Colombia Spy Agency Fires 22 for Illegal Wiretaps (2009)

BOGOTA – Colombia’s DAS security service fired 22 detectives, apparently in connection with an investigation into the illegal wiretapping of leading public figures, the press said on Tuesday.

Monday witnessed “one of the biggest purges in the recent history of the DAS” after a meeting of director with the services internal-affairs panel, El Tiempo newspaper said.

“When questioned about the reason for the dismissals, spokespeople for the agency said Muñoz affected them making use of the discretionary authority the law gives him, and that there will another purge this Friday,” the daily said.

The fired detectives continue to face judicial and administrative investigations.

The acting chief justice of Colombia’s Supreme Court, Jaime Arrubla, said on Tuesday in an interview with La W radio that Attorney General Mario Iguaran told him senior officials appear to have had a role in the illegal wiretaps.

While Caracol Radio reported that the AG’s office has evidence showing four separate groups within DAS conducted the illegal eavesdropping, using equipment provided by the United States and Britain.

Each group was assigned targets by senior DAS officials, Caracol said, and the groups’ files were found to contain information about the credit reports and personal finances of magistrates and court employees.

“Notable was the existence of a folder marked ‘Vices and Weaknesses,’ in which is provided a detailed report about very intimate matters of opposition political leaders and judges. They provided details about sexual preferences, whether or not the people had lovers, if they consumed liquor or drugs,” Caracol Radio said.

In late February, the scandal over the unlawful wiretaps forced President Alvaro Uribe to announce that he would no longer allow DAS to conduct electronic surveillance.

Uribe said then that the National Police would take over responsibility for monitoring conversations via telephone and the Internet.

The story was broken in January by Colombian newsweekly Semana, which said the targets of the spying included Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos – seen as a future presidential hopeful – and the head of the National Police, Gen. Oscar Naranjo.

Also monitored were former President Cesar Gaviria, erstwhile Supreme Court Chief Justice Francisco Javier Ricaurte, who has frequently sparred with Uribe; and several of the country’s most influential journalists.

Wiretapping scandals are nothing new in Colombia.

In 2007, Uribe sacked his top police chiefs after the telephone bugging of opposition members, state officials and journalists came to light.

The previous DAS director, Maria del Pilar Hurtado, resigned late last year after admitting her subordinates had been spying on opposition Sen. Gustavo Petro, who has been a key figure in exposing ties between Uribe allies and right-wing paramilitaries.

Another previous DAS director, Jorge Noguera, is behind bars while under investigation for allegedly colluding with the militias.

Petro said in February that the administration was behind the latest illegal wiretaps, but Uribe has vehemently denied the accusation, saying that “a criminal gang” operating within the agency and at the service of drug traffickers was responsible. EFE

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