02 February 2010

Colombia : Uribe's Murderous Secret Police

Top: Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS) headquarters in Colombia. Photo from El Tiempo. Below, forces of the paramilitary Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) on patrol. Photo from latinamericanstudies.org.

Colombia's DAS:
Vicious security octopus acts with impunity

By Marion Delgado / The Rag Blog / February 2, 2010

CARTAGENA DE INDIES, Colombia -- If you’ve ever traveled to Colombia, then you’ve met the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS), the government’s Administrative Department for Security. When you get off the plane, DAS employees stamp your passport and, perhaps, ask why you’re visiting.

The DAS does much more than stamp passports, though. It is a powerful agency, a sort of “secret police” institution founded in 1960. Its mandate covers intelligence and counter-intelligence, domestic and international. It is also a law enforcement body whose agents have judicial police powers: they investigate crimes and can arrest and interrogate people. The DAS also provides bodyguards and security services for high government officials and others at risk.

To someone familiar with the U.S. government, the DAS is a strange beast. It combines aspects of the FBI, the CIA, and ICE. It isn't part of any cabinet ministry like Defense or Interior; it is part of the Colombian President’s office.

If you think this arrangement seems like a recipe for disaster, you’re right.

Disaster has struck with a vengeance during President Álvaro Uribe’s administration. According to recent reports in Colombia’s media and testimony from former officials, the DAS was essentially at the service of right-wing paramilitaries and major narcotraffickers between 2002 and 2005. It drew up hit lists of union members and leftists, and plotted to destabilize neighboring Venezuela.

Before DAS

The government of General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla (1953-1957) replaced the existing security police by creating the Servicio de Inteligencia Colombiano (SIC) in 1953, which was answerable to the President’s office and used methods like those of the FBI in the U.S. The SIC worked in close coordination with the state Office of Information and Propaganda in activities such as the monitoring of the press. SIC was advised in this effort by Karl von Merk, a former secretary to Nazi Germany’s propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, according to a report by journalist Alberto Donadío.

SIC's focus was on hunting down communists and dissidents. A military commander in the western province of Valle del Cauca has said SIC agents also operated in complicity with "los paracos" there – paramilitary squads hired by Colombia's conservative elites.

At a Feb. 5, 1957, bullfight, when Rojas Piniella’s daughter, Maria Eugenia's, was booed upon her arrival, numerous SIC agents among the crowd beat the vocal spectators mercilessly. According to U.S. Embassy reports, 20 people were killed.

What does the DAS do?

The DAS, created by decree in 1960 by then-President Alberto Lleras Camargo, who came from the Liberal Party, but who, like most liberals was a closet fascist, continued the SIC’s work, under the shelter of the then-existing "State of Siege" and the security statute (the latter adopted in late 1982), instruments that almost became a permanent part of the legal system after a new 1991 constitution was adopted. However, under this constitution, the State of Siege laws were abandoned. It does include a "catch-22" section covering whatever the agency wants to do, essentially: "Raison de Estado," or "reasons of State."

According to a later draft law on the state of emergency, searches and wiretapping could be carried out without a legal warrant. While this law would have applied to the “justice” apparatus, it was not passed; however DAS can and did wiretap, as it is independent of normal justice channels.

Today, the DAS' roles include domestic intelligence gathering, passport and immigration control, security services for threatened individuals, and acting as Colombia’s main interface with Interpol. The DAS has been a key partner for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Uribe’s DAS

Álvaro Uribe’s first DAS Director (2002-2005) was Jorge Noguera, who directed Uribe’s 2002 campaign in the state of Magdalena. In early 2006, Noguera was revealed to have collaborated closely with some of Colombia’s most notorious narcotraffickers and right-wing paramilitaries. He allegedly facilitated drug shipments and gave the paracos lists of human rights defenders and labor leaders to assassinate.

In late 2008, the DAS was found to have ordered illegal surveillance of opposition Senator Gustavo Petro, a revelation that forced the resignation of then-DAS Director Maria de Pilar Hurtado. (Four appointees and one interim director have led the DAS during Uribe’s seven-plus years in office.)

Spying on human rights defenders

International human rights workers were targeted by DAS as well as politicians. E-mails from Human Rights Watch ended up in DAS files, and the G-3 recommended carrying out “offensive intelligence” against the organization’s Americas director, José Miguel Vivanco. The OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission protested when it was revealed that the DAS had spied on a June, 2005, visit of UN Special Rapporteur for Women’s Rights Susana Villarán.

Forces of the paramilitary AUC check citizens' identification at roadblock. Photo from latinamericanstudies.org.

Links with paramilitaries

According to Rafael Garcia, the agency’s former chief of information systems who has made a series of explosive allegations, “Jorge Noguera conspired against the governments of neighboring countries, did away with leftist leaders, participated in narcotrafficking operations, maintained relations with paramilitary groups," etc. etc.

Garcia contends that Noguera maintained a close relationship with Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, “Jorge 40,” the leader of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC; United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia) paramilitaries’ powerful Northern Bloc, who controlled (and probably still control), much narcotics transshipment from the eastern half of Colombia’s Caribbean coast along with Hernán Giraldo’s Tayrona Resistance Front. Garcia says that Noguera met several times with “Jorge 40” to talk about local politics, including candidates in the 2003 municipal and gubernatorial elections. “On various occasions Jorge Noguera told me that 'Jorge 40' was very grateful for the collaboration that he had offered him,” said Garcia

In an interview with Semana, a Colombian news magazine, José Miguel Narvaez, who as sub-director was Noguera’s second-in-command at the DAS, said he told Colombian government investigators that Noguera’s relationships with paramilitaries went beyond “Jorge 40." Other paracos who got help from the DAS included Luis Eduardo Cifuentes (“El Aguila”), AUC's chief in Cundinamarca (the department around Bogotá); Carlos Mario Jimenez (“Macaco”) of the powerful Central Bolivar Bloc; and Miguel Arroyave, who headed the Centauros Bloc in Bogotá and in the southern llanos (the savannahs of Meta, Casanare, Guaviare and Vichada provinces) until his own men killed him in September, 2004. Narvaez said that Enrique Ariza, whom Noguera recruited to be the DAS chief of intelligence, ran a telephone wiretapping operation at the request of “Macaco."

Semana reported that DAS agents protected “Salomón," the right-hand man for a Cundinamarca paramilitary leader known as “El Pájar," whenever “Salomón” visited Bogotá. Also, in both April and June 2004, senior DAS officials foiled operations against “El Aguila," tipping him off that police and DEA agents knew his whereabouts and planned to capture him.

Another witness, a 15-year DAS veteran named Enrique Benitez, says he saw Noguera call off a secret operation to capture Hernán Giraldo. Shortly afterward, the DAS agent who'd developed the operation was transferred to a post in far-off Arauca department.

Garcia said that some DAS contractors had to pay 10% kickbacks to DAS officials, who passed most of the money on to the paramilitaries. Garcia told Semana, “Once Noguera told me that he had to do a favor for the paramilitaries of the llanos,” meaning Arroyave’s Centauros.

Responding to reports of an unnamed DAS agent who complained to Narvaez, along with fired agent Carlos Moreno, that DAS intelligence chief Ariza “stole some intelligence documents on Miguel Arroyave” and erased the information they contained, Garcia said, “I know that Jimmy Nassar, who ended up being Noguera’s advisor, offered this service. I’ve known people from the Centauros Bloc, to whom Nassar offered to erase their files in the system. He charged between 5 million and 10 million pesos (2,250 to 4,500 USD).”

Moreno has alleged that the DAS performed a similar file-disappearance service for Arroyave’s principal rival in the llanos region, Hector Buitrago, alias "Martin Llanos," in exchange for more millions of pesos.

Cambio, another Colombian magazine, reports that the DAS even gave "Jorge 40" an armored SUV intended for President Uribe’s exclusive use:
On November 17, 2004, the DAS sub-director at the time, José Miguel Narváez, called the DAS section chiefs in Atlántico and Cesar and told them that, by Noguera’s instructions, they were to place at the disposal of Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, 'Jorge 40', in Santa Fe de Ralito – where the AUC commanders were concentrated – an armored SUV for his personal protection... Days later, the paramilitary chief was using a red Toyota Prado, license plate QGC 851, with armor and a special chip to allow it to pass through security forces’ roadblocks. The incredible part of this story is that the vehicle had been acquired by the Atlántico governor’s office and given to the DAS for the exclusive use of President Álvaro Uribe when he visits the Atlantic coast. Informed about the matter, the government ordered a search for the vehicle, which was found in Valledupar with 'Jorge 40' at the wheel.”
Helping “Don Diego” and other narcos

Diego Montoya ("Don Diego"), the most powerful leader of Colombia’s most powerful drug cartel, the Norte del Valle organization, is on the FBI’s 10 most-wanted fugitives’ list alongside Osama bin Laden. That, says Garcia, didn’t stop the DAS from helping Montoya avoid capture. "Giancarlo [Auqué, who served as DAS intelligence director before Ariza] and Jorge Noguera passed secret information to... Montoya and the idea was not just to help him avoid capture, but to let him know that an informant in his own organization was revealing his location."

There is more. According to Semana, "Carlos Robayo, alias 'Guacamayo', was for years the right hand of the Norte de Valle boss. Two years ago, Semana witnessed 'Guacamayo' calling one of his contacts in the DAS and asking him to remove [from DAS archives] arrest orders, background information, photographs and fingerprint data for a dozen people. He also demanded that these materials be brought to [him]. Less than two hours after [the] call, a DAS detective arrived with the package."

The DAS also appears to have helped Montoya's archrival in the Norte del Valle cartel, Wilber Varela, alias "Jabón." Carlos Moreno said he was once sent to the attorney general’s office (Fiscalía) to steal files about a case tying unnamed individuals to Varela.

Drug boss Diego Montoya (Don Diego) is arrested in 2007. Photo from Telegraph, U.K.

Uribe’s 2002 campaign:
Narco funds, voter fraud, and paramilitary ties

Garcia also alleges that Noguera helped to facilitate narcotraffickers’ contributions to Uribe’s 2002 presidential campaign, mentioning lesser-known figures like Néstor Ramón Caro, a Casanare-based narcotrafficker whose extradition to the U.S. was sought in 2001; Raúl Montoya, from Magdalena department; and Ramón Crespo of Barranquilla.

In the run-up to the 2002 presidential election, García says, the Uribe campaign did “things that were more serious than what happened in the Samper campaign” [in 1994, when winning candidate Ernesto Samper allegedly took contributions from the Cali drug cartel].

Before Uribe named him to the DAS directorship, Noguera managed the Uribe campaign in the Caribbean coast department of Magdalena. This province was (and probably still is) under the heavy influence of two paramilitaries, the Northern Bloc and the Tayrona Resistance Front. The paramilitaries’ influence on politics is visible there: in 2003, their mayoral candidates ran unopposed in 14 of Magdalena’s 30 municipalities.

According to Garcia, Noguera and Juan Carlos Vives (now Uribe’s "drug czar") campaigned in Magdalena municipalities where it was impossible to do so without paramilitary permission, and were in contact with "Jorge 40."

But García’s charges go further.
An electoral fraud was organized [for the March 2002 legislative elections] to carry to the Congress the candidates preferred by the AUC’s Northern Bloc. I named three senators [and] three candidates for the House of Representatives from Magdalena, two Senate candidates from Cesar and two for the House, two House candidates from La Guajira, and a Senate candidate from Bolívar.
In Cesar, Magdalena, La Guajira and Bolívar states, Garcia said that Noguera used illegally obtained electoral-census data to ensure that, in several districts, those who did not show up at the polls still “voted” for the paramilitaries’ candidates. The same fraud was repeated two months later, said García, to benefit Uribe. Indeed, while Uribe’s challenger, Horacio Serpa, did rather well in northern Colombia thanks to the strength of Liberal Party machinery, Uribe won overwhelmingly in the districts where García alleges fraud occurred.

García also contends that in 2002, Presidential candidate Uribe actually met with José Gelves, another leader of the Tayrona Resistance Front. Gelves, an AUC member since 2000, told Semana that he did indeed meet with Uribe, and actively campaigned for him.

In 2003, García says, Noguera met with "Jorge 40" to discuss the October gubernatorial election in Magdalena.
Jorge Noguera went to see 'Jorge 40' and asked him to support his friend José Fernández de Castro, but 'Jorge 40' said no, because they were supporting Trino Luna [who ran and won unopposed]. Everyone had to vote for him. Jorge [Noguera] went to the meeting with 'Jorge 40' one Saturday, accompanied by retired General Rito Alejo.
Gen. Rito Alejo de Río is widely seen as a paramilitary supporter. He commanded the Colombian Army’s 17th Brigade in the northwestern region of Urabá while paramilitaries carried out near-daily peasant massacres without Army intervention, and Uribe was governor of Antioquia department, incorporating much of Urabá. Alejo was recently defeated in his bid for a seat in Colombia’s Senate.

Ordering assassinations of unionists and activists

One of García’s most frightening claims is that the DAS drew up a list of union leaders, leftist activists, and academics and passed it along to the Northern Bloc. According to Semana, several of those listed have been killed, most have received death threats, and others have been detained by the authorities.

“The detectives who told me about it showed me part of the list,” García says. “I wrote down some of the names. It drew my attention because it included Zullty Cotina, who had already been killed, and that of [Barranquilla professor] Alfredo Correa de Andreis, who was murdered after I saw the list.”

García offers new information about what happened to Professor Correa, whom the DAS arrested in 2004 on charges of "rebellion." Held in prison for months, and then released for lack of evidence, he was murdered weeks later. Though the DAS arrested Correa in Barranquilla, in Atlántico department, García says that the unit that carried out the arrest was from neighboring Bolívar department, whose section chief at the time, Rómulo Betancourt, is now under investigation for links to paramilitaries.

García says he in fact witnessed Noguera, when hiring Betancourt for the Bolívar post, actually asking “Jorge 40” for permission to do so.

When Semana asked whether assassinations of those on the DAS list were carried out by the DAS or paramilitaries, García responded, “They were carried out by self-defense groups [paramilitaries]. But they told me that the killing of [Correa] had been carried out by people from the DAS. I also told the prosecutor that I had heard mention of a Cartagena union organizer who was killed while holding his child’s hand.”

Three unions with members on the DAS list that have been hit particularly hard are the Association of Health and Social Security Workers (ANTHOC) and two agricultural workers’ unions, Sintragrícola and Fensuagro. Since 2001, two ANTHOC leaders have been killed and 40 have received death threats.

The union’s vice-president, Gilberto Martínez, says he began receiving threats in 2001, intensifying in 2003. He told Semana, “Since that moment we have denounced, in many places, the conspiracy between the DAS and the paramilitaries in Atlántico to follow, threaten and murder members of our union. These denunciations have not prospered in the justice system, but now Mr. García has ratified them.”

A hit on Chávez?

Though he offers few details, citing security concerns for himself, García also told Colombia’s press that “there existed a destabilization plan against the Venezuelan government, and there are many Colombian government people involved.”

García contends that Noguera and others were drawing up plans to kill high officials in the Venezuelan government, including leftist President Hugo Chávez. His allegations recall the 2004 arrest of 114 Colombian men at a compound near Caracas, a combination of young campesinos from Norte de Santander department and paramilitaries from AUC's Northern Bloc. At the time, Chávez described the Colombians’ presence as part of a plot to kill him.

Six months later, Venezuela was shaken by the assassination of prosecutor Danilo Anderson, the first such attack the country had seen in over 30 years. In November 2009 a Colombian man identifying himself as a demobilized paramilitary member who'd served the DAS as an intelligence source told Venezuelan authorities that Noguera had advance knowledge of a plan to kill high-ranking Venezuelan officials like Anderson and President Chávez. García’s testimony lends credibility to this story. Venezuelan authorities also claim that “Jorge 40” paid a visit to Maracaibo, Ven., to meet with anti-Chávez figures.

Former DAS director Jorge Noguera. Photo from Cambio.

Murdering informants

According to Cambio, in his recorded statement Moreno talked about extrajudicial executions of DAS informants “who were no longer useful or who posed a danger because they knew too much.”

The magazine discusses the case of Fernando Pisciotti, mayor of El Banco in Magdalena department. In October 2003 Noguera and Juan Carlos Vives (at the time a vice-minister of interior, now head of the national drug enforcement directorate or DNE) visited Pisciotti’s town. The mayor complained that paramilitaries were pressuring local officials for their candidate to run unopposed in the upcoming mayoral elections, that they had plans to do the same in the congressional elections, and that he and other locals feared for their safety.

Noguera and Vives told Pisciotti to meet them at the DAS headquarters in Bogotá on November 15, and to bring a written report of his accusations. When the mayor reported to Noguera’s office, the DAS director was unable to meet with him. On December 9, Pisciotti was kidnapped. His body was found hours later, shot in the head. Cambio reports, “Based on the case file, Julio César Pisciotti, a lawyer and the victim’s brother, said that before killing him, the murderers tied his feet together with his shoelaces, beat him, and read to him excerpts from the document that he gave to the DAS.”

Though Noguera remains under investigation, he faces no formal charges to date. In fact, President Uribe did him the great honor of naming him Colombia’s Consul in Milan, Italy, in February 2009, where he remains today.

Where is President Uribe on all this nastiness?

Miami’s El Nuevo Herald reported that Uribe was already well-informed about problems in the DAS back in January 2004 when Enrique Benítez, then-head of the DAS bodyguard division, gave evidence of corruption in a major agency arms buy supposedly destined for those assigned to protect union members. Not only did Benítez’s whistle-blowing fail to get the case properly investigated, Noguera demoted him and transferred him to the distant, poor, conflictive department of Chocó near the Panama border.

Benítez met to discuss his situation with José Roberto Arango, at the time an advisor to Uribe. Benítez says Arango told him, “President Uribe is already aware of all the corruption in the DAS, but I don’t understand why he doesn’t want to get this (expletive) [an apparent reference to Noguera] out of the director’s position.”

These continuing, unrelenting episodes cannot any longer be blamed on a few functionaries with axes to grind, or a few “bad apples." There are abundant signs of a criminal takeover of Colombia’s most important intelligence agency.

The ongoing accusations have worsened an atmosphere already charged with suspicions and fears about Colombia's demobilization and negotiation process with the paramilitaries. Some of the government’s critics are already speaking of the formation of a “Mafioso” state.

'G-3': the secret police’s secret police

In 2003, then-DAS Director Noguera created the “Special Strategic Intelligence Group” (G-3), which appeared nowhere in the agency’s organization charts. The G-3, whose very existence the DAS denied until March 2009 was created to carry out sensitive intelligence operations including, according to one document from agency headquarters: “Surveillance of organizations and people with tendencies to oppose government policy in order to restrict or neutralize their actions.”

The G-3 was abolished when Noguera left in November 2005. However, many of its functions passed to another DAS unit, the “National and International Observation Group” (GONI). The G-3’s original coordinator, Jaime Fernando Ovalle, remained in the DAS until November 2008, when he was fired for his role in the illegal surveillance of Senator Petro. The GONI was dissolved in March 2009. [Coincidentally or not, in the U.S. Army, "G-3" designates Operations and Training at the Brigade level.]

Colombian president Alvaro Uribe. Photo from Vivirlatino.

Spying on judges

The G-3 appeared to focus principally on non-governmental activists. The GONI’s targets, however, included Supreme Court magistrates who have been investigating dozens of President Uribe’s political allies’ alleged ties to murderous paramilitaries.

In May 2009 investigators found recordings revealing that all the candidates opposing Uribe’s 2006 re-election bid were wiretapped. Colombia’s daily El Espectador published a list of 36 prominent politicians, nearly all from the opposition, and six noted journalists who were under surveillance at the time.

One DAS detective said he was assigned to monitor people like ex-presidents Ernesto Samper and Andrés Pastrana. This included wiretapping and wearing disguises to meetings and events, as well as following their children, wives, advisors, and assistants.

Semana columnist Daniel Coronell noted a series of “inexplicable coincidences” in which DAS agents searched the agency’s restricted database for information about former president César Gaviria, an Uribe critic. Days later, on April 27, 2006, Gaviria's sister was murdered.
Revelations of new spying

In its August 30, 2009, issue, Semana reported that, in the wake of the DAS surveillance revelations,
Things not only have not changed, but they have even gotten worse. The wiretaps and surveillance of [Supreme] Court members, journalists, politicians and some lawyers continue. And if that weren’t enough, they have extended to some presidential candidates [Colombia has elections in 2010] and, recently, to members of Congress.
"Some of the [wiretapping] equipment being used was hidden from the Attorney-General [Fiscalía] and Inspector-General [Procuraduría] during the... investigation,” an anonymous DAS source involved in the operation told Semana. "Two weeks ago, some of the equipment was returned to Bogotá to monitor members of Congress, based on the referendum voting." The "referendum," a bill passed by Colombia’s Congress in September, will schedule a plebiscite on changing the country’s constitution to allow Uribe to run for an unprecedented third straight term.

The U.S. response

Among the new wiretap recordings are more of Judge Iván Velásquez, the Supreme Court’s chief “paraco-politics” investigator. One is of a mid-2009 phone conversation between Velásquez and James Faulkner, a Justice Department official at the U.S. embassy. “It worries me to hear the voice of my judicial attaché in a wiretapped call,” U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield told reporters.

It should come as no surprise that the voices of U.S. Embassy personal are heard on the DAS wiretaps. It is the Embassy, and Brownfield, along with other U.S. agencies and departments, that provided the equipment to tap the phones and read the e-mails in the first place, paid for, of course, with your U.S. taxpayer dollars.

In February 2009 Brownfield recognized this fact, but said that the U.S. aid to an agency embroiled in a scandal over illegal spying was given solely in order to "resist, combat and eventually defeat drug trafficking, international crime, and terrorism."

Ahhh yes, “the drug war,” the ever present excuse for criminal activity, both at home and abroad. Never mind that the equipment was used to, among other crimes, promote and facilitate the flow of drugs to the U.S.

The response from Washington…

Barack sez:

“[W]e obviously think that... steps... have already been made on issues like extrajudicial killings and illegal surveillance that it is important that Colombia pursue a path of rule of law and transparency, and I know that that is something that President Uribe is committed to doing.” – President Barack Obama, June 29, 2009, hosting President Uribe at the White House.

Hillary sez:

“Allegations of illegal domestic wiretapping and surveillance by Colombia’s Department of Administrative Security (DAS) are troubling and unacceptable. The importance that the Prosecutor General’s Office has placed on prosecuting these crimes is a positive step for Colombia, but media and NGO reports allege that illegal activity continues, so it is even more vital that the Colombian government take steps to ensure that this is not the case... [A] rigorous, thorough and independent investigation [is] in order to determine the extent of these abuses and to hold all perpetrators accountable.” – September, 2009 State Department press release announcing that Colombia, in the department’s view, meets human rights conditions in U.S. foreign aid law.

Stop it; I’m laughing my culo off here!

However, Congress sez:

The U.S. Congress has now voted to stop subsidizing DAS, removing its funding from the U.S. Consolidated Appropriations Act (USCAA 2010) for 2010 passed earlier this year. The Colombian government recently decided to disband the agency, after it was found to have illegally wiretapped the Chief of the National Police, the Minister of Defense, as well as former Presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders and human rights advocates.

Activities of the scandal-prone agency had not, until now, affected U.S.-Colombian relations, nor had they dampened U.S.-Colombian intelligence cooperation. But, in a surprising development, the USCAA 2010 bars DAS from receiving U.S. funds for law enforcement training and anti-narcotics trafficking operations. The Act explicitly connects the suspension of aid with "reports that the DAS has repeatedly engaged in phone tapping, e-mail interception, and other illegal activities against law-abiding citizens, including collusion with illegal armed groups."

It is worth noting that the suspension applies to DAS’ possible successor organizations.

This from a government that is itself engaged in warrantless phone taps of thousands; you might notice they didn’t mention the Colombian murders and disappearances. Well, one thing at a time, it seems...

Prosecutor investigates DAS Agency officials in La Guajira

Less than a month ago a new chapter surfaced in the DAS story.

A few days before Christmas, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe learned from intelligence reports that the Director of the Public Prosecutions branch in La Guajira, Lozano Claudia Doria, and others, were paid for returning seized drug shipments to a cocaine trafficking network.

Attorney General Guillermo Mendoza has opened an internal investigation because information came to his office months ago that senior prosecution officials in La Guajira and two DAS detectives in the region had participated in the return of a shipment of cocaine for which they received 800 million pesos ($400,000 USD) from traffickers. Mendoza has assigned a procurator from the Superior Court of Bogotá to investigate the allegations.

The case hinges largely on a witness identified as "Mary," who has been for several years an informer, described as "reliable." In statements to the court, he said he had learned that DAS officials were paid for the return of two shipments: one of cocaine and another of marijuana.

"Mary" was moved to Bogotá and into a witness protection program, but before the move, on November 21, after giving his first public comments about the corruption network operated by the DAS and attorneys, he was attacked at his home in Riohacha.

According to "Mary"’s account, in November 2008 DAS investigators Germain William Velasco and Jose Galindo returned a shipment of 500 kilos of cocaine that had been confiscated by authorities near Maicao, and received 850 million pesos in the deal.

He claimed that both Galindo and Velasco began to buy expensive cars and properties in other cities, and live like kings, and that Velasco had confided that the operation had been the brainchild of senior prosecution officials, who had also received money, including the branch director, Lozano Doria.

The witness' statements were corroborated by a former prosecutor, former judge, and a senior member of the Army, who assured officials that, in effect, the return of the drug shipment occurred, and that prosecutors would also have been involved. "You cannot imagine the degree of corruption of these prosecutors," said one witness.

EXCHANGE Magazine contacted the director of DAS, Felipe Munoz, for the agency's side of the story Munoz said there was an internal investigation to establish the responsibility of his subordinates in the case, but for now there is no conclusive result.

The magazine also interviewed Claudia Lozano, Director of the Public Prosecutions branch of La Guajira.

EXCHANGE: You've been involved in an alleged return of a shipment of cocaine. What can you say about that?

Claudia Lozano: They want to ruin my reputation.

EXCHANGE: But before the prosecution a witness said a DAS detective told him that you were involved in the release of the drug and therefore received money.
Claudia Lozano: I am amazed with what you say.

I too am amazed.

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