ECUADOR-COLOMBIA: Quito Presses Bogotá on Alleged Spying

  • by Gonzalo Ortiz* - Tierramérica (quito)
  • Wednesday, June 30, 2010
  • Inter Press Service

The request made Tuesday to Colombia's highest ranking official in Ecuador, Ricardo Montenegro, in a forceful 'verbal message' is the third demand for information from Colombia about 'Operation Salomon,' Ecuador's deputy foreign minister Kintto Lucas told IPS.

This time, the request has a note of urgency, given this week's revelation that Colombian agents allegedly have intercepted telephone communications since March 2008 of Correa and his inner circle, as well as of top military commanders, journalists and politicians.

'Colombia's internal conflict had already jumped across the border, but now it is much more serious, because if the allegations are true, it would mean that the conflict has extended to the presidential palace of Ecuador, and, furthermore, that it has been driven by the highest ranks in Colombia,' said Lucas.

The five-decade civil war in Colombia frequently overflows its borders, with battles between armed groups spilling into neighbouring countries, as well as a continuous flow of refugees, mostly to Ecuador.

The alleged spying was revealed Monday by El Universo de Guayaquil newspaper, based on a source identified as a 'Colombian counter- intelligence agent from the DAS,' the Administrative Department of Security, which is attached to the office of the president.

Operation Salomon is said to have begun in March 2008 following the rupture in Ecuador-Colombia relations in response to the latter's bombardment of an insurgent camp inside Ecuador. The international spokesperson for the leftist FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), whose nom de guerre was 'Raúl Reyes,' and several others were killed in the attack.

The first request for information from Bogotá about the covert operation was made in October 2009, at a meeting between Ecuador's foreign relations minister at the time, Fander Falconí, and his Colombian counterpart Jaime Bermúdez in the northern town of Cotacachi, said Lucas. The meeting was part of efforts to normalise relations between the two neighbours.

The initial facts emerged from complaints by former DAS members and were gathered by the Colombian Attorney General's Office in its investigation of a broad illegal operation that included wire-tapping, tracking, sabotage and threats against politicians and activists in Colombia, which, as evidenced by the Ecuador case, was not limited to national territory.

On May 21, Lucas himself dispatched a written note demanding more information, based on a video shown on Colombian television with new charges about DAS activities.

'They never responded. Now these new complaints appear, so we are insisting in a much more forceful way,' said Lucas.

This turn in events has come just when talks on 'sensitive issues' were going to begin as an initial step towards complete normalisation of relations with the naming of new ambassadors.

'We had these sensitive issues to sort out, and then these charges come up. This puts a damper on the good will with which we began this new phase, and it didn't come from us,' said the deputy foreign minister.

'That is why we are hoping the Colombian government will give us complete information,' said Lucas. 'It's not enough that the DAS denies it. In good faith, they have to show us what happened.'

Quito reportedly expects to receive all information available about Operation Salomon from the related Colombian institutions, such as the Attorney General's Office, the police and the DAS itself.

Ecuador's attorney general, Washington Pesántez, opened an investigation into the alleged espionage on Monday. Lucas confirmed that, as part of this process, Pesántez would request information from his Colombian counterpart.

'We expect the Colombian government to help the attorney general to deliver said information. We want to know if those names that appear in the denunciations are real,' he added.

The DAS denied Monday that it had tapped the telephones of President Correa or any other Ecuadorean official.

The source in the Guayaquil newspaper article stated that members of Ecuador's armed forces who were bribed by Colombian agents provided the telephone lists.

The operations were said to be conducted from two apartments in downtown Quito, where the presidential palace is located, and another apartment in the north of the city -- all rented by front companies.

Both Minister of Defence Javier Ponce and Minister of National Security Miguel Caravajal considered the charges 'very serious.'

According to El Universo, in a May 2009 statement the Colombian agent John Jairo Jiménez Rojas revealed that Operation Salomon had paid informants in the Ecuadorean consulates in Colombia and had recruited police officers in Ecuador.

According to the newspaper, in 2008 it was revealed by other DAS sources that among the Ecuadorean informants were journalists whose clandestine work was paid for with secret funds from the 'Somos Andina' (We Are Andean) group, made up of counterintelligence detectives who also operated in Venezuela.

The Computers of FARC's Raúl Reyes

As a condition for normalising relations with Colombia, President Correa insisted that the computers seized from the dead FARC leader Raúl Reyes be turned over to justice authorities. In reality, the information provided was copies made from the laptops using specialised forensic methods.

Between 6:00am Saturday, Mar. 1, 2008, and 11:45am the following Monday, the computers said to be seized from the guerrilla camp inside Ecuadorean territory were not subject to a chain of custody, nor was their data content reviewed according to computer forensic standards.

Over the course of two and a half days, the computers remained on and connected to another computer system.

Although Interpol (International Criminal Police) assured in its public report that none of the data files on the computer had been tampered with, it also said that the initial handling of the hard drives and data violated technical standards and 'may complicate validating this evidence for purposes of its introduction in a judicial proceeding.'

Since the government-led aerial attack on the rebel camp, the Colombian authorities have released information, which they attributed to the computers, implicating public figures in that country and in the governments of the neighbouring countries as having ties to the FARC.

The Colombian attorney general does not have even one e-mail from those computers, or any IP (Internet Protocol) address. It has only a series of text documents in the Word programme, of which 150 were passed on to Quito.

The investigators found that all of those documents were created on the same day, the same hour and same second. For Colombian attorney Jorge Molano, a defender in several cases related to the seized computers, 'if that is the case, Raúl Reyes must have dedicated himself exclusively to computers, and he must have had great magic powers, because he was able to generate, create and modify more than 150 files in less than a second.'

*Constanza Vieira contributed reporting from Bogotá.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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