BOGOTA – Colombia’s armed forces expelled five of its members and removed 20 others from their current duties over their suspected role in spying operations targeting the government’s peace process with the FARC guerrilla group.
Three officers, a non-commissioned officer and a patrolman, all members of the army or National Police and all implicated in the leaking of classified information, have been removed from active service, armed forces inspector general Vice Adm. Cesar Augusto Narvaez said.
Among those removed from their current duties are 10 officers, eight NCOs, a patrolman and a non-uniformed official, the inspector general said, adding that those individuals may be excluded from the intelligence branch if such action is deemed appropriate.
The decision comes after an armed forces probe into the involvement of soldiers and police in a military spying ring that was code named “Andromeda,” a separate illegal wiretapping operation headed by hacker Andres Sepulveda, and the leaking of secret intelligence documents, as well as the creation of a purported database with e-mails of politicians and journalists linked to the peace process.
Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office uncovered the Andromeda ring last February, finding that military intelligence operatives used a Bogota restaurant as a front for espionage activity.
The front operation intercepted the communications of the Colombian government’s representatives to peace talks in Havana with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrilla group, left-wing politicians, and journalists.
“Andromeda was within the legal framework, in accordance with Colombia’s constitution, directives, regulations and the Manual for the Management of Informant Networks,” but control over the activities carried out was lacking, Narvaez said Friday in a press conference.
“The principle of secrecy, established by military intelligence for these types of activities, was not applied in the Andromeda (intelligence) front operation,” he said in a statement read to the press.
The investigation also found that members of the security forces took part in Sepulveda’s spying operation, which, according to the AG’s office, was aimed at sabotaging the talks.
Sepulveda served as social media manager for the campaign of 2014 Colombian presidential candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, a close ally of former President Alvaro Uribe, a hard-liner and staunch opponent of the peace talks.
“Two army non-commissioned officers and a National Police patrolman are suspected of directly or indirectly delivering classified information to Mr. Andres Sepulveda, prompting the Attorney General’s Office to issue a warrant for their arrest,” Narvaez said.
The case of the alleged computer hacker, currently in custody, was discovered in May during the presidential race, which ended with incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos defeating Zuluaga in a runoff.
Military investigators also probed the alleged existence of a military database said to contain the e-mails of 500 Colombian and international journalists and apparently created without the knowledge or authorization of the top military brass.
Narvaez said that “to date no evidence has been found” that such a database was compiled.