US attorney general troubled by Mexican limits on agents

MEXICO CITY (AP) — U.S. Attorney General William Barr said Friday the United States is troubled by legislation pending in Mexico that would limit foreign agents and remove their immunity.

In a statement, Barr said the proposed law that before the lower house of congress would hurt cross-border cooperation and would benefit drug cartels.

The measure “would have the effect of making cooperation between our countries more difficult,” Barr wrote. “This would make the citizens of Mexico and the United States less safe.”

“The passage of this legislation can only benefit the violent transnational criminal organizations and other criminals that we are jointly fighting,” he added.

There was no immediate reaction from Mexican officials.

On Wednesday, Mexico’s Senate approved the proposal from President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to require all foreign agents, from any country, to share all information they gather with Mexican authorities. It also would require any Mexican officials they contact to submit a full report to Mexican federal authorities.

The bill includes a vague promise to keep secret any information shared with Mexico. Mexico has traditionally relied on U.S. agents to generate much of its intelligence information on drug gangs, but it has history of officials leaking such information and even at times sharing it with drug cartels.

In most countries, the chief Drug Enforcement Administration agent in the country often has full diplomatic immunity and other agents have some form of limited or technical immunity. The bill would eliminate all immunity.

Mike Vigil, the DEA’s former chief of international operations, predicted this week that the information is “going to be leaked, it’s going to compromise agents, it’s going to compromise informants.”

The history of leaks is well documented. In 2017, the commander of a Mexican police intelligence-sharing unit that received DEA information was charged with passing the DEA data to the Beltran Leyva drug cartel in exchange for millions of dollars.

The proposal also specifies that any Mexican public servant — state, federal or local — who has as much as a phone call or text message from a U.S. agent would be required “to deliver a written report to the Foreign Relations Department and the Public Safety Department within three days.”

Warning that would make for a cumbersome system, Vigil said: “It is going to hinder bilateral operations; it is going to hinder bilateral exchange of information. This is going to be much more detrimental to Mexico than to the United States.”

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