Panama row reveals US drug agency's power

Diplomatic cables published by the website WikiLeaks have plunged the United States into a diplomatic row with Panama over the secret intelligence-gathering work of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in the Central American country.

Panama's President, Ricardo Martinelli, denied the claim made in one of the cables that he asked American diplomats to provide him with access to the DEA's extensive wiretapping program so he could spy on his political opponents. The cables also paint a vivid picture of the DEA's large and expanding operations across the world as the US wars on drugs and terrorism have merged, and as the agency has developed a secret service-like role working with governments that have traditionally been hostile to other US organisations such as the CIA.

The DEA has expanded to 87 offices in 63 countries, and the most potentially explosive of the latest diplomatic leaks relate to its work in Panama under the presidency of Mr Martinelli, a supermarket magnate who came to power in elections last year.

In a diplomatic cable in August 2009, the then-US ambassador to Panama, Barbara Stephenson, is quoted saying the newly elected conservative President asked for DEA help with wiretaps. "He clearly made no distinction between legitimate security targets and political enemies," the cable states, adding that Ms Stephenson said "we will not be party to any effort to expand wiretaps to domestic political targets". According to the cable, the ambassador thought Mr Martinelli was making an implicit threat to cut back on anti-drug cooperation if he did not get US help with the wiretaps – though he backed off on his request when she countered that she would "readily inform Washington and we would all see Panama's reputation as a reliable partner plummet dramatically".

One of Mr Martinelli's top officials, Jimmy Papadimitriu, purportedly told a DEA official that the taps would be aimed at any attempts by leftist governments in the region to interfere in Panamanian politics, as well as people targeted in anti-corruption or anti-drug campaigns.

Panamanian opposition politicians seized on Ms Stephenson's description of Mr Martinelli as having a "penchant for bullying and blackmail". Francisco Sanchez Cardenas, the leader of the main opposition group, the Democratic Revolutionary Party, said Mr Martinelli's request "goes outside the bounds of democratic practices" and that the President "has not understood that democracy is something quite different from the way he is used to managing his supermarkets".

Mr Martinelli's office insisted that "help in tapping the telephones of politicians was never requested" and that "any such interpretation of that request is completely mistaken".

US authorities are refusing to comment on the contents of any of the diplomatic cables, almost 2,000 of which have been published by WikiLeaks so far out of a cache of more than one-quarter of a million it has obtained.

Other revelations in the leaked documents relating to the DEA and the war on drugs include a characterisation by the Mexican Defence Secretary, Guillermo Galvan Galvan, that his country's army expects its role in the anti-drug offensive to last between seven and 10 more years and that the country would welcome additional assistance and training from the US.

The DEA's wiretapping operation, known by the code-name Matador, has provided evidence that has enabled the capture of major traffickers and led to the break-up of some cartels, as the US tries to disrupt supplies of narcotics.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
Life and Style
fashion
News
i100
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Multi-skilled graphic designer ...

Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solicitor

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solic...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?