the new york times

A Scandal Over Spying Intensifies in Colombia

Sept 17--President Álvaro Uribe, the top ally of the United States in Latin America, is enmeshed in a scandal over growing evidence that his main intelligence agency carried out an extensive illegal spying operation focused on his leading critics, including members of the Supreme Court, opposition politicians, human rights workers and journalists.

The scandal, which has unfolded over months, intensified in recent weeks with the disclosure of an audio intercept of a top official at the United States Embassy. Semana, a respected news magazine, obtained an intercept of a routine phone call between James Faulkner, the embassy’s legal attaché, and a Supreme Court justice investigating ties of Mr. Uribe’s political supporters to paramilitary death squads.

Other recordings obtained in investigations by journalists and prosecutors point to resilient multiyear efforts to spy on Mr. Uribe’s major critics by the Department of Administrative Security, a 6,500-employee intelligence agency — possibly South America’s largest — that operates directly under the authority of the president’s office.

The agency, known widely by the acronym DAS, has been the focus of accusations of illegal spying before. But this case is sowing fear among Mr. Uribe’s critics in the political elite, coming as the president, a conservative populist, presses ahead with a project to secure a third term.

While Mr. Uribe is ideologically isolated on a continent that has shifted to the left, he is following the example of neighbors who have changed their constitutions to remain in office, like Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, and Ecuador’s, Rafael Correa.

“Uribe is seriously weakening Colombia’s democracy,” said Ramiro Bejarano, a lawyer and opposition leader who was a director of DAS in the 1990s. Earlier this year, Semana obtained recordings, transcripts of intercepts and other files from current and former DAS employees that showed that Mr. Bejarano was among several senior opposition leaders whose phones were illegally tapped by DAS. Five appointees have led DAS since Mr. Uribe came to power in 2002. The first four resigned amid claims of illegal surveillance and are being formally investigated by Colombia’s attorney general.
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