Colombian ex-spy head sent to prison over wiretapping scandal

Maria del Pilar HurtadoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The former director of Colombia’s intelligence service, who recently surrendered after being on the run for five years, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for organizing an illegal wiretapping campaign against politicians, judges and other high-profile personalities. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2009. But on October 31, 2010, she left Colombia, apparently unobstructed, despite being a prime subject in a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. She later surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted to her in November 2010, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who accused the Panamanian government of subverting Colombian justice.

Hurtado is among 18 senior officials facing charges for criminal activities during the administration of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe. His critics accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted former presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Last summer, after consistent diplomatic pressure from the Colombian government, Panama’s Supreme Court to ruled that Hurtado’s asylum had been granted to her in violation of the Panamanian constitution. Eventually, Hurtado’s asylum was revoked; but by that time the fugitive former spy director had once again disappeared. Her whereabouts remained unknown until September 30 of this year, when Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for her capture. That same evening, Hurtado appeared at the Colombian embassy in Panama and promptly identified herself, stating that she was turning herself in.

In reporting on Hurtado’s sentencing, the Reuters news agency noted on Thursday that approximately “two-thirds of Uribe’s closest political allies during his presidency […] have been convicted, sanctioned or investigated for crimes”. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports that several senior Colombian justice officials have called for a wider investigation of Uribe himself and several of his top aides, for their role in the DAS wiretapping program.

Panama tries to block extradition of Colombia’s former spy chief

Ana BelfonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Senior government officials in Panama continue to shelter one of Colombia’s notorious former spy chiefs, who is wanted in Colombia for spying on opposition figures. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2009. But on October 31, 2010, she left Colombia, apparently unobstructed, despite being a chief subject in a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. Hours later, she surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted to her on November 19, 2010, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who have accused the Panamanian government of subverting Colombian justice. Hurtado is among 18 senior officials in the administration of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe. Critics of DAS accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted the former Presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Finally, after years of diplomatic pressure by Uribe’s successor, Panama’s supreme court ruled last week that Hurtado’s asylum had been granted to her in violation of the Panamanian constitution. It consequently ordered that her residence permit, which was granted to her under the personal authorization of Panama’s heavy-handed President, Ricardo Martinelli, would become invalid after three working days. The three working-day deadline was set to expire at 5:00 p.m. local time on Tuesday. However, shortly before the cut-off time, Panama’s Attorney General, Ana Belfon (pictured), stepped in and effectively extended Hurtado’s residence permit deadline. In a dramatic move, Belfon filed an appeal on behalf of the government, asking the Supreme Court to clarify the conditions of the former spy chief’s deportation back to Colombia. In accordance with Panamanian legal procedure, the Supreme Court’s decision to cancel Hurtado’s residence permit is now suspended and the Colombian former spymaster will continue to enjoy the Panamanian government’s protection until the Supreme Court responds to the Attorney General’s appeal. Read more of this post

Colombian government to probe calls for ‘military coup’

President Santos (in blue tie) with Colombian military officialsBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Colombian authorities have opened an official investigation into calls to remove the government of the country, which were found circulating among former and current military officials. The investigation was announced on Tuesday, nearly two weeks after the appearance in the Colombian media of a series of personal email exchanges, which appeared to suggest that the national administration of President Juan Manuel Santos should be removed from power. Some of the emails were exchanged between two influential retired military officers, Major Jorge Galvis Noyes and General Eduardo Santos Quiñones. One message was authored by Galvis on May 15, 2012, shortly after a massive bomb exploded in Colombian capital Bogota, which killed five people and injured 17. The bomb, according to President Santos, was directed against the country’s former Minister of the Interior, Fernando Londoño Hoyos, who is said to have links with rightwing paramilitary groups. Galvis’ email lamented the “attempt [that] was made on the life of Fernando Londoño” and criticized the government of President Santos for not preventing it. He continued by suggesting that Santos should “fulfill his political duties […], otherwise he should be “removed from office”. Around that time, General Quiñones authored an open call against President Santos, which he apparently circulated via email among dozens of senior military officers. The letter blasted the Santos administration, stating that Colombia was ready for “a real leader”. In recent months, rightwing political figures connected to Colombia’s previous President, Alvaro Uribe, have been virulently attacking the Santos administration, accusing it of being “soft” against leftwing paramilitary groups –primarily the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Read more of this post

Colombian ex-spy chief gets 25 years for aiding death squads

Jorge Noguera

Jorge Noguera

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
In a continent dominated by leftwing governments, Colombia is one of Washington’s few remaining allies. It is therefore unfortunate that the US-supported conservative government of Álvaro Uribe, which ruled Colombia from 2002 to 2010, has been one of the most corrupt regimes in recent Latin American history. The disgraced Colombian Administrative Department of Security (DAS) appears to have been the cornerstone in the Uribe administration’s corruption complex. Last Wednesday, Colombia’s Supreme Court convicted Jorge Noguera, Director of DAS from 2002 to 2005, to 25 years in prison, for systematically collaborating with illegal far-right death-squads. Noguera’s conviction was based on evidence recovered from the computer of a former death-squad commander, which led to a revealing testimony from former DAS director of information technology, Rafael Garcia. According to Garcia, Noguera routinely provided rightwing paramilitaries with lists of leftist politicians and activists, labor union leaders, and even journalists, who were then targeted for intimidation, blackmail or —in several instances— assassination. One such murdered victim was the late Dr Alfredo Correa de Andreis, who was shot by a death-squad in 2004. The court ordered Noguera to pay Professor Correa’s family nearly US$100,000 in restitution fees, as well as another US$2 million to the state for illegally destroying and expropriating confidential government documents. It is worth noting that at least one of Noguera’s predecessors, Miguel Maza Marquez, who directed DAS in the late 1980s, turned himself in to the authorities in 2009, and is now facing charges of ordering the 1989 assassination of reformist Colombian presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán —a self-styled enemy of Colombia’s drug cartels. Noguera’s successor at DAS, Maria Pilar Hurtado, is also wanted for her part in a nationwide wiretapping scandal that targeted several of Uribe’s political opponents, as well as labor leaders, journalists and academics. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #580

Baroness Manningham-Buller

Manningham-Buller

►►Ex-MI5 director says Iraq posed not threat to UK. Iraq posed no threat to the UK when then Prime Minister Tony Blair took Britain to war there, according to Baroness Manningham-Buller, former Director of MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency. In an interview, she described the Iraq war as an unnecessary action that increased the domestic threat to the UK, and “a distraction from the pursuit of al-Qaeda”. No kidding.
►►Interview about DAS wiretaps with Colombia Attorney General. This blog has covered extensively the wiretapping program against opposition politicians, journalists and civil rights activists, by Colombia’s disgraced DAS domestic intelligence agency. This Washington Post interview with Colombia’s new attorney general, Vivian Morales, displays the toothless nature of the government’s ‘investigation’ into the scandal. Morales says that her investigation has “nothing to do” with allegations that the Colombian government used funds provided by Washington to implement the wiretapping. She also says that she cannot “legally investigate” the question of whether former President Alvaro Uribe knew about the wiretaps.
►►Taiwan losing spy game with China. The deputy news editor of The Taipei Times argues that the United States is scaling back its sales of defense equipment to Taiwan because of “the penetration of almost every sector of Taiwanese society by Chinese intelligence”. Accordingly, “any arms sale to Taiwan carries the risk that sensitive military technology will end up in Beijing”, he says.

News you may have missed #575

IARPA logo

IARPA logo

►►Inquest into death of MI6 spy to go ahead. The inquest into the bizarre death of MI6 and GCHQ officer Gareth Williams will go ahead before Christmas without a jury, according to London-based newspaper The Express. The paper says that “12 spy chiefs will attend [the inquest] to explain the background to the case”.
►►Colombia’s ex-president denies role in spy scandal. Alvaro Uribe has denied, during a 3½-hour appearance before a Colombian congressional committee, that he ordered the country’s domestic intelligence agency to spy on judges, journalists and political foes. More than 20 agents of the DAS intelligence agency have been imprisoned for alleged roles in the spying. Two more have pleaded guilty in exchange for reduced sentences.
►►US spy research firm eyes stock market. IARPA, the US intelligence community’s research arm, plans to introduce a new program to develop tools to help analysts “quickly and accurately assess petabytes of complex anonymized financial data”. According to a conference presentation, the program would help spies “analyze massive amounts of data to spot indicators of market behavior, find relationships between seemingly unrelated transactions across hundreds of global markets, and provide insight into specific events and general financial trends”.

Colombians blast Panama for sheltering ex-spy director

María del Pilar Hurtado

María Hurtado

By IAN ALLEN| intelNews.org |
Public prosecutors in Colombia have strongly criticized the Panamanian government for granting political asylum to one of Colombia’s former spy directors, who is facing charges of spying on opposition figures. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2008. But on October 31, she apparently left Colombia unobstructed, despite being among the chief subjects of a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. Hours later, she surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted on November 19, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who have accused the Panamanian government of subverting (what little is left of) Colombian justice. Hurtado is among 18 senior officials in the administration of Alvaro Uribe, a close ally of the United States and hardline proponent of Washington’s ‘war on drugs’. Critics of DAS accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted the former Presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Read more of this post