The Dark Force

Recent findings by the Prosecutor’s office and the Inspector General’s office reveal how Colombia’s intelligence agency (DAS) became the tip of the dagger for the regime’s unlawful political war. Evidence of wiretapping, family surveillance, mail interception and infringement of private matters, are all part of the artillery that was used against those considered “enemies” by the government

16 de julio de 2009

In the midst of a murder wave during the late eighties, Colombian president Virgilio Barco, attributed every new crime to “dark forces”, coining a phrase that would be used in years to come. It was used to explain terrorist attacks and massacres in the nineties and the death of many trade unionists in the first years of this century. Many human rights organizations never believed the government’s position, which stated that all these atrocities happened without their consent. These NGO’s affirmed, year after year, that public officials and government agents were part of these so-called “dark-forces”. Accomplices, they said, in a political war against the leftist opposition. They were not talking necessarily about murders but of harassment, surveillance and serious threats.

The recent investigation carried out by the Prosecutor’s Office involving the wiretappings by Colombia’s intelligence agency (DAS) prove their accusations were not unfounded. CTI, a department of the Prosecutor’s office specialized in technical investigation, found thousands of documents and folders from a group called G-3. What was interesting, at first glance, was that the Special Intelligence Group # 3 did not appear in the organization’s structure nor did it have an instruction manual. There were also blown away by the content of the files which described in a very detailed manner, the persecution carried out on important human rights activists and opposition leaders during 2004 and 2005—the last two years of Jorge Noguera’s leadership at the agency.

There were budget requests for operations against specific “targets” and intelligence reports on members of NGO’s—including papers recovered from the trash can, just like in the case of Alirio Uribe, member of a law and human rights collective. The G-3’s obsession with Uribe is evident and frightening: included in his files are pictures of his wife and children, bank statements, trips abroad, emails and even a psychological profile.

Uribe is not the only one. G-3’s list of targets looks like a “Who’s who” in the world of human rights organizations. They didn’t limit themselves to local NGO’s; Jose Miguel Vivanco, head of Human Rights Watch for Latin America, had his email intercepted; his assistant’s too. It was also recommended they apply “offensive intelligence” against him. This is not just a passing mention; it is one of the tasks assigned to G-3 in a meeting held on july 25 2005.

Even though this secret group was not officially part of DAS, it had authority over other departments and had a free budget. As stated in a document dated March 8, 2005, this “monster” was created by Jorge Noguera and Jose Miguel Narváez—an external advisor for the agency and later its deputy director.

Since its creation, G-3’s goal was to declare political war on anything on the left side of politics. A few months before, El Embrujo autoritario, (The Authoritarian Spell) a book that contained virulent criticism against President Uribe’s government was published by various NGO’s. For G-3’s members, these organizations and their journalist friends (like Hollman Morris and Carlos Lozano) were cover ups or members of guerrilla groups. In other words, legitimate targets. This position reflected—almost entirely—Narvaez’s way of thinking.

He joined the government initially as a consultant for Fondelibertad, an organization that manages the budget for efforts against kidnappings.

Narvaez’s stance in the government was marked by controversy and confrontation. Francisco Santos, the country’s vice-president, recalled last week that Narvaez had once told him he was wiretapping Carlos Franco’s (Vicepresidency director of human rights) conversations. Santos threw him out of his office and Andrés Peñate, vice-minister of Defense at the time, who had been present at the meeting, advised his superior, Jorge Uribe, against renewing Narvaez’ contract. That argument led to revenge against Andres Peñate and his family. Narvaez and his men started surveillance Peñate’s wife and children. The CTI also found evidence of G-3 intelligence against Vicepresident Santos.

Although Narvaez is not a public figure, he appears to be well known among former paramilitary members, according to statements made by various chiefs of those illegal groups. The first to mention Narvaez was Jorge Iván Laverde, alias “el iguano”, who described him as having close ties to Carlos Castaño, the founder of the AUC—the biggest and most feared paramilitary organization. This year, Salvatore Mancuso—a top paramilitary leader who was extradited to the United States— said his men had attended meetings where Narvaez had taught them “why it’s legal to kill communists in Colombia.” Another paramilitary chief, Freddy Rendón, “el Alemán” backed Mancuso’s word. “Narvaez was an instructor for the paramilitary groups”. Narvaez has denied these ties and has denounced them as “a paramilitary strategy” against him.

According to official inquiries on the relationship between DAS and paramilitary groups, there is a close association between agency officials and paramilitary chiefs all through 2004 and 2005. Jorge Noguera has even been accused of leaking information about college professors and labor activists to paramilitary groups when he was head of the agency. This is the case, amongst many others, of Alfredo Correa de Andreis in Barranquilla, who was murdered.

Clearly there is no mention, amidst thousands of documents, about the specific purpose of gathering such a big quantity of material. The end goal of spending so much time and money on the surveillance of hundreds of politicians, human rights activists and journalists is uncertain. The most acceptable hypothesis is that it was all part of the “political war” launched by Narvaez; that which he spoke about with pride while teaching soldiers at the Escuela Superior de Guerra, a military academy in Bogotá.

In the first place, they sought to gather “preventive information” in order to know what the “government’s enemies” were up to. By enemies they did not mean members of guerilla groups or drug dealers, who with their criminal and illegal demeanor could put the national institutions in danger. By enemies they meant political actors that lead normal lives, respect the law and exercise their right to criticism and opposition.

Secondly, intelligence agents would look for information about the private lives of their “targets” useful to create scandals and damage their public image. They also used the information to intimidate and harass them.

There is no proof that the actions of G-3 actually enhanced state security against real and dangerous threats. These actions did not help to arrest any member of the FARC or paramilitary groups. Special Group # 3 was dissolved as Jorge Noguera and Narvaez left office, amidst scandals and accusations. The agency’s next directors Andres Peñate, Maria Pilar Hurtado and Joaquin Polo assert they never knew about G-3’s operation.

However, the group’s coordinator Jaime Fernando Ovalle continued to work for DAS until November 2008, when he was ousted for authoring a memo that ordered surveillance on Gustavo Petro, a key opposition figure. Mrs. Hurtado also left her post at this time.

In February of this year, SEMANA revealed how DAS had spun out of control: following important judges and intercepting phone calls from the opposition and journalists. The queries by the Prosecutor’s and Attorney General’s offices confirmed DAS was especially interested in Supreme Court justices. They requested private financial information about them and created psychological profiles. They also found that DAS officials, as well as clandestine departments at the agency, were more worried with the particular interests of government members than with the overall security of the State. Even worse, there are evidences about a project to mask the “illicit activities” carried about by the agency in the last few years.

In the Noguera-Narvaez era, the alleged “legitimate” targets were the NGO’s that heavily criticized President Uribe. With Hurtado, the new target became the Supreme Court, the President’s new and most dangerous enemy.

Ever since general Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, who ruled the country between 1953 and 1957, created DAS and placed it directly under the Presidency’s control, it had been feared that it would become the lead weapon used in a political war emanating from the government against the opposition.

The results from recent queries by the Prosecutor’s and the Attorney General’s offices seem to confirm a black omen which has blurred the division of powers, has placed the lives of human rights defenders in jeopardy, and has stigmatized the free and independent press.

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