Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Colombia's Notoriously Corrupt Intelligence Agency Dissolved

Yesterday Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos officially announced the dissolution of the country’s troubled intelligence agency, the Administrative Department of Security (DAS). The agency has been implicated in a number of scandals over its 58-year old history, ranging from illegal wiretapping to ties with paramilitary groups.

In October alone, DAS agents were implicated in a scheme which involved the sale of intelligence to drug trafficking organizations. Colombian newsweekly Semana gained access to the leaked documents, and further revealed that the agency had trained paramilitaries in explosives and helped orchestrate a car bomb targeting a prominent politician during the administration of Santos’ predecessor, Alvaro Uribe. Uribe’s first DAS director, Jorge Noguera, was convicted of murder on September 14 after the Supreme Court found him guilty of involvement in the 2004 killing of a leftist university professor.

All of the intelligence functions of the bureau will be passed on to a new agency, to be known as the National Intelligence Agency (ANI), by December 31st. The current and last DAS director, Felipe Muñoz, has claimed that the goal of this process is to “move towards a new institution with better checks and more respect for human rights,” but the effect of the DAS’s liquidation on the state of human rights in the country remains to be seen.  

As the AP notes, the President did not mention how employees with possible criminal involvement would be screened before being assigned new positions. This is especially troublesome considering that about half of the DAS’s employees will be transferred to the chief prosecutor’s office, where they will oversee criminal investigations.

Additionally, the announcement has been met with strong resistance from the intelligence community. Francy Villegas, director of the Syndical Association of State Security Servants (ASES), told RCN yesterday that Santos’ bid to alter the DAS is unconstitutional, claiming that the Attorney General had signaled that there is “sufficient evidence to suggest the existence of a flaw in the fulfillment of this act.” If the process continues, Villegas warned, the president may face a Supreme Court order to reverse it.

News Briefs

  • President Santos yesterday offered an endorsement of Bogota’s mayor-elect Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla associated with the demobilized 19th of April Movement. According to the president, Petro is the best example of the benefits of demobilization, and his election sends a “clear signal to those who are on the wrong path,” presumably referring to the FARC and ELN guerrilla groups.

  • In another apparent show of post-partisanship, Santos announced Monday that he will appoint the president of the Liberal Party, Rafael Pardo, to be the head the country's newly re-formed Ministry of Labor. As Semana reports, the move is also a stab at Santos’ predecessor, as the Uribe administration had previously dissolved the ministry.

  • The Miami Herald takes a look at “political hackers,” many of which are affiliated with Anonymous, the activist hacker collective. In just the past year, self-professed Anonymous affiliates have sprung up in Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Venezuela, frequently playing key roles in social movements in these countries. As the paper notes, the governments of Latin America are ill-prepared for this trend, as they lack the technological experience of cyber security experts in the U.S. and Europe.

  • As reported in Monday’s brief, Anonymous hackers in Mexico had previously appeared to announce their intentions to take on the Zetas drug cartel for allegedly kidnapping one of their members. Now, it seems that this plan may have been called off. Milenio reports that several Mexicans affiliated with Anonymous have now denounced the plan, known as “Operation Cartel,” citing the dangers associated with it. However, as the New York Times notes, Anonymous’ lack of a formal leadership structure means that some members of the group may go forward with it.

  • InSight Crime’s Patrick Corcoran has written up a highly informative analysis of the FBI’s recently-released 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, and its implications for the much-feared (but little-documented) phenomenon of “spillover violence.” The report warns that “US-based gangs and MDTOs [Mexican drug trafficking organizations] are establishing wide-reaching drug networks; assisting in the smuggling of drugs, weapons, and illegal immigrants along the Southwest Border; and serving as enforcers for MDTO interests on the US side of the border.” However, as Corcoran notes, immigration has slowed dramatically in recent years, and the few street gangs linked to Mexican cartels are not likely to spark a Mexico-style drug war in U.S. territory.

  • Mercopress reports on the effect that Brazil’s booming economy is having on migration trends, as documented by Brazil’s Ministry of Justice. As official figures illustrate, two million foreigners are living in the country, of which 1.4 million are in the country legally. Meanwhile, the number of Brazilians living abroad has halved in the past five years, falling from four million in 2005 to two million in 2010.

  • Just weeks after a UN report revealed that Honduras led the world in homicides in 2010, the AP reports on the country’s status as a major hub of the international cocaine trade. According to an anonymous U.S. law enforcement official cited by the news agency, "Honduras is the number one offload point for traffickers to take cocaine through Mexico to the U.S.” The issue is further complicated by endemic corruption in the country’s police force.

  • Prensa Libre reports that former Guatemalan President Oscar Mejia, who has been charged with ordering genocide during his term in office, has been declared too ill to stand trial. He will remain at a military hospital as doctors continue to monitor his condition.