“They hardly ever gave orders against narco-trafficking or guerrillas,” Sierra said in an interview.
Resources and guidance
Some of those charged or under investigation have described the importance of U.S. intelligence resources and guidance, and say they regularly briefed embassy “liaison” officials on their intelligence-gathering activities. “We were organized through the American Embassy,” said William Romero, who ran the DAS’s network of informants and oversaw infiltration of the Supreme Court. Like many of the top DAS officials in jail or facing charges, he received CIA training. Some were given scholarships to complete coursework on intelligence-gathering at American universities.
Romero, who has accepted a plea agreement from prosecutors in exchange for his cooperation, said in an interview that DAS units depended on U.S.-supplied computers, wiretapping devices, cameras and mobile phone interception systems, as well as rent for safe houses and petty cash for gasoline. “We could have operated” without U.S. assistance, he said, “but not with the same effectiveness.”
One unit dependent on CIA aid, according to the testimony of former DAS officials in depositions, was the National and International Observations Group.
Set up to root out ties between foreign operatives and Colombian guerrillas, it turned its attention to the Supreme Court after magistrates began investigating the president’s cousin, then-Sen. Mario Uribe, said a former director, German Ospina, in a deposition to prosecutors. The orders came “from the presidency; they wanted immediate results,” Ospina told prosecutors.
Another unit that operated for eight months in 2005, the Group to Analyze Terrorist Organization Media, assembled dossiers on labor leaders, broke into their offices and videotaped union activists. The United States provided equipment and tens of thousands of dollars, according to an internal DAS report, and the unit’s members regularly met with an embassy official they remembered as “Chris Sullivan.”
“When we were advancing on certain activities, he would go to see how we were advancing,” Jose Gabriel Jimenez, a former analyst in the unit, said during a court hearing.
The CIA declined to comment on any specific allegations or the description of its relationship with the DAS provided by Colombian officials. “The three letters CIA get thrown into the mix on a lot of things, and by a lot of people. That doesn’t mean that allegations about the agency are anything more than that,” said a U.S. intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
As initial DAS revelations emerged in the Colombian media during late summer 2009, then-U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield called an embassy-wide meeting and asked which U.S. agencies represented were working with the DAS, according to a secret State Department cable released by WikiLeaks. Representatives from eight agencies raised their hands — including the CIA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service. All agencies, Brownfield reported in the Sept. 9 cable, “reaffirmed that they had no knowledge of or connection to the illegal activity and agreed to continue reducing their exposure to the agency.”