HomeNewsAnalysisFor Colombia’s Intelligence Agency, Information Sold Cheap to Drug Lords
ANALYSIS

For Colombia’s Intelligence Agency, Information Sold Cheap to Drug Lords

COLOMBIA / 19 SEP 2011 BY ELYSSA PACHICO EN

Colombia‘s scandal-ridden intelligence service, the DAS, is alleged to have passed on high value information to one of the region’s most wanted drug lords, in what is only the latest case of apparent collusion between the agency and high-level criminals.

According to newsweekly Semana, the Administrative Department of Security (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad – DAS) has lost control of its own database. A collection of intelligence documents, including lists naming hundreds of undercover agents deployed across the country, was leaked to the publication, which has included censored snapshots of the “top secret” memos. They reportedly include the identity, mission, and home addresses of hundreds of detectives and informants.

Semana adds that some of the sensitive intelligence has been passed on to associates of major cocaine trafficker Daniel Barrera, alias “El Loco.” The current head of DAS, Felipe Muñoz, addressed the allegations Monday, saying that “information on Barrera’s organization” was leaked by at least two people some 20 days ago.

Barrera, who has a $2.7 million reward on his head, is one of the country’s most notorious drug lords, best known for brokering a business deal between left-wing guerrillas the FARC and the rebels’ former enemies, a neo-paramilitary group known as the ERPAC. Last week a U.S. court indicted Barrera on cocaine trafficking charges, the latest sign that international law enforcement considers him a high-value target.

If the DAS have leaked sensitive information about the identity of their investigators to Barrera, it is not the only favor they have allegedly done for the drug kingpin. Less than a month ago, two of Barrera’s operatives paid the DAS a million pesos (about $500) to have their criminal record wiped clean, according to Semana. For whatever reason, Barrera’s men were apparently given a discount. According to Semana, five years ago a criminal had to pay the DAS five million pesos (about $2,745) to get the same job done.

If the DAS is leaking information to Colombia’s criminal groups, this is partly because agency officials are on board a sinking ship. The DAS has been mired in scandal since February 2009, when the news media discovered that the intelligence service was spying on opposition politicians, Supreme Court judges, journalists and human rights activists. The outrage reached such heights that in September of that year, then-President Alvaro Uribe declared the DAS should be eliminated altogether. A year later, the director of the agency resigned in disgrace then fled to Panama to avoid standing trial. The proposal to dissolve the DAS, meanwhile, died in Congress in mid-2010.

However, Uribe’s successor, President Juan Manuel Santos, was quick to pick up the project again, with the support of key figures in his administration. In many ways, the wiretapping scandal made it impossible for the government to spare the DAS. As Santos said at the time, “this is a sick patient that needs a Christian burial.”

As a result of the DAS’s impending dissolution, rogue agents now have a good incentive to sell sensitive intelligence to high-paying bidders like Barrera. If Santos has his way, by November the DAS’s 6,800 employees will either be unemployed or working for a new intelligence service, most likely one that forms part of the Defense or Interior Ministry, not the presidency. But until then, the goverment faces the difficult question of “what to do with those who know too much,” as news site La Silla Vacia puts it.

Probably the most unique characteristic of the latest DAS scandal is that, so far, it appears to involve merely rogue elements in the agency. In previous cases when the DAS was known to work with Colombian criminal groups, it was done with the full knowledge and approval of the organization’s top command. Uribe’s first pick to head the DAS, Jorge Noguera, led the agency for three years before resigning in October 2005, when it became clear that he was a favored collaborator of paramilitary warlord Rodrigo Tovar, alias “Jorge 40.”

Under Noguera’s watch, the DAS fed the paramilitaries intelligence that helped them plan and execute the death of sociology professor Alfredo Correa in 2004. The DAS provided Jorge 40 with a blacklist of suspected FARC collaborators, many of them union leaders, human rights workers and opposition politicians based along the Caribbean coast.

The DAS did more than pass names to the AUC. According to Rafael Garcia, the agency’s former chief of intelligence, a faction of the DAS was nicknamed the “three letter cartel” for its role in helping the AUC traffic drugs and launder money. Garcia said the DAS handled at least 100 million pesos (about $55,000) in narco-profits between 2003 and 2004.

Other intelligence branches in Colombia have become embroiled in similar corruption scandals. The army’s central intelligence unit, the 20th Intelligence Brigade, was disbanded in 1998, following years of allegations that they helped death squads identify, kidnap and kill suspected rebel collaborators. As with the DAS, the main problems with the 20th Brigade was a lack of professionalization, respect for basic human rights and fuzzy priorities. Targeting the FARC and the ELN was valued above all else, at the expense of pursuing the paramilitaries or drug traffickers like Barrera. This collusion was often explicit. At one point during Uribe’s first term, when a DAS officer tried to carry out an operation targeting the land holdings of a noted AUC commander, Noguera called off the operation and had the “rogue” detective transferred.

The latest allegations of DAS misdeeds are another reminder that the intelligence service has a troubled history of clandestinely working with drug traffickers rather than working against them. Noguera will soon be paying time for his collaboration with the AUC’s drug lords. With Barrera reportedly in possession of some of the DAS’s most sensitive intelligence, the Santos administration probably has little choice but to finally push through with the DAS’s dissolution once and for all.

Compartir icon icon icon

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 22 NOV 2010

La Guajira is one of Colombia's most contentious states. Nestled along the northern coast and the Venezuelan border, the area…

COLOMBIA / 22 JUL 2014

The director of Colombia's tax and customs agency has resigned and left the country after stating he had received death…

BRAZIL / 20 FEB 2017

Prosecutors from 11 countries have met to coordinate their response to the Odebrecht corruption case, in an unusually strong showing…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…