In just three months, the Presidential Intelligence Service (DAS) recorded 1,900 of the phone conversations of Auxiliary Justice IvÃ¡n VelÃ¡squez, 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 Ãlvaro 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 MarÃa 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.
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 CÃ³rdoba, for her ties to ChÃ¡vez 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 IvÃ¡n VelÃ¡squez, the chief investigator for the “para-politics” scandal.
VelÃ¡squez has been subjected to a “man-to-man defense” since the “Tasmania” incident in October 2007, when President Ãlvaro Uribe accused the judge of fabricating testimonies against him, which ended up being a hoax. They don’t leave VelÃ¡squez 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 VelÃ¡squez 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 CÃ©sar Julio Valencia and MarÃa del Rosario GonzÃ¡lez. “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 VelÃ¡squez,” one of the detectives who works in the intelligence directorate, and who participated in following some justices, told Semana.
More than a year ago, several members of the Court denounced that the DAS was following and wiretapping them. Then-Director MarÃa del Pilar Hurtado denied it. The documents and testimonies obtained by Semana indicate, however, that the judges were not simply being paranoid.
This was not the first time that the DAS and the Uribe administration denied such facts about the Supreme Court. In August of last year, Semana revealed the visits paid by alias “Job” – an envoy of paramilitary leader “Don Berna” – to the Presidential Palace to give information about members of the Court to high Presidency officials. This scandalous meeting included a DAS official. When the scandal blew up, Hurtado minimized the issue, saying that the DAS agent was just a simple detective working on the paramilitary issue. In November of last year, [the daily newspaper] El Espectador revealed that the DAS had altered its registry, and that the member of the DAS who had attended the Presidential Palace meeting was, in fact, no ordinary official: it was Martha Leal, one of the highest officials in its intelligence directorate.
While it is serious enough that the intelligence and counter-intelligence divisions of the DAS considered Supreme Court members to be “legitimate targets,” it is no less scandalous that journalists and media are also subject to wiretaps and being followed by the DAS. “The media operations have several purposes, one of them is to inform the government about what is happening in the media, which gives the state room to maneuver in critical situations. It’s simple, basically divided in two categories. There is sporadic monitoring of some directors or editors-in-chief to establish what the journalists refer to as the ‘editorial line.’ But the greater part of the effort is aimed at the reporters who manage information and ‘hard’ sources. There, two birds are killed with one stone: it is known what they’re working on, and above all, most importantly, who they’re talking to,” a detective in the counterintelligence directorate told Semana. Last November, this detective provided proof and confirmed several cases. In one of these, the protagonist was the reporter FÃ©lix de Bedout, from the La W radio network.
Last November 5, De Bedout sent some information from his e-mail address to a Semana reporter. Just a few hours later, two DAS officials, one of them from counterintelligence, called the magazine and narrated exactly the content of the private e-mail exchange between the two reporters. Upon being asked how he knew what was in the e-mails, the detective discovered his error. The mistake resulted from their urgent desire to know details of the reporters’ information. The intercepted email mentioned revelations that the DAS intelligence chief, Fernando Tabarez, and its counterintelligence chief, Jorge Lagos, were involved in the DAS’s use of clandestine offices.
De Bedout is not the only journalist whose e-mail is read and whose communications are listened to. Semana saw evidence about Dario Arizmendi, director of Caracol Radio; Alejandro Santos, director of Semana; Julio SÃ¡nchez Cristo, director of La W; Daniel Coronell, director of Noticias Uno; and Ramiro Bejarano, a columnist for El Espectador. The latter is not only a recognized columnist and critic of the government, but he is also the lawyer defending former Supreme Court justice CÃ©sar Julio Valencia, who is involved in a criminal case [for slander] against President Ãlvaro Uribe.
“In the issue of the media, it’s obvious that the priority is to know information about those who bother the government, either because they are very critical or because, unlike other media, they can’t control them as they wish,” affirmed the counter-intelligence detective who spoke with Semana.