In mid February the weekly news magazine Semana revealed that the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS), Colombia’s domestic intelligence agency that answers directly to the president’s office, had for many year conducted (and perhaps still conducts) illegal surveillance of Supreme Court judges, opposition politicians, prosecutors, human rights defenders, and journalists. When the scandal broke, the government tried to claim that a few “bad apples” conducted the spying.
Just after the Semana story broke, subsequent news reports revealed that many files, computer hard drives, and recordings had been destroyed. In response to the reports, the Cuerpo Técnico de Investigaciones (CTI), the Attorney General's Office's judicial police, began an investigation into DAS operations. Despite the destruction of much of the evidence, documents that remained, which covered the years 2004-2005, revealed that a secret group within the DAS – known as the G3 – was responsible for carrying out a systematic policy of political surveillance and even sabotage against dozens of groups and individuals not in complete agreement with the government’s policies.
So far, the public has only had access to the index of the files, but even the index demonstrates the astonishing scope of such operations. According to CTI report, missions of the G3 included surveillance of “people and organizations opposing government policies in order to restrict or neutralize their activities”. The report clearly shows that (a) totally legitimate activities were targeted and, (b) the purpose of the surveillance went much further than information gathering; it was intended to sabotage and criminalize legitimate activities.
What kinds of activities were carried out?
The intelligence operation went significantly further than “collection of private and privileged information,” which in itself violates persons’ right to privacy. In fact, the G3 carried out what they themselves called “offensive intelligence,” which included “physiological warfare”, “sabotage” of human rights organization activities, baseless persecution of human right defenders (judicializaciones in Spanish), and production and dissemination of propaganda material to attempt to convince the international community “what really happens” in Colombia.
Who were the targets?
- The Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado
The cell phone number of Peace Community key supporter Eduar Lancheros and the interception of the peace community’s email account was ordered at least since July 22, 2005, barely 5 months after a brutal massacre carried out by the Colombian Armed forces and paramilitary death squads. On July 25th, 2005 an order was issued to carry out “offensive intelligence” against Jesuit priest and key PC supporter, Javier Girarldo and on August 12th an order was issued to gathered private information – including telephone, national registry, chamber of commerce, intelligence annotations, financial data of nine leaders of the Peace Community.
- Two of the most prestigious lawyers collectives: Colectivo de Abogados Jose Alvear Restrepo (CCAJAR) and the Corporación Jurídica Libertad (CJL)
The G3’s activities against these attorneys, who have prosecuted cases against military officials for massacres and extrajudicial executions, were particularly aggressive. For example, pictures were taken of the lawyers’ children and a set of the house keys of attorney Alirio Uribe was found at DAS. Surveillance of these lawyers was aimed to document private information that could be used to undermine the prestige of the activists.
- Other targets
Religious groups involved in humanitarian work, such as Menonite group Justapaz; the Catholic group Justicia y Paz; Catholic Bishop Tulio Duque Gutiérrez, who served in Apartadó; and the Swedish Christian group Diakonia.
Colombian Groups working on defense of victims of the conflict, forced displacement, forced disappearance or in peace-building such as Minga, CODHES, ASFADDES, Redepaz, Ideapaz. There was a plan to sabotage the 2005 “week for peace” organized by Redepaz and to judicializar Posso (Idepaz).
What has been the official response?
President Uribe has continued to maintain that the scandal is attributable to a few “bad apples” in the DAS. Nonetheless, three presidential aides have been linked to the case and are under investigation: Bernardo Moreno, the general secretary of the presidency; Uribe's press secretary César Mauricio Velásquez; and his communications adviser, Jorge Mario Eastman.
The Attorney General's Office is in the process of determining whether to charge the DAS officials with conspiracy to commit crimes, illegal use of surveillance equipment, abuse of authority, tampering with public documents, the destruction, suppression or concealment of public documents, or other charges.