If youâ€™ve ever traveled to Colombia, then youâ€™ve seen the DAS, the governmentâ€™s Administrative Department for Security. As soon as you get off the plane, DAS employees are there to stamp your passport and, perhaps, to ask why youâ€™re visiting.
The DAS does much more than stamp passports, though. It is a powerful agency, a sort of â€œsecret policeâ€ institution founded in 1960. Its principal purpose is intelligence and counterintelligence, both domestic and international. However, it is also a law enforcement body whose agents have judicial police powers â€“ they investigate crimes and can arrest and interrogate people. The DAS also provides bodyguards and security services for high government officials and other people at risk.
To someone familiar with the U.S. government, the DAS is a strange beast. It incorporates aspects of the FBI, the CIA, and the ICE (immigration). Plus, it is not part of any cabinet ministry like Defense or Interior â€“ it is a part of the Colombian presidentâ€™s office.
If you think this arrangement seems like a recipe for disaster, youâ€™re right. Disaster has struck with a vengeance during Ãlvaro Uribeâ€™s administration. According to recent reports in Colombiaâ€™s media and testimony from former officials, between 2002 and 2005 the DAS was essentially at the service of paramilitaries and major narcotraffickers. It drew up hitlists of union members and leftist activists, and even plotted to destabilize Venezuela.
All of this happened under the tenure of Jorge Noguera, Uribeâ€™s DAS director from August 2002 until he left under a major storm cloud of scandal in October 2005. According to Rafael GarcÃa, the agencyâ€™s former chief of information systems who has made a series of explosive allegations, â€œJorge Noguera became the Vladimiro Montesinos of Alvaro Uribeâ€™s government. He conspired against the governments of neighboring countries, he did away with leftist leaders, he participated in narcotrafficking operations, he maintained relations with paramilitary groups, etc. etc.â€
A witness in jail
GarcÃa is making his charges against Noguera from the La Picota prison in southern BogotÃ¡. As the official in charge of the DAS computer networks, he was arrested in January 2005 for taking bribes to erase and change the files of paramilitaries and narcotraffickers.
The disgraced DAS director and his defenders argue that GarcÃa is not credible, that he feels betrayed by his former friend Noguera and has an axe to grind. However, Colombiaâ€™s Semana and Cambio magazines claim to have corroborated many of GarcÃaâ€™s claims with other sources. Other former officials who have provided similar information include Carlos Moreno, a DAS agent who was fired in September, and JosÃ© Miguel NarvÃ¡ez, the DAS sub-director who split very publicly with Noguera in October 2005, and was fired along with him.
In the end, if even half of what GarcÃa says is true, itâ€™s more than frightening enough. Since the DAS scandals have received very little attention in the English-language press so far, here is an attempt to summarize these very serious allegations in eight pages or less.
Links with paramilitaries
GarcÃa contends that Noguera maintained a close relationship with Rodrigo Tovar Pupo or â€œJorge 40,â€ the leader of the AUC paramilitariesâ€™ powerful Northern Bloc who controlled (and probably still controls) much of the narcotics transshipment from the eastern half of Colombiaâ€™s Caribbean coast. GarcÃa says that Noguera met several times with â€œJorge 40â€ to talk about local politics, including support for candidates in the 2003 municipal and gubernatorial elections, among them Magdalena department governor Trino Luna.
â€œOn various occasions Jorge Noguera told me that Jorge 40 was very grateful for the collaboration that he had offered him,â€ said GarcÃa. A key point of contact between Noguera and â€œJorge 40,â€ according to GarcÃa, was the paramilitary leaderâ€™s cousin, Ãlvaro Pupo.
José Miguel NarvÃ¡ez, who as subdirector was Nogueraâ€™s second-in-command at the DAS, has told Colombian government investigators that Nogueraâ€™s relationships with paramilitaries went beyond â€œJorge 40â€ alone. Other paramilitaries who got help from the DAS included Luis Eduardo Cifuentes (â€œEl Ãguilaâ€), the paramilitary chief in Cundinamarca (the department around BogotÃ¡); Carlos Mario JimÃ©nez or â€œMacacoâ€ of the powerful Central Bolivar Bloc; and Miguel Arroyave, who headed the â€œCentaurosâ€ bloc in BogotÃ¡ and in the southern llanos (the savannahs of Meta, Casanare, Guaviare and Vichada) until his own men killed him in September 2004.
- NarvÃ¡ez said that Enrique Ariza, whom Noguera recruited to be the DAS chief of intelligence, ran a telephone wiretapping operation at the request of â€œMacaco.â€
- Semana reported that DAS agents protected alias â€œSalomÃ³n,â€ the right-hand man for a Cundinamarca paramilitary leader known as â€œEl PÃ¡jaro,â€ whenever â€œSalomÃ³nâ€ visited BogotÃ¡.
- Semana also charges that on two occasions (April and June 2004), senior DAS officials foiled operations against â€œEl Ãguilaâ€ by giving the Cundinamarca Bloc leader advance warning that the police and DEA knew his whereabouts and planned to capture him.
- Another witness, a 15-year DAS veteran named Enrique Benitez, has said he witnessed Noguera calling off a secret DAS operation to capture HernÃ¡n Giraldo, the head of the AUCâ€™s Tayrona Resistance Front on the Caribbean coast. Shortly afterward, the DAS agent who developed the operation was transferred to a post in far-off Arauca department.
- GarcÃa said that some DAS contractors paid 10 percent kickbacks to DAS officials, who then passed most of the money on to the paramilitaries.
GarcÃa told Semana, â€œOnce Noguera told me that he had to do a favor for the paramilitaries of the llanos,â€ meaning Arroyaveâ€™s â€œCentauros Bloc.â€ Indeed, according to an unnamed DAS agent who complained to NarvÃ¡ez along with fired agent Carlos Moreno, DAS intelligence chief Ariza â€œstole some intelligence documents on Miguel Arroyaveâ€ and erased the information they contained. Added GarcÃa, â€œI know that Jimmy Nassar, who ended up being Nogueraâ€™s advisor, offered this service. Iâ€™ve known people from the Centauros Bloc, here in jail, to whom Nassar offered to erase their files in the system. He charged between 5 million and 10 million pesos (US$2,250 to US$4,500).â€
- Moreno, the fired DAS agent, alleged that the DAS was performing a similar file-disappearance service for Arroyaveâ€™s principal rival in the llanos region, Héctor Buitrago alias "Martin Llanos," in exchange for millions of pesos.
- Cambio reports that the DAS even gave "Jorge 40" an armored SUV intended for President Uribe’s exclusive use. â€œOn November 17, 2004, the DAS sub-director at the time, JosÃ© Miguel NarvÃ¡ez, called the DAS section chiefs in AtlÃ¡ntico and Cesar and told them that, by Nogueraâ€™s instructions, they were to place at the disposal of Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, Jorge 40, in Santa Fe de Ralito â€“ where the AUC commanders were concentrated â€“ an armored SUV for his personal protection. That did happen, and days later the paramilitary chief was using a red Toyota Prado, license plate QGC851, with armor and a special chip to allow it to pass through the security forcesâ€™ roadblocks. The incredible part of this story is that the vehicle had been acquired by the AtlÃ¡ntico governorâ€™s office and given to the DAS for the exclusive use of President Ãlvaro Uribe when he visits the Atlantic coast. Informed about the matter, the government ordered a search for the vehicle, which was found in Valledupar with Jorge 40 at the wheel.â€
In his defense, Noguera has admitted that he met with â€œJorge 40â€ and other paramilitary leaders, but only in the context of the AUCâ€™s demobilization talks with the Colombian government.
Helping â€œDon Diegoâ€ and other narcos
Diego Montoya (â€œDon Diegoâ€), the most powerful leader of Colombiaâ€™s most powerful drug cartel, the Norte del Valle organization, is on the FBIâ€™s ten most-wanted fugitivesâ€™ list alongside Osama bin Laden. That, says GarcÃa, didnâ€™t stop the DAS from helping Montoya to avoid capture. â€œGiancarlo [AuquÃ©, who served as DAS intelligence director before Ariza] and Jorge Noguera passed secret information to Diego Montoya, and the idea was not just to help him avoid capture, but to let him know that an informant in his own organization was revealing his location.â€
There is more. According to Semana, â€œCarlos Robayo, alias â€˜Guacamayo,â€™ was for years the right hand of the Norte de Valle boss. Two years ago, Semana witnessed â€˜Guacamayoâ€™ calling one of his contacts in the DAS and asking him to remove [from DAS archives] arrest orders, background information, photographs and fingerprint data for a dozen people. He also demanded that these materials be brought to where he was. Less than two hours after â€˜Guacamayoâ€™ made his call, a DAS detective arrived with the package.â€
The DAS also appears to have helped Montoyaâ€™s archrival in the Norte del Valle organization, Wilber Varela, alias â€œJabÃ³n.â€ Carlos Moreno, the fired DAS agent, said that he was once sent to the attorney-generalâ€™s office (FiscalÃa) to steal files about a case tying unnamed individuals to Varela.
GarcÃa also alleges that Noguera helped to facilitate narcotraffickersâ€™ contributions to Ãlvaro Uribeâ€™s 2002 presidential election campaign. He mentions relatively unknown figures like NÃ©stor RamÃ³n Caro, a Casanare-based narcotrafficker whose extradition to the United States was requested in 2001; RaÃºl Montoya from Magdalena department, and RamÃ³n Crespo from Barranquilla.
Uribe’s 2002 campaign: voter fraud and paramilitary ties
In the runup to the 2002 presidential election, GarcÃa says, the Uribe campaign did â€œthings that were more serious than what happened in the Samper campaignâ€ [in 1994, when winning candidate Ernesto Samper allegedly took contributions from the Cali drug cartel].
Before Uribe named him to the directorship of the DAS, Noguera managed the Uribe campaign in the Caribbean coast department of Magdalena. This province was (and probably still is) under the heavy influence of two paramilitary groups, both deeply involved in the drug trade: the Northern Bloc headed by â€œJorge 40,â€ and the Tayrona Resistance Front led by HernÃ¡n Giraldo. The paramilitariesâ€™ influence on politics in Magdalena is demonstrable: in 2003, mayoral candidates actually ran unopposed in 14 of the departmentâ€™s 30 municipalities.
According to Rafael GarcÃa, the imprisoned former DAS official, Noguera and Juan Carlos Vives (who is now the Uribe governmentâ€™s â€œdrug czarâ€) campaigned in Magdalena municipalities where it was impossible to do so without paramilitary permission, and they were in contact at the time with â€œJorge 40.â€
But GarcÃaâ€™s charges go further. â€œWhat I said was that an electoral fraud was organized [for the March 2002 legislative elections] to carry to the Congress the candidates preferred by the AUCâ€™s Northern Bloc. I mentioned three senators from Magdalena, three candidates for the House of Representatives for Magdalena, two Senate candidates for Cesar and two for the House, two House candidates for La Guajira and a Senate candidate for BolÃvar.â€
In Cesar, Magdalena, La Guajira and BolÃvar, GarcÃa described in detail how Noguera used a computer program and illegally obtained electoral-census data to ensure that, in several districts, those who did not show up at the polls still â€œvotedâ€ for the paramilitariesâ€™ candidates. The same fraud was repeated two months later, said GarcÃa, to benefit President Uribe. Indeed, while Uribeâ€™s challenger Horacio Serpa did rather well in northern Colombia thanks to the strength of the Liberal Party machinery, Uribe won overwhelmingly in the districts where GarcÃa alleges that the fraud took place.
GarcÃa also contends that in 2002, candidate Uribe met with JosÃ© Gelves, a leader of HernÃ¡n Giraldoâ€™s paramilitary group, the Tayrona Resistance Front. Gelves, an AUC member since 2000, told Semana that he did meet with Uribe in 2002 and actively campaigned for him.
Gen. Rito Alejo
In 2003, GarcÃa says, Noguera met with â€œJorge 40â€ to discuss the October gubernatorial election in Magdalena. â€œJorge Noguera went to see â€˜Jorge 40â€™ and asked him to support his friend JosÃ© FernÃ¡ndez de Castro, but â€˜Jorge 40â€™ said no because they were supporting Trino Luna [who won unopposed]. Everyone had to vote for him. Jorge [Noguera] went to the meeting with â€˜40â€™ one Saturday, accompanied by retired Gen. Rito Alejo.â€
Gen. Rito Alejo de Río is widely viewed as a paramilitary supporter; he ran the Colombian Armyâ€™s 17th Brigade in the northwestern region of UrabÃ¡ at a time when the paramilitaries carried out a campaign of near-daily massacres (and at a time when Ãlvaro Uribe was governor of Antioquia department, which incorporates much of UrabÃ¡). Alejo was recently defeated in his bid to win a seat in Colombiaâ€™s Senate.
Ordering assassinations of unionists and activists
One of GarcÃaâ€™s most frightening claims is that the DAS drew up a list of union leaders, leftist activists and academics, and passed it along to the AUCâ€™s Northern Bloc. According to Semana, several of those on the list were later killed, most have received death threats, and others have been detained by the authorities.
â€œThe detectives who told me about it showed me part of the list,â€ GarcÃa says. â€œI wrote down some of the names. It drew my attention because it included the name of Zullty Cotina, who had already been killed, and that of [Barranquilla professor Alfredo] Correa de Andreis, who was murdered after I saw the list.â€
GarcÃa offers new information about what happened to professor Correa, whom the DAS arrested in 2004 on charges of "rebellion." Correa was held in prison for months, then released for lack of evidence, only to be murdered weeks later. Though the DAS arrested Correa in Barranquilla, in AtlÃ¡ntico department, GarcÃa says that the DAS unit that carried out the arrest came from neighboring BolÃvar department, whose DAS section chief at the time, RÃ³mulo Betancourt, is now under investigation for links to paramilitaries. (GarcÃa says he in fact witnessed Noguera, when hiring Betancourt for the Bolívar post, actually asking â€œJorge 40â€ for permission to do so.)
When Semana asked whether assassinations of those on the DAS list were carried out by the DAS or paramilitaries, GarcÃa responded, â€œThey were carried out by self-defense groups [paramilitaries]. But they told me that the killing of Alfredo Correa de Andreis had been carried out by people from the DAS. I also told the prosecutor that I had heard mention of a Cartagena union organizer who was killed while holding his childâ€™s hand.â€
Three unions with members on the DAS list that have been hit particularly hard are the Association of Health and Social Security Workers (ANTHOC) and two agricultural workersâ€™ unions, SintragrÃcola and Fensuagro. Since 2001, two ANTHOC leaders have been killed and 40 have received death threats. The unionâ€™s vice-president, Gilberto MartÃnez, said he began receiving threats in 2001, and they intensified in 2003. He told Semana, â€œSince that moment we have denounced, in many places, the conspiracy between the DAS and the paramilitaries in AtlÃ¡ntico to follow, threaten and murder members of our union. These denunciations have not prospered in the justice system, but now Mr. GarcÃa has ratified them.â€
A hit on ChÃ¡vez?
Though he offers few details, citing concerns about his security, GarcÃa has told Colombiaâ€™s press that â€œthere existed a destabilization plan against the Venezuelan government, and there are many Colombian government people involved.â€
GarcÃa contends that Noguera and others were drawing up plans to kill high officials in the Venezuelan government, including leftist President Hugo ChÃ¡vez. His allegations recall the 2004 arrest of 114 Colombian men at a compound near Caracas, a combination of young campesinos from Norte de Santander department and paramilitaries from the Jorge 40’sNorthern Bloc. At the time, ChÃ¡vez described the Colombiansâ€™ presence as part of a plot to kill him.
Six months after that episode, Venezuela was shaken by the assassination of prosecutor Danilo Anderson, the first such attack the country had seen in over thirty years. Last November a Colombian man, identifying himself as a demobilized paramilitary member who served the DAS as an intelligence source, told Venezuelan authorities that Noguera had advance knowledge of a plan to kill high-ranking Venezuelan officials like Anderson and President ChÃ¡vez. GarcÃaâ€™s testimony lends credibility to this witnessâ€™s story. Venezuelan authorities also claim that â€œJorge 40â€ paid a visit to Maracaibo, Venezuela, to meet with anti-ChÃ¡vez figures.
According to Cambio, in his recorded statement Moreno, the fired DAS agent, talks about extrajudicial executions of DAS informants â€œwho were no longer useful or who posed a danger because they knew too much information.â€
The magazine discusses the case of Fernando Pisciotti, the mayor of El Banco municipality in Magdalena department. In October 2003, Noguera and Juan Carlos Vives (at the time a vice-minister of interior, now Colombiaâ€™s â€œdrug czarâ€ as head of the national drugs directorate or DNE) visited Pisciottiâ€™s town. The mayor told them that the paramilitaries were pressuring for their candidate to run unopposed in the upcoming mayoral elections, that they had plans to do the same in the congressional elections, and that he and other local political figures feared for their security.
Noguera and Vives told Pisciotti to meet them at the DAS in BogotÃ¡ on November 15, 2003 and to bring a written report of his accusations. When the mayor reported at Nogueraâ€™s office, Noguera was unable to meet with him. On December 9, Pisciotti was kidnapped from a taxi outside El Banco, and his body was found hours later with shots to the head and signs of torture. Cambio reports, â€œBased on testimonies in the casefile, Julio CÃ©sar Pisciotti, a lawyer and the victimâ€™s brother, said that before killing him, the murderers tied his feet together with his shoelaces, beat him, and read to him excerpts from the document that he gave to the DAS.â€
A nice apartment
The most shocking allegations against Noguera are those having to do with serious human rights crimes and electoral fraud. However, even the more petty offenses paint a picture of a severely morally challenged individual. According to Cambio, shortly after President Uribe appointed him in August 2002, Noguera asked the Colombian drug czarâ€™s office â€“ the DNE, whose duties include managing properties seized from narcotraffickers â€“ to assign him a penthouse apartment, complete with a private elevator, in a wealthy BogotÃ¡ neighborhood. He and his family soon moved into what had been a drug trafficker’s luxurious flat near the corner of Carrera 7 and Calle 98 in northern Bogotá. â€œIt is now known that the DAS paid condo fees and all utilities during the time that Noguera lived there,â€ reports Cambio.
The present scandal over Nogueraâ€™s paramilitary ties first exploded in October 2005, when NarvÃ¡ez, Noguera’s number-two as DAS subdirector, presented the attorney-generalâ€™s office (FiscalÃa) with some of the information gained from his discussion with Carlos Moreno, the fired DAS agent. Noguera, NarvÃ¡ez, and Ariza, the DAS intelligence director, were all fired amid a crossfire of accusations.
Within a month, the new DAS director, former Vice-Minister of Defense AndrÃ©s PeÃ±ate, had fired the DAS section chiefs in six departments with a significant paramilitary presence: BoyacÃ¡, BolÃvar (RÃ³mulo Betancourt, named in the case of Professor Alfredo Correa above), La Guajira, Tolima, Cesar and Meta.
Though Noguera remains under investigation for several of the charges listed above, he faces no formal accusation. In fact, President Uribe did Noguera the great favor of naming him to the post of Colombiaâ€™s consul in Milan, Italy, where he remains today.
Where is President Uribe?
Citing concerns about his familyâ€™s security, Noguera has said little about what Ãlvaro Uribe knew about his intelligence agencyâ€™s paramilitary ties, and when he knew it. He also says that he doubts that Uribe knew anything about the alleged 2002 electoral fraud. But he did have this to say.
SEMANA: You accompanied Noguera on various visits to the Palacio de NariÃ±o (the Colombian presidentâ€™s â€œWhite Houseâ€ in BogotÃ¡). How much did President Ãlvaro Uribe know about this?
R.G.: I canâ€™t answer that for you. I will tell the attorney-generalâ€™s office (FiscalÃa) or a foreign government what I know after my family is protected. What I will say to public opinion is: Could it be that Fujimori didnâ€™t know what Vladimiro Montesinos was doing? I donâ€™t know how a person could have done so many things without his superior knowing about it.
Miamiâ€™s El Nuevo Herald tells us that Uribe was informed about problems in the DAS back in January of 2004, when Enrique BenÃtez, the head of the DAS bodyguard division, denounced evidence of corruption in a major purchase of arms supposedly destined for those assigned to protect union members. (Not only did BenÃtez’s whistleblowing fail to get the case properly investigated, but Noguera demoted him and transferred him to the distant, poor and conflictive department of ChocÃ³ near the Panama border.)
BenÃtez met to discuss his situation with JosÃ© Roberto Arango, at the time an advisor to Uribe in the Palacio de NariÃ±o. According to BenÃtez, Arango told him, â€œPresident Uribe is already aware of all the corruption in the DAS, but I donâ€™t understand why he doesnâ€™t want to get this [expletive] out of the DAS directorâ€™s position.â€
Who is in power?
For commentary on what these allegations mean about the current moment in Colombia, we defer to Semana, the Colombian newsmagazine that has been doggedly investigating the DAS scandals.
These episodes cannot now be reduced to a few functionaries with axes to grind, or to a few â€œbad apples.â€ There are abundant indicators of a criminal takeover of Colombiaâ€™s most important intelligence agency.
How did it come to these extremes? How did Jorge Noguera come to be the director of the DAS? Who recommended him? How is it possible that Noguera could have lasted for three years in charge of the agency, when the excesses that were being committed were being spoken of during the past two years? And, even worse, how is it possible that Noguera, after leaving the DAS in the wake of revelations of paramilitary penetration, could have been named consul in Milan?
â€¦ The president has a great responsibility for this. Perhaps the commander in chief was not aware of what happened. That in itself would be serious enough. But the DAS is the intelligence body of the President, and its director must have the Presidentâ€™s absolute trust. What happened, then?
â€¦ What is certain is that these accusations have worsened an atmosphere already charged with suspicions and fears surrounding the demobilization and negotiation process with the paramilitaries, at a moment when some of the governmentâ€™s critics are already speaking of the formation of a â€œmafiosoâ€ state.
Finally, we second a recommendation made by El Espectador columnist Ramiro Bejarano.
If the government is toying with the possibility of reducing the valuable work of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rightsâ€™ office in Colombia, as has been insinuated, they had better abandon that proposal. Now more than ever, the country needs the vigorous work of independent organizations. Only these can guarantee for us that the dirty war which appears to have been unleashed within the framework of this governmentâ€™s security policy does not grow worse, as has happened in the past.