A new illegal wiretapping operation, the second in a year, has been discovered in Colombia’s capital Bogota, local media reported Tuesday.
One man has been arrested after the Prosecutor General’s technical investigation team (CTI) raided an apartment in northern Bogota where surveillance equipment used to intercept electronic communications was discovered, Radio Caracol reported.
Peace talks again target of wiretapping operation
Eduardo Montealegre, Colombia’s prosecutor general, has claimed that the room — like one that was dismantled months ago — was used to surveil officials involved in the ongoing peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the rebel group, FARC.
Online profile of the suspected wiretapper
“I am Andres Sepulveda, web development and online security expert. I have worked at Plan V (in-house agency of the U Party), THE BRAND Inc. … I have developed high impact web projects on national and international levels. I have also worked in political marketing (2005 presidential campaign (sic), House and Senate, Council), I have been trained by Accentiv in Brazil … and I have carried out political projects for other countries (Mexico, Honduras).”
“This office intercepted the communications of the FARC’s press secretary in Havana, government communications, and the correspondences of two Cuban journalists covering the peace process in Havana,” El Tiempo newspaper reported Montealegre as saying.
“They wanted to disrupt the peace process and threaten national security,” added the prosecutor general.
Although it is unclear who the individual was working for, he has been identified as Andrés Fernando Sepúlveda, a computer security expert with over ten years of experience in the field, according to El Tiempo.
Sepulveda has previously worked for President Juan Manuel Santos‘ U Party, and on political campaigns in Mexico and Honduras, the newspaper added.
El Tiempo reported that Sepulveda and his wife, actress Lina Luna, have recently worked for the campaign of presidential candidate, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga.
Colombia’s inspector general has confirmed that Sepulveda was in possession of confidential information regarding the peace negotiations in Havana, as well as a list of demobilized guerilla combatants.
The discovery of the illegal operation, which took place in a four-story building that housed a number of leased and private offices, marks the second time this year that a wiretapping operation has been uncovered in Colombia.
In February, Semana Magazine caused a nationwide scandal after uncovering an Army surveillance program codenamed “Andromeda,” which recorded the communications of opposition politicians in Colombia and delegates on either side of the peace talks, being held in Cuba since November 2012.
The equipment captured in Tuesday’s raid was similar to that used in the “Andromeda” operation, according to Vanguardia newspaper.
However, sources have told El Tiempo that Tuesday’s operation yielded much more information than during the discovery of the “Andromeda” program.
Authorities are trying to determine whether the surveillance center conducted with government oversight, or if it was an illegal operation targeting government officials.
According to Caracol Radio, the tenants of the apartment building said they were unaware of the surveillance operation’s existence, and had not seen any “strange movements,” uniformed officials, or communications equipment.
The building’s security chief also alleged to have no knowledge of the operation, stating that “as far as I understood, it was a call center, with many young people entering.”
“Building administrators have not contacted us to tell us about the raid. The truth is we know nothing about any surveillance equiptment or uniformed people, like police, until all this happened. I refuse to believe its true,” one of the building’s tenants commented.
Not the first wiretapping scandal
Tuesday’s discovery is concerning, given Colombia’s troubled history with government surveillance operations.
In February, based on 15-months of reporting and testimony from an unnamed inside source, Semana Magazine 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.
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.
Not even the second wiretapping scandal
The country’s most infamous wiretapping scandal unfolded in 2008 after opposition politicians, media and authorities discovered that Colombia’s now-defunct intelligence agency, the DAS, had been spying on the Supreme Court, journalists, human rights defenders and politicians.
MORE: DAS wiretapping scandal
Labeled, “DASgate,” the investigations unveiled a comprehensive and extensive surveillance and interception campaign that had been targeting the Supreme Court in order to discredit the country’s institution that was investigating links between paramilitaries and politicians, the majority being political allies of the former President Alvaro Uribe.
The revelations drew international criticism, and led to the resignation of more than 33 DAS agents and more than a dozen of arrests.
In 2011, President Juan Manuel Santos dissolved the DAS agency.
- Sala se usaba para sabotear el proceso de paz en La Habana: Fiscal (El Tiempo)
- Fiscalía allana otra oficina de interceptaciones similar a Andrómeda (Vanguardia)
- Allanan otra sala de interceptaciones en Bogotá (Caracol Radio)