By Agustin de Gracia.


A section of a Mexican Federal Police bunker is home to a command center equipped with cutting-edge technology and filled with screens that constantly provide a stream of information, but the facility has never been used.

Access to the Security Secretariat's command center in Mexico City is restricted, but reporters were given a look inside on Tuesday.

The command center, which has a large oval table surrounded by screens providing feeds from still and video cameras, police files, maps, diagrams and a database containing the voice patterns of suspected criminals, is at the heart of the facility.

Mexico's president sits at the table with his security Cabinet in the event of a national emergency, whether a security event or a natural disaster.

"It has never been used for its purpose" since there has not been an emergency to justify its use, Deputy Public Safety Secretary for Information Technology Francisco Niembro said.

During a tour that lasted more than two hours, Niembro and other officials led six reporters, who were not allowed to use cameras, through the passageways of the intelligence center, which is manned 24 hours a day by 1,800 specialists who work to prevent crime.

The complex includes crime labs, technology development workshops, rooms occupied by investigators working on banks of personal computers and a large room with about 20 rows of servers.

Files contain nearly 500 million documents ranging from driver licenses to diagrams of links among suspected criminals, police files, court documents and voice patterns obtained from thousands of people.

The Federal Police accounts for 8 percent of all law enforcement officers and handles between 8 percent and 9 percent of the crimes committed in Mexico. State and municipal police departments are responsible for the rest.

The federal law enforcement agency, however, investigates about 70 percent of the kidnappings committed across Mexico either because relatives of victims contact the Federal Police directly or because the case originates with the agency.

One of the most important departments in the intelligence complex is the voice-recognition unit, which is equipped with a Russian-made system capable of identifying a voice in 90 seconds even if distortion methods are used. The system can even identify breathing patterns.

The unit analyzes nearly 100 voices daily, comparing them with a database containing 76,000 voice patterns, including those of inmates, suspected criminals and even police officers.

The unit's director played three voices, all from the same person but appearing to be different, making the kinds of threats that victims' relatives get by phone.

"We do not have a large number (of voice patterns) from kidnappings, but we do from extortion (rackets)," Niembro said, referring to one of the most common crimes targeting companies and business owners.

Since President Felipe Calderon took office on Dec. 1, 2006, according to official figures, the Federal Police has rescued 1,819 kidnapping victims, arrested 2,078 kidnappers and broken up 255 gangs.

These figures do not include operations staged by other law enforcement agencies, the marine corps and the army, which provide security in some parts of the country.

The Federal Police's intelligence unit has about 536,000 criminal files, including that of 55-year-old Sinaloa drug cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" (Shorty) Guzman, Mexico's most-wanted man.

The file says Guzman is the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, has a photo of him from when he was about 30 and lists his last known address in a residential section of the western city of Guadalajara.

"'El Chapo' has very important security rings," Niembro said in another office, where police commanders meet to analyze intelligence, plan and launch operations.

Officials also gave reporters access to the Scientific Division, which was inaugurated in March and is home to specialists with an average age of 28 who analyze ballistics, fingerprints and DNA, and also houses a lab for analyzing different types of drugs.

An electronic crimes unit housed nearby is responsible for investigating computer hacking, subversion and pornography from work stations manned by engineers, psychologists and lawyers.

Images stream into the intelligence center from many sources, including border crossings, urban areas, drones and balloons.

Cameras provide feeds from various sites, such as Mexico City's Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the country's patron saint.

Mexico has an "important crime rate," but the center provides the kinds of tools needed to put a dent in criminal activity, Niembro said.

"It's just a matter of time," the federal official said. EFE