Today, a fascinating tale from Panama, involving an apparently fabricated kidnap plot [with no less than Hugo Chavez as the purported villain] cooked up by a presidential associate as a Trojan horse to bring back a firm of Israeli rent-a-spooks into close proximity to the nation’s chief executive.
The SECRET/NOFORN dispatch, sent from Panama City on 9 February 2010 by Ambassador Barbara J. Stephenson, offers a fascinating read and hints at some very deep politics, as in this excerpt:
On February 2, Vice President Varela told Ambassador that Alfaro had complained to Martinelli that the Embassy had not provided any help in the kidnap investigations. Alfaro believed this demonstrated that the USG is not a reliable security partner. As a result, Varela said, Alfaro had moved to bring in Israeli security consulting firm Global CST to advise on setting up a new protective detail for Martinelli. Senior GOP leaders had previously engaged Global CST in late 2009 to conduct a security study, but disengaged from the company after being advised of the USG’s experience with Global CST in Colombia and Ecuador (ref B).
Global CST draws its staff from Israeli intelligence agencies and the military, and is closely linked to the Netanyahu government. For more, see here and here. And there’s a company promotional video at the end of this post.
The document is posted online here.
DE RUEHZP #0061/01 0402146
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
R 092145Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0423
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
RUEHSJ/AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
RUEHSN/AMEMBASSY SAN SALVADOR
RUEHTG/AMEMBASSY TEGUCIGALPA 0075
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
S E C R E T PANAMA 000061
E.O. 12958: DECL: 2020/02/09
TAGS: PGOV PREL ASEC SNAR PINR KCRM PM CASC
SUBJECT: Alleged Kidnap Plot Shows Intel Chief’s Hostile Intent, Serious GOP Security Flaws
REF: PANAMA 39; 2009 PANAMA 881; 2009 PANAMA 817; 2009 PANAMA 777
CLASSIFIED BY: David Gilmour, Deputy Chief of Mission, State, EXEC;
REASON: 1.4(B), (D)
1. (S//NF) Summary: The head of Panama’s intelligence service, Olmedo Alfaro, has again demonstrated his anti-U.S. bias in his handling of an alleged kidnapping attempt against President Ricardo Martinelli. Although Martinelli requested the Embassy’s help in the investigation, Alfaro refused assistance from our law enforcement and intel team. We later learned that Alfaro complained to Martinelli that the USG [U.S. government] had provided no help. Embassy Panama believes the alleged plot was a hoax, but the episode did expose vulnerabilities in the GOP’s [government of Panama’s] VIP protective service and provided an opening for Alfaro to reengage Israeli security consultants to advise the GOP. End summary.
2. (S//NF) President Martinelli called Ambassador on January 14 to tell her of a conversation between former State WHA [Western Hemisphere affairs] Assistant Secretary Roger Noriega and Panamanian ambassador to Washington Jaime Aleman. According to Martinelli, Noriega told Aleman that the Venezuelan government was planning to assassinate Martinelli, in a plot directed by GOV intel chief Hugo Carvajal. Martinelli asked for the Embassy’s assistance in providing any information that might corroborate Noriega’s story. The Ambassador tasked our law enforcement and intelligence team to check. While no evidence of any plot was found, the law enforcement team found significant derogatory information on Pedro Ruiz Martin Olivares, whose name had been provided to RSA [embassy Regional Security office] by Alfaro. We shared the information and provided a photo of Martin Olivares so that Panamanian authorities could either deny him entry or put him under surveillance. When the president called the Ambassador again the evening of January 14, she advised him that the name check indicated Martin Olivares was a seriously bad actor. Martinelli asked repeatedly for advice on whether the GOP should deny entry to Martin Olivares or put him under surveillance. The Ambassador explained that there were pros and cons to each course of action, and suggested that the president’s security experts should weigh in before he made a decision.
3. (S//NF) At the same time that the info on Martin Olivares was passed to Martinelli, RSA chief relayed an offer to Alfaro from DEA to make available the Matador wiretap capability to assist in the investigation. Over the next several days, RSA chief and LEGATT [FBI legal attache] were in regular contact with Alfaro and repeatedly offered assistance, including wiretaps. In each case, Alfaro said he had the investigation under control and did not need any assistance.
4. (S//NF) On January 17, Alfaro informed RSA chief that the GOP had apprehended three suspects: Isaac Polanco, a U.S. citizen from Puerto Rico resident in Panama; Javier Guzman, a member of the GOP’s Institutional Protection Service (SPI) assigned to Martinelli’s security detail; and Benjamin Guzman, brother of Javier. Alfaro believed that Polanco had possibly been a DEA source, and contacted RSA chief who relayed the information to our law enforcement team. DEA and ICE officers advised that Polanco is known locally as an information peddler. He has had limited contact with the ICE vetted unit, but has never worked as a source for DEA or ICE. RSA chief passed that information to Alfaro. Alfaro also believed that Polanco intended to kidnap Martinelli and sell him to the FARC, who would demand a $10 million ransom.
5. (S//NF) After extensive questioning of Polanco and the Guzman brothers, Alfaro told RSA chief that all three suspects had confessed, and Alfaro believed the plot was a hoax. According to Alfaro, Polanco had concocted the story of a plot and recruited the Guzmans, and then had offered to sell information about the alleged plot to the Panamanian intel service. Embassy law enforcement officers believe the story tracks with what we know of Polanco’s style of operation, and we agree that it was almost certainly a hoax.
6. (S//NF) Despite the hoax, it appears true that Polanco was able to recruit Javier Guzman, a member of Martinelli’s security detail, to participate in a plot that Guzman believed was real. This reveals a serious vulnerability in the GOP’s ability to protect senior officials. According to press reports, Guzman’s salary was $390/month, the typical starting pay for a Panamanian policeman.
7. (S//NF) Meanwhile, Martin Olivares, the subject of the original name check, never appeared at any Panamanian port of entry.
8. (S//NF) On February 2, Vice President Varela told Ambassador that Alfaro had complained to Martinelli that the Embassy had not provided any help in the kidnap investigations. Alfaro believed this demonstrated that the USG is not a reliable security partner. As a result, Varela said, Alfaro had moved to bring in Israeli security consulting firm Global CST to advise on setting up a new protective detail for Martinelli. Senior GOP leaders had previously engaged Global CST in late 2009 to conduct a security study, but disengaged from the company after being advised of the USG’s experience with Global CST in Colombia and Ecuador (ref B).
9. (S//NF) Comment: From the very first time Ambassador met with Martinelli in early 2009, he displayed an obsessive concern with being the target of a kidnapping. When Martinelli and his advisors began lobbying the Embassy in July 2009 for help in setting up a wiretap operation, the Martinelli kidnap scenario was a recurring theme. Curiously, Martinelli and his security experts seem not to realize that Panama City is full of super-wealthy businessmen who provide ample targets for potential kidnappings, and any of them would be far easier to abduct and ransom than a head of state who possesses a multi-layered security apparatus. Alfaro has cleverly used this episode to feed Martinelli’s natural paranoia, throwing in additional creative elements like a fabricated FARC threat. Martinelli and Alfaro meet every morning, and by all accounts are consumed with plots and threats both real and imagined. One source told us recently that Alfaro has tapped Martinelli’s phone, and another source informed us that Martinelli has appointed a new number-two at the intel service to keep tabs on Alfaro. At the same time, Embassy law enforcement officers have detected several instances of surveillance (ref A) which they believe to be the work of the CSPDN intel service. Alfaro is increasingly open about his agenda to replace U.S. law enforcement and security support with Israelis and others, which not only poses specific threats to our extensive law enforcement work here, but also bodes ill for Panamanians’ expectations of effective GOP action against skyrocketing crime.
And here’s one of the company’s promotional videos: