Mexico: Army used Pegasus to spy on human rights defender Raymundo Ramos

Mexico: Army used Pegasus to spy on human rights defender Raymundo Ramos - Protection

Internal documents from Mexico’s Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA) conclusively show that the Mexican Army used a secret military intelligence unit to spy on human rights defender Raymundo Ramos using Pegasus spyware, with the purpose of accessing and interfering in the investigations of extrajudicial executions in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, and that this took place with the full knowledge of the Ministry of Defense.

The evidence, provided by the Ejército Espía investigation – in collaboration with Animal Político, Aristegui Noticias and Proceso – reveals a secret military intelligence briefing sheet, which was leaked by the Guacamaya collective. It gives an account of private conversations between Raymundo Ramos and journalists from El Universal, Televisa and El País relating to the case of extrajudicial executions by the Army in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, on 3 July, 2020.

The conversations cited in the briefing occurred between 16 August and 26 August 2020, dates that coincide with the period when Ramos was targeted by Pegasus, according to an updated report from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab. The communications occurred through encrypted messaging applications, so they could only have been obtained with a tool like Pegasus.

The briefing sheet also seeks to present Raymundo Ramos as a member of the Northeast Cartel, without offering any evidence. The document also advises the Secretary of National Defense, Luis Crescencio Sandoval, to present the information to the Military Ministerial Police in a confidential manner for an investigation of the case, without adding it to the investigation file. This demonstrates that the intention was to illegally interfere in the investigations into the abuses committed in Nuevo Laredo by the armed forces.

Illegal spying 

The spying on Raymundo Ramos was illegal, since the Armed Forces are not legally permitted to intervene in private communications of civilians. – nor is there any record of a judicial authorisation to surveil Ramos’ communications, according to the Federal Judicary itself.

The briefing sheet was prepared by the Intelligence Subdivision of the National General Staff (EMDN), and specifically by the Military Intelligence Center (CMI), a secret military espionage unit. The activities of this unit have been revealed to the public for the first time as a result of the documents leaked by the Guacamaya collective.

According to internal SEDENA documents, the CMI’s objective is to provide ‘intelligence gathered from information obtained through closed sources’, that is to say, through the interception of private communications. The Armed Forces do not have the legal powers to perform such activities.

The Military Intelligence Center is itself aware that this activity is illegal. According to internal analysis, the CMI considers that one of the main threats it faces is ‘that the activities carried out at this Center are brought to the public’s attention’.

National Defense secretary aware of illegal spying 

Furthermore, documents that were previously uncovered as part of the Ejército Espía (The Army Spies) investigation show that the CMI is the end user (operator) of the ‘remote information monitoring system’ that SEDENA acquired from Comercializadora Antsua, the company that has exclusive rights to sell Pegasus to the Army in Mexico.

Moreover, the briefing sheet also made it possible to identify those involved in spying on Raymundo Ramos, including the then National Defense Chief of Staff Homero Mendoza Ruiz; the then Deputy Chief of Intelligence of the EMDN Conrado Bruno Pérez Esparza; as well as the Director of the CMI, the Deputy Director of Analysis and the Head of the Center’s Analysis Group.

The Secretary of National Defense, Luis Crescencio Sandoval, was aware of the illegal spying on Raymundo Ramos, given that the briefing sheet was provided for his information. Additionally, an agenda document, leaked by the Guacamaya collective, reveals that on 2 September, Sandoval met with the Chief of the EMDN and the Deputy Chief of Intelligence, among other high-ranking officials, to address the ‘issue of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas’.

In the face of several investigations and despite ample evidence, SEDENA continues to deny the facts, concealing information that the Federal Government promised would be made public and obstructing the investigations by the Attorney General’s Office, which were opened after complaints were filed more than 5months ago.

In view of the new evidence, the organisations R3D: Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales, ARTICLE 19’s Office for Mexico and Central America, and SocialTIC condemn the illegal military espionage against Raymundo Ramos and the cover up of this by the SEDENA. Furthermore, we call for the following:

  • Immediately cease the illegal military espionage being carried out  by the Military Intelligence Center.
  • That Congress summon SEDENA to appear before it to provide information on the Military Intelligence Center, which until today was unknown.
  • As was promised by the President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on 4 October, 2022, make public all information related to procurement between SEDENA and Comercializadora Antsua SA de CV as well as any contracting related to any private communications interception system used by SEDENA.
  • That SEDENA ceases obstructing the investigations of the Attorney General’s Office and gives access to all information, personnel and facilities related to the illegal espionage carried out by the Military Intelligence Center.
  • An independent and international mechanism for the investigation of illegal espionage in Mexico be established, so that the victims and society are guaranteed the right to the truth that is concealed in the country’s military and civilian intelligence archives.
  • The ceasing of illegal espionage is guaranteed through legal and institutional reform that verifiably prevents the abuse of the country’s intelligence systems. This process must be accompanied by civil society to ensure adherence to the highest human rights standards.