DEA Lends a Hand to Drug Traffickers in South America

November 17, 2012
DEA Lends a Hand to Drug Traffickers in South America
Think of a cozy piano bar on a quiet street in downtown Santiago de Chile, a romantic spot where dating couples, artsy types, and tourists hang out half-listening to old-time hits. Such must have been the place where a DEA agent stationed at the US embassy met with his contact, a high-ranking Investigations Police (PDI) officer, to discuss the arrangements – quantities, disguise, routes, and protection - for a business-as-usual drug trafficking operation, the supply of a shipment of cocaine from Bolivia via the Paso de Colina passage…

Investigative police officer Fernando Ulloa was the first to blow the lid off the scheme. His probe into a drug supply ring in the capital district of Maipú led to the discovery that his colleagues were involved in helping cocaine reach the destination. Unraveling the mystery, Fernando Ulloa learned that the supplies – 120-200 kg of cocaine monthly in boxes labeled as electronic appliances – had been flowing into Chile for a couple of years, and that in the country the vehicles carrying the boxes used to be escorted by investigative police or army officers whose mission was to keep the transit secure. At the point, however, Ulloa's attempts to report the findings were brushed off by his own supervisors in Maipú.

An honest cop, Ulloa would have never imagined that law enforcement agencies would staunchly ignore his absolutely reliable information. When the last hopes that the PDI top brass would react evaporated, Ulloa, with the assistance from parliamentarian Monica Slakett, got directly in touch with interior minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter Kirberg and, in May, 2011, handed over to him a hefty package of incriminating evidence. Minister Hinzpeter said the problem would take four days to solve and forwarded the stuff to the ministry's chief of legal investigations, asking Ulloa not to talk to the media in the meantime so as to avoid harming the PDI reputation. Ulloa withheld his knowledge for a year to eventually realize that the supplies via Paso de Colina continued as if nothing happened, then hired an attorney for his defense and went public with the matter. The administration responded by firing Ulloa, placing him under surveillance, an tapping his phone. Anonymous threats against Ulloa followed shortly.

What Ulloa had to understand was that his key opponent was Minister Hinzpeter, one of the top-influential figures in the Chilean politics. Hinzpeter's ties with US and Israeli rightists are an open secret in Chile, though, paradoxically, the minister's family has a record of being in Salvador Allende's socialist camp and one of his relatives was known to have spied for the Soviets during World War II, working for the famous Grigulevich and covering the activities of Nazi agents and the FBI alike. Mr. Hinzpeter, in contrast, is a character belonging entirely to the liberal epoch. An ambitious offshoot of a Jewish family, he attended the Weizmann Institute and, secretly, received military training in Israel. Hinzpeter graduated from the Legal and Social Sciences Department of the Universidad Católica de Chile, where he joined pro-Pinochet student groups, and later held a job with Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in New York. Rumor has it that Zionist circles in the US appreciated Hinzpeter's promise. The would-be minister has been Sebastián Piñera's closest associate since 2001, served as his campaign chief, and was appointed as the police master in 2010 when Piñera became president. No doubt, the promotion took a blessing from Washington.

Chileans are constantly questioning how exactly Hinzpeter's loyalty is divided between Chile and other centers of political gravity. Over the two years in office, Hinzpeter was a constant headache to the government and, from a wider perspective, a threat to governance in Chile due to his outrageously authoritarian inclinations. Piñera recurrently had to rise to the defense of Hinzpeter as the public discontent mounted over the use of force against the population protesting against gas tariff hikes in Aisén, the crackdowns on student rallies for free education, or the campaign of allegations that Chile was somehow being challenged by radical Muslim groups. Chilean bloggers routinely pinpoint parallels between the policies pursued by Hinzpeter and the way Israel treats Palestinians, and some even charge that the reason why the minister is immune to responsibility for his disproportionate harshness is that he enjoys strong backing from Mossad.

By the way, Hinzpeter earned additional notoriety as partner of the CIA and Mossad in the hunt for the mythical Al Qaeda cells when, in May, 2010, Pakistani student Muhammad Saif-ur-Rehman Khan was arrested on fairly ridiculous charges in Chile. Under a trivial pretext, the US embassy staff invited Khan to the diplomatic compound which the student naively agreed to attend. William Whitaker, supposedly a CIA operative, saw him through an explosives detector, asked to give up his cell phone, and took him to a room within the embassy. Shortly thereafter, Khan was told that traces of an explosive had been scanned on his phone, and the student who kept protesting against the infringement upon his rights throughout the procedure was strip-searched and, in an Abu Ghraib-style interrogation, forced to declare himself guilty of a completely imaginary plot. At the same time, the Investigations Police took instructions from FBI representative in Chile Stanley Stoy and searched the room rented by Khan. Following a suggestion from Hinzpeter, the Israelites blended into the inquiry crew but were unable to identify any of the student's contacts as potential terrorists. Hinzpeter ordered the Directorate of Carabineros Political Intelligence (Direcciуn de Inteligencia de Carabineros—Dipolcar) to eavesdrop on all phone conversations conducted by Khan (with no court warrant officially issued) with the goals to gauge the extent of coordination between the young Pakistani and Senator Alejandro Navarro who condemned the whole operation as a provocation and to check if Khan maintained any links with the envoys of populist regimes.

Hinzpeter hurriedly unveiled the US version behind the detention, referring to the traces of explosives allegedly read off Khan's possessions. The news spread via the media with no mentioning of the at most hypothetical character of the charges, and Khan was locked in a high-security jail to face rounds of interrogations. Khan later expressed a view that Hinzpeter planned to make his case a highlight in the wider framework of an anti-extremist campaign in Chile so as to justify the passing of an extremely severe anti-extremist code. Several technical probes were performed on the request of an attorney brought in by Khan, the result being that traces of explosives existed on the phone and nowhere else among the student's possessions. The only plausible explanation behind the paradox could be that Khan's phone had been put in contact with an explosive substance by US agents at the embassy. The PDI likely did the same in the apartment where Khan lived but that “ further evidence” could not be put to work as the Carabineros patrol waiting outside to get a search warrant videotaped the PDI visit.

The above was an epic failure, and those who masterminded the game had no options but to flee from Chile. Stanley Stoy re-emerged in the FBI Crisis Negotiation Unit where his Chilean experiences would certainly be welcome, and William Whitaker landed a job as the Consul in Tijuana (Mexico) with the task of fighting against those of the drug cartels that dare to defy DEA control. Ambassador Paul Simons who, for a time, stayed in Chile to be confronted with unsolicited curiosity from the journalist community finally became the Executive Secretary of the Inter American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States (OAS). Only Minister Hinzpeter still holds his own and says Khan had something to do with the Muslim and Chilean terrorist groups responsible for a series of blasts near banking institutions.

Hinzpeter does not seem to be seriously perturbed by yet another scandal which erupted when it became clear that drug revenues were diverted to undermine Latin American populist regimes. He is confident that his US and Israeli patrons would stand by him no mater what else happens.

Chilean independent Panorama outlet asserted on November 3 that the DEA and the CIA were involved with the drug supply chain stretching from Bolivia and Peru via Paso de Colina. Citing credible sources, Chilean journalist Patricio Mery wrote that the operation was run from the US embassy in Santiago de Chile with an eye to using the illicit funds for subversive activities in populist countries. The account stopped short of detailing the scheme of drug distribution further on, but there are serious indications that the Concon military base constructed with the money from the US SouthCom might be a relay base on the route.

According to the same account, at the moment the DEA and the CIA focus on Ecuador which is bracing for the February 17, 2013 elections. The country's leader R. Correa boasts a smashing 70% rating but is regarded as an unfriendly politician in Washington for opposing the far-reaching US designs for Asia Pacific. It is a key line on the US grievances list that Correa closed the US military base in Manta. As of late, Correa warned frequently that the CIA might be planning to influence the outcome of the Ecuadoran elections and quoted Mery's storyline of drug revenues being spent on subversive politics. Correa similarly drew from the revelations made by British diplomat Craig John Murray who said the CIA “officially” poured $85m – and likely a factor of several more in reality - into the efforts to derail the elections in Ecuador.

Correa refrained from publicly accusing the Chilean administration of complicity in the unsavory play but might have brought up the theme recently when he met with president Piñera. Hinzpeter is putting the otherwise friendly relations between Chile and Ecuador under considerable stress, but chances are slim that the activity will cost the minister his post. Piñera will hardly dare to anger Hinzpeter's powerful patrons, and, therefore, no danger currently hangs over the drug supply route crossing Paso de Colina.