Colombia’s defense minister on Wednesday said that the country’s armed forces will continue covert spy operations in spite of revelations the army had illegally been spying on the government and FARC rebel delegations engaged in peace talks.
Speaking in the city of Cartagena, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon defended the ongoing use of covert operations, claiming they have resulted in the release of kidnapping victims and have prevented terrorist attacks.
“This type of covert operations as known are entirely legitimate. They are legal and we will continue them,” said Pinzon.
However, “of course we will keep an eye on this, willing to take decisions if there are violation of the constitutional and legal obligation,” Pinzon was quoted as saying by local media.
Pinzon had been embarrassed earlier this week by revelations made by Semana magazine about an illegal covert army operation that allegedly had been spying on the delegations of the FARC and the government.
As the scandal unfolded, other media published photos of the undercover location of the surveillance room in which soldiers and women were seen posing with automatic army rifles, forcing Pinzon to dismiss the commander of the army’s Military Intelligence agency and three other top officials while President Juan Manuel Santos called on authorities to investigate and report within weeks.
The alleged illegal spying scandal spurred candidates for Colombia’s presidential elections in May to demand the resignation of the minister.
“It’s evident that the defense minister … has no control over the actions and behavior of the security forces,” said Clara Lopez of the leftist Democratic Pole (Polo Democratico Alternativo – PDA).
The wiretapping scandal is the second in five years; In 2009, Colombia’s former intelligence agency DAS was revealed to be spying on the Supreme Court, human rights organizations, journalists and political opponents of former President Uribe. The scandal forced the dismantling of the DAS that previously had been involved in political killings and proved infiltrated by now-defunct paramilitary organization AUC.