It was recently learned that over the last years the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) [[The Administrative Department of Security (DAS) is the principal Colombian intelligence agency and also functions as the secret police. The DAS undertakes strategic intelligence, criminal investigation, migratory control, and the protection of senior leaders and persons under threat. Furthermore, it has the purpose of actively contributing to national and foreign security concerns, preserving the integrity of the constitutional regime, and defending national interests.]] has been illegally intercepting communications (wiretapping), carrying out surveillance, and gathering information on persons and organizations this institution considers to be “enemies” of the government. For instance, its scrutinizing eye has been set upon the magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice, members of the opposition, trade unionists, and human rights defenders, among other unfortunate “chosen ones.”
Nonetheless, this fact has not deserved major coverage by the mass media, as it has been principally concerned with the “ravages of the swine flu,” thus ignoring the cancer eating away at the most remote innards of the DAS.
On a past occasion, then director of the DAS, Jorge Noguera Cotes, referred to this grave situation when he confessed to a well-known magazine: “if we talked about what happened every day [in the DAS], people wouldn’t be able to sleep.” [[Noguera de alto caliber. Cromos Magazine, no. 4.533, January 10, 2005, page 42.]] As is said, the daily reality of the DAS is a genuine and authentic nightmare. Indeed this is so, since the country already knows this agency does not concern itself with carrying out the tasks designated in the constitution and law. To the contrary, it has become a sinister organization committed to terror during the light of the day and the darkness of night.
According to information revealed by Semana magazine, at least two special groups were created within the DAS to carry out illegal tasks relating to “surveillance of organizations or persons belonging to the opposition.” [[El espionaje era peor. Semana Magazine, April 25, 2009, http://www.semana.com/noticias-nacion/espionaje-peor/123258.aspx.]] For instance, the mission to undertake “intelligence operations” against the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective was baptized with the curious name of “Operation Transmilenio,” [[Los de siempre. Semana Magazine, April 25, 2009, http://www.semana.com/noticias-nacion/siempre/123265.aspx.]] the reports for which consist of approximately one thousand pages. This demonstrates what the State has been denying systematically: that intelligence agencies carry out surveillance, monitoring, and intelligence operations –at the very least- of human rights organizations, trade unions, social and political organizations, and even public servants that are not to the liking of the government.
These acts, which are undertaken by an agency directly depending on the Presidency of the Republic, indicate this does not concern isolated acts of corruption and delinquency committed by certain officials belonging to this institution. To the contrary, this concerns a systematic policy known to and directed by senior government officials.
We should give a brief overview of incidents as public opinion has easily forgotten certain events. It is not a secret the DAS, at both national and regional levels, has been directed by certain officials utterly involved with paramilitary organizations, as may be deduced from legal proceedings and testimony provided by paramilitary bosses.
Rafael García Torres, a former DAS official, indicated that a central component to then director Jorge Noguera’s administration was cooperation with paramilitary groups. This policy explains the ongoing relationships with such paramilitary bosses as Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, aka Jorge 40, and Hernán Giraldo Serna, among others. In essence, he put the DAS to the service of paramilitarism. Data bases of persons with arrest warrants and extradition orders were erased and lists of trade unionists and leftwing leaders to be murdered were turned over, which has been recognized by paramilitary bosses Édgar Ignacio Fierro Flórez, aka Don Antonio, and even Salvatore Mancuso Gómez.
Also, according to Rafael García Torres, bodyguards and vehicles were designated to “protect” paramilitary bosses and retired general Rito Alejo del Rio was a liaison between the DAS and paramilitary organizations. Simply put, the DAS was put to the service of paramilitaries. This was not exactly the result of patient work infiltrating these organizations, as some have euphemistically attempted to claim. The DAS created parallel offices at the service of paramilitaries. The DAS provided them with classified information, the names of future victims, and early warnings to avoid arrest. The DAS removed or eliminated information as it pleased. It is extremely grave, inadmissible and inexplicable that the State intelligence service, which directly depends on the executive branch, has reached such incredible and extreme deviations.
However, it is not only reprehensible the DAS colluded with paramilitarism and consequently is indisputably responsible for the commission of crimes against humanity committed by these criminal organizations favored with its support. Unfortunately, officials from this government agency have also been involved in extrajudicial executions and the murder of informants and even detectives from this very institution, as has been confessed by a DAS official.
Crude experience indicates the aforementioned intelligence reports frequently become the precursor to the most grave human rights violations, including forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detentions, and torture, among other crimes. The case of university professor Alfredo Correa de Andreis illustrates this phenomenon. First he was the subject of intelligence reports, later –based on these same reports- he was arrested, and finally he was murdered.
For the above-mentioned reasons, human rights organizations have repeatedly requested for the declassification and removal of these intelligence reports. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has also formulated recommendations in this regard. Nonetheless, the State has not fulfilled this recommendation or ceased these practices, which to the contrary have increased substantially.
Successful false operatives have also been revealed, as in the discovery nonexistent attacks and baseless prosecutions to ensure victimizers remain unpunished or to jail innocent persons, who almost always are social activists. The very bodyguards of these persons have even been used against them, which misconstrues the task of protection with that of intelligence work. Likewise, it was learned the former deputy director of the DAS, José Miguel Narváez, offered courses to paramilitary organizations, especially concerning the issue: “Why it is licit to kill communists in Colombia.” Many credible and grounded reports concerning administrative abuses have also been lodged, which reveal the degree of corruption reached by the DAS.
The illegal actions committed by the DAS have not only been carried out domestically. Its tentacles have also arrived to neighboring countries through undercover operations, which have caused diplomatic friction.
In short, over the last years, we have witnessed multiple scandals involving and implicating the DAS in the dark world of crime, which in turn has been favored by a systematic impunity and the deathly silence following each wave of denunciations. Reporting abuses must not be considered an attack on the State or the government at the time. The deviations committed by the DAS are what harm the State and democracy. Each reported abuse precisely wishes to contribute to strengthening democratic institutions, which in turn guarantee human rights.
In 2006, a commission was formed, which included the representation of a senior DAS official to evaluate this agency and also formulate recommendations. However, nothing has been improved. Conversely, everything has gone from bad to worse. In fact, due to one of these scandals, just a few weeks ago, the Minister of Defense, Juan Manuel Santos, even proposed the dissolution of this agency. The government immediately rejected this proposal.
When will the government attempt to overcome this situation in a serious and profound manner that publicly exposes the democratic security policy? Beyond generating “investors’ confidence,” this policy has actually favored human rights violations as has been recognized by international human rights organizations.
The Attorney General’s Office and the Procurator General’s Office have the obligation to identify and investigate those most responsible for these policies. These investigations should also be extended to the army and police intelligence agencies. In the meantime, in order to facilitate the course of the investigations, the implicated officials should be removed from their posts by making use of the discretional authority of the President of the Republic.
It is of utmost importance to bring about a radical change in the intelligence agencies under the parameters of the corresponding international recommendations. This means establishing an intelligence agency in line with the social and democratic rule of law and that has the goal of fulfilling with its constitutional and legal obligations, always based on the respect for and guarantee of human rights.