Colombia’s former National Army chief was fired in December because he was involved in the illegal wiretapping of journalists, court magistrates and politicians, according to weekly Semana.
The army’s wiretapping practices were reportedly ordered by former army commander General Nicasio Martinez in the middle of last year, and discovered by the Supreme Court in December.
Days later, the general resigned “for family reasons,” President Ivan Duque said in December. He was lying again. Martinez was forced to take the rap for illegal wiretapping, allegedly teaming up with the mafia and threatening journalists.
Intel on Uribe sent to ruling party
Among others, the army wiretapped Supreme Court magistrate Cristina Lombana who was put in charge of criminal investigations against former President Alvaro Uribe after Duque appointed her in October 2018, according to Semana.
This information was sent to “a prominent politician” of the far-right Democratic Center party of Uribe and President Ivan Duque, according to the intelligence official who wiretapped the magistrate.
Lombana, a former army major, was later barred from looking into any of the two dozen criminal cases against Uribe because her colleagues discovered she had several conflicts of interest.
When we began executing the job, we realized that the communications were of Cristina Lombana, who had been an army officer but who is now a judge of the Supreme Court of Justice. We asked the commanders if there was a mistake exactly because she was a judge, who we clearly cannot follow. They gave us the order to continue the monitoring, the follow-ups and, most seriously of all, they ordered us to hand over that information directly to a well-known politician from the Democratic Center.
The claim of the anonymous source, who is said to have wiretapped multiple political targets, was confirmed by counter-intelligence reports Semana reportedly obtained.
Television network Cable Noticias reported later that the office of Supreme Court magistrate Augusto Reyes, who took over the Uribe cases from Lombana after she was recused, was bugged.
According to the television network, an aide of the magistrate found a microphone attached to the ceiling right above the magistrate’s desk on December 19, a day after a raid at army compounds revealed the wiretapping practices.
Lawmakers and journalists also targeted
A second military intelligence official told the weekly that his task was to wiretap three governors, three senators and two house representatives.
Another military intelligence official was wiretapping journalists, according to one of the soldiers.
Other targets were human rights defenders, lawyer collectives and tax officials, Semana reported.
The targets were divided into the different companies, A, B, C and D. At the beginning we never knew the names, the bosses gave us the data such as phone numbers, emails, etc. and we started looking for information. As we began receiving the information we realized who the targets were. Ours turned out to be court magistrates. My colleague in Company B got the journalists, the same ones as always, he told me, but I don’t remember the names.
Semana said documents, extracts of wiretaps and Whatsapp conversations of some of these victims confirmed this claim.
Among these politicians were Nariño governor Camilo Romero and Senator Roy Barreras, who denounced a few months ago that he believed he and other lawmakers were being wiretapped by the National Intelligence Directorate, the intelligence agency reporting directly to the president.
How the illegal spying network operated
The spying network that was funded by American tax payers operated from the Catam military air field in Bogota and the military Cyber Intelligence Battalion in the nearby town of Facatativa, according to Semana.
The two illegal spying networks were discovered by investigators of the Supreme Court and the Inspector General’s Office that raided the two army compounds on December 18, a little more than a week before Duque announced the resignation of Martinez.
According to Semana, the clandestine spying centers used Spanish spying software called “Hombre Invisible” (Invisible Man) since the second half of 2019.
This tool allows us to do everything: get into any computer, access WhatsApp and Telegram Web calls and conversations, download archived or deleted chat conversations, photos and in general whatever is stored in the memory of the infected machine.
Apart from this $1 million piece of software and around the same time, the army used Stingray phone trackers, devices that mimic a wireless carrier cell tower and can operate from cars, drones and even from suitcases.
A top intelligence official told Semana that the former army chief ordered subordinates to give these devices to one retired and one active colonel.
They were not assigned to official missions and operations, the mere fact that a retired official manages one of these devices is already irregular. We know they were used for political activities. After three months they were returned without any record of what they did. Everything was erased.
How the army chief ended up unemployed
Duque found out about an impending raid over illegal wiretaps two days before it was scheduled and called in all armed forces commanders for an urgent meeting, according to Semana.
The army already knew about it three days before the president and while Martinez signed a declaration in which he swore not to be conducting illegal wiretaps, his men had already begun clearing the illegal wiretap facilities in Bogota and Facatativa.
“We were called in and given the order to erase everything. This was a few days before the Supreme Court raid ,” one of the officials involved in the cover-up operation told Semana.
On Thursday night, December 12, we were told that the next day, the Army Inspection was going to raid us with people from the [prosecution’s technical investigation unit] CTI and the Prosecutor General’s Office to search us. But only people from the Inspectorate and counter-intelligence sent by Colonel [Carlos] Buitrago arrived. We were spooked, but nothing happened. In fact, by order of [Martinez’s advisor] General [Eduardo] Quiros and Colonel Buitrago, the counterintelligence people helped to disappear things and erase the hard drives.
Despite the previous warning, the army officials weren’t able to clear the wiretapping facilities on time and Martinez, Armed Forces commander Luis Navarro and even Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo personally intervened in an attempt to to end the raid, a source told Semana, but to no avail.
Everyone was tense. They had the minister, general Navarro and general Martinez call the magistrate to find out what she was up to and what she was looking for with that raid. As always, and to try to scare her into stopping the search, they told her that there were national security issues there.
Martinez’s lawyer rushed to the location of the raid and was caught trying to steal a phone after he was sent away.
Another member of the judicial commission warned of strange behavior on the premises. In one of the offices he saw that some computer screens were on, but strangely enough had no computers, which made no sense. He then discovered a man in civilian clothes hiding behind a filing cabinet. He was in possession of one of the missing computers and didn’t know how to explain why. Immediately, it was seized.
By then, it had become obvious that at least Martinez had lied to Duque and the general’s career was over.
While the Supreme Court is investigating whatever evidence was left of the military operation, Semana and Cable Noticias dropped the latest proverbial bombs on the army and revealed why Martinez was really fired.
The opposition will additionally want answers from the government and the Democratic Center about how the ruling party was able to obtain intelligence information from a rogue army unit.