by Jeremy Kryt
Mexico has recently earned the sordid distinction of being the global leader in hacking its own citizens, after allegations surfaced earlier in July that authorities used the controversial spyware program Pegasus to tap the phones of at least 15,000 politicians, journalists, activists, and other influential citizens.
If you’re wondering where they learned that, it turns out a powerful northern neighbor has taught Mexico a thing or two about running a surveillance state.
“U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies applied constant pressure, for decades, on Mexico and its security forces to conduct electronic surveillance and eavesdropping,” Mike Vigil, the DEA’s former chief of international operations—who was stationed in Mexico for over a decade—told The Daily Beast. “Eventually, the Mexican government found it easy to turn its capabilities on its own citizens, and Pegasus was a natural consequence.”
The charges against Mexico were first levied on July 18 by the Pegasus Project, launched after a leak revealed the widespread nature of Pegasus abuses in 2020. Made up of digital sleuths from Amnesty International and the media group Forbidden Stories, the Project discovered that the notorious Israeli company NSO had sold Pegasus to more than 40 countries, including Mexico. The espionage victims ranged from the current Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and his family, to a journalist murdered shortly after first being hacked, and the families of the 43 students who “disappeared” in 2014.
Unfortunately, the U.S. has played a massive role in spurring the recent spyware explosion in Mexico. And, like the Space Race, TV dinners, and Communist witch hunts, our obsession with Mexican espionage can be traced back to the Cold War era.
Mexico’s secret police, the Federal Security Directorate (known by its Spanish-language acronym FDS), was meant to be a kind of cross between the FBI and CIA. The U.S. had pressed Mexico to create the FDS in order to spy on “subversives”—leftist guerrillas, unionists, pesky intellectuals, journalists, etc—and report their activities to Washington. All of this was done with the approval of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party [PRI], which ruled the country with an iron fist from 1929 to 2000.
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