Wiretap scandal could become ‘Criollo Watergate’; debate extended

Posted on Feb 13 2014 - 6:29am by Editor
Juan Carlos Pinzon

Recent revelations about the illegal wiretapping of politicians, journalists, and peace talks negotiators could become “a Criollo Watergate,” leftist presidential candidate Clara Lopez said Wednesday after Colombia’s defense minister failed to respond to Congress.

While taking part in a radio debate, Lopez, the aspiring president of Colombia’s main Socialist party, the Democratic Pole (Polo Democratico Alternativo – PDA), claimed that her party members had become victims of “political espionage.”

MORE: Colombian Military And CIA Accused Of Spying On Peace Talks

Hundreds of messages intercepted

Lopez was joined in her discontent by Liberal Party leader Simon Gavira, who claimed that the military — accused of carrying out the illegal wiretaps — had illegally intercepted hundreds of messages of Liberal Party members.

Gaviria claimed to have received information the military sent through messages sent between Blackberry smartphones and instant messaging service Whatsapp. Around a hundred of these wiretaps had been carried out without the necessary legal support, said the Liberal Party leader.

Gaviria said to wonder whether the gathered intelligence had gone to the government or people with interests outside the state apparatus.

Defense Minister responds before Congress

Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon, who had been called to appear before Congress on Wednesday, called on lawmakers attending the closed session to “wait for the results of the ongoing disciplinary, administrative and criminal investigations” without presuming guilt, his website had said.

According to Newspaper El Espectador, the minister had denied communication had been intercepted, but admitted that the military had used “electromagnetic spectrum monitoring.” This is an intelligence method reportedly approved in the 2012 Intelligence Law that became controversial as officials failed to explain what “electromagnetic spectrum monitoring” means.

According to Pinzon, the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos is “committed and willing” to clarify the questions over who ordered the reported wiretapping and assure that “those responsible, if there are, will be punished.”

The minister was accompanied by Armed Forces commander General Leonardo Barrero, Army commander General Juan Pablo Rodriguez, National Intelligence chief Alvaro Echandia. Prosecutor General Eduardo Montealegre, who was also cited, failed to appear.

Conservative Party Senator Carlos Emiro Barriga was quoted by Caracol Radio as saying that “everything was clear” and that there had been no illegal activity by the military.

However, other coalition senators, together with the opposition claimed that not even ten percent of the Intelligence Committee’s questions had been answered by the present members of the military.

“Only five of the 64 questions we had formulated were answered, said PDA Senator Camilo Romero, adding that “the media has more information than the government.”

Also Senators Juan Carlos Lozano (U Party) proved unsatisfied with the government response and the Committee called for a second session on the subject.

The scandal’s expanding reach

Weekly Semana reported last week that the military intelligence unit responsible for the wiretapping had been intercepting emails and text messages of government and rebel peace negotiators, left-wing politicians, and journalists covering the ongoing peace talks.

US television network Univision later reported that dozens of journalists, including those of news agencies like Associated Press, Reuters and EFE, had also been intercepted by the military intelligence unit.

Following the publication of the allegations, Santos dismissed his Military Intelligence commander and three other top military officials.

The wiretap scandal is the second to hit Colombia in the past five years; in 2009, Santos — as Defense Minister in the administration of former President Alvaro Uribe — became embroiled in a similar scandal involving the illegal spying on politicians, members of the Supreme Court, journalists and human rights workers. The scandal forced the former spy chief to flee the country, while other top officials including Uribe saw criminal investigations opened against them. A number of these investigations are still pending.

Sources

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