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

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Lawsuit halted in 15-year-old CIA wiretap case

Judge Lamberth

Judge Lamberth

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A lawsuit against an alleged illegal wiretap operation by the CIA, which was initially filed 15 years ago, was put on hold late last week by a US federal appeals court. The court imposed the temporary hold in an apparent disagreement with US District Judge Royce Lamberth, who last July said CIA attorneys committed fraud in alleging that US national security would be threatened if details of the lawsuit were openly discussed. Judge Lamberth ruled that the CIA had kept the case secret for years in order to avoid embarrassment. But the appeals court appears to have accepted the CIA’s claim that discussing the case openly will reveal operational secrets and harm US national security. A simultaneous decision by the appeals court to order the government to grant security clearances to lawyers on both sides of the argument probably means that the case, which briefly surfaced last July after Judge Lamberth’s decision to reveal it to the public, will disappear once again under the “state secrets” clause. Read more of this post

Judge accuses CIA of fraud in 15-year court case

Judge Lamberth

Judge Lamberth

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A 15-year old lawsuit against the CIA unexpectedly resurfaced yesterday, after a US federal judge accused the CIA attorneys of fraud and warned the former and current CIA leadership of serious legal sanctions. US District Judge Royce Lamberth said the CIA misled him on several occasions by falsely claiming that the “state secrets” clause applied to the case, which three consecutive US administrations have tried to bury. The case was filed in 1994 by retired Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officer Richard A. Horn, who claimed that CIA agents illegally wiretapped his conversations while he was stationed in Burma. It appears that, at the time, the US diplomatic representation in Burma and the CIA station in Rangoon were at loggerheads with the DEA. Read more of this post

Secretive US court to relocate in symbolic move

Judge Lamberth

Judge Lamberth

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
In 1978, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, US legislators attempted to curtail the government’s spying powers by instituting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). The court is supposed to handle requests by US counterintelligence agencies for surveillance of suspects operating inside the US. In reality, however, the court, which operates in total secrecy, has effectively become a rubber-stamp for the government, rarely turning down a request for a surveillance warrant. It usually rejects less than 1% of all requests each year; in 2007, the court denied only three of the 2,370 applications submitted to it by government agencies wishing to conduct surveillance operations. Even in rare instances when FISC does reject a warrant or two, another body, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (FISCR) re-examines the rejected cases and usually ends up granting them to the counterintelligence agencies that have requested them. Now, however, the secretive court has reportedly decided to take a symbolic step toward self-determination, by moving its headquarters from the US Department of Justice building to a newly built wing of Washington DC’s federal courthouse. Read more of this post