Colombia’s Defense Minister announced Tuesday that an investigation will be opened into the alleged wiretapping of both the state and rebel delegations to ongoing peace talks between the government and the FARC rebel group.
The move comes in the wake of revelations published by weekly Semana on Monday.
Based on 15-months of reporting and testimony from an unnamed inside source, Semana concluded that a Colombian military intelligence unit funded and coordinated by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) used advanced online technology and hacking techniques to monitor the text messages and emails of opposition politicians and representatives of both the government and the FARC involved in the Havana peace negotiations.
Phone calls, reportedly, were not recorded.
Classified under the code name “Andromeda,” the military’s Technical Intelligence Battalion’s so-called “gray hall” operated from underneath a registered bar and restaurant in the Colombian capital of Bogota, according to Semana.
An anonymous military source, said to be a captain in the Colombian military and the supervisor of the clandestine site, told Semana that the Andromeda project was run by Bitec-1, an elite intelligence unit instrumental in the Colombian government’s operations against the FARC, including 2008’s famous Operation Jaque, which resulted in the recovery of 15 hostages in the state of Guaviare, among them former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, and in which the CIA also played a key role.
According to the report, the secret intelligence center also recruited civilian hackers called ‘campus parties’ to collaborate with the military on cyber espionage tasks.
On Tuesday, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon claimed via twitter that his office would be launching an investigation into “the alleged wiretapping of the negotiating team in Havana.” Senate President Juan Fernando Cristo, meanwhile, has since indicated that a congressional committee will also be assigned to look into the revelations.
“To follow up on the episodes,” said Cristo, according to national media sources, “we will assign this committee to convene and evaluate the case and also meet with the Minister of Defense, Juan Carlos Pinzón and with the military leadership [involved].”
Interior Minister Aurelio Iragorri Valencia, meanwhile, said in an interview with Blu Radio that while he questions the accuracy of the espionage allegations, “the complaint is very serious and should be clarified (…).”
The government’s response is strange, in that if Semana’s reporting is accurate, the Minister of Defense himself would be implicated in the scandal he is now supposedly investigating, as would National Army Commander Juan Pablo Rodriguez Barragan, whom Pinzon publicly placed in charge of the investigation.
This discrepancy has led opposition political leader Ivan Cepeda to call for the minister’s immediate resignation. Cepeda, a congressman said to be relatively close to the peace talks, is one of a number of opposition political figures who may have been subject to the alleged wiretapping.
Fellow opposition leader and member of the Colombian Communist Party’s Central Executive Committee Carlos Lozano called the covert intelligence program part of the government’s “antidemocratic measures.” In an interview with Colombia Reports, Lozano went even further than Cepeda and suggested that secret intelligence gathering is part of the broader political targeting of opposition political parties by violent neo-paramilitary groups working in conjunction with the Colombian state.
So far, Colombia Reports has not been able to obtain a response from the FARC or the Colombian government’s peace delegation regarding the revelations, but further updates will be forthcoming.
- Interview with Carlos Lozano
- ¿Alguien espió a los negociadores de La Habana? (Semana)
- El misterio de la ‘sala gris’ (Semana)
- Mindefensa pide explicaciones al comandante del Ejército sobre chuzadas (Caracol Radio)
- Denuncias sobre chuzadas del Ejército “son graves”: Mininterior (Caracol Radio)
- Estalla escándalo por supuestas chuzadas a negociadores de Gobierno con las Farc (El Espectador)