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Internal espionage in Colombia

February 4, 2014

A Colombian magazine has reported that the military intercepted the communications of government officials negotiating with FARC rebels. Colombia’s Interior Ministry has announced a probe of the reported espionage.

Aufnäher an der Uniform von Rebellen der FARC
Image: Getty Images/Luis Robayo/AFP

Responding to a magazine report on Tuesday, Interior Minister Aurelio Iragorri said it appeared that Colombia's military had spied on its own government in talks to end the half-century war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). President Juan Manuel Santos and his Cabinet ministers had never ordered the interception of phone communications, Iragorri told Caracol Radio.

"Most important is to carry out an internal investigation because this government at no time, no minister or the president, has given any instructions to interfere with the communications of anyone," Iragorri said, commenting on a report in the magazine Semana. "In this case we are more the victims than the victimizer," Iragorri added.

Semana reported that the military intercepted communications from the cellular phones of peace negotiators Humberto de la Calle, Sergio Jaramillo and Alejandro Eder, as well as from leftist politicians such as former Senator Piedad Cordoba. The magazine reported that the military collected data from text messages but did not listen to telephone calls.

According to Semana, the military conducted the espionage from behind a false door in a Bogota restaurant. The spies finally halted their operation when they feared someone had caught on to them, according to Semana. Editors say the magazine investigated the operation for 15 months and consulted with multiple high-level sources, including US intelligence officials who have long assisted Colombia's government in its war against FARC.

Code name 'Andromeda'

According to a source cited by Semana, the military aimed to garner as much information as possible about the peace talks as part of the operation, code-named "Andromeda." Colombia's government and FARC have conducted the peace talks behind closed doors, except for brief communiques released about progress made.

The country's last spy scandal - also broken by Semana - emerged in 2009, when the government's Administrative Department of Security under then-President Alvaro Uribe illegally wiretapped opposition politicians, judiciary members and journalists. Under current President Santos in 2011, the government dismantled the scandal-ridden apparatus and replaced it with the National Directorate of Intelligence.

Colombia's government began peace talks in Cuba with FARC in November 2012. The negotiations have surfaced as a campaign issue ahead of Colombia's May elections, in which President Santos stands for re-election. Though mostly popular, the peace talks have some detractors, among them Uribe and his party's choice as candidate for president in May: Oscar Ivan Zuluaga.

On Tuesday, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon wrote on Twitter that he would order an investigation.

mkg/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)