro then announced, "if you play hardball with us, we will play hardball with you." Alfaro then calmed down, and apologized for his outburst, saying he needed to "vent."
Two days later, he proposed to "sit down and work out a deal", says the cable. That deal would involve the appointment of his chosen wireroom supervisor, but during that conversation he also showed, if the cable is to be believed, that he has some serious personality issues:
Alfaro proposed that the first element of the deal be that DEA accept his original choice as wireroom supervisor. (Note: Consejo's firing of the long time Consejo wireroom supervisor, and attempt to impose an unknown officer was the beginning of the crisis over th Matador program. End Note.) He went on to insist that DEA give him an access card to the wireroom. The DEA agent explained that Consejo held all the access cards and he could go in whenever he wanted, but Alfaro insisted that DEA give him a card, "as an act of confidence."
That same week, the cable says, the DIJ chief tried to insert the aforementioned officer into the wireroom without him having been vetted, which includes a DEA background check and polygraph test.
The embassy had by then decided to move the besieged Matador wiretapping room from the grounds of the Intelligence Service to a location controlled by the office of the Attorney General (she got sacked by Martinelli soon thereafter and the Matador program was taken out of Panama's hands, followed by threats from the Panamanians to kick the DEA out of the country).
Ambassador Stephenson had her own ideas about the reasons behind the behavior of Alfaro and through him the Martinelli administration:
Alfaro's comments on not needing the DEA may indicate that the GOP now realizes it cannot use Matador for political espionage, especially when taken together with the increasing contact between the GOP and Israeli security companies. The government's concern that Matador not be turned over to the A/G, however, and the attempt to place an officer in the SIU without coordination, may indicate a shift in concerns from finding dirt on others to protecting themselves. There are members of the government with suspected ties to drug trafficking, and there is no reason to believe there will be fewer acts of corruption in this government than in any past government. By asking to renegotiate the Matador deal, and placing un-vetted officers in the SIU, the GOP may be trying to keep track of DEA activities to protect themselves from getting caught up in a U.S. investigation.
Alfaro's outburst about how he will get anything he needs from the CIA anyway may also indicate that cooperation between the Martinelli administration and the DEA is entirely different from the cooperation with the CIA. In the history of Panama, this has been a proven recipe for disaster.
Another cable demonstrating the hostility of Panama's intelligence chief against the Americans is about a foiled plot to kidnap Martinelli and sell him to the FARC - which turned out to be a hoax.
President Martinelli called Ambassador on January 14 to tell her of a conversation between former State WHA Assistant Secretary Roger Noriega and Panamanian ambassador to Washington Jaime Aleman. According to Martinelli, Noriega told Aleman that the Venezuelan government was planning to assassinate Martinelli, in a plot directed by GOV intel chief Hugo Carvajal. Martinelli asked for the Embassy's assistance in providing any information that might corroborate Noriega's story. The Ambassador tasked our law enforcement and intelligence team to check. While no evidence of any plot was found, the law enforcement team found significant derogatory information on Pedro Ruiz Martin Olivares, whose name had been provided to RSA by Alfaro. We shared the information and provided a photo of Martin Olivares so that Panamanian authorities could either deny him entry or put him under surveillance.
The cable doesn't say if they ever verified this story with Roger Noriega. The "suspect", the "bad actor" Pedro Ruiz Martin Olivares, never showed up in Panama.
What happened instead was that the Panamanians arrested three people, one from Puerto Rico and two members of Martinelli's presidential guard. The Puerto Rican turned out to be an information peddler and after questioning almost everybody agreed that the plot was a hoax - yet the government never said so in public:
On January 17, Alfaro informed RSA chief that the GOP had apprehended three suspects: Isaac Polanco, a U.S. citizen from Puerto Rico resident in Panama; Javier Guzman, a member of the GOP's Institutional Protection Service (SPI) assigned to Martinelli's security detail; and Benjamin Guzman, brother of Javier. Alfaro believed that Polanco had possibly been a DEA source, and contacted RSA chief who relayed the information to our law enforcement team. DEA and ICE officers advised that Polanco is known locally as an information peddler. He has had limited contact with the ICE vetted unit, but has never worked as a source for DEA or ICE. RSA chief passed that information to Alfaro. Alfaro also believed that Polanco intended to kidnap Martinelli and sell him to the FARC, who would demand a $10 million ransom.
5. (S//NF) After extensive questioning of Polanco and the Guzman brothers, Alfaro told RSA chief that all three suspects had confessed, and Alfaro believed the plot was a hoax. According to Alfaro, Polanco had concocted the story of a plot and recruited the Guzmans, and then had offered to sell information about the alleged plot to the Panamanian intel service. Embassy law enforcement officers believe the story tracks with what we know of Polanco's style of operation, and we agree that it was almost certainly a hoax.
The US embassy had offered all possible assistance to the Panamanians in the investigation into the kidnap plot, but Alfaro had declined the offers. At the same time, he told his superiors in the government that he didn't get any help. The embassy concluded that Alfaro was using the case as leverage to bring in an Israeli security company, Global CST:
(...) Alfaro had moved to bring in Israeli security consulting firm Global CST to advise on setting up a new protective detail for Martinelli. Senior GOP leaders had previously engaged Global CST in late 2009 to conduct a security study, but disengaged from the company after being advised of the USG's experience with Global CST in Colombia and Ecuador (ref B).
Panama's intelligence chief, government and police chiefs all plotting and scheming to gain control over intelligence gathering, trying to provide cover for possible investigations into drug trafficking of government members - it would in itself be enough for major trouble, but on top of that we have a president who is completely paranoid and being fed even more paranoia by his chief spy:
Comment: From the very first time Ambassador met with Martinelli in early 2009, he displayed an obsessive concern with being the target of a kidnapping. When Martinelli and his advisors began lobbying the Embassy in July 2009 for help in setting up a wiretap operation, the Martinelli kidnap scenario was a recurring theme. Curiously, Martinelli and his security experts seem not to realize that Panama City is full of super-wealthy businessmen who provide ample targets for potential kidnappings, and any of them would be far easier to abduct and ransom than a head of state who possesses a multi-layered security apparatus. Alfaro has cleverly used this episode to feed Martinelli's natural paranoia, throwing in additional creative elements like a fabricated FARC threat. Martinelli and Alfaro meet every morning, and by all accounts are consumed with plots and threats both real and imagined. One source told us recently that Alfaro has tapped Martinelli's phone, and another source informed us that Martinelli has appointed a new number-two at the intel service to keep tabs on Alfaro. At the same time, Embassy law enforcement officers have detected several instances of surveillance (ref A) which they believe to be the work of the CSPDN intel service. Alfaro is increasingly open about his agenda to replace U.S. law enforcement and security support with Israelis and others, which not only poses specific threats to our extensive law enforcement work here, but also bodes ill for Panamanians' expectations of effective GOP action against skyrocketing crime.
Blackadder, Panama style. You can't make this stuff up.