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Colombian intelligence agency's latest scandal: leaking docs to drug lord

The DAS, Colombia's scandal-ridden intelligence service, is alleged to have provided intelligence – including identities of undercover agents – to one of the region's most wanted drug lords.

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Probably the most unique characteristic of the latest DAS scandal is that, so far, it appears to involve merely rogue elements in the agency. In previous cases when the DAS was known to work with Colombian criminal groups, it was done with the full knowledge and approval of the organization's top command. Uribe's first pick to head the DAS, Jorge Noguera, led the agency for three years before resigning in October 2005, when it became clear that he was a favored collaborator of paramilitary warlord Rodrigo Tovar, alias "Jorge 40."

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Under Mr. Noguera's watch, the DAS fed the paramilitaries intelligence that helped them plan and execute the death of sociology professor Alfredo Correa in 2004. The DAS provided Jorge 40 with a blacklist of suspected FARC collaborators, many of them union leaders, human rights workers, and opposition politicians based along the Caribbean coast.

The DAS did more than pass names to the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). According to Rafael Garcia, the agency's former chief of intelligence, a faction of the DAS was nicknamed the "three letter cartel" for its role in helping the AUC traffic drugs and launder money. Mr. Garcia said the DAS handled at least 100 million pesos (about $55,000) in narco-profits between 2003 and 2004.

Other intelligence branches in Colombia have become embroiled in similar corruption scandals. The army's central intelligence unit, the 20th Intelligence Brigade, was disbanded in 1998, following years of allegations that they helped death squads identify, kidnap, and kill suspected rebel collaborators. As with the DAS, the main problems with the 20th Brigade was a lack of professionalization and respect for basic human rights, and fuzzy priorities. Targeting the FARC and the ELN was valued above all else, at the expense of pursuing the paramilitaries or drug traffickers like Barrera. This collusion was often explicit. At one point during Mr. Uribe's first term, when a DAS officer tried to carry out an operation targeting the land holdings of a noted AUC commander, Noguera called off the operation and had the "rogue" detective transferred.

The latest allegations of DAS misdeeds are another reminder that the intelligence service has a troubled history of clandestinely working with drug traffickers rather than working against them. Noguera will soon be paying time for his collaboration with the AUC's drug lords. With Barrera reportedly in possession of some of the DAS's most sensitive intelligence, the Santos administration probably has little choice but to finally push through with the DAS's dissolution once and for all.

--- Elyssa Pachico is a writer for Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of her research here.

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