By David Escobar Moreno, EL ESPECTADOR, April 9, 2023

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

In the recent massive leak from the Colombian High Command, there are several documents that acknowledge that the Armed Forces know very well that their intelligence and counterintelligence systems have numerous problems. Corruption, leaks of information, and operational failures are some of the consequences.

Ever since about two years ago, the highest-ranking Colombian military leaders have had a clear but troubling diagnosis of the errors and deficiencies in their intelligence apparatus, made up of nearly 6,200 officers. That’s shown by a number of documents labeled “top secret” by the General Command of the Armed Forces and obtained by the collective of hackers calling themselves Guacamaya. EL ESPECTADOR had access to the archives that contain confidential national security information through the organization Forbidden Stories, a consortium based in France which is continuing the work of journalists who have been threatened or killed.

The documents also show that the General Command is preparing a plan to eliminate those problems which, according to their analysis, have generated corruption in the management of public funds, stalking of individuals who present no risk to national security, leaks of information, and physical or psychological violence within the intelligence apparatus.

Four documents found in the massive hack are in agreement that Colombian intelligence has three fundamental problems: errors in the selection of officers assigned to intelligence work; disorganization in the procedures of collection and analysis of information; and insufficient technical and technological infrastructure.

Innumerable errors result from these three important failures, and these errors affect operations against armed groups, and could end up with legal implications against the officers that do the work of planning and analysis and collection of intelligence information. The military intelligence system, says the General Command, doesn’t allow the inter-operability of systems between the Army, Navy, and Air Force, so there is no safe and modern integrated network of communication.

Neither is there a joint data base that could be used by Armed Forces intelligence agencies to share data with other members of the intelligence community, like the Police and the National Intelligence Directorate (which replaced the now-dissolved DAS).

Another deficiency detected by the General Command is that there are no personnel with the training and experience to manage and guide defense intelligence policy. Besides that, the personnel that are working on these tasks are only trained to collect information, but they don’t have training in the level of analysis to apply the data to military strategies. “Nor is there continuity of personnel to contribute to carrying out monitoring and feedback on intelligence procedures, and they cover some vacant positions with retired military in specific areas, but that’s not sufficient,” state the confidential documents in the possession of this newspaper.

One of the factors generating this absence of monitoring is that the Joint Intelligence Board (JIC), which meets monthly and is made up of the Defense Minister and the intelligence heads of the Armed Forces and the Police, doesn’t have the permanent personnel to do the monitoring and feedback for the strategic intelligence process. At the same time, the JIC, says the General Command, doesn’t coordinate the purchase of technological equipment for the intelligence community, and it doesn’t promote the training of the personnel. These structural deficiencies cause others that are more serious: leaks of information and corruption.

The clearest and closest example of the troubling situation confronting military intelligence is, specifically, the massive leak where this newspaper had access to thousands of documents that should not have been leaked because their level is critical to national security.

The diagnosis by the General Command points out that there is no platform that guarantees the safe transfer of documents containing sensitive information, and neither is there a secure channel to allow communication with intelligence personnel on the ground. As to actions of corruption, the General Command specified that the lack of monitoring in the interior of the agency permits money allocated for undercover operations or payments to sources for information to end up in “inappropriate or incorrect use of public funds.”

As evidence of that alleged misuse of funds, in 2018, the SEMANA news magazine revealed that there apparently existed a network of officers and noncoms of the General Command of the Armed Forces and the Regional Joint Military Intelligence (RIMEC) that had made payments to nonexistent individuals claimed to be sources of information. The purpose of that ploy was to siphon off funds to their personal accounts and for the purchase of cybernetic surveillance equipment that they used to do irregular tracking of well-known individuals, like journalists. Nevertheless, in June of 2021, Inspector General Margarita Cabello placed the investigation on file and argued that she had no other option because of the “deficient investigation” by the administration of her predecessor, Fernando Carrillo.

This occurrence of corrupt acts also has to do with the fact that intelligence personnel are allowed to remain on duty when they have “unfavorable records, and that generates mistrust and minimal credibility,” say the leaked documents.

That kind of officer in intelligence “could possibly manipulate information or influence decision making with information that is protected by legal secrecy” or they could “constrain subordinates”. That means, use physical or psychological violence against other intelligence officers who have less power. Although there are polygraph tests to verify the trustworthiness of officers in the intelligence community, the documents point out that this is not sufficient to guarantee the fitness of personnel and that there should be external analysis.

Because of the seriousness of this panorama, the General Command is creating a plan to eradicate these intelligence deficiencies. The military command staff is trying to create the Integrated System of Defense Intelligence Information (SI3D) intending to strengthen the development of planning, collection, analysis, and evaluation of military intelligence activities. In addition, it aims to create manuals and directives to guarantee more transparent collection and handling of information. According to the Command archives, the final system will demonstrate an inter-operable (among different branches) military defense intelligence with intelligence products that will reduce the level of mistrust of military strategists.

The documents seen by this newspaper from the massive hack don’t mention as a fact that the SI3D is now functioning. Additionally, we consulted the Armed Forces General Command, and at the time of publication we had no response, while other intelligence sources said they didn’t know whether the project is functioning or not.

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