“It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”—Upton Sinclair
“Never argue with anyone whose job depends on not being convinced.”—H. L. Mencken
The drumbeat of daily breaking news about Pegasus hacking software from Israeli spyware vendor NSO to some of the world’s most repressive regimes contains shocking disclosures. But, also, equally shocking omissions.
The Israeli military-grade spyware is being used, said the Pegasus Project, against “Politicians, journalists and human rights activists.”
It’s a frothy and frequently-repeated equation.
The Washington Post’s headline: “Private Israeli spyware used to hack cell phone of journalists, activists worldwide.”
And without question these groups have been targeted, often with tragic results. But they left something out. Call it “competitive advantage.
The country with the largest number of targeted names is Mexico.
“The greatest number (of smartphone numbers) in the data dump were in Mexico,” the Post reported, “more than 15,000 numbers.”
Mexico is using the spyware to target drug traffickers. Why? Because they’re not just “drug traffickers.” They’re rival drug traffickers.
Plus, the Pegasus Project doesn’t even mention Carlos Slim. He’s been using Israeli spyware in Mexico since 2003.
“Politicians, journalists and human rights activists”
When Mexican President Felipe Calderon sent thousands of troops and federal police to occupy Ciudad Juarez, today known as “Murder City,” it wasn’t just to intimidate journalists and human rights activists.
The army of occupation came to Ciudad Juarez to throw it’s massive weight behind one side—the Sinaloa Cartel’s side—in the murderous drug war that had been raging for control of the Mexican economy’s biggest industry—and largest source of income—the drug trade.
“Many of our members have been disappeared,” he continued. “We know that it was soldiers who took them out. They are covering for the other gang; they are protecting them.”
“If the United States came in, maybe they’d lock us up,” he muses. “But here, no, they’re grabbing up and they’re killing us. That is what is happening; it’s an extermination.”
The battle eventually resulted in defeat for the Juarez Cartel, at the cost of an estimated 20,000 lives.
That’s how the Israeli spyware was used.
Inconvenient facts are ignored
In some shocking—and conveniently ignored—recent history, Carlos Slim, Mexico’s richest oligarch, between 2003 and 2007 was doing business with these same Israeli spyware vendors, which are all spin-offs from the intelligence unit of the Israeli Defense Forces, Unit 8200.
Israeli spyware vendors have a rich history of wrongdoing before 2012, including companies with Unit 8200 intelligence connections every bit as strong as NSO’s. Both of NSO’s principals began their careers as part of the unit. The names of Israeli spyware vendors frequently change. But who the players ultimately worked for did not. Pegasus Project journalists appear to know nothing about this.
It’s the same ruse often used by American intelligence. Erik Prince’s Blackwater seemed to change it’s name with each new atrocity. When Claire Chennault’s Flying Tigers from World War II transformed into Civil Air Transport and then transmogrified into Air America, the names change, but the mission remained the same.
Today the NSO Group still operates under various monikers.
The Washington Post back in 2017 reported traitor-for-hire Mike Flynn had been paid “roughly $100,000” as a “consultant” for OSY Technologies, as well as the private equity firm Francisco Partners, which are, respectively, NSO Group’s parent company and previous owner. But these ties to the former Defense Intelligence Agency chief escaped close scrutiny and embarrassing questions until just a few days ago.
“A modified, extremely-limited hangout”
The omissions expose a global drug cartel composed of governments and gangsters.
Mexican oligarch and the country’s wealthiest man Carlos Slim had a partnership with Israeli intelligence-connected VERINT, which signed a contract to wiretap any phone in Mexico. Slim’s Telmex controlled almost all of Mexico’s landlines. Slim was also virtually the only cell phone provider.
The information Israeli spyware from VERINT allowed Mexican Presidents, Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon to render critical aid to the Sinaloa Cartel, then at war at the time with every other cartel in Mexico.
Who picked up the tab for VERINT’s contract in Mexico? The Administration of President George W. Bush.
What does VERINT have to do with the subject of Project Pegasus, Israeli spyware company NSO Group? Just three years ago, in 2018, VERINT announced it was purchasing NSO for $1 billion dollars. The buy-out was called off at the last minute, for undisclosed reasons, which only now become obvious.
But it was anything but a hostile takeover.
A dark plot in a dark time
The Pegasus disclosures directly involve the drug trafficking conspiracy I’ve been investigating. What follows is a little of what I learned, which will explain why I’m sensitive to the subject of media cover-ups of knowledge about the biggest business on Earth.
If the drug trade was the car business, there’d be a used car lot big enough to cover several Midwestern states.
Organized crime doesn’t usually advertise the political leanings of it’s members. This one did. It raises questions about how big the pile was of net income that made its way into the Donald Trump campaign in 2016.
The subject used to be called “Russiagate.” But then daily browbeating by the former President and an official cover-up by his Administration made use of the term disappear.
Did this all just happen by accident? Was it an oversight? Well, no. It’s merely a continuation of a decades-long taboo in mainstream media banning serious discussion of where the spoils and plunder of drug trafficking and what used to be called “white collar crime” end up.
“Dude, amazing business synergy. Really.”
VERINT owned the corporate headquarters in Clearwater leased by SkyWay Aircraft, soo to be the proud owners of a DC-9 (N900SA) busted in the Yucatan on April 11, 2006 carrying a record—even for Mexico—seizure on an airplane, 5.5 tons of cocaine.
So VERINT (in it’s earlier iteration as ECI Telecom), had leased a huge 78,000 square foot complex—large enough to later become a local college’s campus— to a company SkyWay in April 2003, which the company used to smuggle cocaine.
And it did this while tapping every cell phone in Mexico.
SkyWay had reporting zero earnings during the previous quarter, according to SEC filings, and had exactly one employee.
With that kind of credit score, it would be hard to qualify for a one-bedroom apartment in a shabby part of town. What gives? Maybe this:
Shortly thereafter, SkyWay bought twin DC-9’s, one of which had been recently “owned” by Ramy El-Batrawi, a Saudi lieutenant of Adnan Khashoggi’s. The two men’s Jetbourne Airlines flew missiles to Iran for Lt. Colonel Oliver North during the Iran Contra scandal.
“Not quite fair play, was it?”
A number of “anomalies” surrounded the massive seizure.
One was that Skyway’s busted DC-9 was impressively tricked out to impersonate aircraft from the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, complete with an official-looking Seal depicting an American eagle clutching a claw filled of arrows.
What makes this fact even more curious is that the plane was based at Clearwater-St Petersburg International Airport, which also housed a fleet of planes which belonged to U.S. Customs, and which were tasked with drug interdiction across the entire Caribbean Basin.
They didn’t have to look far.
During that same year (2006), as SkyWay’s DC-9 was busy flying back and forth to South America, the George W. Bush Administration picked SkyWay’s landlord in Clearwater, VERINT, to install a $3 million telephone and Internet wiretapping center in Mexico, allowing authorities there to eavesdrop on every landline and cell phone call made in the country.
But SkyWay’s DC9 (N900SA) was just the first of two drug planes over an 18-month period from St-Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport caught carrying multi-ton loads of cocaine in Mexico with clear ties to the U.S. Government
As author and investigative journalist James Bamford, who has broken many stories on the NSA, reported:
“In 2006 the Bush Administration entered into a quiet agreement with the Mexican Government to fund and build an enormous $3 million telephone and Internet eavesdropping vendor that would reach into every town and village in the country.”
A press release heralding the contract read:
“Comverse (which soon changed its name to VERINT) Selected by Telefonos de Mexico to Implement a Widespread Expansion of Voicemail Services.”
Carlos Slim’s Telmex also issued a press release, which obliquely suggested the program had actually began in 2003.
“The purpose is to create swift investigative measures against organized crime,” said Mexican president Felipe Calderon at the time the deal was announced.”
And in a May 2007 story in the Los Angeles Times, Sam Enriquez reported:
“Although the proposal stems from the president’s noble intention of efficiently fighting organized crime, the remedy seems worse than the problem.”
“The system the Bush Administration chose for Mexico is similar to the warrant-less eavesdropping operation in the U.S., and used the same vendor, the Israeli company VERINT, founded by veterans of that country’s NSA, the hyper-secret Unit 9200.”
“Paid for by the U.S. State Department, it was installed by a politically well-connected firm based in Melville, N.Y., that specializes in electronic surveillance.”
The real SLIM’s Shady
When Amado Carrillo Fuentes—known as Mexico’s “Lord of the Skies” for his vast armada of drug planes—died in 1997 while undergoing plastic surgery, he was worth $25 billion, according to the AP. In other words, during the time he largely ran the drug trade in Mexico, Fuentes was able to salt away $10 billion a decade.
According to numerous published reports, at the turn of the millennium, Carlos Slim was worth between $6 and $7 billion dollars. Mexico City’s May 7, 1999 La Jornada, for example, reported Slim’s fortune at “something like $6 billion.”
Latin Trade magazine pegged Slim as being worth $7.2 billion.
In other words, after working hard for more than 40 years, Carlos Slim was worth the hefty sum of $7 billion dollars.
Yet less than nine years later, when Slim made what became a highly-controversial investment in the New York Times in 2009, news accounts of the deal reported his net worth as being between $57 billion and $60 billion dollars.
It took Carlos Slim 40 years to make his first $7 billion. Less than ten years later he’d amassed an additional $50 billion.
What kind of business offers profit margins of more than $5 billon a year? Certainly not cell phones. The conclusion is inescapable. Mexico’s richest man—who owned a chunk of The New York Times—is dirty.
During the global financial crisis between 2008 and 2012, as Carlos Slim was expressing his touching commitment to a free press with a $250 million dollar investment in the New York Times, one person spoke out.
Antonio Maria Costa, head of the United Nations’ watchdog Office on Drugs and Crime, was impolitic enough to blurt out an inconvenient fact:
“In the midst of the current world financial crisis, drug money is, in many instances, currently the only liquid investment capital,” Maria Costa told Reuters.
“Money made in the illicit drug trade is being used to keep banks afloat in the global financial crisis The drug trade at this time could be the world’s only growth industry.”
Right about then, in the midst of a global depression, United Nations Drug Czar Antonio Maria Costa told reporters that the only thing keeping many major banks solvent was drug money, which provided the Western world’s only liquidity at the time.
Divulging the inner workings of the drug trade –where the money goes— remains one of Western journalism’s major taboos.
Typical news coverage today reports whose cartel is up, and which down, as if the drug trade were some kind of horse race reported by a supposedly-disinterested track announcer.
The proceeds of the drug industry constitutes the largest slush fund in the history of the world. Pursuing where that money ends up may be beyond the purview of journalistic efforts like The Pegasus Project.
But it shouldn’t be.