Colombia’s ex-spy chief on trial for 1989 killing of election candidate

Luis Carlos GalánThe former director of Colombia’s intelligence service returned to court this week to face charges of complicity in the assassination of a leading presidential hopeful, who was gunned down in 1989 by a powerful drug cartel. Luis Carlos Galán, a senator and former minister, was tipped to win the 1990 presidential election in which he stood on the Liberal Party ticket. His popularity with the electorate is largely attributed to his uncompromising stance against Colombia’s powerful drug cartels. He had vowed to arrest leading drug lords and send them to the United States to face criminal charges. He would do so, he said, after signing a mutual extradition treaty with Washington. However, Galán was assassinated on August 18, 1989, during a campaign rally in Soacha, a working-class suburb of Colombia’s capital, Bogotá. The assassination took place before thousands of spectators who were present at the rally, and is considered one of the highest-profile political killings in the history of Colombia.

A notorious hitman for the Colombian mafia, John Jairo Velázquez, was convicted of Galán’s killing. Velázquez admitted in court that had been ordered to kill the Liberal Party senator by Pablo Escobar and Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez, the two most senior leaders of the powerful Medellín Cartel. In 2007, a former justice minister and presidential hopeful, Alberto Santofimio, was convicted of helping organize Galán’s murder. He is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for the killing.

On Monday, another senior government figure, General Miguel Maza Márquez, was taken to court to face charges of complicity in Galán’s assassination. Maza headed Colombia’s highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) in the late 1980s, and he has been in jail since 2013, awaiting trial for the murder. The prosecution alleges that Maza appointed a DAS officer who had known links to the Medellín Cartel as the head of security for Galán, and that he did so to “help the hitmen carry out the assassination”. This is the second time Maza is standing trial for Galán’s murder. He faced the same charges in 2012, after surrendering himself to justice in 2009, following two years in hiding. He denies all charges against him.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 03 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/03/01-1708/

News you may have missed #890

Kim Kuk-giBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►US DEA agents given prostitutes and gifts by drug cartels. US Drug Enforcement Administration agents allegedly had “sex parties” with prostitutes hired by Colombian drug cartels overseas over a period of several years, according to a report released Thursday by the Justice Department. Former police officers in Colombia also alleged that three DEA supervisory special agents were provided money, expensive gifts and weapons from drug cartel members. Seven of the 10 DEA agents alleged to have participated in gatherings with prostitutes and received suspensions of two to 10 days.
►►Polish lieutenant accused of spying for Russia. A Polish Air Force pilot allegedly copied several thousand flight plans for F-16 fighters and handed them to Russian intelligence. According to Polish media, the airman was arrested by authorities last November, but the information has only recently emerged. The pilot was allegedly suspended from his duties, his passport was confiscated, and he was banned from leaving the country. Some reports suggest that soon after the arrest of the lieutenant, a Russian diplomat was expelled from the country for spying.
►►North Korea claims arrest of South Korean spies. North Korea said it had arrested two South Koreans engaged in espionage. The two arrested men, identified as Kim Kuk-gi (see photo) and Choe Chun-gil, were presented at a press conference in Pyongyang attended by journalists and foreign diplomats. A North Korean media report said Kim and Choe had gathered information about North Korea’s “party, state and military secrets”. It was not immediately clear where or when the two men were arrested. In Seoul, the country’s intelligence agency said the charge that the two men were working for the agency was “absolutely groundless”.

Is US-Mexico anti-drug intelligence cooperation about to end?

Enrique Peña NietoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Some senior American officials believe that the anti-drug intelligence cooperation between the United States and Mexico is in its closing stages, following tens of thousands of deaths in the past decade. Intelligence cooperation between the two countries reached unprecedented levels in the post-9/11 era, following the establishment of the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). In the past decade, cooperation between Mexico’s Center for Research and National Security (CISEN) and ODNI, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency, resulted in what some observers call “unprecedented bilateral action” directed against Latin American narcotics cartels. This arrangement culminated under the administration of Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón, when the CIA —and to a lesser extent the US Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Security Agency— were given unprecedented access to Mexican territory and civilian communications networks. However, in an extensive article published Sunday, The Washington Post says the close operational connection between Mexican and US intelligence agencies is quickly winding down. Citing interviews with over “four dozen current and former US and Mexican diplomats, law enforcement agents, military offices and intelligence officials”, the paper suggests that Mexico City is wary about Washington’s involvement in the so-called ‘war on drugs’. The major change on the Mexican side, says The Post, occurred last December with the inauguration of Mexico’s new President, Enrique Peña Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has returned to power after 13 years in opposition. Under Nieto’s administration, the Mexican security establishment, worn out by over 60,000 deaths and as many as 25,000 forced disappearances in the past few years, is intent on shifting its priorities. Instead of focusing on so-called ‘beheading operations’ —arresting or otherwise neutralizing the leadership of drug cartels— it has decided to stabilize the situation by containing —rather than eliminating— the operations of drug networks. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #825

Ben ZygierBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Australian Mossad officer was facing 20 years in prison. Mossad operative Ben Zygier was facing 20 years in prison on “serious espionage” charges when he hanged himself in an Israeli prison, suggests a report published Wednesday by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The report is the first confirmation of the nature of Zygier’s indictment. Under Israeli criminal law, the only security-related crimes that carry a 20-year prison sentence fall under the heading of “serious espionage”.
►►MS-13 smuggles missile launchers and teams up with Zetas. Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, became El Salvador’s deadliest gang through force of numbers and the power of the handgun. Now if they weren’t deadly enough, the gang is transitioning into adopting heavier weapons while teaming up with Mexico’s Zetas. But according to a recent report, the gang is moving “away from a dependence on handguns via the acquisition of automatic rifles such as AK-47s, along with grenades, rocket propelled grenade launchers, and Light Anti-Tank Weapons”, or LAWs.
►►Secretive US anti-smuggling program marks one-year anniversary. A nascent and somewhat secretive US government anti-smuggling program is marking its first anniversary this week. It is called E2C2, shorthand for Export Enforcement Coordination Center, and 18 law enforcement and intelligence agencies use it to find links between their targets and other investigations. The E2C2 was created by presidential order in 2010, but the collaboration has evolved slowly. According to a Government Accountability Office report, the E2C2 opened nine months late, in part because of “some difficultly” between agencies over how the center would operate.

Proposed Afghan spy chief divides Western, Afghan officials

Assadullah KhaledBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Last month we reported Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s plan to appoint one of his most trusted advisors, Assadullah Khaled, to lead the country’s intelligence agency. There appears to be a slight problem with this proposal: Khaled is known as a fierce character in Afghan politics, who has been accused by Western diplomats of corruption, extreme brutality and narcotics trafficking. During the past few years, Khaled, currently Afghanistan’s Minister for Border and Tribal Affairs, has reportedly become “almost a surrogate family member” of the Karzai family, and is viewed “as a son” by the Afghan President. He also has a close relationship with officials in the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who seem to appreciate Khaled’s hardline stance against Pakistan. Moreover, Khaled is an ethnic Pashtun, that is, he belongs to the largest Afghan ethnicity, whose members occupy central Afghanistan. However, he has strong connections with leading figures in the former Northern Alliance, whose support is crucial for the survival of the Karzai regime. Some Western officials, therefore, see him as a potential unifying figure in the country. But in a confidential cable sent to the US Department of State by the American Embassy in Kabul in 2009, and leaked by WikiLeaks, Khaled was described by one senior American diplomat as “exceptionally corrupt and incompetent”. Later that same year, a high-level Canadian diplomat publicly accused Khaled of participating in international narcotics trafficking and systematically employing torture against his political enemies in Kandahar. The diplomat, who served in Afghanistan after the 2001 US-led invasion, was referring to Khaled’s tenure as Governor of Kandahar Province, where he personally run what Kandaharis described as “the torture prison”. Colvin is apparently not alone voicing such concerns. Read more of this post

Judge orders CIA to release files on drug kingpin Pablo Escobar

Pablo EscobarBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
In the late 1980s, it was nearly impossible to sit through a primetime news bulletin without coming across the name ‘Pablo Escobar’. Born in 1949 in the town of Rionegro, Colombia, Escobar rose to become the leader of the Medellín cartel, history’s most notorious narcotics smuggling ring. By 1986, the Medellín cartel controlled over 80 percent of the global cocaine market, shipping daily around 15 tons of the drug (worth an estimated street value of $500,000) to the United States. In 1989, Forbes magazine included Escobar on his list of the world’s richest persons, with an estimated net worth of $3 billion. By that time, the Medellín cartel had become powerful enough to directly threaten the very institutional integrity of the Colombian state. At the same time, Escobar carefully cultivated his ‘Robin Hood’ image by regularly building hospitals, schools, and churches in some of Colombia’s most impoverished regions. He was thus able to surround himself with a sea of grateful and devoted supporters, who directly depended on his generosity for their livelihood. They also shielded him from the reach of the Colombian and United States government forces, which repeatedly went after him without success. Eventually, the Colombian government, in association with the US Drug Enforcement Administration and the Central Intelligence Agency, managed to stop Escobar by creating a rival organization called Los PEPES —a Spanish-language acronym that stands for ‘People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar’. Los PEPES, which consisted of members of rival drug smuggling cartels, as well as trained mercenaries belonging to Colombian rightwing militias, went after Escobar’s closest associates with indescribable ruthlessness. They hunted down and eventually tortured and killed several of his relatives, advisors and bodyguards. Ultimately, in 1993, they helped the Colombian National Police corner Escobar and shoot him dead at a Medellín barrio. The celebrations in Washington and Bogotá didn’t last long; as soon as Los PEPES disbanded, many of its leading members regrouped to found the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a rightwing paramilitary group that has since killed thousands of civilians in Colombia’s bitter civil war. The AUC, which funds its operations through kidnappings and drug trafficking, is today a designated terrorist group by most Western governments, including the United States and the European Union. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #706

Akhmed ZakayevBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►UK government accuses Chechen of assassination plot. The British government and intelligence services have accused an alleged henchman of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov of seeking to assassinate Akhmed Zakayev, a prominent exiled Chechen politician in London, who was granted asylum there in 2003. According to court documents, British government lawyers asking to deport a 45-year-old, Chechen-born, former elite soldier, referred to only as E1. They told judges that E1 was a threat to national security and had been implicated in a 2009 assassination on behalf of Mr Kadyrov in Vienna. Mr Zakayev, a former actor and self-described separatist leader, said in a recent interview that he believed “there are more Russian spies in Britain today than there were during the Cold War”.
►►Israeli ex-soldiers arrested in Colombia on drugs charges. Eight Israelis have been arrested in Colombia on suspicion of drug trafficking, money laundering and exploitation of minors, the country’s chief prosecutor has told local media outlets. The suspects, who were described in the reports as “former military men”, include former Israeli army Lt. Col. Yair Klein, who was convicted by a Colombian court and sentenced in absentia to nearly 11 years in prison for training drug traffickers’ assassins in the late 1980s. US and British investigations determined two decades ago that Klein was also involved in smuggling 400 Galil assault rifles and 100 Uzi sub-machine guns bought from Israeli into Colombia in 1989 when his plans to create a mercenary-ran training camp on the Caribbean island of Antigua unraveled.
►►Lawyer alleges MI6 agent was killed by ‘secret services’. A coroner has been told that Gareth Williams, an MI6 spy found dead inside a locked duffle bag in his London apartment could have been killed by someone who specialized in “the dark arts of the secret services”. The allegation was made by Anthony O’Toole, who represented the Williams family at an interim hearing ahead of the full inquest into Gareth Williams’ death. O’Toole said that there was “a high probability that there was a third party present in the flat” at the time. He added that “the unknown third party was a member of some agency specializing in the dark arts of the secret services, and perhaps evidence was removed from the scene post mortem by an expert in those dark arts”.

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