Miami police arrest Panama’s ex-president on charges of wiretapping

Ricardo MartinelliPolice in the United States have arrested Panama’s former president Ricardo Martinelli, who is wanted in the Central American country on charges of using state resources to spy on his political opponents and business rivals. The center-right US-educated businessman won the 2009 presidential election in the country with a landslide, receiving over 60 percent of the national vote. His election prompted positive comments from Washington, because it marked a rare ascent to power of a conservative Latin American leader in a sea of socialist heads of state. But the euphoria did not last long. In 2014, Martinelli was succeeded in the presidency by his Vice President, Juan Carlos Varela. Varela promptly launched nearly 200 criminal investigations against his former political partner on issues ranging from embezzlement of state funds to political espionage.

Martinelli is now accused of embezzling $45 million in funds that should have been allocated to a government-run school lunch program for children of disadvantaged families. According to Panamanian prosecutors, Martinelli diverted $13 million of these funds to launch a secret wiretapping program that targeted some of his main political opponents and business rivals. Some of the individuals allegedly targeted in the secret surveillance program were senior members of Martinelli’s own Party of Democratic Change, Supreme Court judges, lawyers, journalists and union activists. The government of Panama also claims that Martinelli wiretapped the telephones of his business rivals, as well as their family members and mistresses.

It appears that Martinelli’s allies within the Panamanian government notified him early on that corruption investigations would be launched against him. This would explain why the former political strongman was able to flee the country days before these investigations were officially launched. Since January 2015, Martinelli has lived in Florida. In 2016, the government of Panama issued an arrest warrant against Martinelli. It also notified the international police agency, Interpol. Last month, Interpol circulated a ‘red notice’, an official alert notifying its counterparts around the world of a wanted individual. On Tuesday, US Marshals arrested Martinelli at his home in the city of Coral Gables in Florida, in response to the red notice issued by Interpol.

Speaking to reporters in Miami on Tuesday, Martinelli’s legal team questioned the timing of the Panamanian government’s arrest warrant, claiming that it came soon after the former president announced he would be running again for office. But the office of Adam S. Fels, the assistant US attorney who ordered Martinelli’s arrest, said that the US intended to fulfill its treaty obligations with the government of Panama. Martinelli is currently in prison in Miami and is expected to remain there until his preliminary court date on June 20.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 June 2017 | Permalink

Colombia’s fugitive ex-spy chief wanted by Interpol surrenders

Maria del Pilar HurtadoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The former director of Colombia’s security service, who is accused of spying on senior political figures, has turned herself over to the authorities after five years on the run. 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 on November 19, 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 last Friday, 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. Colombian authorities immediately flew her to Bogota on a specially chartered plane. Upon her arrival at the Colombian capital, a judge ordered her arrest and she was taken to prison. She is currently awaiting trial inside a high-security ward at the Office of the Public Prosecutor in Bogota. Authorities say Hurtado is under heavy police protection, as there are fears that some of her former colleagues in the now defunct DAS may try to assassinate her.

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

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North and South KoreaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Cuba confirms it hid weapons on seized N. Korean ship. Cuba has admitted being behind a stash of weapons found on board a North Korean ship seized in the Panama Canal. The ship was seized by Panama last week after “undeclared military cargo” was found hidden in a shipment of sugar. United Nations sanctions prohibit the supply of arms to North Korea in the continuing dispute over its nuclear program. But the Cuban foreign ministry said the ship was carrying “obsolete arms” from Cuba “for repair” in North Korea.
►►British undercover officers stole identities of dead children. Britain’s Metropolitan Police Service, which is responsible for policing most of the city of London, has admitted that its undercover police officers expropriated the identities of at least 43 dead children. But police officials refused to inform the children’s families at the time, saying the practice was considered “essential to protect covert officers who were working inside dangerous extremist groups”.
►►Snowden has ‘thousands’ of damaging NSA documents. The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, who first reported on the disclosures of former CIA employee Edward Snowden, has said that the self-styled whistleblower has “literally thousands of documents” in his possession, which are essentially an “instruction manual for how the NSA is built”. The information could allow someone to evade or mimic NSA surveillance tactics, the journalist said.

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Jeffrey Paul DelisleBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►CIA officer reportedly among dead in Afghanistan bombing. The attack, which was carried out in a remote area of Kandahar Province, occurred when a guard working for the Afghan intelligence service detonated a suicide vest as a delegation of American coalition members and Afghan intelligence officials arrived at the intelligence office in the Maruf District. The blast killed Ghulam Rasool, the deputy intelligence director for Kandahar Province, two of his bodyguards, another Afghan intelligence official, and some Americans, including the CIA officer. A spokeswoman for the CIA declined to comment.
►►Canadian intel officer was ‘on Russian payroll for years’. Former navy intelligence officer Jeffrey Paul Delisle, who pleaded guilty this month to spying, was leaking secrets to Russia, sending classified data about Canada as well as the United States, according to David Jacobson, the US ambassador in Ottawa. So far, the Canadian government has refrained from revealing the identity of “the foreign entity” to whom Delisle passed the classified information. Ambassador Jacobson refused to specify the nature of the information, saying only that “there was a lot of highly classified material”.
►►Panama wants to adopt euro as legal tender. Panama, one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America, wants to adopt the euro as legal tender to run alongside the country’s US dollar economy. Panama’s President Ricardo Martinelli made the request to German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a visit to Europe. The president indicated he had every faith that the crisis in the eurozone would soon be at an end, adding that Panama “would be possibly the only country in the world to have two currencies, the euro and the dollar”.

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Maria del Pilar HurtadoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Panama refuses to extradite Colombian ex-spy chief. Panama’s foreign ministry cited the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, an international accord on asylum and Panamanian law, as reason for denying Colombia’s request to extradite Maria del Pilar Hurtado, who faces charges in Bogota over an illegal wiretapping scandal. Currently enjoying asylum in Panama are former presidents of Guatemala, Jorge Serrano Elias; and Ecuador, Abdala Bucaram; as well as erstwhile Haitian military strongman Raoul Cedras.
►►Russian spy chief to visit Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday he and Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) head Mikhail Fradkov will visit Syria and meet with President Bashar al-Assad on February 7. The visit will be made on instructions from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Lavrov did not reveal any details of the upcoming the visit.
►►US spy chief: ‘we don’t know if Iran is building a bomb’. At a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last Tuesday, James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence, released the following statement: “We assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so.  We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons”.

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María del Pilar Hurtado

María Hurtado

►►US-Russian tensions over stranded Kosovo aid convoy. A stranded aid convoy of more than 20 Russian trucks was stopped Tuesday by US soldiers at a Kosovo border with Serbia, increasing tensions in the volatile region. American forces say they believe the convoy’s cargo consisting of canned food, blankets, tents and power generators appears, is intended for minority Serbs, who reject Kosovo’s statehood, and have been blocking roads in the Serb-run north of the country to prevent Kosovar authorities from taking control.
►►IRA spy in Irish police was ‘open secret’. Former British army agent Kevin Fulton, also known as Peter Keeley, who infiltrated the IRA in the 1980s, has said it was an open secret in the IRA that it had a “friend” among the gardaí (Irish police) in Dundalk. Speaking to the Smithwick Tribunal, he named the “friend” as retired detective sergeant Owen Corrigan. See here for previous intelNews coverage of this issue.
►►Colombia asks Panama to extradite ex-spy chief (again). Panama’s Foreign Ministry says Colombia has asked it to extradite former Colombian intelligence director Maria del Pilar Hurtado (pictured) to face conspiracy, wiretapping and abuse of authority charges. Hurtado headed Colombia’s now-defunct DAS domestic intelligence agency in 2007 and 2008.

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Mike McConnell

Mike McConnell

►►Colombia spy official imprisoned for illegal wiretapping. Gustavo Sierra Prieto, the former analysis chief of Colombia’s soon-to-be-dismantled DAS intelligence agency, has been sentenced to eight years and four months in jail for his role in the illegal wiretapping of government opponents, judges and journalists. But the main culprit in the wiretapping scandal, former DAS Director Maria Pilar Hurtado, is still hiding in Panama.
►►Cold War documents detail CIA interest of Canada. The CIA has declassified some of its Cold-War-era reports on Canada. The documents show that the Agency’s interest in America’s northern neighbor was mostly related to the its satellite R&D, as well as its economic sector, with a particular focus on Canada’s energy and minerals sector. There is also discussion in some documents of how to best utilize Canada’s energy resources in a possible war with the Soviet Union.
►►Ex-intel official says US must engage in cyberspying. Is it just me, or is there a calculated echo chamber developing by former senior US spy officials? Read more of this post

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Manuel Noriega

Manuel Noriega

►►Why did Pakistani spy chief secretly visit China? Reports reveal Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, head of Pakistan’s main military intelligence agency, the ISI, flew on a secret mission to Beijing for urgent talks this Monday. China’s ties with Pakistan have traditionally been tense, and have become worse in recent years, because China accuses Pakistan of harboring secessionist Chinese Muslim militants. Some observers suggest that Pasha’s trip may have been more of a summons than a visit.
►►France to extradite Manuel Noriega to Panama. France has confirmed it will extradite Manuel Noriega to Panama, where he is wanted over human rights violations during his rule in the 1980s. The former Panamanian military leader is currently serving a prison sentence in France for money laundering. Speaking during his trial in Paris last year, the former US ally claimed that millions of dollars he deposited in several French bank accounts were CIA payments for his services, not income from illicit drug sales.
►►US intel budget drops by $500 million. More than $500 million would be cut from US intelligence agencies under a bill authorizing programs and spending for spying operations next year, Read more of this post

News you may have missed #533

María del Pilar Hurtado

María Hurtado

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The government of Colombia will –finally– officially request from Panama the extradition of Maria Pilar Hurtado, former director of Colombia’s disgraced DAS intelligence agency, who was granted political asylum in the Central American country last year. The Colombian government has been contemplating this move for some time, as the investigation into illegal activities by the DAS is progressing extremely slowly. In Iran, the government says that it plans to try dozens of American intelligence officials in absentia. The announcement has raised the possibility that Tehran may out US spies which the Iranians claim attempted to recruit locals as part of a sophisticated intelligence-gathering operation. One former CIA operative, Glenn Carle, voluntarily came out a few years ago, following retirement, and made news headlines last month, in connection with alleged CIA spying on American academic Juan Cole. Carle, who worked for the CIA for 23 years, in Africa, the Balkans and Latin America, among other locales, has written a book. It focuses on a several-month period he spent questioning a suspected leader of al-Qaeda. The interrogations took place in two countries, which he says he is not permitted to name.

News you may have missed #504

  • Israel spy pleads to Obama for release. United States Navy analyst Jonathan Pollard, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for spying for Israel, has pleaded for his release in a personal letter to President Barack Obama. The letter was apparently handed to Obama by Israeli President Shimon Peres when he visited the White House on April 5.
  • US-Pakistan spy feud boils over CIA drone strikes. The Pakistani government has voiced strong criticism of a fresh CIA drone attack, which has killed 26 people. But an anonymous US counterterrorism official, who spoke to the McClatchy news agency, said that “the Pakistanis should spend less time complaining to the press [about the drone strikes] and more time trying to root out terrorists within their country”.
  • Colombia to issue international warrant for ex-spy chief. Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office will issue an international arrest warrant for Maria Pilar Hurtado, former director of the country’s disgraced DAS intelligence agency, who was granted political asylum in Panama.

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

Ex-Panama dictator Noriega describes ‘friendly ties’ with CIA

Manuel Noriega

Manuel Noriega

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Panama’s notorious former dictator, Manuel Noriega, has described what he called his “long, friendly relationship” with the CIA in court testimony in France where he is defending charges of money laundering. Speaking on the second day of his trial in Paris, Noriega argued that millions of dollars he deposited in several French bank accounts were CIA payments for his services, not income from illicit drug sales. Panama’s former strongman described in his testimony how he gained power with the help of the CIA in the small but strategically important Central American nation, in 1983. He also listed the services he provided to the CIA during the closing stages of the Cold War, in relation to Cuba, Nicaragua and Iran. But Noriega, who was deposed during the 1989 US invasion of Panama, said the US leadership and the CIA turned against him after he repeatedly refused to take part in a series of covert operations against the leftist Sandinistas government in neighboring Nicaragua. Read more of this post

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Anti-Castro terrorist was CIA informant, declassified documents show

Luis Posada Carriles

Posada Carriles

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An anti-Castro operative, who has admitted planting bombs against civilian targets in Cuba, and currently faces immigration fraud charges in the US, was a CIA informant, newly declassified documents show. Five CIA memoranda from 1965 and 1966 reveal that Luis Posada Carriles, code name “A15”, acted as an information link between Langley and violent anti-Castro groups in Miami, Florida, in which he was active. The five documents were declassified by the CIA between 1998 and 2003 and were made public on Tuesday by Peter Kornbluh, who heads the National Security Archive’s Cuba Documentation Project at George Washington University. Remarkably, the documents show that Posada’ handler at the CIA, Grover T. Lythcott, believed that the Cuban exile was a “moderate force” who could be counted on not to embarrass the US government or the CIA with his actions. Read more of this post