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Viewing cable 09PANAMA905, Guidance Request: DEA Wiretap Program

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09PANAMA905 2009-12-24 16:04 2010-12-25 21:09 SECRET//NOFORN Embassy Panama
VZCZCXYZ0002
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #0905/01 3581659
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
R 241658Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0235
INFO RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFISS/COMDT COGARD WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RUEABND/DEA HQS WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
RUEHGT/AMEMBASSY GUATEMALA
RUEHME/AMEMBASSY MEXICO 0058
RUEHMU/AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
RUEHSJ/AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
RUEHSN/AMEMBASSY SAN SALVADOR
RUEHTG/AMEMBASSY TEGUCIGALPA 0056
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
S E C R E T PANAMA 000905

NOFORN
SIPDIS
MEXICO AND EL SALVADOR FOR DEA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/12/24
TAGS: PREL PGOV SNAR PINR ASEC KJUS PM
SUBJECT: Guidance Request: DEA Wiretap Program

REF: PANAMA 639; PANAMA 699; PANAMA 777; PANAMA 776; PANAMA 799
PANAMA 877; PANAMA 901

CLASSIFIED BY: David Gilmour, DCM, State, EXEC; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1.  (U) This is an action request, see para 8.

2. (S//NF) Since July 2009, Embassy Panama has grappled with
President Martinelli's desire to involve the USG in his efforts to
construct a wiretap program that would target his domestic
political opponents.  Refs A, B and C document the sequence of
events in which the president and subordinates employed a variety
of tactics ranging from straightforward requests to intimidating
threats, in order to obtain USG assistance and/or political cover
for his wiretap project.  Ample additional reporting on this topic
is available in other agency channels.

3. (S//NF) From the time of our very first discussion with the GOP
on this subject in July until now, we have clearly and consistently
told all senior GOP officials that the USG will only conduct
limited law enforcement wiretap programs in cooperation with
Panamanian law enforcement and judicial authorities, directed only
against genuine law enforcement targets, in a process managed by a
Panamanian prosecutor and approved by a Panamanian supreme court
judge.

4. (S//NF) Since our decision in late September (Ref B) to remove
the DEA Matador wiretap program from control of the GOP's Council
for Public Security and National Defense (CSPDN), we have
confronted a series of obstacles, including threats from the CSPDN
director to expel the DEA from Panama (Ref C) and restrict payments
to vetted units (Ref G), and generally weak support for the move
from Martinelli and senior GOP leaders.  Martinelli's distrust of
Panama's attorney general (Ref D) has complicated the issue and he
and his subordinates have repeatedly proposed alternative
arrangements that would keep the Matador program within CSPDN, but
would not fully maintain the "firewall" between law enforcement and
intelligence activities.

5. (S//NF) We are still hopeful that we can complete the Matador
move out of CSPDN early in the new year, but if we are unable to do
so, we are faced with a difficult decision.  If Matador remains in
CSPDN, the GOP will continue its efforts to change procedures to
weaken judicial controls over the program.  CSPDN director Olmedo
Alfaro has told Embassy officers that the GOP plans to introduce
legislation that would create a special judge to approve GOP
wiretap targets on short notice.  With Panama's notoriously corrupt
judicial system (rated 103 out of 133 by the World Economic Forum),
we are not confident that the new judge will uphold the same
standards and civil liberties protections that the Panama supreme
court has exercised in its oversight of Matador to date.

6. (S//NF) All of this comes at a time when Panama's judicial
institutions are under assault by the executive, with Martinelli's
strong political pressure on the attorney general (Ref D) and the
controversial appointment of two Martinelli political cronies to
the supreme court (septel).  For several weeks the Panamanian media

has carried a steady stream of criticism of Martinelli's actions,
and most observers believe that the country's already weak justice
system is suffering serious body blows.

7. (S//NF) The Matador wiretap program is a valuable law
enforcement tool, but we believe that the USG must not compromise
democratic values in the employment of that tool.  The United
States itself has recently experienced a difficult debate over
civil liberties and democratic principles being compromised in the
name of security.  We should not be a participant in questionable
activities in Panama.  The recent DAS scandal in Colombia
illustrates the catastrophic consequences of politically motivated
wiretaps, and such a scenario could easily unfold in Panama if the
GOP continues its present course of action.  If we cannot guarantee
with a high level of confidence that the Matador program will not
be misused for political purposes, then we prefer to suspend the
program.

8. (SBU) Post requests Department coordinate with other stakeholder
agencies to provide advice on a way forward.  While we at post are
in the strongest position to provide views on the operational
impact of suspending the program, stakeholder agencies in
Washington can best provide the perspective on the legal and policy
factors against which the operational impact should be weighed.  We
will be pleased to provide extensive additional background material
and technical details as requested.
STEPHENSON
 
..