This morning around 8:00am local, an armored Toyota SUV belonging to the US Embassy in Mexico City was fired upon by both unidentified gunmen and Mexican federal police officers between the 47km and 50km markers of the Mexico-Cuernavaca Highway. Two US government employees, Jesse Hoods Garner and Stan Dove Boss, were in the Toyota and received non-life threatening injuries. They were taken to a local hospital in Cuernavaca, then taken to another hospital in Mexico City. Four members of the Mexican navy, who were riding in the vehicle with them as escorts, received minor injuries.
What happened during those morning hours has been a nightmare to discern, and the process is ongoing. If any of you have been following my Twitter feed today, you know that it has been one contradictory news story after another, from both US and Mexican sources. As of 4:14pm CST, the US Embassy's only official statement has been to say two US government employees were injured in an attack south of Mexico City.
About 20 minutes ago, I got a look at the only (somewhat comprehensive but still confusing) official statement from the Mexican government via their navy department, SEMAR. In a nutshell, the Embassy employees and Mexican sailors were enroute to an army installation in the El Capulín area of Xalatlaco. About 4km from the main highway, a vehicle pulled up either next to them or behind them (unclear) and the passengers showed them their firearms. The driver of the Embassy vehicle tried to maneuver around them and back onto the highway; at this point, the other vehicle's passengers opened fire on the armored Toyota.
At this point, the navy personnel called the local army base to ask for backup. This is where things get fuzzy. The federal police say they were in the area pursuing a report about a stolen vehicle. Three other cars of gunment had joined the first one, and also started firing on the Embassy SUV. The SEMAR release says that soldiers from the base at El Capulín, along with several federal police, showed up after the gunfight ended, but there was no mention (either in the release or in the press) of how it ended. Some reports said all the cars were stopped at a police checkpoint, which is when the federal police started shooting at the Embassy vehicle. There's no official clarity on where in the timeline the police fired their guns; only that it happened at 8:00am local.
As for the gunmen, reports simply say they got away. The SEMAR release says that the police officers involved in the shooting of the Toyota will be investigated.
A few questions I'd like answered: Is it a mere coincidence that only the two Americans got shot and the navy sailors only received minor injuries? I have no idea where in the vehicle everyone was sitting, who was driving, etc., so that may have played a role in that. Did the federal police think the Toyota was the stolen car they were looking for? If so, is it standard procedure to just start firing away? All the people in the Embassy people were unarmed, so the men in the four chase vehicles were doing all the shooting. Why didn't the federal police shoot at the shooters first?
Anyway, please stay tuned. Just like the shooting of ICE agents Avila and Zapata in February 2011 near San Luís Potosí, it's going to take a few days for all the details to shake out. And sadly, like that incident, no one will be held responsible for the attempted murder of two more US government employees in Mexico.
UPDATE Aug 27: Reports over the weekend indicated that it was definitely 12 members of the Federal Police who opened fire on the US Embassy's Toyota. They said it wasn't an ambush, but rather that they were chasing and shooting at who they thought were kidnappers. All 12 have been officially arrested, which means they can be held up to 40 days. News and updates have barely been trickling out of Mexico, with the FP redirecting all inquiries to Los Pinos (Mexico's version of the White House), and Los Pinos isn't talking to anyone yet. The US State Department has also not issued any updated statements, so we still don't know who the two Americans work directly for.
The good news is that the individuals involved are all accounted for, and it's likely someone (if not all of them) will get punished in some way. But what will that punishment be, will it stick, and will it be enough in the eyes of the US State Department? Will any changes occur either in FP procedure or diplomatic protective measures for US officials working in Mexico? More to come...
UPDATE Aug 28: Both The Washington Post and several Mexican news outlets have suggested this, but The New York Times seems to have confirmed that the two Americans in the Toyota are CIA employees. Here's an excerpt from the Times story:
"The two Americans who were wounded when gunmen fired on an American Embassy vehicle last week were Central Intelligence Agency employees sent as part of a multiagency effort to bolster Mexican efforts to fight drug traffickers, officials said on Tuesday. The two operatives, who were hurt on Friday, were participating in a training program that involved the Mexican Navy... an American was driving the vehicle and that during the attack the captain, who was handling logistics and translating for the men, remained in the back seat... The men were wounded, the Navy said, when the rain of bullets managed to tear through the car’s protective armor. It was unclear if the Americans, who officials said were unarmed, were specifically targeted, if the shooting was a case of mistaken identity or if there was some other reason that the vehicle was ambushed... American officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information, said no evidence had emerged so far that the Americans were targeted because of their affiliation." Link to Full Article
Here are some interesting excerpts from the Washington Post story:
"The agency link was first reported in the Mexican media. U.S. public records suggest that the name reportedly used by one of the shooting victims was a CIA cover identity associated with a post office box in Dunn Loring, Va... One of the wounded men was attached to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, and the other appeared to be in Mexico on temporary assignment, according to U.S. law enforcement officials and diplomats who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case is under investigation... But an examination of public records suggests that the name used by one of the men may be fictitious, with similarities to others created by the CIA to provide cover for its officers overseas... Some Mexican law enforcement officials have said that the confrontation was caused by confusion — that the federal police were in the area chasing kidnappers who had seized the head of the National Anthropology Museum. A spokeswoman for the museum said it had no reports indicating that anyone from the institute had been kidnapped." Link to Full Article
So at this point, we can reasonably assume that the two Americans in the Toyota were indeed CIA agents or trainers or employees of some sort. We can also reasonably assume that the federal police who shot them were not exactly out in Tres Marías "To Protect and Serve" Friday morning. The last big question that remains unanswered is whether or not the men were intentionally targeted because they were CIA, or American, or just traveling in a highly desirable hard car. Personally, if I want to steal a car for personal use, I'm not going to shoot it 30 times. However, if I want to kill someone IN the car and I know it's armored, I'm going to try to breach the armor by concentrating all my fire in one spot - which is exactly what the shooters did, and exactly how Garner and Boss (cover names, it seems) got shot. I guarantee you, this is not standard FP protocol for dealing with ANY suspect who is unarmed and not actively posing a threat to officers. Stay tuned...