By Clara López Obregon, Semana, January 14, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The Colombian Army’s power of intelligence and counterintelligence in unscrupulous hands cloaks a terribly serious damage to our democracy. Using it to stalk high officials in the Armed Forces, justices, journalists and politicians perverts its purpose.

In a letter to the President of the Republic, several Bishops from the Pacific area expressed their concern about connivance by the Armed Forces with the criminal organizations that operate in Chocó Province. The Vice Minister of Defense and the Deputy Commanders of the Armed Forces heard a similar complaint in a meeting last Friday where I accompanied Senator Aída Avella and some other women who are defenders of human rights.

Regarding the use of the word “connivance”, Vice Minister Abaunza asked if we had any name, fact, or concrete event that could be the basis for opening an investigation. The reaction demonstrates the ineffectiveness of the control by counterintelligence officials in charge of maintaining legality in the ranks. When there is even one complaint of actions that are notorious in the places where the Armed Forces operate, the verification and individualization required ought to come from internal investigations, even in the absence of specific names supplied by communities and human rights defenders.

Now that Semana has uncovered another wiretapping scandal that involves Army counterintelligence units, we begin to see why, as Bojayá social leader Leyner Palacios insists, “The only ones that aren’t aware of it are the Armed Forces.” According to the magazine, some Army units were using a sophisticated technological platform known as “Invisible Man” to stalk journalists, justices, and politicians, but also colonels, generals, and commanders of other forces. That platform, claims one of its operators, can “do anything: get us into any computer, listen to calls and conversations on WhatsApp and Telegram Web, download chat conversations that are filed or deleted, photos and in general anything stored in the memory of the infected machine.”

The worst thing is that Semana claims to have secret documents in its possession “in which the Army’s counterintelligence officers themselves had detected the flow of information collected illegally and also the protagonists, civilian and military.” It’s incomprehensible that inappropriate conduct of the caliber of wiretapping is revealed in investigations by the press and not by an announcement of governmental transparency.

If the institutional controls designed to be maintained and used by the Army and military resources within legal channels are not functioning, the structure will collapse and the corruption will end up demoralizing this institution so important to our democracy. In this context we cannot underestimate the gravity of Semana’s revelation that, when Roy Barreras complained several months ago that he was being wiretapped, the Army mounted a counterintelligence operation to divert attention toward other intelligence agencies.

President Duque belatedly made the decision to replace the Commander of the Army, which at that point must have felt uncomfortable, but he claimed to be leaving for personal reasons. It was left to Semana magazine to show that there were other reasons for General Nicacio Martínez to resign. Everything indicates that it had to do with the new wiretapping scandal that the magazine was investigating.

The intelligence and counterintelligence power of the Army in unscrupulous hands can do terrible damage to a democracy. Using it to stalk high officials in the Armed Forces, justices, journalists, and politicians perverts its purpose. Without trustworthy counterintelligence, the Invisible Man can destroy institutions and facilitate the connivance of the military with criminal organizations that has so often been complained of. It’s up to the government to see that the Army does not lose prestige because it lacks control and decision-making. This time the exhaustive investigations must show results.

Humanitarian catastrophe: In eleven days of January, 17 social leaders and defenders of human rights, plus a former combatant protected by the Peace Agreement, have been murdered: Former combatant Benjamín Banguera González, Guapi, Cauca, January 1; 1) Carlos Cardona, Ituango, Antioquia, January 2; 2) Cristían David Caicedo, Guapi, Cauca, January 3; 3) Gloria Ocampo, Puerto Guzmán, Putumayo, January 7; 4) Virginia Silva, Páez, Cauca, January 7; 5) Carlos Alonso Quintero, Puerto Guzmán, Putumayo, January 8; 6) Emilio Campaña, Puerto Guzmán, Putumayo, January 8; 7) Mireya Hernández, Guevara, Algeciras, Huila, January 8; 8) Óscar Quintero, Puerto Guzmán, Putumayo, January 8; 9) Gentil Hernández, Puerto Guzmán, Putumayo, January 8; 10) Anuar Rojas Isaramá, Niqui, Chocó, January 9; 11) Henry Cuello, Chiriguaná, Cesar, January 10; 12) Amparo Guegia, Caloto, Cauca, January 10; 13) Juan Pablo Dicué Guejia, Caloto, Cauca, January 10; 14) Nelson Enrique Meneses, Inza, Cauca, January 10; 15) Tulio Cesar Sandoval, Tribu, Norte de Santander, January 10; 16) Sergio Narváez, Turbo, Antioquia, January 10; 17) John Freddy Álvarez, Algeciras, Huila, January 11.

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