Sunday, December 4, 2011

Colombia’s troubled intelligence agency shuttered

BOGOTA, Colombia – Colombia’s intelligence service has been led by hard-charging men drawn to the cloak-and-dagger world in the government’s battle against drug traffickers and ultra-violent armed groups.
The new director, however, is an affable bankruptcy lawyer and former university professor, and his role is decidedly different from his predecessors’. Ricardo Giraldo is dismantling the agency, which had once been considered a key component of the U.S.-backed effort to roll back the cocaine trade but has been paralyzed by one embarrassing scandal after another.
One former director of the Department of Administrative Security, or DAS as the agency is known here, has been convicted of conspiring to kill union activists. A former high-ranking manager is accused of collaborating with death squads to assassinate a television humorist. Dozens of agents have been implicated in what prosecutors call a systematic effort to illegally spy on the Supreme Court and opposition politicians, which some former DAS agents said was done with U.S. equipment and funding.
And in recent weeks, Semana magazine revealed how rogue agents tried to kill the current interior minister and how other agency employees provided drug trafficking organizations with secret files, including the names of undercover agents and informants.

Government officials have tried to downplay what some analysts have called the transformation of the DAS into a criminal organization.

What has been clear is that the agency has been “a deeply dysfunctional organization, without a clear mission, that is unable to deliver strategic intelligence,” as Douglas Porch, an intelligence expert at the California-based Naval Postgraduate School, put it in a long report. Indeed, it is has been police and army intelligence agents -- and not DAS operatives -- who have infiltrated the FARC guerrilla organization to help the military deliver paralyzing blows.

For Giraldo, 52, the job means taking apart the large, unwieldy agency and ensuring that a treasure trove of secret archives, including illegally obtained wiretaps and surveillance reports, are not stolen.

“This is not easy, to dismantle an organization with 58 years of history,” said Giraldo, who like a patient teacher explained his plans standing before a white board, magic marker in hand. “There is no romance in this job. It’s about organizing, about programming and planning.”

One of his overarching goals is to secure DAS documents, which are being sealed at the agency’s sprawling headquarters in Colombia’s capital and 27 satellite offices.

Under what is being informally called “the DAS archive project,” officials say they will classify and organize intelligence files and possibly permit the targets of illegal wiretaps and surveillance to review their own files, said Sergio Jaramillo, Colombia’s national security adviser.

“You set up a system so that the citizens can come forward and ask if they found their way into the DAS archive and ask for their own information,” Jaramillo said.

Washington Post 

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