Colombian President Álvaro Uribe halted the nation’s wiretapping program in February amidst claims the secret police, known as the Administrative Department of Security (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, “DAS”) illegally wiretapped prominent journalists, Supreme Court justices, and opposition politicians. Eavesdropping is a major crime-fighting weapon in Colombia against drug mafias, leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitaries. Law enforcement agencies have extensive wiretapping powers and equipment, and admit that the potential for abuse is great. DAS, which has approximately 6,000 employees, has been particularly rife with scandal during the Uribe administration.
Uribe’s first DAS director, a former campaign director named Jorge Noguera, is in prison awaiting trial for colluding with right-wing death squads. Another director, María Pilar Hurtado, resigned last October after an opposition senator leaked a memo showing that Hurtado ordered surveillance of the senator. Several DAS officials resigned after the news magazine Semana broke the story of illegal surveillance this February. Uribe decried illegal wiretapping and has blamed corrupt agents for the scandals. Some critics, however, think that the Uribe government may have benefited from the wiretaps. Opposition leaders even believe that top ranks of the government directed the recordings. If these claims turn out to be true, they would mar the security successes of the surveillance program and would be counter evidence to Uribe’s claims that the program stamps out corruption. Former DAS director Miguel Maza Márquez believes that, “[o]ne has to arrive at the sad conclusion that it is a process identical to what the KGB used, when not only was the opposition being recorded, but so were some friends of the government.” High-ranking officials have called for DAS’s disbanment. One ministry of defense source stated that the organization is too corrupt for reform.