Newsweekly reveals twist in Colombian wiretapping scandal

Last week’s cover story in the leading Colombian newsweekly Semana—known for investigations that have shaken the core of the administration of President Alvaro Uribe Vélez—revealed further evidence of illegal wiretapping of journalists by the Administrative Department of Security (DAS), the country’s national intelligence service. The article, titled “A handbook for threats,” disclosed outrageous details about the intimidation techniques used by the DAS on journalists it considered dangerous.

Semana detailed the ordeals of Colombian journalist Claudia Julieta Duque, who received continuous anonymous death threats against herself and her young daughter following an intensive probe into the 1999 murder of outspoken journalist Jaime Garzón, which pointed at DAS involvement in the killing. In recent months, Duque had access to DAS files confiscated by Colombian authorities as one of the journalists whose phone lines and e-mails DAS officials had intercepted. In her review of the files, the journalist found detailed descriptions of how DAS officials were supposed to intimidate her (explicit and violent threats against her daughter), where to make the menacing phone calls (from payphones hidden from surveillance cameras), and how to implicate other Colombian officials in order to thwart suspicion. As a result of the threats, Duque was forced to flee the country and put an end to her investigation. Click here to see the full article in Spanish.

The spying scandal, which Semana wrote about in late 2008, initially pointed to rogue intelligence officials who had allegedly monitored and intercepted thousands of e-mails and telephone calls made by independent journalists, politicians, public officials, and international human rights groups (including CPJ) from 2003 to 2009. Official investigations prompted by Semana’s stories have now implicated high-ranking former DAS officials. Former DAS Deputy Director José Miguel Narváez is one of several officials in custody. New inquiries into Garzón’s death have also linked Narváez to the journalist’s murder, Semana reported recently—a witness has accused him of masterminding the murder alongside now-deceased paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño.