Page 2 of 2   <      

Traffickers Infiltrate Military in Colombia

Colombian authorities have passed on their findings, particularly the navigational charts, to the Drug Enforcement Administration and other U.S. agencies. The Colombian military does not track the coordinates of U.S., Dutch or British ships on patrol, suggesting there had been a breach in American security.

The U.S. Embassy in Bogota would not discuss the case or say whether it was investigating.

At the Southern Command in Florida, the American headquarters for U.S. military operations in Latin America, a spokesman said the military was unaware of any American investigation into the allegations. The spokesman, Jose Ruiz, said security measures were tight at an interagency anti-drug task force in Key West, Fla., that coordinates anti-drug monitoring in the Caribbean for the United States and its allies, including Colombia.

The Joint Interagency Task Force-South, or JIATF-S, as it is known, is run by the Defense Department. "JIATF-South has very stringent and effective security measures," Ruiz said, "and as of today, we have no reason to believe that those security measures have been compromised."

While traffickers on the coast received detailed information, high-ranking officers in Colombia's southwest were allegedly on cartel chief Montoya's payroll, prosecutors say. Those officers include Lt. Col. Javier Escobar, who was chief of operations for the Third Division's Third Brigade in Cali, Defense Ministry officials say.

The investigation into the activities of rogue officers in the Third Division has shed light on a murky episode from 2006 that angered Colombian officials and raised questions among U.S. lawmakers. On May 22, a platoon of troops ambushed and killed 10 members of an elite, U.S.-trained team of policemen that was on a counter-drug operation in the town of Jamundi.

Authorities now say that army Col. Bayron Carvajal and several soldiers -- all of whom were arrested last year -- were probably in the pay of the Norte del Valle cartel. "You can presume that Jamundi is connected to the penetration of the Third Brigade," Santos said, "because of where it happened, because of the ties to narco-trafficking."

The military also found that a guerrilla who was killed in combat in the southern state of Meta in July had been carrying portable hard drives that contained maps outlining anti-guerrilla operations and other information about Omega, an operation aimed at capturing guerrilla commanders.

El Tiempo, Colombia's most influential newspaper, said in an editorial that the disclosures showed that intelligence and counterintelligence had become "the weakest flank" in Colombia's effort to fight the guerrillas and drug traffickers.

Military officials acknowledged the concerns but said a restructuring of the military intelligence apparatus has been in the works. "We started restructuring the counterintelligence more than nine months ago, and it was because we were restructuring, because we strengthened the counterintelligence, that we were able to discover this," Santos said.

<       2

© 2007 The Washington Post Company