NSA and Mexico: missing facts, reporters are puppets on Snowden's string

Summary:The truth about the relationship between Mexican and American leaders is not what the current crop of Snowden-driven outraged reporters and bloggers would have you believe. In fact, they don't seem to know the truth. Read this article, and you'll have the facts they don't.

The problem with all these Snowden leaks is that reporters and bloggers are responding like puppets on a string. The outrage-of-the-day is great for our attention economy, and it doesn't hurt if the weekly dose of whining sticks it to the American government. That's just a bonus.

The problem is, many of these braying, whining, righteously indignant reporters and bloggers don't have any perspective, so they're feeding right from the Russia-running Snowden's outstretched hand and dancing to his holier-than-thou tune without applying any critical thinking (or actual investigation).

Take the most recent outrage. Apparently, the NSA has been spying on former Mexican President Felipe Calderon . Now, if that were the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, outrage might have been in order.

But the truth is that Calderon hasn't exactly been playing fair himself. In fact, four years ago, I covered Calderon in some detail because he got caught red-handed, stealing American information.

Let's dig into that story for a moment, so you can learn about just how much of a stellar statesman Calderon was during his years in (and getting into) office.

We flash back to April 2008

U.S. President George W. Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Mexican President Felipe Calderón were meeting at a North American Leader's Summit at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans. Members of the Mexican delegation were meeting with President Bush and senior staff in a conference room at the Windsor Court.

As something of a security effort (presumably to make sure pictures and recordings didn't leave the room), everyone was required to deposit his or her BlackBerry (and other devices of the Palm Treo generation) on a table outside the room. BlackBerry still meant something back then.

In fact, BlackBerry meant so much that one Rafael Quintero Curiel, a "diplomatic functionary" of the Mexican delegation, walked off with BlackBerry devices belonging to senior U.S. government officials. The Secret Service finally caught up with him on the way to the airport.

I wrote a nine-page analysis on this event, which I invite you to read. BlackBerry devices back then could store about 64MB, which is the equivalent in strategic U.S. government information of about 28,000 printed pages of data, or seven complete sets of all seven Harry Potter novels -- now in the hands of a Mexican official, stolen straight from senior White House officials.

Were the Mexico story just about the BlackBerry devices, I probably wouldn't have brought it up in this column today. But there's more.

First, it should be remembered that the U.S. and Mexico weren't always neighborly neighbors. Back in 1846, President Polk decided he wanted a bunch of Mexican territory for the U.S. and started a nice little war that high school students are taught to call the Mexican-American War.

That may have been over a century and a half ago, but as recently as 1994, a Mexican President, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, pointed out, "Having suffered an external intervention by the United States, in which we lost more than half of our territory, Mexico cannot accept any proposal for intervention by any nation of the region."

At least one Mexican leader still held a grudge.

But that doesn't really vilify Calderon enough to put the NSA complaint in perspective. Former Mexican president Calderon, the one documented in the recent NSA stories as having been spied upon, has a brother-in-law, Diego Zavala. As it turns out, Mr. Zavala formed a software company called Hildebrando.

Mexico is a democracy and its citizens vote. Of course, those votes have to be counted. Now, what company do you think developed the vote counting system that validated Calderon as president? Yep, brother-in-law Diego's Hildebrando. Even worse, a bunch of university mathematicians analyzed the results of the Mexican Federal Election Board and wrote that the votes had a "mathematically impossible behavior".

Apparently, as votes were added for Calderon, votes were reduced for his rival. Uh, oops.

Calderon, of course, disputed these claims, but math is math.

Before I wrap this up, I should also point out that Mexico has it's own security force, the Centro de Investigación y Seguridad Nacional (or CISEN). CISEN is known as the strong-arm intimidation agency of the Mexican government, so it's not like the U.S. is the only country with an intelligence apparatus.

Let's bring it back home

The NSA has been accused of spying on a former Mexican president, Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa (his full name). That same Mexican president (a) was in office, and even in the room(!) when one of his flunkies stole BlackBerry devices from our White House officials, and (b) quite possibly influenced his own election by having his brother-in-law's company count the results. Further, a previous Mexican president showed hostility towards the U.S. for actions that took place more than 150 years ago, showing he could really hold a grudge.

I can't tell you whether or not the NSA spied on Calderon. But if they did, it's pretty clear he deserved it. Dude was not a friend of America and if he talked like a friend to our face, he sure as heck acted unlike a friend behind our backs.

NSA has a job to do. Keeping an eye on a hostile neighbor who has stolen American leaders' information is part of that job.

So, reporters and bloggers, stop your whining until you have all the facts. And read my comprehensive analysis of the Mexico situation before you rush to judgment against the American intelligence community.

Topics: Government : US, Government, Privacy, Security

About

In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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