Panama Papers Link Offshore Company with Colombian Paramilitary

Hollman Carranza, the son of the late Victor Carranza, appears in the Panama Papers among 850 other Colombian citizens involved in the scandal.
The confidential files leaked Sunday known as Panama Papers showed a connection between offshore firms and the son of late Victor Carranza, a prominent figure of Colombian paramilitarism, the U.S. channel Univision and Colombian local media revealed Monday.

In the 1980s, Victor Carranza was known as the “emerald tsar” as he owned emerald mines in the Boyaca mountains, near the capital. He was investigated in 2012 for allegedly funding paramilitary groups in the 1990s, according to the testimony of a former leader of one of the main paramilitary group at the time, the United Self- Defense Forces of Colombia, named Fredy Rendon Herrera.

He died from cancer one year later; his company Tecminas remains the biggest emerald trader in the country.

Hollman Carranza’s name appeared in the Panama Papers among 850 more Colombian citizens, all involved in the scandal of tax evasion via the creation of offshore companies in Panama. Most of them live in Bogota, Medellin and Baranquilla. As the investigation unravels, the number of Colombian citizens involved in the scandal could still rise, informed El Espectador.

However, the Colombian law does not consider illegal the creation of offshore companies, unless the money comes from illegal sources, or if the money is not included in tax declarations.

According to RCN Radio, the government tried to label Panama as a tax haven in 2014 so money transfers could be taxed, but later abandoned the measure under the pressure of Panama’s government on the one hand, and the four most powerful and influential people in Colombia on the other.

Published 4 April 2016

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Colombia’s Former Spy Chief Sentenced to 14 Years in Prison (2015)

BOGOTA—The former head of Colombia’s intelligence service was sentenced to 14 years in prison on Thursday for spying on opposition lawmakers, judges and journalists in one of the biggest scandals to mar the government of ex-President Alvaro Uribe.

Maria del Pilar Hurtado, 51, headed the now-defunct Administrative Security Department (DAS) intelligence service from 2007 to 2008, which was shut down following the scandal and replaced with a new intelligence entity.

Hurtado received political asylum in Panama in 2010, but the Panamanian government revoked it last year. She surrendered to authorities in January, hours after Interpol released an international order for her arrest.

The former spymaster was tried in absentia for illegally intercepting phone calls and abuse of public office, among other crimes. Separately, Bernardo Moreno, one of Uribe’s aides, was given an eight-year sentence for his involvement, to be served at his home.

Uribe, who led an aggressive military offensive against Marxist rebels during his 2002-2010 presidency, has denied any involvement in illegal activity at DAS. He is now a senator and the head of a right-wing opposition party.

Two-thirds of Uribe’s closest political allies during his presidency, including ex-cabinet ministers, have been convicted, sanctioned or investigated for crimes ranging from corruption to hacking.

Uribe says the string of convictions are an effort by his political opponents to persecute him. President Juan Manuel Santos, once Uribe’s defense minister, infuriated the former leader when he succeeded him, by opening peace talks with the leftist FARC rebels after decimating their ranks on the battlefield.

Reuters
April 30, 2015 7:43 PM
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Ex-Spy Chief Charged in 1989 Slaying of Colombian (2015)

BOGOTA – A former director of Colombia’s DAS intelligence agency has turned himself in after the Attorney General’s Office ordered his arrest in connection with the 1989 assassination of reformist presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan.

Miguel Maza Marquez surrendered late Tuesday at a DAS academy.

Prosecutors say Maza Marquez made changes to Liberal Party hopeful Galan’s security detail just hours before he was killed on Aug. 18, 1989, at a campaign rally in the Bogota suburb of Soacha.

One of the slain politician’s sons, Sen. Juan Manuel Galan, said his family received the news of the arrest with a sense of calm.

“We received this news with serenity,” the relative said, adding that he trusts “the Colombian justice system has the will and capacity to do justice” in this case.

Since early Tuesday, top officials with the AG office have been analyzing the legal issues surrounding this case to prevent any potential indictments from being blocked by the statute of limitations.

But no time limit would apply for initiating legal proceedings if the AG office determines Galan’s murder to be a crime against humanity.

The investigation into Maza Marquez, who was a presidential candidate himself after leaving the DAS, began about a month ago, when then-Attorney General Mario Iguaran said there was sufficient evidence to summon him for questioning.

Former fighters with the ostensibly demobilized AUC paramilitary federation have said in sworn statements that Maza Marquez played a key role in Galan’s murder. But, according to prosecutors, testimony by erstwhile warlord Ernesto Baez giving details of the ex-DAS official involvement in the slaying carried the most weight.

Politicians and drug kingpins are suspected of planning and instigating the still-unsolved murder, among them former Sen. Alberto Santofimio Botero and late Medellin cartel chief Pablo Escobar.

Galan was the favorite in the 1990 presidential election; his campaign manager, Cesar Gaviria Trujillo, won the balloting following his murder. EFE

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Cartel de Cali ofreció a presidente Barco matar a Escobar (2015)

El exdirector del DAS general (r) Miguel Alfredo Maza Márquez señaló que la organización mafiosa le ofreció al mandatario asesinar a quien fuera su más enconado rival.
Maza Márquez: Cartel de Cali ofreció matar a Pablo Escobar Cartel de Cali ofreció a presidente Barco matar a Escobar Foto: Guillermo Torres
Este martes se cumplió el segundo día del juicio contra el exdirector del DAS general (r) Miguel Maza Márquez, ante la corte Suprema de Justicia por su presunta responsabilidad en la muerte del entonces candidato presidencial Luis Carlos Sarmiento en 1989.

Como ha sido habitual en el proceso, Maza se ha defendido de los señalamientos en su contra argumentando que todo hace parte de un complot en su contra gestado por la familia Galán.

Como se preveía, dentro de sus narraciones han empezado a fluir detalles ignotos para la opinión pública. Precisamente, este martes aseguró que el presidente Virgilio Barco (1986-1990) aseguró que los capos del cartel de Cali le ofrecieron matar su más enconado rival: Pablo Escobar, capo del cartel de Medellín.

“El presidente Barco me comunicó la propuesta que se le había hecho y yo le dije: ‘Señor presidente, yo no hablo con ningún delincuente porque eso posteriormente me lo van a cobrar’”, dijo.

Maza contó que ante la negativa del Gobierno, los hermanos Rodríguez, jefes del cartel de Cali, insistieron. No obstante, la posición oficial fue que si ellos querían colaborar, podía usar las líneas telefónicas que el Gobierno había divulgado en los medios de comunicación para que las personas denunciaran.

Por otra parte, Maza Márquez manifestó ante los magistrados que tiene nuevas fotos que por sus propios medios consiguió y que advierten que el entonces recientemente nombrado jefe de escoltas de Galán Sarmiento, Jacobo Torregrosa, nunca dejó de acompañar al candidato en Soacha ese fatídico 18 de agosto de 1989, tal como él ha insistido.

No obstante, el magistrado que preside la audiencia, Fernando Castro, le inquirió acerca de la procedencia de estas fotos. El oficial en retiro aseguró que las tiene desde hace un mes, que no sabe aún cuántas son y que -supuestamente- sólo se las ha mostrado a su abogado defensor.

Sin embargo, el abogado de Maza dijo no tener conocimiento de dicho material, pero que había recibido en las últimas 24 horas un paquete que al parecer contiene un registro fotográfico. ¿Qué otros secretos revelará Maza?

NACIÓN | 2015/06/02 16:18
Find this story at 02 June 2015

COPYRIGHT © 2016 PUBLICACIONES SEMANA S.A.

Fugitive former Colombian spy chief surrenders in Panama (2015)

Panama’s Deputy Foreign Minister Álvaro Aleman, right, accompanies Maria del Pilar Hurtado as she leaves the foreign ministry building in Panama City in 2010. Photo: AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco, File

The former head of Colombia’s intelligence agency has surrendered to authorities.

Maria del Pilar Hurtado is accused of ordering illegal wiretaps on politicians, journalists and even Supreme Court justices opposed to former President Álvaro Uribe.

She fled to Panama in 2010 and was granted asylum arguing that she was being targeted politically by Uribe’s successor, President Juan Manuel Santos. Several other Uribe aides under investigation for corruption have also left Colombia saying they can’t receive a fair trial here.

Panama’s Supreme Court last year overturned the decision granting the spy chief refuge, saying it was unconstitutional.

Hurtado’s lawyer Jaime Camacho told RCN radio on Saturday that his client turned herself in after midnight to authorities in Panama. She’s now being held at the chief prosecutor’s office in Bogotá.

by Latin Correspondent | 2nd February 2015
Find this story at 2 February 2015

© Copyright 2016 Latin Correspondent

Allegations of secret Colombian plan to undermine EU (2010)

A group of MEPs is calling for action as further details of an alleged covert operation conducted by the Colombian intelligence agency (DAS) continue to emerge, with one of its reported aims being to undermine the authority of the European Parliament.
Recently released documents that were confiscated from the DAS by the Colombian Attorney General’s office highlight the nature of “Operation Europe.”

The alleged action in Europe includes phone tapping and the interception of emails (Photo: Flickr.com)
Its objective was to “neutralise the influence of the European judicial system, the European Parliament’s human rights sub-committee, and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,” reads one text seen by this website.

Following lines suggest the process of discrediting these institutions should be carried out by waging a “legal war.”

News of the Colombian agency’s activities targeting national and international human rights defenders, NGOs and democratic organisations, of which ‘Operation Europe’ was only one part, first broke in the Colombian media in early 2009.

As the scandal grew, former right-wing President Alvaro Uribe finally moved to stem the criticism by introducing legislation late last year to overhaul the controversial agency, although it has yet to be approved by the country’s legislature.

But a group of MEPs, primarily from the European Parliament’s Green group, are not satisfied, fearing that the reported campaign of close surveillance and threat-making against Bogota’s critics may simply continue under a different guise.

Their concerns are backed up by the Colombian Commission of Jurists, among others, a group of legal activists that says the law does not “establish adequate, effective and independent oversight of intelligence activities.”

Green MEP Ulrike Lunacek is one of those to have put questions to the European Commission and Council of Ministers, but said the answers she received were “not satisfactory.”

In responding to the queries last month, the commission said it was “well aware of the reports relating to alleged illegal spying by the DAS” and has raised the matter with the Colombian authorities on several occasions.

The EU executive body added that it has faith in the current investigation being carried out by the Colombian Prosecutor General’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office and has been informed of the draft law to liquidate the DAS and set up a new agency.

Others want more, however.

“There should be a full police and judicial investigation of the alleged crimes,” said centre-left MEP Richard Howitt. “All of us at member-state level and within the European institutions should take full responsibility for making sure such investigations are conducted.”

Hopes for the Belgian Presidency

Unhappy with the current level of action, Ms Lunacek says she has greater hopes for the next six months, with Spain set to hand over the reins of the EU’s rotating presidency on 1 July.

“The Spanish government is very in favour of the free trade agreement with Colombia [initialed in May], and they don’t want anything to jeopardise that,” the Austrian deputy told EUobserver. “But then the Belgians will take over the presidency and they have citizens that have been proven to have suffered phone tapping by the DAS.”

One of those Belgian citizens who claims to have been a victim of DAS activities is Paul-Emile Dupret, a political advisor to the European Parliament’s left-wing United European Left (GUE) group.

“My name is mentioned on the DAS file several times,” he says, believing it to be partially the result of his involvement in the organisation of an anti-Uribe protest in 2004 when the ex-President visited the European Parliament.

Several months after the protest, Mr Dupret was arrested upon landing in the United States. “I was interrogated when I arrived, put in prison for 24 hours, asked dozens of questions about by views on Colombia,” he says. “Since then I have been prevented from returning to the US. They now consider me a terrorist.”

The close ties between Washington and Bogota are well known.

The Belgian citizen is currently working with a group of other victims and a team of lawyers, and plans to present their collective case against the Colombian agency in the Belgian courts this July, the first European citizens to do so.

Certain European NGOs also claim to have been the target of a concerted campaign to discredit their activities and tarnish their reputations. Amongst them is the Belgian faith-based NGO Broederlijk Delen, whose representative Patricia Verbauwhede attended a press conference in parliament this week.

“The EU needs to make a statement on the DAS,” she said. “We request an investigation of the DAS on European soil and we feel the EU should not conclude its free trade agreement with Colombia.”

So far the sought-after strong statements and investigations have not been forthcoming.

By ANDREW WILLIS
BRUSSELS, 25. JUN 2010, 09:28
Find this story at 25 June 2010

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Colombia Calling: The Other Wiretap Scandal (2009)

ILLUSTRATION BY LEO GARCIAWhen the editorial staff of Semana, a feisty Bogotá-based weekly news magazine, was closing out their Feb. 21 edition, they couldn’t help but notice an unmarked car parked for several hours in front of their building. This came as no surprise to editor- in-chief Alfonso Cuéllar, who supervised a six-month long investigation of illegal wiretapping by Colombia’s domestic intelligence agency, the Administrative Department of Security, known in Colombia as the DAS.

“We knew that both the good guys and the bad guys were aware that we were working on the story,” said Cuéllar in a recent interview from Bogotá. “That’s partly why the DAS was shredding all of the evidence a month before it broke.” Backed up by numerous sources and documents, Semana exposed how members of the DAS were illegally spying on Supreme Court judges, former Colombian president César Gaviria, opposition politicians, prominent journalists and even high-ranking members of the ruling party.

Amongst a roster of Machiavellian allegations — from KGB-like tactics used to create “vice files” on prominent politicians, to the selling of sensitive intelligence to narco traffickers and those with links to illegal paramilitary organizations and the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerillas — is one charge that will be of particular interest to the United States, especially as the country contemplates the fallout from its own domestic surveillance scandal. The U.S. government, according to the Semana report, supplied the sophisticated interception devices used by the spies in Colombia.

NOT EVERYBODY IS SO AGNOSTIC

“It will be interesting to see if the rumors that are circulating in Bogotá, that the U.S. Embassy had a role in the wiretapping operation, turn out to be true,” said Joseph Fitsanakis, senior editor of IntelNews and a longtime intelligence analyst. “It won’t be the first time.”

According to sources in Bogotá, the DAS used a system called Phantom 3000, marketed by a company called TraceSpan Communications, a private U.S. company with a development center in Israel. “In this age of high security threats, when foreign terrorists and local criminals use the Internet for communication, TraceSpan is proud to provide Law Enforcement Authorities a new means to fight back,” said Hanan Herzberg, TraceSpan founder and CEO, in a press release for the product. “The system’s small footprint makes it an ideal solution for any law enforcement agency as well as the perfect solution for the Central Office.”

This wouldn’t be the first time that U.S.- supplied intelligence gear was used by the Colombian government. In 2006, the U.S. State Department awarded a $5 million contract to California-based Oakley Networks to provide “Internet surveillance software” to a specialized unit of Colombia’s National Police. The details of that deal emerged when the National Police were accused of spying on a variety of Colombian human-rights groups, as well as U.S.-based interfaith organization, Fellowship of Reconciliation. Oakley Networks, now a subsidiary of the U.S. defense contractor Raytheon Co., bills itself as a “leader in insider threat monitoring and investigations,” that offers “sophisticated monitoring and discovery technologies.”

The Oakley Networks contract came as part of the more than $5 billion the United States has sent to Colombia since 2000 to fund Plan Colombia, ostensibly an effort to eradicate production of the coca leaf. The funding has continued despite the Colombian military’s ties to right-wing paramilitary groups and to the killing of union leaders, human rights activists and indigenous people.

U.S. REMAINS A KEY FRIEND

In Bogotá, the ramifications of the Semana investigation were immediate. The offices of the DAS were raided by the Colombian prosecutor general’s office, the day following Semana’s original story, and the agency’s director general, Capt. Jorge Alberto Lagos, resigned the following week. The entire high command of the agency submitted letters of resignation and Colombia’s attorney general recently declared that 22 DAS detectives had been fired and would face “judicial and administrative investigations,” while also intimating that more dismissals are coming down the pike. Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, for years the Bush administration’s staunchest ally in Latin America, quickly denied any role in the imbroglio and declared that wiretapping would be immediately reassigned to the National Police. As this was the third such scandal in the DAS under Uribe’s watch, not everybody is taking the denial at face value.

The scandal broke just four months after the former head of the DAS resigned after admitting it spied on a prominent leftist politician who had exposed ties between Uribe and rightwing death squads.

“I don’t think it’s a very plausible argument that these were just low-level characters in the DAS, who were setting up these illegal wiretaps on their own initiative,” said Lorenzo Morales, online editor at Semana. “The DAS receives its orders directly from the [Colombian] president and his inner circle.”

The spy scandal does not appear to have dampened U.S.-Colombian relations. Semana broke the story just before Colombia sent a highlevel delegation to meet with Obama administration officials. On Feb. 25, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermúdez Merizalde by saying, “It’s a real pleasure to have the representative of a country that has made so many strides and so much progress, and we have a lot to talk about because there is so much we have in common to work on.” Less than two months later, at the Summit of the Americas, President Barack Obama sat next to Uribe and discussed the possibility of a U.S.-Colombian “free trade” agreement — a deal Obama opposed on the campaign trail.

In Bogotá, U.S. embassy officials have not denied playing a role in the Colombian spy operation.

“We have worked with the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) in joint and regional counter-narcotics efforts in a positive and straightforward manner, including providing equipment,” states a diplomatic official at the embassy. “We have no knowledge that any equipment has been misused.”

Semana’s Alfonso Cuéllar says he hopes the paper’s report will put an end to illegal spying.

“I think that one thing we found in our investigation, at least amongst the DAS officials, was that some of these guys don’t think there’s anything wrong with this, they think it’s normal,” he said. “They say, what’s wrong with checking out people that could be potential enemies of the state, or adversaries of the president? Hopefully, one of the things these revelations will get people thinking about is that no, this is not normal.”

Joseph Huff-Hannon is an independent journalist based in Brooklyn who writes on politics and culture.

A coalition of U.S. organizations have called on the U.S. embassy in Bogotá to pressure Colombian officials to stop spying on human rights and peace organizations.

Between 2006 and 2008, Colombian agencies reportedly intercepted more than 150 email accounts of groups including the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the oldest interfaith peace organization in the United States.

“[This] puts at risk our field team and the communities we work with, by suggesting that those working for peace and human rights are subversive, legitimate targets for right-wing violence,” said John Lindsay-Poland, co-director of the Fellowship’s Task Force on Latin America.

The spy operation began after the U.S. State Department awarded a $5 million contract to the California-based Oakley Networks to provide “internet surveillance software” to the intelligence unit of the Colombian National Police as part of Plan Colombia.

“U.S. taxpayers were apparently paying for Colombian agencies to spy on legitimate U.S. and Colombian humanitarian organizations,” wrote the authors of a December 2008 letter to U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield in Bogotá.

In addition, the Fellowship of Reconciliation fears a June 2007 break-in at the organization’s Bogotá office was connected to the surveillance campaign.

“We’ve also now learned that the Colombian military paid for computer hard drives of interest to intelligence’ agencies … These stolen laptops contained sensitive files on our work with members of Colombian peace communities,” Lindsay-Poland said.

BYJOSEPH HUFF-HANNON
MAY 14, 2009 ISSUE #135 —MIKE BURKE
Find this story at 14 May 2009

Copyright https://indypendent.org/

Venezuela seizes ‘Colombia spies’ (2009)

Venezuela has announced the arrest of a number of people whom it accuses of being agents spying for Colombia.
Deputy Foreign Minister Francisco Arias Cardenas said they were members of Colombia’s DAS state security agency.
He said they were “captured carrying out actions of espionage”, without giving any further details.
Ties between the two nations have been frozen since July when Colombia said it would let the US army use its military bases for anti-drugs operations.
The agreement has caused alarm among some of Colombia’s neighbours, who object to an increased US military presence in the region.
When news of the deal first broke in August, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez warned that “winds of war” were blowing across the continent.
‘Serious event’
Mr Cardenas said on Tuesday that Caracas would soon produce evidence to back up its claims in the spying row.
“Do not underestimate the importance of an event as serious and as grave as the capture of Colombian DAS security agents committing acts of espionage,” he told reporters in Caracas.
Colombia’s ambassador to Venezuela, Maria Luisa Chiappe, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying she had no information about DAS agents working on Venezuelan soil.

Page last updated at 22:52 GMT, Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Find this story at 27 October 2009

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Colombia to dismantle troubled intelligence agency (2009)

BOGOTA, Sept 18 Colombia’s state intelligence agency will be dissolved, the government said on Friday, following a flood of scandals in which agents are accused of wire-tapping judges, reporters and opposition politicians.

Former officials of the DAS agency are also being investigated for taking bribes in exchange for providing right-wing cocaine-funded paramilitaries with hit lists of union leaders and human rights activists.

Agents are accused of continuing to listen in on the phone conversations of politicians, rights workers and journalists despite public outcry over the practice.

“The DAS will be dissolved in order to make way for a new civilian intelligence agency,” DAS chief Felipe Munoz said in a statement posted on Colombia’s presidential website.

“A definitive change is needed,” the statement said.

The new agency will offer “absolute trust and transparency,” it said.

The move could help allay fears in Washington among Democratic lawmakers who have blocked a trade deal with Colombia based on accusations that President Alvaro Uribe has allowed local union leaders to be persecuted with impunity.

Uribe, Washington’s main ally in South America, said on Thursday that the DAS should be dismantled and that the national police could take over many of its responsibilities.

A bill will be presented to Congress next week proposing the end of the DAS and outlining the structure of the new intelligence agency, according to Munoz’s statement.

More than 40 former DAS employees are being investigated over the telephone-bugging accusations.

Despite these and other scandals, Uribe is seen as a hero to many for his crackdown on Marxist guerrillas. He may stand for an unprecedented third term next year if his supporters manage to amend the constitution to allow him to run.

Margaret Sekaggya, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights defenders, earlier on Friday called on the DAS to stop its illegal monitoring of activists.

She said the surveillance has been used to trump up false charges against rights workers, who are regularly accused by government officials of supporting the outlawed rebel army known as the FARC.

(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; editing by Mohammad Zargham)
Fri Sep 18, 2009 11:49pm EDT

Find this story at 18 September 2009

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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

Find this story at 2009

Copyright Latin American Herald Tribune – 2005-2015

Acusan a Central Inteligencia Colombia de seguir con espionaje (2009)

BOGOTA (Reuters) – La Central de Inteligencia de Colombia, inmersa en un escándalo de espionaje, siguió interceptando ilegalmente comunicaciones telefónicas de congresistas para establecer sus posiciones ante un referendo sobre la reelección presidencial, dijo el domingo una revista.

La nueva denuncia podría aumentar las críticas contra el Gobierno del presidente Alvaro Uribe, por la falta de medidas eficaces para controlar la agencia de seguridad, bajo su mando directo, en momentos en que la Cámara de Representantes se dispone a votar en último debate un referendo sobre reelección.

El escándalo en el Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS) estalló en febrero después de que la revista Semana aseguró que funcionarios del organismo de seguridad interceptaban ilegalmente comunicaciones de magistrados, jueces, periodistas y funcionarios del Gobierno.

Después de la denuncia la Fiscalía General ocupó la sede de la central de inteligencia, confiscó algunos de los equipos de interceptaciones y Uribe le suspendió las funciones de espionaje.

“¿Qué es lo que está pasando en las últimas semanas y qué nos interesa? Simple: el referendo. Hay que saber en qué están y qué están pensando los políticos”, dijo a Semana uno de los funcionarios encargados de las interceptaciones que no se identificó.

La Cámara de Representantes se alista para discutir y votar esta semana en último debate el texto de un referendo que busca habilitar a Uribe para buscar su segunda reelección inmediata en el 2010.

El director del DAS, Felipe Muñoz, solicitó a la Fiscalía investigar las denuncias del medio periodístico, negó interceptaciones desde la central de inteligencia y anunció su disposición de colaborar con las averiguaciones en una rueda de prensa.

El escándalo que se inició en febrero provocó la renuncia y destitución de más de 30 funcionarios de la Central de Inteligencia, en la que laboran 6.500 funcionarios.

(Reporte de Luis Jaime Acosta. Editado por Javier López de Lérida)
domingo 30 de agosto de 2009 23:28 GYT Imprimir [-] Texto [+]

Find this story at 30 August 2009

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Venezuela Offers Evidence of Colombian Espionage (2009)

CARACAS – The Venezuelan government presented on Thursday what officials called “irrefutable evidence” that neighboring Colombia has dispatched spies to Venezuela, Ecuador and Cuba as part of an ambitious, CIA-financed operation.

Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami detailed the contents of documents allegedly originating with Colombia’s DAS security service and unearthed since the apprehension of two suspected Colombian on Venezuelan soil.

He said Colombian President Alvaro Uribe was fully aware of the espionage carried out by the DAS, which reports directly to the office of the head of state and has been repeatedly caught spying on journalists, judges and opposition politicians in its own country.

El Aissami said the purported DAS documents refer to three operations: “Salomon,” targeting Ecuador; “Phoenix,” aimed at Cuba, and “Falcon,” directed at Venezuela.

He said the information was compiled in the course of a DAS internal investigation about a leak of classified information.

The minister did not say how he obtained the DAS report.

One of those interviewed in the DAS probe, “Carlos Orguela Orguela, Colombian identification card No. 79,596,402,” told questioners that Operation Salomon involved 144 agents and that the funding came from DAS and the U.S. Embassy in Bogota.

The U.S. mission, El Aissami said, “pays the rent for the sham office” used by the spies.

“With operational support given by the DAS and the CIA they accomplished the recruitment of high-profile human sources who currently provide strategic information to the DAS,” the Venezuelan official said.

Orguela said the results of the spy efforts were relayed to Uribe and then-Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos “in three official presentations and an informal one.”

El Aissami said the aim of the Colombian espionage operation in Venezuela was “to collect information about the Bolivarian National Armed Forces” as well as “to suborn and corrupt officials” and enlist opposition politicians.

“We know who is involved here in Venezuela in Project Falcon,” the minister said, though providing no details.

Caracas obtained the documents pursuant to the capture of two DAS agents in Venezuela, El Aissami told the National Assembly.

He said that Eduardo Gonzalez Muñoz and Angel Jacinto Guanare were arrested Oct. 2 in Maracay, 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Caracas, along with one of their sources, Venezuelan citizen Melvin Argenis Gutierrez.

In announcing the arrests of the suspected DAS agents earlier this week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez recalled that he had previously alerted Uribe “about the conspiratorial activities” of Colombian operatives in Venezuela.

Those activities continue, the Venezuelan leader said, “above all now with the decision of Colombia” to sign an accord with Washington giving the U.S. Armed Forces access to seven Colombian military bases.

Officials in Bogota, which has received some $6 billion in mainly military aid from the United States since 2000, say the pact will be signed Friday.

Chavez, survivor of a 2002 coup attempt that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter says took place with Washington’s advance knowledge if not active collusion, says the basing agreement poses a threat to his “Bolivarian Revolution.” EFE

Find this story at 2015
Copyright Latin American Herald Tribune – 2005-2015

Colombia’s Secret Narco-Police (2006)

Claims of Collaboration with Drug Traffickers and Paramilitaries Sting the Country’s DAS Security Service and Support Allegations of DEA Corruption Published in Narco News

Though it has barely registered in the U.S. press, a national scandal is currently unfolding in Colombia, where a jailed high official of the Administrative Department for Security (DAS, in its Spanish initials) has been speaking freely with journalists about the extensive collaboration between the secret police agency and right-wing paramilitary groups.

Rafael García lost his post as DAS’ information technology chief after being charged with taking bribes from rightwing paramilitaries and narcos (often, one and the same). He now claims that DAS has been working for years, at least since Uribe’s 2002 election, in conjunction with the paras and their narco allies, sharing documents and intelligence to help kill and intimidate activists and unionists, help powerful drug traffickers avoid prosecution and murder informants. And investigative journalists in Colombia have verified and shed more light on a number of these claims.

Sound familiar? Narco News for the past four months has been uncovering a web of corruption linking the U.S.’s own DEA agents and other law enforcement personnel with drug traffickers and paramilitaries in Colombia. The new allegations about paramilitary and narco infiltration of the DAS make the “Kent Memo” (the internal Justice Department document claiming corruption in the DEA’s Bogotá office) all the more believable. They give a picture of a war on “drugs and terror” in Colombia that is corrupt to the core, and in which the most powerful narcos are seasoned experts at working with the same law enforcement entities charged with bringing them down.

Jorge Noguera on the cover of Cambio magazine.
The DAS is a strange beast, jumping in to many roles that in most countries would be handled by several different agencies. It handles immigration and tourist visas in the airports, provides security to important political figures, does intelligence work for the ongoing civil war (occasionally combating rebels alongside the army), and functions as a secret police force that can arrest and interrogate anyone deemed to be a security threat. What narco with half a brain wouldn’t try to infiltrate an organization that holds the keys to so many doors?

The DAS does not fall under any justice department but rather is directly controlled by the president’s office. It is small wonder, then, that such revelations about the DAS would surface under the watch of Álvaro Uribe Vélez, the narcopresidente himself. The scandal has been brewing since last fall, when a DAS chief — who received his post shortly after Uribe took office — resigned after the Bogotá newspaper El Tiempo discovered some tapes that let the cat out of the bag. As Ramón Acevedo reported for Narco News in November:

After many years of international and national pressure to abide by international human rights, the Colombian government continues to use the military and paramilitary “death squads” as main weapons against the civilian population and political opposition. For decades, the Colombian military and their paramilitary allies have enjoyed a high level of impunity from judicial processes. Most recently, on October 23rd the head of Colombia’s secret police (DAS), Jorge Noguera, resigned after the discovery of tapes discussing the agency’s alleged plans to give intelligence information to the paramilitaries. In addition, the paramilitaries have boasted many times of how they control more than 35 percent of the Colombian congress.
Until this scandal broke, Noguera had been living with his family in a luxury Bogotá penthouse that the DNE (Colombia’s drug control administration) had seized from a drug trafficker and turned over to him, with the DAS footing the bill for the hundreds of dollars a month in administration and utilities, according to Cambio magazine. The Colombian government claims it is now investigating Noguera, but Uribe quickly took him out of the spotlight by whisking him away to work at the Colombian consulate in Milan, Italy.

Semana magazine, one of the two major glossy newsmagazines in Colombia along with Cambio, published an extensive interview earlier this month with Rafael García. García spoke mainly of “Jorge 40,” one of the most powerful paramilitary chiefs in the country (and under indictment for drug trafficking in the U.S.). Semana’s journalists asked who else wielded influence over the spy agency.

SEMANA: Apart from paramilitary groups, was there also infiltration from and collaboration with known narco-traffickers?
R.G.: Giancarlo (Auqué, a former DAS intelligence director) and Jorge Norguera passed privileged information to Diego Montoya, and the idea wasn’t for him to hide but to warn him that there was a snitch in his organization who was reporting his location. Giancarlo himself told me this while he was working as intelligence director. Giancarlo told me that an intelligence report had arrived that said “Don Diego” was being pursued around the Cimitarra valley, and that we had to find a way to warn him because there was a snitch inside of his organization. If it was someone from the DAS, the police or the attorney general’s office, I don’t know. But we had to help him so that he could locate the informant. Jorge Noguera used Jimmy Nassar (one of his advisors) as his messenger because it was Nasser who had direct relations with the North Valley Cartel.

Wílber Alirio Varela
Photo: State Department
García is not the only one who has talked. DAS sub-director José Miguel Narváez turned on his boss, Noguera, last fall and was one of the main forces behind Noguera’s downfall. In September, Carlos Moreno, an agent who claimed he had been fired unfairly came to complain to Narváez, who recorded their conversation. Cambio obtained a copy of the recording and revealed its contents two weeks ago. According to that story:

The conversation’s content is hair-raising, and refers to extrajudicial killings apparently ordered by DAS’ Intelligence Directorate, deaths of informants that were no longer useful or represented some danger because they had too much information; theft of files from the Fiscalía (attorney general’s office) which mentioned DAS officials, such as files on drug trafficker Wílber Alirio Varela, alias “Jabón,” and the theft of reports from intelligence files on paramilitary boss Martín Llanos in return for huge payments.
Moreno says on tape that he personally stole files from the Fiscalía and believes that Varela requested this.

Damage Control: Attacking the Messenger

With just weeks to go in Colombia’s presidential race, in which Uribe stands for reelection on May 28, the DAS scandal threatens to tarnish his golden-boy image and dent his popularity, often seen by supporters and demoralized opponents as invincible.

Former DAS information chief Rafael García, for one, doesn’t buy Uribe’s cries of innocence. From his interview with Semana:

SEMANA: On several occasions you accompanied Noguera to the Palacio de Nariño (Colombia’s White House). How much did President Álvaro Uribe know about all this?
RG: I can’t answer that for you. I will tell the Fiscalía or a foreign government after I know my family is protected.

What I would say to the public is, could it be that (Peruvian president) Fujimori didn’t know what Vladimiro Montesinos was doing? I don’t know how someone could have done so many things without his superior finding out. What I am saying is the truth. If I have to pay with my life for daring to tell the truth, I will assume the consequences.

Predictably, both Noguera and Uribe have responded by lashing out at their critics in the press. Instead of any substantial reply to their questions or response to García’s claims, Cambio’s reporters received these answers when they contacted Noguera by phone at his bunker in Milan:

“I don’t care what a delinquent like Rafael García says about me.”
“García is capable of selling his own mother to get away with what he’s done. His claims are the product of an old grudge.”

“His words should have the same credibility as Pablo Escobar’s did in his time.”

“For a long time I have asked the Fiscalía to take my statement in order to definitively close this chapter.”

“I don’t trust the journalists of Colombia because they have done me a lot of damage. They publish whatever they want.”

Intimidating the press is certainly nothing new to DAS, though it is usually done more subtly. Last June, journalist and friend of Narco News César Jérez of Prensa Rural, who with his all-volunteer staff fearlessly reports on rural struggles in Colombia, especially around the paramilitary-infested oil town of Barrancabermeja and the Cimitarra valley, found himself being followed through the streets of that city by DAS agents.

And President Uribe has lived up to his reputation of total intolerance toward any criticism from civil society. In a recent interview with RCN radio, he said:

…You see, I am very respectful of the media and never take any action against them. But the media cannot hope to, they have to decide if they are serious or if they practice yellow journalism. If they are media that are part of a the democratic rule of law, or if they are media that stand in for the justice system. If they are media that respect instructions and exercise their right to the free press within those, or if they stand in for the justice system. If they are media that respect the Constitution, that respect people’s basic rights such as the right to their own dignity, or if they are media that commit any act of responsibility just to make sales.

The thing is that they are making hasty accusations here. Who knows what kind of political manipulation is behind journalism to create scandals or produce yellow journalism. These media outlets, like the one you cite [referring to Semana magazine], to make money, without daring to look at the other side, take people down and condemn them without even listening to them. They attack the good names of people and institutions if they feel like it, without listening to them…

This is Uribe’s favorite tactic: to separate his critics, be they human rights groups or commercial journalists, into “bad guys” and “good guys.” It reminds one of Joe McCarthy’s flailing in the face of Ed Murrow’s journalism, answering serious charges supported by evidence with accusations of subversion and communism.

That arrogant contempt for the press, for honest, independent investigation of elected officials, was eventually McCarthy’s downfall.

Overlap with Alleged DEA Corruption

Drug warriors will point to cases such as this one as proof that the U.S. needs to be involved in Colombia, as a sort of check to the corruption of local law enforcement. But the DAS is not the only law enforcement agency now accused of outing informants to help drug-trafficking allies.

Among the claims in the Kent memo is the allegation that corrupt Bogotá DEA agents leaked the name of one of their informants as part of their work protecting an unnamed narco-trafficker. The informant, former North Valley Cartel leader Jose Nelson Urrego, was trying to help Miami DEA agents investigate the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and their supposed involvement in the drug trade. But the Bogotá agents put as many obstacles in the Miami agents’ path as possible, eventually revealing him as an informant. As Bill Conroy reported in February:

Not only was Urrego in a position to reveal intimate details about the operations of Colombian drug traffickers, including possibly any links they might have to the allegedly corrupt DEA agents in Colombia, but he also could have opened up a can of worms with respect to narco-financing of Colombian political candidates.
In any event, the efforts by Fields and his fellow DEA agents in Miami to bring Urrego in-house as an informant came to an abrupt end, according to the Kent memo, when someone sent a document to Urrego containing confidential DEA information that revealed he was cooperating with the DEA. Whoever sent this document to Urrego was essentially threatening Urrego’s life, as being pointed out as a DEA collaborator can be a death sentence in the drug underworld.

A narco-trafficker alleged to be the source of that fax later took a lie detector test and told investigators he had received internal documents from DEA agents. Though he passed the polygraph, sources told Conroy, the results were covered up.

Other informants for the Florida agents also mysteriously ended up dead after running up against the allegedly corrupt Bogotá agents. From Conroy’s original story:

During the course of an investigation into a Colombian narco-trafficking operation, a group of DEA agents in Florida had zeroed in on several targets, with the help of several Colombian informants. Once the targets were identified as being part of the drug ring, they began to cooperate with the Florida-based agents.
“… They made startling revelations concerning DEA agents in Bogotá,” Kent writes. “They alleged that they were assisted in their narcotics activities by the [Bogotá] agents. Specifically, they alleged that the agents provided them with information on investigations and other law enforcement activities in Colombia.”

The traffickers eventually gave the Florida agents copies of confidential DEA reports, which the Bogotá agents allegedly had handed over to the traffickers. After the Florida agents turned these documents over to the OPR and OIG, one of them was put on “administrative leave” — the first sign that a cover-up was underway.

While the Florida agent was out on leave, the Bogotá agents set up a meeting with one of the informants.

“As the informant left that meeting, he was murdered,” Kent states. “Other informants … who also worked with the DEA group in Florida were also murdered. Each murder was preceded by a request for their identity by an agent in Bogotá.”

Beyond the similarity in the DEA and DAS agents’ alleged behavior — both outing informants to protect narcos — the names of the narco-traffickers involved also overlap.

David Tinsley, a supervisor with the DEA’s Miami office, oversaw “Operation Cali-Man,” and a follow-up operation called “Rainmaker.” Both were undercover operations targeting Colombian drug traffickers. Rainmaker, though, focused in part on corrupt Colombian law enforcers. It was just when Cali-Man was wrapping up and Rainmaker was beginning that Bogotá agents, including Leo Arreguin who was at the time in charge of the DEA’s Bogotá office, complained to headquarters about the operations and eventually convinced Washington to shut them down and place Tinsley on administrative leave. (Arreguin accused Tinsley of corruption involving one of his informants, Baruch Vega.) Several of the major traffickers that Tinsley had made cases against in Cali-Man were not indicted or prosecuted for years due to the charges against him.

A source in the DEA familiar with operations Cali-Man and Rainmaker has confirmed to Narco News that the same North Valley Cartel leaders that infiltrated the DAS — Diego Montoya and Wílber Varela — were Tinsley’s targets with Cali-Man. Conroy’s investigations have suggested that the Bogotá agents did everything possible to shut down Rainmaker, Cali-Man and other operations run by the Florida office, either to protect allies in organized crime or to protect themselves from the revelation of embarrassing information.

Former FBI, DEA and CIA informant Baruch Vega told Narco News that Wílber Varela and Diego Montoya were both players in what he calls the “Devil’s Cartel.” As Bill Conroy reported on March 18:

Vega says the many pieces of this dark mystery make it appear very complicated to unravel.
“But, if they are lined up in the right way, it becomes easy to understand,” he adds. “It’s a matter of putting the right players in the right place.”

The way things lined up, according to Vega, involved what amounts to the perfect narco-trafficking organization, which he describes as the “Devil’s Cartel.”

This so-called Devil’s Cartel was an alliance of North Valley traffickers, many of them former Colombian National Police officials, along with active members of the Colombian National Police under the direction of a corrupt Colombian National Police colonel named Danilo Gonzalez.

Paramilitary forces under the leadership of Carlos Castaño, who headed the murderous United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (the AUC), provided the muscle and protection for this Devil’s Cartel and its operations, Vega contends.

The U.S. government indicted Castaño in 2002 on narco-trafficking charges. Two years later, Castaño disappeared, after a reported attempt on his life in Colombia. He is presumed dead, although his body was never found.

The intelligence arm of this Devil’s Cartel, Vega claims, was composed of corrupt U.S. federal agents with DEA and U.S. Customs.

Read the full story for more background on Vega. Not all of his claims can be independently verified, but as more and more comes out about the DAS scandal, what Vega says sounds more and more plausible.

It’s also difficult to imagine that DEA and CIA agents in Colombia haven’t worked with Noguera and other DAS officials named in the scandal at some point. In fact, early in the tape obtained by Cambio, Carlos Moreno, the fired DAS agent, refers to a CIA agent that worked with alleged DAS hitmen:

AGENT THAT ACCOMPANIED MORENO: Look, doctor (Narváez), the thing is that they had this boy here, Carlos… as a hit man. Ariza [then chief of intellegence] told him that he had to do it. They bought him the motorcycle, the gun, all that, and they went around knocking people off, throwing them (in the garbage). That’s the truth.
MORENO: Yes, that is the truth, doctor.

JOSÉ MIGUEL NARVÁEZ: But how did it work? Tell me more…

MORENO: When Enrique Ariza was approved as chief of intelligence, they called me to have me meet with some guys that are in a little group that works with Scott. I know Scott, he’s from the CIA. At that time there was a group forming, out of DAS people themselves, to do “limpieza” [literally, “cleansing”]. Many times, I did the job of killing informants. They ordered me to do it, so I did it.

OTHER AGENT: Yes, he has done this for the institution… They are looking for him in order to kill him, and he doesn’t deserve to be left out in the cold, doctor…

No further information has come out regarding this supposed CIA agent. Nor is it clear in the transcript what exactly is meant by “cleansing” — whether this meant cleansing the DAS of agents that were somehow problematic, or something more sinister such as eliminating informants and witnesses.

Narco News continues to dig deeper into the DEA and other U.S. agencies’ corruption and involvement with narco-traffickers, trying to flesh out the connections, separate the fact from the fiction, the truth from the spin. Hopefully, the few honest reporters among the Colombian media — usually as bought and sold as their U.S. counterparts — will continue to reveal the depths to which the DAS and other Colombian state entities have sunk. Uribe may well survive this scandal and win his reelection… with the usual help from his DAS, narco and paramilitary allies, along with his friends in Washington. Either way, how much longer will people in Colombia and the U.S. put up with life in the crossfire of a war on drugs in which the two sides have become so indistinguishable?

By Dan Feder
April 29, 2006

Find this story at 29 April 2006

Copyright http://www.narconews.com/

Former Colombia intelligence chief sentenced to 10 years over illegal wiretapping

A former executive of Colombia’s now-defunct intelligence agency DAS was sentenced to 9 years and 10 months in prison on Thursday for his role in the illegal wiretapping of Supreme Court justices and government critics during the Alvaro Uribe administrations (2002-2010).

The ex-intelligence director of the DAS was found guilty of conspiracy to commit a crime, violation of communication equipment, illicit use of wiretapping equipment and abuse of power.

Carlos Arzayus is one of a handful of former intelligence officials found guilty for the illegal surveillance on Supreme Court magistrates, journalists, human rights campaigners and government opponents during the Uribe years.

Additionally, Arzayus was ordered to pay damages to the victims of the illegal wiretapping.

According to newspaper El Pais, the former intelligence executive confessed in the investigation that is was Maria del Pilar Hurtado, the fugitive ex director of DAS, who had ordered the espionage arguing that the orders came from the presidential palace.

Del Pilar Hurtado received political asylum in November 2010 after claiming she had fell victim to political persecution

Mar 20, 2014 posted by Larisa Sioneriu

Find this story at 20 March 2014

Colombia Reports © 2014

DAS wiretapping scandal

The DAS wiretapping scandal unfolded in 2008 after opposition politicians, media and authorities discovered that Colombia’s now-defunct intelligence agency, the DAS, had been spying on the Supreme Court, journalists, human rights defenders and politicians. Later dubbed the “Colombian Watergate” scandal, it sparked a worldwide outrage as it not only implicated the Colombian president as the alleged force behind the illegal surveillance but also drew ties to the US — a close ally and financial contributor to Colombia.

Main wiretapping targets

Politicians

Gustavo Petro (then-Senator for Demoratic Pole)
Carlos Gaviria (then-Democratic Pole leader)
Luis Eduardo Garzón (then-Green Party leader)
Ernesto Samper (former president)
Andres Pastrana (former president)
Piedad Cordoba (then-senator)

Supreme Court

Ivan Velasquez (assistant judge)
Cesar Julio Valencia (chief justice)
Yesid Ramírez (former judge)

Human Rights defenders, NGOs

The José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective
CODHES
San Jose de Apartado Peace Community
UNHCR
Human Rights Watch
Washington Office on Latin America
International Federation on Human Rights

Journalists

Hollman Morris
Daniel Coronell
Claudia Julieta Duque

The DAS illegal wiretapping methods first surfaced in 2008 after then-Senator Gustavo Petro, received intelligence documents proving he had been shadowed and wiretapped.

The scandal almost immediately cost the head of DAS director Maria del Pilar Hurtado who, in spite of initially denying her agency had been involved with illegal activities, was forced to leave her post. Del Pilar later fled to Panama where she received political asylum months before the Supreme Court ordered an arrest warrant.

But this was just the beginning of an unfolding scandal that uncovered a boundless conspiracy that did not just target politicians, but even more controversially, the Supreme Court, Colombian and foreign human rights organizations, and journalists.

In February 2009, weekly Semana revealed that the DAS was the main force behind a dark industry that served paramilitaries, guerrillas and corrupt political forces.

The investigations unveiled a comprehensive and extensive surveillance and interception campaign that had been targeting the Supreme Court in order to discredit the country’s institution that was investigating links between paramilitaries and politicians, the majority being political allies of President Alvaro Uribe.

The beginning: Uribe appoints DAS executive with paramilitary ties
The DAS was founded in the 1960 to provide strategic intelligence, criminal investigations, control the external and internal security of the nation and served as Interpol’s liaison in Colombia and was a contact for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). With close to 6,500 members, the agency reported directly to the President’s Office.

The DAS began spying on government opponents and critics after Uribe appointed now-convicted Jorge Noguera to run the DAS. Under Noguera, a number of intelligence agents with strong ties to the paramilitary AUC were appointed, and the agency formed the so-called g-3 unit that was in charge of the wiretapping that later became controversial.

Narvaez, who was fired from the DAS after the breaking of the wiretap scandal, gave workshops at both paramilitary camps and controversial ranchers’ federation Fedegan, whose members have regularly been linked to paramilitary groups.

The “Special Strategic Intelligence Group” G-3 was formed under Noguera and was assigned the primary responsibilities of monitoring human rights groups that had proven or could potential prove troublesome for Uribe.

But the specialized unit dissolved in 2005 after Uribe assigned Noguera the position of consul-general in Milan and was replaced by the “National and International Observation Group” (GONI) who continued to carry out similar operations, but focused mainly on Uribe’s political oppositions and the Supreme Court.

Documents confiscated at the DAS headquarters contained detailed information on magistrates’ families, children and political affiliations.

Among the victims were Supreme Court magistrate Ivan Velasquez. In 2008 solely, DAS recorded more than 1,900 of Valasquez’s phone conversations who was leading an investigation to uncover ties between politicians and paramilitary groups.

Other wiretapping victims were late-Presidents Ernesto Samper and Andres Pastrana, and candidates running in the 2006 elections.

It remains unclear how far the interceptions campaign reached exactly. When prosecutors first searched the agency’s office, agents refused cooperation and security footage from January 2009 showed how computers and boxes had been removed from the office.

Implicated officials
DAS

Jorge Noguera (former director)
Jorge Noguera
former director
Maria del Pilar Hurtado (former director)
Maria del Pilar Hurtado
former director
Jose Miguel Narvaez Former deputy director
Jose Miguel Narvaez
Former deputy director
Fernando Tabares Former deputy director
Fernando Tabares
Former deputy director
Jorge Alberto Lagos Former deputy director
Jorge Alberto Lagos
Former deputy director
William Romero Former deputy director
William Romero
Former deputy director
President’s Office

Alvaro Uribe President
Alvaro Uribe
President
Bernardo Moreno Chief of Staff
Bernardo Moreno
Chief of Staff
Cesar Obdulio Gaviria Presidential adviser
Cesar Obdulio Gaviria
Presidential adviser
Cesar Mauricio Velasquez Press Secretary
Cesar Mauricio Velasquez
Press Secretary
DAS spying activities abroad
The actions of DAS extended beyond Colombian borders.

The agency monitored and shadowed several human rights defenders traveling abroad to attend meetings and conferences.

MORE: DAS illegal spying in Europe

In 2010, it was discovered that DAS had send agents to Belgium and Spain to spy on a judge and members of the European Parliament.

Colombian authorities refused to cooperate following the uncovering of “Operation Europe” which intended to find information to delegitimize the work of European human rights advocates that worked in Colombia.

MORE: Colombia fails to cooperate in European spying scandal: Report

The strategy was to discredit such entities by creating press releases, website reports and by waging legal battles against them. DAS members attended NGO seminars, workshops and forums to compile confidential reports which included photographs and films of attendees.

Evidence provided by the Prosecutor General’s Office showed that the intelligence agency spied on UN officials, including the former director of the Colombia Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michael Fruling.

Documents on the international non-governmental group Human Rights Watch were also uncovered, with detailed information on the Americas Director Josa Miguel Vivanco.

In 2008, a series of surveillance operations had reportedly been carried out to spy on Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa.

The surveillance operations was allegedly launched after the Colombian army conducted a raid on a FARC camp on Ecuadorean territory. According to Semana, members of the security agency were stationed in the Ecuadorean capital in order to intercept both landline and cellphone calls made from Correa’s office.

US Involvement
The US fueled $6 billion dollars into the South American country under the Uribe administration for military aid.

Former US Ambassador William Brownfield said that Washington did know have any knowledge that US-funded equipment that was used for unlawful surveillance. In 2010, the DAS funding was suspended and the funds were transferred to the National Police.

The Washington Post reported that William Romero, a former director of the Human Resource department of DAS, received CIA training and said in an interview that DAS relied on “US-supplied computers, wiretapping devices, cameras and mobile phone interception systems, as well as rent for safe houses and petty cash for gasoline.”

“We could have operated” without U.S. assistance, he told the US newspaper, “but not with the same effectiveness.”

One unit that reportedly relied heavily on US equipment was in fact the GONI unit who’s main objective was spying on Supreme Court magistrates.

MORE: US Bans Colombian Intelligence Agency As Aid Recipient

Dismantling of DAS and court cases
The revelations led to the resignation of more than 33 DAS agents and more than a dozen of arrests.

Among them was Uribe’s Chief of Staff, Bernardo Moreno, who was barred from holding office and charged with conspiracy, unlawful violation of communications equipment, abuse of power and fraud.

MORE: Uribe aides called to trial over illegal wiretapping

Jorge Alberto Lagos, the former deputy director of counterintelligence was originally sentenced to 12 years in prison but received a reduced sentence after he agreed to testify. He later implicated another close aid of Uribe, Jose Obdulio Garviria, as a main promoter of the interception violations.

Fernando Tabares, another former deputy director of DAS, was also convicted for his role in the illegal wiretapping of government opponents and is serving eight years in prison.

Taberes spoke before the Supreme Court saying that he attended a meeting with then-DAS analysis chief Marta Leal and Uribe’s chief of staff in which he was told the president required intelligence regarding Supreme Court justices, congressmen, and journalists.

MORE: Uribe gave orders during wiretap scandal: Former intelligence executive

Uribe has not been formally charged for the DAS scandal and has continuously denied his involvement. Congress has been conducting a preliminary investigation since 2010.

MORE: Congress Formally Opens Uribe Wiretap Investigation

Maria del Pilar Hurtado fled Colombia in November 2011 and received political asylum by the Panamian administration of Ricardo Martinelli, a personal friend of Uribe.

In 2011, President Juan Manuel Santos dissolved the DAS agency.

Feb 24, 2014 posted by Maren Soendergaard

Find this story at 24 February 2014

Colombia Reports © 2014

New Wiretapping Scandal Casts Doubt on Colombian Military’s Support for Peace Talks

“It’s a relatively small place, near the Galerías shopping mall in western Bogotá. It now doesn’t have the sign outside that had idenfitied it, hanging over the two windows with glass that blocks the view of the interior. In a small terrace, under a black awning, there are eight tables and 24 chairs. Inside there are seven more tables, and a curved staircase that leads to a second floor, which has a large room with a gigantic television and computer workstations. …”

“Despite the exotic combination of luncheonette and computer instruction center, a secret is hidden there: behind the facade is a National Army signals interception center.”

The business described here was registered in Bogotá on September 12, 2012, just a few days after Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced the launch of talks with the FARC guerrilla group. From this room, reports an investigation published to the website (but not the paper version) of Colombia’s Semana newsmagazine, soldiers and civilian hackers working for Colombian military intelligence carried out illegal wiretaps and email intercepts.

Their targets included “the same ones as always”–NGOs and leftist politicians. This is outrageous enough. But the Army unit was also tapping into the emails and text messages of the Colombian government team negotiating with the FARC in Havana, Cuba.

“Jaramillo (Sergio Jaramillo [a negotiator and the high commissioner for peace]), Éder (Alejandro Éder [director of the presidential demobilization and reintegration office, and an alternate negotiator]) and De la Calle (Humberto de la Calle [the lead negotiator]) were some of those whom I remember. The idea was to try to obtain the largest amount of information about what they were talking about, and how it was going,…” a source told Semana.com.

One of the most important, and most uncertain, questions about Colombia’s peace process with the FARC is the extent to which the country’s powerful military actually supports it. These new revelations multiply the uncertainty.

President Juan Manuel Santos has gone to great lengths to keep the generals in the tent: defense and security are off the negotiating agenda, a prominent retired general is one of the negotiators, FARC calls for a bilateral cease-fire–which the military resists–have been flatly refused, and the Santos administration has tried (and so far failed) to give military courts greater jurisdiction over human rights cases, in what some analysts regard to be a quid pro quo.

The chief of Colombia’s armed forces, Gen. Leonardo Barrero, insisted in a recent interview that “we feel very well represented in the dialogues.” But there is little doubt that a significant portion of the officer corps, who have all spent their entire career fighting the FARC, would prefer to end the conflict on the battlefield. It is for that reason that support for ex-president Álvaro Uribe, a fierce opponent of the negotiations, remains high among the officers. As María Isabel Rueda, a longtime reporter and columnist for Colombia’s most-circulated newspaper, El Tiempo, recently put it: “Soldiers have hearts too, and some of them still beat more for Uribe than for Santos.”

If the armed conflict ends in Havana, Colombia’s military will be in for a rough time, institutionally. Officers and soldiers will be expecting gratitude, and there will be parades, medals, and ceremonies. But post-conflict Colombia will also hold the spectacle of officers accused of human rights abuses forced to undergo humiliating confessions as part of a transitional justice process. A truth commission will detail brutal behavior. And the armed forces, faced with a reality in which citizen security threats outrank national security threats, will find it very hard to justify a membership of 286,000 [PDF] soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen. Latin America’s second-largest armed forces, and its largest army, could shrink considerably. (Colombia’s 175,000-strong police, however, could grow.)

If the armed forces choose to resist these post-conflict shifts–starting now, while talks continue–they have some assets to deploy. They are huge and politically popular. They have important allies in Colombia’s political establishment, Álvaro Uribe high among them. And they have a crucial ally in the United States, which has forged a deep and broad military-to-military relationship in the 14 years since “Plan Colombia” emerged. Military sources tell Semana that the Army intelligence unit that oversaw the spying operation gets generous support from the CIA. We do not know, though, whether any of the equipment used in the wiretap/luncheonette came from the United States.

The U.S. role is very important. The Obama administration, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. Southern Command can do much to determine whether Colombia’s civil-military relationship is smooth or friction-filled over the next several years. The key is in the messages that they convey to their allies in the Colombian armed forces–and the central message should be that illegal or undemocratic behavior is counter-productive and will damage the bilateral relationship. And that undermining an elected civilian president’s effort to negotiate peace, or to reconcile the country afterward, counts as “illegal and undemocratic behavior.”

As criminal investigators try to piece together this new military spying scandal, those messages from the Colombian military’s U.S. “partners” should be louder and clearer than ever.

5 Feb 2014
By Adam Isacson

Find this story at 5 February 2014

Copyright wola.org

Colombian military and CIA accused of spying on peace talks

Colombia’s Defense Minister announced Tuesday that an investigation will be opened into the alleged wiretapping of both the state and rebel delegations to ongoing peace talks between the government and the FARC rebel group.

The move comes in the wake of revelations published by weekly Semana on Monday.

Based on 15-months of reporting and testimony from an unnamed inside source, Semana concluded that a Colombian military intelligence unit funded and coordinated by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) used advanced online technology and hacking techniques to monitor the text messages and emails of opposition politicians and representatives of both the government and the FARC involved in the Havana peace negotiations.

Phone calls, reportedly, were not recorded.

Classified under the code name “Andromeda,” the military’s Technical Intelligence Battalion’s so-called “gray hall” operated from underneath a registered bar and restaurant in the Colombian capital of Bogota, according to Semana.

An anonymous military source, said to be a captain in the Colombian military and the supervisor of the clandestine site, told Semana that the Andromeda project was run by Bitec-1, an elite intelligence unit instrumental in the Colombian government’s operations against the FARC, including 2008′s famous Operation Jaque, which resulted in the recovery of 15 hostages in the state of Guaviare, among them former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, and in which the CIA also played a key role.

According to the report, the secret intelligence center also recruited civilian hackers called ‘campus parties’ to collaborate with the military on cyber espionage tasks.

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon claimed via twitter that his office would be launching an investigation into “the alleged wiretapping of the negotiating team in Havana.” Senate President Juan Fernando Cristo, meanwhile, has since indicated that a congressional committee will also be assigned to look into the revelations.

“To follow up on the episodes,” said Cristo, according to national media sources, “we will assign this committee to convene and evaluate the case and also meet with the Minister of Defense, Juan Carlos Pinzón and with the military leadership [involved].”

Interior Minister Aurelio Iragorri Valencia, meanwhile, said in an interview with Blu Radio that while he questions the accuracy of the espionage allegations, “the complaint is very serious and should be clarified (…).”

The government’s response is strange, in that if Semana’s reporting is accurate, the Minister of Defense himself would be implicated in the scandal he is now supposedly investigating, as would National Army Commander Juan Pablo Rodriguez Barragan, whom Pinzon publicly placed in charge of the investigation.

This discrepancy has led opposition political leader Ivan Cepeda to call for the minister’s immediate resignation. Cepeda, a congressman said to be relatively close to the peace talks, is one of a number of opposition political figures who may have been subject to the alleged wiretapping.

Fellow opposition leader and member of the Colombian Communist Party’s Central Executive Committee Carlos Lozano called the covert intelligence program part of the government’s “antidemocratic measures.” In an interview with Colombia Reports, Lozano went even further than Cepeda and suggested that secret intelligence gathering is part of the broader political targeting of opposition political parties by violent neo-paramilitary groups working in conjunction with the Colombian state.

So far, Colombia Reports has not been able to obtain a response from the FARC or the Colombian government’s peace delegation regarding the revelations, but further updates will be forthcoming.

Feb 4, 2014 posted by Maren Soendergaard

Find this story at 4 February 2014

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Uribe is behind peace talks wiretapping: FARC

Colombia’s oldest and largest living rebel group, the FARC, on Wednesday accused former President Alvaro Uribe of being behind the military’s alleged spying on the government and rebel delegations currently engaged in peace talks.

“Of course, Alvaro Uribe is behind all of this. Don’t forget that Alvaro Uribe is public enemy number one of peace in Colombia,” said the FARC’s number two leader and chief peace talks negotiator “Ivan Marquez” on Wednesday morning.

This represents the first formal accusation of the former president in his involvement with this ongoing wiretapping scandal that has shaken Colombia.

Colombian weekly magazine Semana published a 15-month investigative story with accusations that the Armed Forces have been wiretapping both the government’s and the rebel group FARC’s delegations in ongoing peace talks in Havana, Cuba. The report also asserted that the military had been receiving funding and support from the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in carrying out the alleged wiretapping.

Socialist Colombian congressman Ivan Cepeda was quoted in newspaper La Republica suggesting as well that Uribe could have been behind this wiretapping scandal. When speaking with Colombia Reports, the lawmaker did not formally accuse the ex-president of having a hand in this. Instead, he said that ”this was an action very clearly intended to destabilize the peace process in Havana. I think this action has been publicly promoted by ex-President Alvaro Uribe, and that the ex-president should be investigated for this situation.”

Just four years ago, Uribe himself was widely suspected of being involved in a large wiretapping scandal that included the illegal spying on and interceptions of calls and emails of opposition politicians, Supreme Court judges, human rights activists and journalists. This scandal ultimately led to the disbanding of the DAS, Colombia’s former security intelligence agency.

Paralleling his claims during the last scandal, Uribe has denied all involvement or knowledge of this new ordeal after rapidly appearing on radio programs and writing press released to the effect.

“The Democratic Center (Centro Democratico-CD) –Uribe’s political party– emphatically rejects the biased and malicious versions of [President Juan Manuel] Santos’ government, the FARC and political sectors that are trying to link the ex-president Alvaro Uribe Velez, with the ‘wiretappings of peace negotiators in Havana’ realized by elements of the National Army,” read a Wednesday morning press release.

Uribe also shot back in an interview with radio station W Radio.

“With an investigation of 15 months, the president had to have known what was happening!” said the former head of state, pointing out that the director of Semana is a family member of Santos.

The FARC, in an official statement also released Wednesday expressed disappointment in the government for allowing this to happen, calling “corruption” and “scandals” and “dirty tactics of war” institutionalized in the country. “This will not achieve generating confidence,” read the statement.

“Marquez” (the nom-de-guerre of Luciano Marin) called this news, “very serious” saying that, “They are not just spying on the government’s peace delegation, but also they are especially doing so on the FARC’s peace delegation.”

Alvaro Uribe has been an avid dissident of the peace talks ever since their official start in November of 2012. The former president has criticized the fourth historic attempt at dialogues with the FARC on many levels, ranging from saying that the government should not be negotiating with terrorists, to releasing photos of some guerrillas lounging on boats during discussions in Havana.

Though Uribe never testified in his initial wiretapping scandal, if more evidence besides accusations mounts against him in this case, he may have to testify before a court, or congress.

Posted on Feb 5 2014 – 12:19pm by Editor

Find this story at 5 February 2014

Copyright todaycolombia.com

U.S. aid implicated in abuses of power in Colombia (2011)

The Obama administration often cites Colombia’s thriving democracy as proof that U.S. assistance, know-how and commitment can turn around a potentially failed state under terrorist siege.

The country’s U.S.-funded counterinsurgency campaign against a Marxist rebel group — and the civilian and military coordination behind it — are viewed as so successful that it has become a model for strategy in Afghanistan.

But new revelations in long-running political scandals under former president Alvaro Uribe, a close U.S. ally throughout his eight-year tenure, have implicated American aid, and possibly U.S. officials, in egregious abuses of power and illegal actions by the Colombian government under the guise of fighting terrorism and drug smuggling.

American cash, equipment and training, supplied to elite units of the Colombian intelligence service over the past decade to help smash cocaine-trafficking rings, were used to carry out spying operations and smear campaigns against Supreme Court justices, Uribe’s political opponents and civil society groups, according to law enforcement documents obtained by The Washington Post and interviews with prosecutors and former Colombian intelligence officials.

The revelations are part of a widening investigation by the Colombian attorney general’s office against the Department of Administrative Security, or DAS. Six former high-ranking intelligence officials have confessed to crimes, and more than a dozen other agency operatives are on trial. Several of Uribe’s closest aides have come under scrutiny, and Uribe is under investigation by a special legislative commission.

U.S. officials have denied knowledge of or involvement in illegal acts committed by the DAS, and Colombian prosecutors have not alleged any American collaboration. But the story of what the DAS did with much of the U.S. aid it received is a cautionary tale of unintended consequences. Just as in Afghanistan and other countries where the United States is intensely focused on winning counterterrorism allies, some recipients of aid to Colombia clearly diverted it to their own political agendas.

For more than a decade, under three administrations, Colombia has been Washington’s closest friend in Latin America and the biggest recipient of military and economic assistance — $6 billion during Uribe’s 2002-10 presidency. The annual total has fallen only slightly during the Obama administration, to just over a half-billion dollars in combined aid this year.

Although significant gains were made against the rebels and drug-trafficking groups, former high-ranking intelligence agents say the DAS under Uribe emphasized political targets over insurgents and drug lords. The steady flow of new revelations has continued to taint Colombia’s reputation, even as a government led by Uribe’s successor and former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, has pledged to replace the DAS with a new intelligence agency this fall.

Prosecutors say the Uribe government wanted to “neutralize” the Supreme Court because its investigative magistrates were unraveling ties between presidential allies in the Colombian congress and drug-trafficking paramilitary groups. Basing their case on thousands of pages of DAS documents and the testimony of nine top former DAS officials, the prosecutors say the agency was directed by the president’s office to collect the banking records of magistrates, follow their families, bug their offices and analyze their court rulings.

“All the activity mounted against us — following us, intercepting our telephones — had one central purpose, to intimidate us,” said Ivan Velasquez, the court’s lead investigative magistrate and a primary target of the DAS surveillance.

Gustavo Sierra, the imprisoned former DAS chief of analysis, who reviewed intelligence briefs that were sent to the presidency, said that targeting the court “was the priority” for the DAS under Uribe.

“They hardly ever gave orders against narco-trafficking or guerrillas,” Sierra said in an interview.

Resources and guidance

Some of those charged or under investigation have described the importance of U.S. intelligence resources and guidance, and say they regularly briefed embassy “liaison” officials on their intelligence-gathering activities. “We were organized through the American Embassy,” said William Romero, who ran the DAS’s network of informants and oversaw infiltration of the Supreme Court. Like many of the top DAS officials in jail or facing charges, he received CIA training. Some were given scholarships to complete coursework on intelligence-gathering at American universities.

Romero, who has accepted a plea agreement from prosecutors in exchange for his cooperation, said in an interview that DAS units depended on U.S.-supplied computers, wiretapping devices, cameras and mobile phone interception systems, as well as rent for safe houses and petty cash for gasoline. “We could have operated” without U.S. assistance, he said, “but not with the same effectiveness.”

One unit dependent on CIA aid, according to the testimony of former DAS officials in depositions, was the National and International Observations Group.

Set up to root out ties between foreign operatives and Colombian guerrillas, it turned its attention to the Supreme Court after magistrates began investigating the president’s cousin, then-Sen. Mario Uribe, said a former director, German Ospina, in a deposition to prosecutors. The orders came “from the presidency; they wanted immediate results,” Ospina told prosecutors.

Another unit that operated for eight months in 2005, the Group to Analyze Terrorist Organization Media, assembled dossiers on labor leaders, broke into their offices and videotaped union activists. The United States provided equipment and tens of thousands of dollars, according to an internal DAS report, and the unit’s members regularly met with an embassy official they remembered as “Chris Sullivan.”

“When we were advancing on certain activities, he would go to see how we were advancing,” Jose Gabriel Jimenez, a former analyst in the unit, said during a court hearing.

The CIA declined to comment on any specific allegations or the description of its relationship with the DAS provided by Colombian officials. “The three letters CIA get thrown into the mix on a lot of things, and by a lot of people. That doesn’t mean that allegations about the agency are anything more than that,” said a U.S. intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

As initial DAS revelations emerged in the Colombian media during late summer 2009, then-U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield called an embassy-wide meeting and asked which U.S. agencies represented were working with the DAS, according to a secret State Department cable released by WikiLeaks. Representatives from eight agencies raised their hands — including the CIA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service. All agencies, Brownfield reported in the Sept. 9 cable, “reaffirmed that they had no knowledge of or connection to the illegal activity and agreed to continue reducing their exposure to the agency.”

Brownfield, in subsequent meetings with Uribe and other officials, urged the government to get out in front of the disclosures and warned that they could compromise the U.S.-Colombia partnership.

“If another DAS scandal erupted, our Plan B was to terminate all association with DAS. Immediately,” Brownfield reported telling Francisco Santos, Uribe’s vice president, and DAS Director Felipe Munoz on Sept. 16, 2009.

Still, the relationship continued for an additional seven months. In April 2010, Brownfield announced that all U.S. funds previously directed to the DAS would henceforth go to Colombia’s national police. Today, the 51-year-old DAS, with 6,000 employees, multiple roles and an annual budget of $220 million, still limps along. But Munoz has been under investigation, as have four other former DAS directors.

Uribe, speaking through his lawyer, Jaime Granados, declined a request for an interview. But the former president has denied that he oversaw illegal activities and said officials from his government were being persecuted politically. Four of his top aides are under investigation, and his chief of staff, Bernardo Moreno, is jailed and awaiting trial on conspiracy and other charges.

Years of trouble

Interviews with former U.S. officials and evidence surfacing in the DAS investigation show that the agency has for years committed serious crimes, a propensity for illegal actions not unknown to embassy officials.

The first DAS director in Uribe’s presidency, Jorge Noguera — whom the U.S. Embassy in 2005 considered “pro-U.S. and an honest technocrat” and recommended to be a member of Interpol for Latin America, according to WikiLeaks cables — is on trial and accused of having helped hit men assassinate union activists. Last year, prosecutors accused another former DAS director of having helped plan the 1989 assassination of front-running presidential candidate, Luis Carlos Galan.

Myles Frechette, the U.S. ambassador to Colombia from 1994 to 1997, said that even in his tenure American officials believed that DAS units were tainted by corruption and linked to traffickers. But he said the embassy needed a partner to develop intelligence on drug smugglers and guerrillas.

“All the people who worked with me at the embassy said to me, ‘You can’t really trust the DAS,’ ” said Frechette. adding that he thinks the DAS has some of the hallmarks of a criminal enterprise.

Several senior U.S. diplomats posted to the embassy in more recent years said they had no knowledge that U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies were involved in DAS dirty tricks, but all said it would not surprise them.

“There were concerns about some kinds of activities, but also a need in the name of U.S. interests to preserve the relationship,” said one diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I’m reasonably confident our support was correct.”

Duque is a freelance journalist based in Bogota, Colombia. Correspondent Juan Forero, also based in Bogota, contributed to this report.

By Karen DeYoung and Claudia J. Duque, Published: August 21, 2011 E-mail the writer

Find this story at 21 August 2011

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Wiretapping Scandal Shakes Colombia (2011)

Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe (left) speaks during a public congressional hearing in Bogota earlier this month about allegations that the country’s intelligence service spied on high court judges during his government.
Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe (left) speaks during a public congressional hearing in Bogota earlier this month about allegations that the country’s intelligence service spied on high court judges during his government.

Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty Images
In Colombia, a major scandal involving the country’s intelligence service is unfolding. Colombia’s chief prosecutor says the spy service bugged the Supreme Court, intercepted the phones of its justices and followed their every move.

Prosecutors also say the illegal surveillance was directed from the offices of former President Alvaro Uribe, who in his eight years in power was Washington’s closest ally in Latin America.

With hours of tape as evidence, prosecutors say the Department of Administrative Services (DAS), which is under the president’s control, targeted the court’s justices and the investigative magistrates, who function something like prosecutors.

The purpose was to find ties between the criminal underworld and the court in order to discredit the country’s highest judicial body.

“Through the intelligence agency, they tried to control, attack and discredit — actions that cannot be viewed as some isolated DAS plan, an entity that is dependent on the presidency of the republic,” prosecutor Misael Rodriguez said at a court hearing earlier this year.

He says Bernardo Moreno, Uribe’s chief of staff, oversaw the effort. Moreno has been charged and is in jail awaiting trial. He denies the accusations.

Former President Uribe, who left office last year and has not been charged, denies any involvement.

Alba Luz Florez, a former Colombian intelligence agent, has avoided charges in the scandal by cooperating with prosecutors. She used court security people, chauffeurs and even the coffee ladies to plant bugs and gather intelligence.i
Alba Luz Florez, a former Colombian intelligence agent, has avoided charges in the scandal by cooperating with prosecutors. She used court security people, chauffeurs and even the coffee ladies to plant bugs and gather intelligence.

Juan Forero/NPR
But prosecutors say the president’s office wanted to derail court investigations linking illegal armed groups and congressmen allied with Uribe.

William Romero is among the former high-ranking DAS members who have told prosecutors that the agency collected information and shipped it to the president’s office.

“What we were told was that this was a requirement of the director of the DAS and the president, to know how narco-traffickers were manipulating inside the Supreme Court,” Romero tells NPR.

Romero and other former agents also say that DAS units used some American assistance in the illegal surveillance. The State Department in Washington says it has no knowledge of U.S. government equipment being misused in Colombia.

In one court chamber, bugging devices were placed under tables where exchanges between judges and witnesses take place.

The person responsible for the bugging was Alba Luz Florez, a 33-year-old former agent known to DAS as Y-66.

“They made me see it as a national security [issue], that national security could be compromised by this possible connection,” Florez says, referring to possible underworld ties with judges. “So for me it was an honor [to undertake the operation].”

Florez, who avoided charges by cooperating with prosecutors, used court security people, chauffeurs and even the coffee ladies to plant bugs and gather intelligence.

Among those she recruited was the driver for the court’s top investigative magistrate, Ivan Velasquez.

“I knew everything about his family, absolutely everything about his children,” Florez says, referring to the driver. “So I began to see what he liked, how I could perhaps fill his needs.”

She learned the driver needed to pay child support for several children, so she paid him. And she learned that he admired Uribe, the then-president.

“Let’s do it for the president,” she recalls telling him.

The small office of Velasquez, the star investigative magistrate, had once been bugged.

“Here I talk to all kinds of people, with lawyers, with eventual witnesses that can provide information, people who know about things that happen in their regions and want to help,” says Velasquez, sitting at his desk. “There are risks to these declarations. What I mean is that a microphone here could be very effective.”

He says the surveillance was designed to intimidate him and witnesses.

But to date, 30 congressmen — virtually all allies of Uribe — have been convicted after being investigated by the court.

And the attorney general’s office has also been busy: Four of Uribe’s top aides are under investigation. The former president’s conduct is also under review, by a special legislative commission.

by JUAN FORERO
August 29, 2011 5:50 PM ET

Find this story at 29 August 2011

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