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 Eventually, Hurtado’s asylum was revoked; but by that time the fugitive former spy director had once again disappeared.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

News you may have missed #338

  • US intel on Iran suffering from information overload? The US National Intelligence Estimate was due last fall but has been delayed at least twice amid efforts to “incorporate information from [Iranian] sources who are still being vetted”. Some say that significant new material has come from Iranian informants, who are motivated by antipathy toward the Iranian government and its suppression of the opposition.
  • Canada’s ex-intel boss slams new anti-terrorism measures. Reid Morden, the former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, has urged the country’s Conservative government to re-think its plans to re-introduce controversial anti-terrorism measures initially adopted in the wake of 9/11.
  • Wiretapping scandals continue in Colombia. Caracol TV reports that Colombian security agency DAS has asked opposition Senator Piedad Cordoba to hand over evidence of her claims that President Alvaro Uribe ordered DAS to spy on her.

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News you may have missed #0282

  • Iran summons Canadian ambassador over CIA links. The Iranian government announced that it summoned the Canadian charge d’affaires in Tehran, in connection with revelations that Canada’s former ambassador to Iran secretly worked for the CIA in the late 1970s.
  • Charlie Wilson dead at 76. Charlie Wilson, a 12-term American congressional representative, who orchestrated the covert funding of Muslim mujahedeen in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s, has died in Texas.
  • Analysis: Is Colombia turning into a nation of informants? On January 27, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe announced his goal of putting a thousand spies in college classrooms. He offered to pay students $50 per month to report any suspicious ideas or behavior to the Colombian authorities. Forrest Hylton, who teaches at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, explains the disturbing political background of Uribe’s announcement.

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Colombia to dismantle scandal-prone spy agency

Semana cover

Semana cover

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Colombia’s Administrative Department of Security (DAS) is to be dismantled and most of its 6,000 employees are to be transferred to the country’s other law enforcement agencies, according to Colombian officials. The decision was announced last Friday by DAS director Felipe Muñoz, who said that a new organization would be established to replace the corrupt and scandal-prone agency. A day earlier, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe said that a flood of recent scandals involving DAS had forced him to consider eliminating the agency. Earlier this year, the Colombian government was forced to fire 33 DAS agents for illegally wiretapping the phones of several public figures Read more of this post

Colombian ex-spy details coup plot against Venezuela

Rafael García

Rafael García

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The former director of information technology at Colombia’s Administrative Department of Security (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, or DAS) has revealed details of what he claims was a Colombian-assisted coup against the Venezuelan government. Speaking on Colombia’s Noticias Uno television station, former DAS official Rafael García said the Colombian government of Álvaro Uribe was the main supporter of a 2004 attempt to topple the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chávez. García, who was fired from DAS three years ago, after being caught taking bribes from right wing paramilitaries and drug barons, said Colombia recruited 120 Colombian paramilitary members of Northern Bloc, a militia unit of the right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, which operates mostly along the Venezuelan-Colombian border. Read more of this post

Colombian security agency intensifies illegal wiretaps, intimidation

Semana cover

Semana cover

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
You would think that right after the most extensive purge in its modern history, Colombia’s Administrative Department of Security (DAS) would scale down its illegal activities. But, according to the country’s leading weekly publication, Semana, illegal intelligence activities by DAS agents have intensified in recent months. In its lead article this week, the magazine says it has in its possession recordings that prove DAS continues to monitor the communications of politicians, journalists, human rights activists, union officials, and even Supreme Court Judges. Earlier this year, the Colombian government was forced to fire 33 DAS agents for illegally wiretapping the phones of several public figures, including the chief of the Colombian National Police, minister of defense Juan Manuel Santos, former President Cesar Gaviria, supreme court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders and human rights campaigners. It this week’s report, Semana says that DAS operatives are now being used by the government to intimidate members of Congress, who may have to vote in a possible referendum to permit President Alvaro Uribe to run for a third term, which is currently unconstitutional. Read more of this post

Charges finally announced in Colombia wiretap scandal

Alvaro Uribe

Alvaro Uribe

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Colombia’s chief prosecutor has finally announced criminal charges against ten former government officials accused of spying on political opponents of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. As intelNews reported in April, Colombia’s Administrative Department of Security (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, or DAS) suffered one of the most extensive purges in its history, when 22 (later joined by 11 more) of its detectives were fired for illegally wiretapping several public figures. Those targeted by the wiretaps included the chief of the Colombian National Police, minister of defense Juan Manuel Santos, former President Cesar Gaviria, supreme court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders and human rights campaigners. Read more of this post

Analysis: Major Colombian wiretap scandal explained

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Last April, Colombia’s Administrative Department of Security (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, or DAS) suffered one of the most extensive purges in its history, when 22 of its detectives were fired in connection with an investigation into illegal wiretapping against several public figures in Colombian political life. Those targeted by the illegal wiretappers included Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, as well as the chief of the Colombian National Police, former president Cesar Gaviria, and even the minister of defense Juan Manuel Santos. Investigative reporter Joseph Huff-Hanon has produced what in this writer’s opinion is the best English-language analysis of the political dimension of the Colombian wiretap scandal. Read more of this post

Agents fired as probe into Colombian wiretap scandal continues

Juan M. Santos

Juan M. Santos

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Colombia’s Administrative Department of Security (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, or DAS) suffered one of the most extensive purges in its history this week, when 22 of its detectives were fired in connection with an investigation into illegal wiretapping. Last January, the scandal-prone counterintelligence service was revealed to have engaged in systematic communications interception against several public figures in Colombian political life. Those targeted included Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, as well as the chief of the Colombian National Police, former president Cesar Gaviria, and even the minister of defense Juan Manuel Santos. The warrantless interceptions appeared to be part of a concerted effort to discover the “vices and weaknesses” of public figures, including “details about sexual preferences”, extra-marital affairs, and liquor or drug habits. Read more of this post