Is this Why DOJ Is Sheltering Colombian Terrorists?

Karen DeYoung has an important article reporting that the Colombian intelligence agency implicated in political crimes, Department of Administrative Security, had support from the CIA.

American cash, equipment and training, supplied to elite units of the Colombian intelligence service over the past decade to help smash cocaine-trafficking rings, were used to carry out spying operations and smear campaigns against Supreme Court justices, Uribe’s political opponents and civil society groups, according to law enforcement documents obtained by The Washington Post and interviews with prosecutors and former Colombian intelligence officials.


Some of those charged or under investigation have described the importance of U.S. intelligence resources and guidance, and say they regularly briefed embassy “liaison” officials on their intelligence-gathering activities. “We were organized through the American Embassy,” said William Romero, who ran the DAS’s network of informants and oversaw infiltration of the Supreme Court. Like many of the top DAS officials in jail or facing charges, he received CIA training. Some were given scholarships to complete coursework on intelligence-gathering at American universities.

Romero, who has accepted a plea agreement from prosecutors in exchange for his cooperation, said in an interview that DAS units depended on U.S.-supplied computers, wiretapping devices, cameras and mobile phone interception systems, as well as rent for safe houses and petty cash for gasoline. “We could have operated” without U.S. assistance, he said, “but not with the same effectiveness.”

One unit dependent on CIA aid, according to the testimony of former DAS officials in depositions, was the National and International Observations Group.

Set up to root out ties between foreign operatives and Colombian guerrillas, it turned its attention to the Supreme Court after magistrates began investigating the president’s cousin, then-Sen. Mario Uribe, said a former director, German Ospina, in a deposition to prosecutors. The orders came “from the presidency; they wanted immediate results,” Ospina told prosecutors.

Of particular note–given the impending trade deal with Colombia–these CIA-supported spies also infiltrated union activists.

Another unit that operated for eight months in 2005, the Group to Analyze Terrorist Organization Media, assembled dossiers on labor leaders, broke into their offices and videotaped union activists. The United States provided equipment and tens of thousands of dollars, according to an internal DAS report, and the unit’s members regularly met with an embassy official they remembered as “Chris Sullivan.”

The thoroughly unsurprising report that CIA was assisting DAS in its persecution of the political opposition is more troubling given that, in the same period, DAS had close ties to the right wing terrorist group, AUC. And DOJ actions taken since 2008 have effectively made key AUC terrorists from Colombia unavailable to testify about government officials who worked with the AUC as laid out in this report (I posted on it here; ProPublica wrote an important story as well). The US extradited a bunch of top AUC figures on drug charges (but not terrorism charges, in spite of the fact that their actions took place while on the State Department’s terrorist list). In spite of promises that these figures would continue to cooperate with Colombian investigations, such cooperation was for the most part ceased.

However, since their extraditions, the paramilitary leaders’ cooperation with Colombian investigators effectively has ceased. Logistical difficulties have been compounded by the absence of a written agreement between the U.S. and Colombia to coordinate judicial cooperation. Colombian prosecutors and judges face limited access to Defendants in U.S. custody. U.S. prosecutors also have rejected the efforts of Colombian victims to intervene in U.S. prosecutions to compel AUC Defendants to divulge information about their crimes.40

Among key AUC leaders extradited to the US on drug–but not terrorism–charges is Rodrigo Tovar Pupo (AKA Jorge 40), who commanded AUC’s Bloque Norte until he accepted amnesty in 2006.

The head of DAS from 2002 to 2005, Jorge Noguera Cotes, had ties to Tovar going back to the period when Noguera managed Álvaro Uribe’s campaign in a department largely controlled by Tovar. There are allegations that AUC carried out assassinations for DAS (including of trade union leaders).

Tovar was extradited to the US on May 13, 2008. Roughly a month later, Noguera was released from prison on a technicality (though he was rearrested in December of that year). Since that time, Tovar has avoided testifying about his ties with Noguera and other Colombian officials, most recently citing threats to his family members in Colombia.

Extradited paramilitary Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, alias “Jorge 40,” refuses to testify in the parapolitics trials against former Magdalena Governor Jose Domingo Davila, and former director of government security agency DAS, Jorge Noguera Cotes.

Jorge 40 claims that there is a letter threatening to kill the families of ex-paramilitaries who testify before the Supreme Court.

Now, given US efforts to avoid treating the AUC like the terrorists they are, given the way the US relies on Colombia to counteract populist politics in Latin America, it is unsurprising that it used drug cases to remove top AUC figures from Colombia, thereby protecting the ruling party.

But the whole thing makes a lot more sense if the CIA was involved in Noguera’s collaboration with the AUC to target opposition in Colombia.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

6 replies
  1. Mary says:

    As in other areas, DOJ has pretty much wholehartedly signed on for protecting Executive branch directed/funded murder, torture, surveillance, intimidaiton, kidnap, disappearances etc.

    It’s not just the CIA involvement that’s unsurprising – its’ the end run after a decade plus of people in DOJ skipping open eyed and unrepentantly into the torture arena. Bybee even specfically advised that Padilla NOT be kept in the court system (didn’t just opine on legality of taking him out, but advocated for destruction of the judicial check) and Thompson barely got back from his torture field trip in time to sign off on sending Arar to torture. When the “cost” of such direct participation becomes a GC slot at Pepsico and a Fed Circuit Court appointment, and when Holder comes in and gives all the torturers a lingering backside pat before he heads off for his photo op at the soup kitchan (making time before he goes to have his DOJ absolutely terrorize and traumitize and financially devastate whistleblowers) you have now and have had for years a whole “justice” department that is populated by those who are, in the final analysis, ok with working for torurers because it’s a good career gig. There are no surprising revelations that can come out of that situation; not over a decade into it.

  2. Jeff Kaye says:

    Worth quoting, from an article by Max Fuller, which references the history of the former DEA intelligence head for Operation Snowcap, Steven Casteel, who went on to become “the most senior US advisor” within the post-US invasion Iraq Interior Ministry working with the Iraqi Interior Minister Falah al Naqib:

    … Casteel gained considerable experience in Latin America, in his case participating in the hunt for the cocaine baron Pablo Escobar in Colombia’s Drugs Wars of the 1990s, as well as working alongside local forces in Peru and Bolivia (Maas op. cit.). Whilst Casteel’s background is said to be Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the operation against Escobar was a joint intelligence effort, involving the CIA, DEA, Delta Force and a top-secret military intelligence surveillance unit knows as Centra Spike (Marihemp, SpecWarNet). The operation had no impact on Colombia’s position as the world’s major source of cocaine (which, incidentally or not, owed much to the CIA, who had became heavily involved in the trade as part of their secret funding of Nicaragua’s Contra mercenary army; for a detailed account, read the series Dark Alliance, originally published by the San Jose Mercury News), with the centre of gravity ultimately shifting to dozens of micro cartels (Houston Chronicle). However, the operation did lead to the formation of a death squad known as Los Pepes, which was to form the nucleus for Colombia’s present paramilitary death-squad umbrella organisation, the AUC, responsible for over 80 percent of the country’s most serious human-rights abuses (Colombia Journal). Whilst no official connection was ever admitted, Los Pepes relied on the intelligence data held in the fifth-floor steel vault at the US Embassy in Bogota that served as the operation’s nerve centre. Lists of the death squad’s victims rapidly came to mirror those of Escobar’s associates collated at the embassy headquarters (, Cannabis News).

    Casteel’s background is significant because this kind of intelligence-gathering support role and the production of death lists [in Iraq] are characteristic of US involvement in counterinsurgency programs and constitute the underlying thread in what can appear to be random, disjointed killing sprees. Probably the best-attested example of such an operation is Indonesia during the early years of the Suharto dictatorship, when CIA officers provided the names of thousands of people, many of them members of the Indonesian Communist Party, to the army, who dutifully slaughtered them (Kathy Kadane).

    For more on how the CIA uses the drug trade and DEA informants and agents, see Douglas Valentine’s recent investigative book, The Strength of the Pack: The Personalities, Politics and Espionage Intrigues that Shaped the DEA.

  3. matthew carmody says:

    Cia has a history of cooperating with South American intel agencies going back at least to the 1976 murder of Orlando Letelier by Michael Townley who was working with DINA, the Chilean secret police, on orders of Pinochet. The CTA was notified a kill team was on iys way to the US and George Bush Sr, head of CIA at the time, did nothing about it and cob=vered up Chilean involvement in the crime.

  4. Gitcheegumee says:

    @matthew carmody:

    Lucky you.

    I have reached(and surpassed the point of requiring my specs for many activities),far beyond the use of der computer. (I will leave the particulars to your imagination!) *G*

    Oh, for an edit button…sigh…

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