Feb 27
In just three months, the Presidential Intelligence Service (DAS) recorded 1,900 of the phone conversations of Auxiliary Justice Iván Velásquez, the chief investigator in the “Para-Politics” scandal.

Apologies for the delay in posting about last weekend’s highly disturbing revelations that the intelligence service of the Colombian Presidency, the DAS (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad) has once again been systematically wiretapping and following private citizens.

The intelligence agency, which reports directly to President Álvaro Uribe, has been embroiled in several scandals in recent years. In late 2005 its director, Jorge Noguera, was accused of collaborating closely with paramilitaries on efforts ranging from facilitating narcotrafficking to developing lists of human-rights defenders and labor leaders to murder. Late last year, the supposedly “reformed” DAS was found to have been ordering surveillance of opposition Senator Gustavo Petro, a revelation that forced the resignation of DAS Director María de Pilar Hurtado.

The DAS continues to be a highly troubled institution, as the agency – or at least a large rogue element within the agency – is using much of its resources to spy on prominent citizens. Its “targets” include opposition politicians, social-movement leaders, journalists, and – perhaps most troublingly – Supreme Court officials trying to investigate ties between paramilitary narcotraffickers and dozens of President Uribe’s political allies.

The news outlet that broke the story, the Colombian newsmagazine Semana, has not added an English version of its cover story to its website. Here are some translated excerpts.

The DAS is still recording

Between the 19th and 21st of January, most of the “secrets” of many of Colombia’s top peraonalities were destroyed on the 11th floor of the main DAS headquarters. “We received the order to gather everything we had in several offices in the building, and in other buildings, and bring it to the Counter-Intelligence office. For two days external disk drives were gathered, hard drives were changed out of computers, CDs, voice files and confidential documents were collected. I alone, without counting my colleagues, carried two boxes full of those things,” one of the DAS detectives who participated in this unique collection told Semana. “Of all the boxes that were taken to Counter-Intelligence, with documents, recordings and the rest, only one remained, which was taken out of the 11th floor at the end of the afternoon of Wednesday the 21st. I don’t know what was left in that one, or where they took it. I just know that everything else was destroyed,” the source affirms.

The suspicious mission of recovering and destroying information was carried out by a small group of officials. Though they sought to do it in the most discrete manner, it was inevitable that a few DAS members would notice the unusual things going on during those days. But what was it that they were destroying with such urgency? Much of the files that don’t exist today were, among others, recordings, secret documents and intelligence analyses that contained information about a wide variety of personalities whom the DAS was watching.

Supreme Court justices, journalists, opposition politicians, generals in the armed forces, prosecutors, and even some high government officials made up the group that, for the past several months, was being monitored by the security body.

Many thought that it would be hard for the DAS to confront a situation worse than that of October 2005, when it ended up tangled in a scandal stemming from paramilitary infiltration that ended with the resignation, and subsequent jailing, of then-Director Jorge Noguera.

At that moment, deep reforms to the institution were promised so that this would not happen again. But it happened. Despite the subsequent directors’ good intentions, the information gathered by Semana makes clear that there is a powerful sector in this agency that is at the service of paramilitaries, guerrillas, and dark political interests.

“Here we work on targets and objectives who could become a threat to the security of the state and of the President. Among those are the guerrillas, the emerging criminal groups, some narcos. But among these targets is also, and obviously this is one of the functions of the DAS, to monitor some personalities and institutions to keep the Presidency informed. For example, how could it not be a DAS mission to monitor [Senator Gustavo] Petro, who is a former guerrilla and is in the opposition. Or [opposition Senator and peace facilitator] Piedad Córdoba, for her ties to Chávez and the guerrillas,” said to Semana a detective who works in the Subdirectorate of Operations of the DAS, part of this entity’s intelligence directorate. “Any person or entity who represents an eventual danger for the government has to be monitored by the DAS. As a result, more than a year ago, the activities of the [Supreme] Court, and some of its members, came to be considered and treated as a legitimate ‘target.’”

Targeting the justice system

This fact was corroborated to Semana by four other DAS officials, members of the intelligence, counter-intelligence and operational directorates. In addition to these testimonies, Semana obtained some of the analyses developed by DAS members, which make evident their efforts to follow, wiretap and monitor members of the Court. One of the most revealing reports is about Auxiliary Justice Iván Velásquez, the chief investigator for the “para-politics” scandal.

Velásquez has been subjected to a “man-to-man defense” since the “Tasmania” incident in October 2007, when President Álvaro Uribe accused the judge of fabricating testimonies against him, which ended up being a hoax. They don’t leave Velásquez alone for even a minute, as can be gathered from the DAS report.

In the documents Semana has, it is revealed that during three months they intercepted 1,900 of his phone calls, in which he spoke with everyone: Supreme Court justices, Justice and Peace prosecutors to know what the paramilitary witnesses were revealing, with the Prosecutor-General’s Office’s witness-protection program to know who was ready to give evidence, with para-politics witnesses, among hundreds of other calls.

But Velásquez was not the only member of the Supreme Court being watched by the DAS. Investigators, other justices and auxiliary judges of the high court were also the object of “monitoring.” According to several detectives, among these “targets” was Francisco Ricaurte, until recently the President of the Supreme Court; the president of the court’s Criminal Chamber, Sigifredo Espinosa; and justices César Julio Valencia and María del Rosario González. “When the confrontation between the court and the presidency worsened, about a year and a half ago, the order was to know as much as possible about all the justices, using all necessary means, from human sources to technical measures. When the confrontation began to diminish, the monitoring was concentrated only on those deemed high-priority, like Velásquez,” one of the detectives who works in the intelligence directorate, and who participated in following some justices, told Semana.

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May 22

The Colombian newsmagazine Semana has published a transcript of a December 2006 telephone conversation, illegally intercepted by Colombian police, between Bogotá’s foreign minister at the time, María Consuelo Araújo, and her brother Sergio. (The minister resigned in February because of allegations that members of her family, including Sergio, worked closely with paramilitary groups.)

After Ms. Araújo asks her brother to come to Bogotá to help her decorate her apartment, the conversation turns to a dispute brewing at the time between Colombia and Ecuador. The Quito government was blasting Colombia publicly for carrying out anti-drug herbicide fumigations along the two countries’ border, despite an early 2006 Colombian promise not to do so.

Sergio Araújo: How have things gone with those Ecuadorians?

María Consuelo Araújo: It’s that the Ecuadorians don’t understand… our territory, our coca, our glyphosate… and they don’t let us spray… the jodetería [f***ing mess] is purely pressure from the FARC… Look, in Ecuador’s banana crop they use 800,000 gallons of glyphosate each year.

Sergio: And why don’t you say that?

María Consuelo: I’ve said that everywhere.

When the Colombia-Ecuador fumigation crisis ended (if it indeed has ended), the two countries agreed to a visit to the border zone by Paul Hunt, a New Zealander who is the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the right to health. Hunt was in northern Ecuador last week; the Colombians denied him permission to investigate on their side of the border.

Hunt announced his preliminary conclusions at a press conference on Friday afternoon (MS Word .doc format). The UN special rapporteur’s words were strong, unequivocal, and contrast sharply with what Colombia’s foreign minister told her brother back in December.

They also contrast sharply with what the U.S. and Colombian governments have long insisted about glyphosate fumigation. The UN official has dealt a strong blow to the failed fumigation policy.

Here is the relevant excerpt, with emphases added.

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May 16

People who allegedly conspired with top paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso, according to Mancuso’s “Justice and Peace” testimony yesterday, which covered events up to 1997:

  • Vice-President Francisco Santos, who Mancuso says met with him four times and proposed the creation of a paramilitary bloc in Bogotá.
  • Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, who Mancuso says proposed a joint effort to overthrow then-President Ernesto Samper. (Santos told reporters that his 1997 meeting with Mancuso were part of a peace-building effort.)
  • Army Gen. Rito Alejo del Río, head of the 17th Brigade in the northwestern region of Urabá at the time of a bloody paramilitary offensive in the zone (and at the time that Álvaro Uribe was governor of Antioquia, the department that includes much of Urabá).
  • Army Gen. Martín Orlando Carreño, who succeeded Gen. Alejo in Urabá, and who in 2003-2004 was the chief of Colombia’s army. (Carreño told reporters yesterday that Mancuso was seeking revenge “because I dedicated myself to attacking the paramilitaries permanently.”)
  • Army Gen. Iván Ramírez.
  • Former National Police Chief, and current Ambassador to Austria, Gen. Rosso José Serrano: according to Mancuso, when he and top paramilitary leader “Jorge 40″ were detained by police in La Guajira, they were released after drug-trafficker and future paramilitary leader “Don Berna” contacted Gen. Serrano to request that they be freed.
  • Sen. Miguel de la Espriella and former Rep. Eleonora Pineda, both placed under arrest on Monday, whom Mancuso called “our congresspeople.”
  • Sen. Mario Uribe, the president’s cousin, who asked Mancuso to support Eleonora Pineda’s candidacy.

People revealed to have been subject to more than 8,000 hours of illegal police wiretaps over the past three years, in a scandal that emerged this week:

  • Carlos Gaviria, candidate of the opposition Polo Democrático party in the May 2006 presidential elections. Gaviria finished second in the voting to President Álvaro Uribe.
  • Paramilitary leaders currently in the Itagüí maximum-security prison near Medellín.
  • Many, many others. Defense Minister Santos said yesterday, “Many people had their phones intercepted, members of the government, of the opposition, public figures, journalists. … I saw a recording [of a conversation] between [television journalist] Claudia Gurisatti and Carlos Gaviria: that’s as far as we’ve read. I saw others, but it’s not worth the trouble to mention the names.”
May 15

Colombia’s most-circulated newsweekly, Semana, published an explosive cover story Sunday. The magazine got its hands on recordings of some of the telephone conversations that mid-level paramilitary leaders in the Itagüí prison near Medellín have been having with their associates “on the outside.” The recordings reveal that these individuals – the right-hand men of several of the top paramilitary leaders – are continuing to traffic drugs, order assassinations, and manage arms caches, even while supposedly in maximum-security confinement.

If this is true – and if the paramilitaries’ maximum leaders know about these activities, as is likely – then the Colombian government’s talks with the paramilitaries are in very serious trouble. It would mean:

  1. President Uribe’s decision to send fifty paramilitaries to the Itagüí jail had no effect on their ability to continue their criminal activities.
  2. The mere fact that these criminal activities continue would mean that the paramilitary leaders are in clear violation of the “Justice and Peace” law, and thus subject to 40-year jail sentences.
  3. If they lose the protection of the “Justice and Peace” law, paramilitary leaders would likely face extradition to the United States.

Here are some translated excerpts from the Semana story (thanks to CIP intern Gareth Smail).

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