Editorial: The Bean Backs Benedicto

Benedicto Jiménez, whose career has just been ended by allegations that he passed on secret information to a drug kingpin, first made the news as an memeber of the Peruvian National Police. As a mid-ranking officer he headed up an underfunded task force to gather intelligence on the terrorist activities that were threatening to lead the country into a downward spiral towards revolution. With just three other members and no budget, he pulled off his first major coup when he seized some important documents detailing organization and plans of the Shining Path guerrilla movement.  

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If Jiménez wanted to sell out to the cartels, he would only have to step into an internet place on a street corner…. No trail, no traces, total anonymity. 

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It was the CIA that bought his unit its first video camera, seeing an up and coming force in the war on terror. Without American protection Vladimiro Montesinos, the corrupt spy chief who did the dirty work for dictator Fujimori’s regime, would surely have simply had Jiménez disappeared. As it was he didn’t make life easy for him.

 First, he infiltrated undercover members of his Colina Group death squad into Jiménez’s police intelligence division, aiming to scoop their superior information and kill off terrorist leaders before they could be arrested.  The Colina Group had no regard for due process and were answerable to nobody, freely massacring a group of innocent civilians holding a neighborhood barbecue in the Barrios Altos district when their own poor intelligence information wrongly suggested that they were dissidents.

 Montesinos was the master of the threat and the bribe, coordinating corruption in a regime that is thought to have lost up to US$10 billion to under-the-table transactions over ten years. The spy chief was known to make payouts of $10 million in cash at a time when the situation called for it; where that failed he would intimidate, torture and kill.  

He also put friends and family members into almost all high-ranking government positions, including summarily firing the police general to whom Jiménez was answerable and replacing him with a member of his own secret intelligence service. While Jiménez could root out Montesinos’ men in his own task force, he was still forced to pass on information to his own superiors – and that information went through Montesinos straight to the Colina Group.  Going against Montesinos was not the way to advancement under the Fujimori regime, which makes it all the more remarkable that Jiménez managed to pull off the arrest of the century when he located and captured the Shining Path leader and key ideologist Abimael Guzmán. At a stroke, he set off the chain of events that led to the fall of one of the most powerful and ruthless guerrilla forces in recent history. With its leader gone, the Shining Path fell to pieces. 

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The officer who led that operation, fostering it for years from a small and powerless group to a world-class counter-terrorism task force, was a man of beliefs. He was not swayed by bribery or by threats. He shrugged off Montesinos’ every attempt to frustrate his actions. Although faced with a ruthless and lawless terrorist threat, he was never tempted to go outside the law himself and abet the Colina Group’s summary executions. He earned himself the nickname “El Sheriff” for his tough by fair attitude as a lawman. 

He is also a man highly trained by the CIA in intelligence, counter-terrorism and psychological operations, making him perhaps Peru’s leading expert in those fields, and the author of numerous books and police training manuals. Such a man as this does not take bribes from drug traffickers to leak the identities of undercover agents investigating them; but he is the man who those criminals would love to take out of operation with a well-timed frame-up.  

However, that kind of ideological argument is not totally compelling; a man may have dark secrets, may betray his public image and even his own beliefs if the price is right. What I find hard to believe is not the evil implied by the actions of which he stands accused; it is the incompetence.   We all know that an email carries header information. It is common knowledge that you can trace it back to those points of network structure that hover on the edge of our understanding, IP addresses and MAC addresses and traceroutes and pings. So, are we to believe that Peru’s leading intelligence expert should send a hugely compromising email from his own computer in the police headquarters?
Lima is awash with internet cafes. If Jiménez wanted to sell out to the cartels, he would only have to step into an internet place on a street corner, open a hotmail account, pass on his top secret information, give the attendant a grubby one sol coin and head out. No trail, no traces, total anonymity.  
Anyone can be evil, but anyone can be framed; and the man who stood up to Montesinos, the man who was the CIA’s protégé, the man who nailed Guzmán is someone who knows a thing or two about intelligence.

One Response

  1. […] our editorial on Jiménez, and Peru.21’s opinion piece on him — both from today’s edition of The […]

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