Mexico's Interior Department acknowledged Wednesday that a federal intelligence agency sent a plainclothes agent to tail an opposition presidential candidate, even though the candidate never asked for and apparently did not want a tail.
There have long been fears the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, was using the National Center for Security and Investigation for political spying. But few suspected the monitoring would be so clumsy. Interior Secretary Alfonso Navarrete said that the agency, known as CISEN, had put a tail on candidate Ricardo Anaya solely for security reasons, and he said authorities had thought he had been informed.
"It was apparently an irregularity, because he should have been informed," Navarrete said, adding that "the only purpose was to report any mishap" that might occur when the candidate was on the highway to a campaign event over the weekend in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz, where drug cartel violence is common.
On Tuesday, Anaya posted a video of himself confronting the agent, who identified himself as a CISEN employee when asked why he had been following the candidate in an SUV. Navarrete acknowledged the man was indeed an agent with 26 years' experience at the agency.
"Instead of pursuing criminals, they spy on opponents," Anaya wrote, claiming other agents in other cars had also been following him.
Navarrete, who oversees the agency, denied that the tails constituted spying. He said he thought Anaya knew about the arrangement because federal authorities had informed the Veracruz state government, whose governor belongs to Anaya's conservative National Action Party.
Critics questioned the justification for monitoring political opponents in a country that has struggled to carry out successful intelligence operations against its main security threat, the drug cartels. In that context, security analyst and former CISEN employee Alejandro Hope wrote in a column in the newspaper El Universal that tailing candidates was "stupid" and "wasteful."
Hope said that the National Security Law gives the agency overly broad and vague discretion. The law says CISEN can "carry out intelligence as part of the national security system to aid in preserving the integrity, stability and continuance of the Mexican government, to sustain governability."
"That says nothing and can allow anything," Hope wrote. "It should be reviewed as quickly as possible."
Political analyst Ruben Aguilar called it "an enormous error" and said "it looks like something done by amateurs," adding, "It can't be seen as anything other than espionage."