Intelligence agency shutting down?

The president announced the closure of Colombia’s intelligence department - DAS – after the crisis it has gone through. How viable is it?

23 de septiembre de 2009

Last Friday night, Felipe Muñoz, director of DAS, called a last minute press conference in the Nariño Palace. The journalists thought they would be given advances on the investigations the wiretapping scandal has caused over the last eight months. They were wrong. Muñoz announced the DAS Colombians had known for 50 years would disappear. He explained that a project will be presented in Congress this week in order to give the president the extraordinary faculty to liquidate the entity and create a new intelligence organism for the country. He also explained that several functions developed until now by the DAS will be assumed by the National Police, such as Interpol and protection services. Muñoz said that the 6.500 employees of the DAS will be relocated with support from other Colombian organisms. Finally, he said that the new agency to be created will only be in charge of strategic intelligence and counter intelligence for the State. The announcement came within less than 24 hours after president Álvaro Uribe gave himself the news.

Thursday, during a conference, Uribe said “I am now a supporter of eliminating the institution and leaving a small entity managed by the Police doing the intelligence services”. The presidential words surprised several sectors since it was the first time in his seven-year period that he considered shutting down the intelligence organism with more than 50 years of history. Never before, not even during the darkest scandals that shook the DAS because of the infiltration of the paramilitary during Jorge Noguera’s administration had he considered doing such thing. And even though saying things is a long way from actually doing it, the announcement revealed the concern of the government over this problem that came to notice again in February thanks to the reports made by SEMANA about illegal tapings on journalists, opposition politicians, NGOs and other.

Uribe’s decision comes a week after the United States Department of State said the wiretapping affair was “alarming and unacceptable”. The same week, The New York Times published an article supporting such declarations. Some other international voices added up to his claim along with the internal reports, forcing Uribe to announce the DAS closure as a way of closing a torrid chapter.

It is not the first time deep changes are attempted in the DAS. Actually, this organism could be one of the entities on which a largest amount of studies and diagnosis has been made in order to explain its crisis. Nevertheless, all the projects to do so have failed and have been filed away.

Last week’s announcements finally show that something is being done. The important thing is going the whole way this time. Today, just as during Noguera’s administration, society claims for changes in the DAS and demands justice to reveal the ones who were truly responsible for the illegal actions. It will not be an easy task, but it has to be done.

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