What first drew my attention to this story was the laundry list of international figures also targeted for surveillance should they enter Colombia. It includes such prominent figures in liberation theology as Leonardo Boff, François Houtart, Juan José Tamayo, the late bishop of Chiapas Samuel Ruiz, and the late Spanish theologian José María Díez Alegría.
But what made me truly sit up was the revelation that the Colombian DAS waged a disinformation campaign against Colombian NGOs in Spain, alleging that they were working with the guerrilla movements in order to get at their funding sources. I immediately thought of an article that appeared in a local Hispanic paper, El Comercio, in July 2008 in which a prominent local Colombian American made similar allegations about NGOs in DC. Although I was uncomfortable with the allegations, I thought it was just a case of anger leading to imprudent speech...-RG
Paco Simón* (English translation by Rebel Girl)
The secret service of the former president of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe Vélez (2002-2010), created an intelligence network in Spain to spy and try to counter activities they deemed in opposition to the policies of the Colombian government, as has been stated in the internal files seized at the Department of Administrative Security (DAS), the Colombian intelligence agency that reports directly to the President of the Republic. The jobs commissioned from the DAS agents included "intelligence work" at the World Forum on Agrarian Reform held in Valencia in 2004 and the Ibero-American Summit in Salamanca in 2005, infiltrating meetings of exiles and actions denouncing human rights violations committed in Colombia, as well as the interception of communications and tracking refugees, activists and Spanish NGOs in order to "neutralize" their actions.
Documents seized by the Colombian attorney general have led to prosecution in Colombia of the leadership of the intelligence agency for spying and carrying out actions to discredit and intimidate opponents, or those simply critical of the democratic security policy of Uribe -- social leaders, journalists, politicians, judges, etc. -- and several of the defendants have stated that the former president not only knew about their work, but sent them congratulations and urged them to continue. According to this documentation, the DAS was established aimed at "defending democracy and the nation and creating conditions on the consequences of a communist system," for which it designed a plan for "political warfare" against the government's opponents, both inside and outside Colombian borders. The weapons to combat them were "discrediting through the media, leafleting, graffiti (...), books, web page creation (...), sabotage starting with explosive terrorism (...), threats and blackmail", as stated in a report by the attorney general on the documentation found in about a hundred AZ folders at the headquarters of DAS.
To execute this plan, the Special Intelligence Group G-3 was constituted, which, inter alia, coordinated "Operation Europe" -- the allegedly illegal intelligence activities undertaken by its agents in several European countries, including Spain, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland and Sweden. This "operation" was part of an overall strategy to "neutralize the destabilizing actions of NGOs in Colombia and the world" through "the clarification of links with terrorist organizations, seeking their prosecution." Thus, it intended "to neutralize the influence" of these organizations in all European legal and political arenas.
The first job of the DAS recorded on Spanish territory was the infiltration of the Second Meeting of the Colombian Communists in Exile, held in Madrid from August 20 to 22, 2004. In the folder AZ #41, there is a report which claims that one of the objectives of the event was "to spread the communist doctrine in Europe using the` 'alternative media' that the FARC uses to promote the insurgency doctrine" and it includes a "Directory of the support group of the Communist Party" with personal data for Colombian refugees in Spain, France, Switzerland, Belgium and Sweden. The G-3 officer in Europe, Germán Villalba, was ordered to "fully" identify these people, check if they had any registered "intelligence or background notes that link them with terrorist groups", identify "activities currently performed abroad" and establish "if they work clandestinely as spokespersons for Colombian terrorist groups." Villalba was deputy director of the DAS Human Resources and is currently detained and awaiting trial, along with other senior officials of the agency, a branch of the DAS.
A few months after the mission in Madrid, Villalba was charged with "coverage" of the World Forum on Agrarian Reform, which gathered experts from five continents in Valencia in the first week of December 2004. The meeting, organized by the Center for Rural Studies and International Agriculture (CERAI), was closed by Leire Pajin, Secretary of State for International Cooperation on those dates and current Minister of Health. So far it is unknown what information the spy sent to Bogota.
A network for "political warfare"
In early 2005, the DAS undertook to take a quantum leap in the development of its covert operations in Spain. Under the euphemistic title "Information Campaigns About the Colombian Conflict Project", a plan was designed to expand the number of informants and their coverage area on Spanish soil. The document, found in AZ #41, explains that between January and April 2005, seven DAS officials were to move to three Spanish cities to carry out the procedures of the criminal record "within the framework of the regulation of Colombians [sic] in Spain", which "constitutes an opportunity to undertake some informational activities regarding the human rights situation in Colombia and the impact of the actions of the terrorist groups in general." These "activities", apparently of a merely informative nature, had the goals and methodology of the "political war" being waged by the DAS.
The overall objective of the "project", in addition to informing the public about "the reality of the Colombian conflict," was to "raise awareness" in the "Spanish entities that are sending financial support to NGOs that are facades for the guerrilla," that is, linking Colombian social organizations with guerrilla groups to discredit them to their Spanish financiers. Specific goals included "intiating a network of informants on hostile acts against the Government and the Colombian State", "recognizing individuals and organizations engaged in disinformation about the Colombian conflict" and creating a "kardex (file) of contacts for international terrorism links in Colombia."
To meet these goals, a "training program" was established which, among other matters, included the "political war" and the "recruitment and management of Kardex." Two of the proposed trainers to impart this knowledge were Enrique Ariza, director of intelligence of the DAS, who oversaw the G-3, and José Miguel Narváez, deputy director of the DAS and professor at the Escuela Superior de Guerra. Ariza is a fugitive from justice in Colombia since his arrest was ordered in 2009 for having intercepted communications to the opponents of Uribe and selling information to the paramilitary groups. Narvaez faces several trials for the illegal activities of DAS and for his links with paramilitary groups. The attorney general has accused him of being the "ideologue" of these death squads. He taught them a course titled "Why it is permissible to kill Communists in Colombia" and urged them to kill the senator of the leftist Patriotic Union, Manuel Cepeda, and journalist and humorist Jaime Garzón.
The documentation seized from the DAS does not include the range of the intelligence network in Spain, but there is evidence that in January 2005 an alleged Colombian journalist living in Spain was "ready to collaborate with any type of data that can be helpful to our institutional goals." Espionage operations of Colombia's secret service in Spanish territory increased from that date on.
The state spies on its victims
The summer of 2005 was one of intense activity for the DAS agents. Following the steps in Spain of Colombian human rights defenders of the Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo, the spies obtained data from a "usual reliable source with access to information through third parties" about the international seminar "Territorio, Vida y Seguridad Humana frente a Planes Económicos y Militares" ["Land, life, and human safety versus economic and military plans"] held in Alcobendas (Madrid) from June 8 to 11. The conference, which brought together social activists from Latin America, was organized by several Spanish NGOs and institutions with the cooperation of the Basque and Asturian governments and the municipalities of Avilés, Alcobendas, Rivas Vaciamadrid, San Sebastian de los Reyes and San Fernando de Henares.
Days later, agent Germán Villalba in Madrid was ordered to attend the preparatory meeting for the Second National Meeting of Victims of Crimes Against Humanity and Violations of Human Rights, which was to be held in Bogotá from June 23 to 25. This activity, which took place on June 18 at the headquarters of the Spanish Commission for Aid to Refugees (CEAR), was attended by victims of Colombia's security forces and paramilitary groups. "The coverage of that meeting was complicated [sic]. (...) One could only enter by express personal invitation, which made it necessary to make the penetration through an unaware third party, who was extensively interrogated. They also told him when faced with his doubts about why so much mystery (...) that the people who were inside had been threatened and feared for their lives. The fear was that some 'spy' would enter," Villalba explained in the intelligence report he sent to Bogota on June 22 with details of the topics discussed and agenda of actions to be taken by the refugees. The spy was also required to investigate the NGOs organizing the event: Familiares de Asesinados, Torturados y Desaparecidos en Colombia exiliados en España [Relatives of murdered, tortured and disappeared in Colombia in exile in Spain], Colectivo de Refugiados Colombianos en España [Collective of Colombian refugees in Spain] and Comité por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos en Colombia [Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Colombia].
Many of those attending this meeting and the seminar in Alcobendas participated on July 11 in the protest rally in Puerta del Sol in Madrid against President Alvaro Uribe's visit to Spain. Their presence was recorded by an agent who sent a photographic dossier to Colombia.
On September 11, 2005 in Colombia they stabbed to death trade unionist Luciano Romero, who had been hosted by the Programa de Atención a Víctimas de Violaciones a los Derechos Humanos en Colombia del Gobierno autonómico in Asturias until April of that year. On September 13, the organizations Soldepaz Pachakuti, Comité de Solidaridad con América Latina de Asturias, and Colectivo de Refugiados/as Colombianos/as en Asturias called a protest in Gijón about this crime, which they blamed on the paramilitary groups and "the government of Alvaro Uribe". Villalba or a member of the network of informers was among the protesters. On September 20, a "secret" report came to the administration of the DAS that included photographs of those attending the protest and biographical data on the coordinator of the Asturian hosting program. Several DAS agents are currently being prosecuted in Colombia for their involvement in the murder of Luciano Romero.
Intelligence at the Ibero-American Summit
The coordinator of the Special Intelligence Group G-3, Fernando Ovalle, sent a letter to Germán Villalba on September 7, 2005, informing him of the Ibero-American Summit being held in Salamanca on October 15th, "an event in which there will be a demonstration and a festival of solidarity in support of Cuba and Venezuela." Ovalle was required to "deploy intelligence work in order to confirm, refute, or amplify the information," especially to "know if the presidents of Cuba and Venezuela will chair the event," and get "pictures of participants and key contacts."
Ovalle was also responsible for intelligence work against many European NGOs. One of the documents seized from the DAS is a long list of organizations in which it states verbatim: "New List Agencies. Mr. Ovalle inform GV to neutralize. 'Suggest' propaganda e-mail." In the case of Spain, Germán Villalba was responsible for, inter alia, the Asociación Libre de Abogados, ACSUR, CC OO, Fundación de Artistas e Intelectuales por la Defensa de los Pueblos Indígenas de Iberoamérica (Baltasar Garzón sits on their board), Manos Unidas, Cáritas, Taula Catalana per la Pau i els Drets Humans a Colòmbia, Cooperacció, Asociación Catalana por la Paz, Maloka, Intermón, Amnistía Internacional [Amnesty International], Colectivo Sur Cacarica...Several of these entities, and others, were victims of interception of their e-mail and telephone conversations by the DAS. These actions against organizations and against activists and Colombian refugees in Spain are being investigated by the investigating judge no. 46 of Madrid, who has allowed a complaint against former President Uribe, the former DAS director Jorge Noguera, and former agent Germán Villalba for the crime of discovery and revelation of secrets.
So far only the activities documented in 2004 and 2005 are known, but the confessions of several DAS defendants to the Colombian justice system indicate that these practices occurred during Uribe's entire term and even remain in place under the current government of Juan Manuel Santos. Last May 10, a microphone was found in the vehicle assigned by the Colombian Ministry of Interior, as a protective measure, to lawyer and human rights defender Rafael Barrios.
DAS ordered monitoring of the entry into Colombia of Spanish politicians, artists, academics and intellectuals
In April 2005, Deputy Director of Operations of the DAS Carlos Alberto Arzayus requested Deputy Director of Foreign Affairs Lilia María Babat to report "with the greatest possible discretion" when a number of international personalities would enter Colombia, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel, sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos, theologian Leonardo Boff, the [late] bishop of Chiapas Samuel Ruiz and priest and sociologist François Houtart. The list also included Spanish politicians, artists, academics, intellectuals and human rights advocates like Juan José Tamayo (theologian and writer), Uxue Barker (deputy), Carlos Taibo (academic and writer), Jose Luis Galan (lawyer and defender of human rights), Enrique Santiago (lawyer and vice president of the Federación de Asociaciones de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos), Manuel Ollé (president of the Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos), the [late] José María Díez Alegría (president of the Comité de Solidaridad Monseñor Óscar Romero), José Angel Cuerda (former mayor of Vitoria), Isaura Navarro (deputy) and Juan Genovés (artist).
All these people were suspicious to the DAS for having sent a letter to President Uribe blaming him for threats and consent to crimes against humanity, such as the massacre of San Jose de Apartado in which the army and paramilitary groups beat and hacked eight peasants to death. They had also already spied on former deputy Navarro in 2004 when she traveled to Colombia to attend a meeting to denounce human rights violations. When deputy Gaspar Llamazares asked about this matter, the Spanish Government replied that it had passed on to its Colombian counterpart its "concern about these alleged illegal activities of the intelligence services and the need to promote a precise investigation in the shortest time possible." The Colombian government's response to this demand is not known.
Among the plans designed by the DAS to "defend democracy and the nation" was “Operación Extranjeros” ["Operation Foreigners"], whose objective was "to neutralize the action of foreign nationals who threaten national security," according to the documents seized by the Colombian attorney general. The actions planned against these individuals included "discrediting", "pressure" and "deportation".
Paco Simón is a journalist and author of Volver a Nacer. Memoria desde el exilio del genocidio contra la Unión Patriótica de Colombia (Fundación CEPS, 2008), a collection of testimonies by Colombian exiles liviing in Spain due to government persecution during the 1980s. There is also a documentary film by the same title.
More information on the Colombian government's spying on human rights activists is available on the Justicia por Colombia Web site. Justicia por Colombia is part of a coalition of human rights groups that filed a complaint in the Spanish courts last fall about the spying.