WASHINGTON, May 10 (UPI) -- Competition over the burgeoning defense industry market in South America had U.S. officials feeling threatened by the rise of an Israeli arms firm in the region, leaked diplomatic cables showed.
Cables made public by WikiLeaks and cited in U.S. media said the security company, led by the former head of operations for the Israeli military, made such inroads into Latin America a few years ago that U.S. diplomats saw it as a security risk and moved to thwart the company's expansion.
The diplomats' efforts were made easier when an interpreter for the Israeli firm, Global CST, was allegedly caught peddling classified Colombian Defense Ministry documents to Marxist guerrillas seeking to topple the state, said one cable cited by McClatchy Newspapers.
Global CST marketing led to sales contracts in Colombia, Peru and Panama -- countries with varying levels of close ties with Washington and with shared strategic interests.
Colombian and U.S. forces are engaged in joint operations to stem the flow of narcotics from South and Central America to smuggling hubs in the north.
The perceived rivalry between the Israeli firm and U.S. administration interests began a few years ago, the leaked documents showed.
Israeli defense manufacturers are still active in South America and negotiations between various Israeli arms exporters and Latin American governments led to new deals last year. Argentina and Ecuador bought military equipment from Israel last year.
"The ability of the Israeli security consultancy to obtain contracts in Colombia, Peru and Panama in rapid succession speaks to the prowess of retired Israeli military officers in peddling security know-how amid perceptions that they'd bring better results than official U.S. government assistance," McClatchy Newspapers reported.
"At one point, Panama's intelligence chief threatened to rely more heavily on the Israelis out of anger that U.S. officials wouldn't tap the phones of the president's political enemies, according to then cables. U.S. officials countered that such an arrangement would threaten all security cooperation with Panama, and the Panamanians backed down," said the report.
The cables also revealed that the first arms deal secured by Global CST in 2006 involved U.S. ally Colombia and the country's current president, Juan Manuel Santos, who was defense minister at that time.
Colombia also received advice on eliminating the threat posed to the government by FARC guerrillas, increasingly seen as collaborators in extensive drug operations between South and North America.
Colombia made extensive use of retired and active duty Israeli officers skilled in special operations and military intelligence. That cooperation further boosted Colombia's foreign defense purchases from Israel.
Global CST's Israeli advisers also helped Peru's fight against anti-government jungle guerrillas including the Maoist Shining Path insurgency.
In Panama, government security officials began relying on Global CST's assistance after traditional ally U.S. officials declined requests that could draw them into domestic politics related intelligence operations, including phone-tapping targeted at political rivals.
Later on, however, Latin American enthusiasm for Global CST declined amid reported bungles with contracts and approaches that U.S. diplomats found unacceptable.
In 2009 Colombia changed its mind about the purchase of Israeli-made Hermes-450 unmanned aerial vehicles.
Colombia's relations with Global CST went sour over strong U.S. objections and fears of security risks after a 2008 incident, when a Global CST interpreter, Argentine-born Israeli national Shai Killman, was accused of trying to sell classified Colombian Defense Ministry documents to the FARC rebel group. Killman has denied any role in the attempted sale of sensitive Colombian documents to FARC.
Since the reported activities in South America, Global CST has run into trouble with the Israeli government over arms sales in Africa.