Invasive Illegal Intelligence Gathering Threatens Colombian Union and Human Rights Leaders

  The Colombian government’s chief intelligence and security service has once again been implicated in illegal activity against trade unionists and human rights leaders. In the past year, investigative reporting in Colombia found extensive illegal intelligence gathering against members of unions, human rights organizations and the Supreme Court by the government’s Administrative Department of Security (DAS). These illegal DAS operations, which began in 2004, included wire tapping, email interceptions, tracking of these individuals and members of their families, examination of bank and tax records, and attempts to interfere with their work. These revelations are frightening in a context where investigations have revealed collusion between the DAS and the paramilitaries to threaten and assassinate these same individuals.

The DAS is part of the Executive Branch of the government, directly under the administration of the President of the Republic, currently Alvaro Uribe, and is responsible for creating intelligence policies to guarantee internal and external national security, producing official intelligence reports for the president through information related to national security obtained and processed from domestic and foreign sources, and implementing national security, official intelligence, and strategic operation agendas.

Sparked by a series of Colombian media articles about the DAS wiretapping members of unions, human rights organizations, the Supreme Court, and opposition parties, as well as journalists, the Attorney General’s Office earlier this year began a legal investigation into the actions of the DAS. Prior to the raid by the Attorney General’s office on the DAS office in February 2009, DAS personnel destroyed evidence of the espionage. As a part of the investigation the Technical Investigation Corps (CTI), a subunit of the Attorney General’s Office, is in the process of analyzing the documentation of the intelligence activities carried out against these groups and individuals during 2004-2005.

In June, a preliminary report was released on the activities carried out by the DAS during that time period. Among the findings, close to 5,000 pages regarding information on The José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR), a Colombian non-governmental human rights organization, were recuperated. The DAS used a special permission to use reserved funds to develop better tracking and intelligence activities against CCAJAR, in particular the sum of $2,500 for the “improvement of the intelligence [against their] facades and fictitious stories.” CCAJAR has defended and promoted human rights in Colombian for 26 years. Renowned Colombian human rights activist and lawyer Yessika Hoyos Morales works for CCAJAR. Ms. Hoyos is the daughter of slain union leader, Jorge Dario Hoyos, who was 16 when her father was murdered and has openly fought for justice seeking the intellectual authors behind her father’s murder since then speaking before the U.S. Congress in February 2009, among other things.

The preliminary report goes on to include details of the illegal intelligence revealing the frightening and outrageous character:

Surveillance included phone and email interception, photographic and video footage and observation of members of various unions, and human rights organizations who work on issues of violence against unionists, including the Collective Jose Alvear Restrepo, the Colombian Commission of Jurists, members of opposition parties including Colombian Senator Gustavo Petro, journalists including the documentarian Holman Morris, and members of the Supreme Court.

These investigations were illegally conducted without securing the required court order.

In some cases, this surveillance included documentation and images of family members including maps and layouts of their neighborhoods, homes and their children´s schools. Since this type of information and documentation is not relevant to activities of those under surveillance, it shows the ways that this information was potentially used to threaten these individuals and their families and could have had the intent to be used to harm them.

The DAS formed a specific team called the G3 to lead these investigations. This group included Jose Noguera, former director of the DAS who has been investigated for numerous ties to paramilitaries, Jose Miguel Narvaez Martinez, who now-demobilized paramilitary Ivan Laverde Zapata alleges gave courses on why it was “licit to kill communists in Colombia,” among others.

Under the governmental security program for human rights activists, members of the DAS, acting as drivers for these workers, in reality acted as informants of their whereabouts.

DAS officers were told that goals of the operation included restricting or neutralizing the activities of these groups and individuals.

According to reports from the Colombian newsmagazine Semana, a detective who works in the Subdirectorate of Operations of the DAS, stated, “Here we work on targets and objectives that could become a threat to the security of the state and of the President. These include the guerrilla, emerging criminal groups, some narcos. Nevertheless, these targets also include, and obviously this is one of the functions of the DAS, the monitoring of some personalities and institutions in order to keep the Presidency informed.” Former director of the DAS, Carlos Alberto Arzayús, told prosecutors he remembers that in 2004 President Uribe indicated that there were some NGOs that seemed to be infiltrated by guerillas and asked the DAS to verify that their activities were not illicit and or profit oriented. Since coming into power in August 2002, President Uribe has been outspoken about human rights activists that criticize his administration, accusing them of political hate and at times calling them “the intellectual bloc of the Farc.” In fact, many members of his administration and political party are now under investigation for their political and economic ties to paramilitaries.

The DAS has been implicated in many illegal and corruption scandals under the Uribe administration. These elements, and the fact that the DAS carried out such massive intelligence operations against civilians who espouse opinions different than those of the government brings into question the respect for a diversity of opinions and the possible, and in some cases already proven, collusion between the DAS and violent paramilitary actions. Former DAS director Jorge Noguera in 2005 was accused of handing over names of union leaders and other activists to be killed to paramilitary leaders. It is a welcome step that the Attorney General is investigating—but there are no assurances the illegal activity has ended.

To learn more see:

LAWG: Far Worse than Watergate
Plan Colombia and Beyond: The New DAS Scandal
Morris Productions: Primer Informe sobre el DAS
CAJAR: The Colombian State Employs the Administrative Deparment of Security -DAS- against Human Rights Organizations.
El Tiempo: Confesiones de Arzayús
Semana: El DAS sigue grabando