Source: Progressive (WI)
Contact:  June 1998
Author: Frank Smyth


Back in 1989, the CIA built its first counter-narcotics center in the
basement of its Directorate of Operations headquarters in Langley,
Virginia. Since then, the newly renamed "crime and narcotics center" has
increased four-fold, says CIA spokeswoman Anya Guilsher. She says she
cannot comment about any specific counter-drug operations, except to say
that the agency is now conducting them worldwide.

The CIA was established in 1947 as a frontline institution against the
Soviet Union. Today, nine years after the Berlin Wall fell, the agency is
seeking a new purpose to justify its $26.7 billion annual subsidy. Besides
the crime and narcotics center, the CIA now runs a counter-terrorism
center, a center to stymie the proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction, and even an ecology center to monitor global warming and
weather patterns, including El Nino.

George J. Tenet, the Clinton Administration's new Director of Central
Intelligence, recently told Congress the United States faces new threats in
"this post-Cold War world" that are "uniquely challenging for U.S. interests."

But the CIA remains a Cold War institution. Many officers, especially
within the clandestine operations wing, still see communists behind every
door. They maintain warm relationships with rightist military forces
worldwide that are engaging in widespread human-rights abuses. These ties
conflict with the agency's putative goal of fighting drugs, since many of
the rightist allies are themselves involved in the drug trade.

Take Colombia. In the name of fighting drugs, the CIA financed new military
intelligence networks there in 1991. But the new networks did little to
stop drug traffickers. Instead, they incorporated illegal paramilitary
groups into their ranks and fostered death squads. These death squads
killed trade unionists, peasant leaders, human-rights, journalists, and
other suspected "subversives." The evidence, including secret Colombian
military documents, suggests that the CIA may be more interested in
fighting a leftist resistance movement than in combating drugs.

Thousands of people have been killed by the death squads, and the killings
go on. In April, one of Colombia's foremost human rights lawyers, Eduardo
Umana Mendoza, was murdered in his office. Umana's clients included leaders
of Colombia's state oil workers' union. Reuters estimated that 10,000
people attended his funeral in Bogota.

Human rights groups suspect that Umana's murder may have been carried out
by members of the security forces supporting or operating in unison with
paramilitary forces. At the funeral, Daniel Garcia Pena, a Colombian
government official who was a friend of Umana's, told journalists that
before his death Umana had alerted authorities that state security
officials along with security officers from the state oil company were
planning to kill him.

The killings are mounting at a terrible pace. In February, a death squad
mowed down another leading human rights activist, Jesus Maria Valle
Jaramillo. He had pointed a finger at the military and some politicians for
sponsoring death squads.

"There is a clear, coordinated strategy of targeting anyone involved in the
defense of human rights," says Carlos Salinas of Amnesty International.
"Every statement of unconditional support by U.S. lawmakers only encourages
these kinds of attacks."

A new debate is taking place today between human rights groups and the
Clinton Administration over U.S. aid to Colombia. The Clinton
Administration has escalated military aid to Colombia to a record $136
million annually, making Colombia the leading recipient of U.S. military
aid in this hemisphere. Now the Administration is considering even more,
including helicopter gunships.

Colombia did not figure prominently on the world stage back in late 1990
and early 1991. Germany was in the process of reunification, Iraq's Saddam
Hussein had just invaded Kuwait, and El Salvador was negotiating an end to
its long civil war. But the Bush Administration was not ignoring Colombia.
It was increasing the number of U.S. Army Special Forces (or Green Beret)
advisers there. And the CIA was increasing the number of agents in its
station in Bogota -- which soon became the biggest station in Latin America.

"There was a very big debate going on [over how to allocate] money for
counter-narcotics operations in Colombia," says retired Colonel James S.
Roach Jr., the U.S. military attache and the Defense Intelligence Agency
(DIA) country liaison in Bogota in the early 1990s. "The U.S. was looking
for a way to try to help. But if you're not going to be combatants
[yourselves], you have to find something to do."

The United States formed an inter-agency commission to study Colombia's
military intelligence system. The team included representatives of the U.S.
embassy's Military Advisory Group in Bogota, the U.S. Southern Command in
Panama, the DIA, and the CIA, says Roach, who was among the military
officers representing the DIA. The commission, according to a 1996 letter
from the Defense Department to Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of
Vermont, recommended changes in Colombia's military intelligence networks
to make them "more efficient and effective."

In May 1991, Colombia completely reorganized its military intelligence
networks "based on the recommendations made by the commission of U.S.
military advisers," according to the secret Colombian reorganization order,
which Human Rights Watch made public in 1996. The U.S. commission of
advisers backed the reorganization plan ostensibly as part of the drug war.
Yet the secret Colombian order itself made no mention anywhere in its
sixteen pages or corresponding appendices about gathering intelligence
against drug traffickers. Instead, the order instructed the new
intelligence networks to focus on leftist guerrillas or "the armed

The forty-one new intelligence networks created by the order directed their
energies toward unarmed civilians suspected of supporting the guerrillas.
One of these intelligence networks, in the oil refinery town of
Barrancabermeja in Colombia's strife-torn Magdalena Valley, assassinated at
least fifty-seven civilians in the first two years of operation. Victims
included the president, vice president, and treasurer of the local
transportation workers union, two leaders of the local oil workers union,
one leader of a local peasant workers union, two human rights monitors, and
one journalist.

Colonel Roach says the Defense Department never intended the intelligence
networks to foster death squads. But Roach says he can't speak for the CIA,
which was more involved in the intelligence reorganization and even
financed the new networks directly.

"The CIA set up the clandestine nets on their own," says Roach. "They had a
lot of money. It was kind of like Santa Claus had arrived."

The secret Colombian order instructed the military to maintain plausible
deniability from the networks and their crimes. Retired military officers
and other civilians were to act as clandestine liaisons between the
networks and the military commanders. All open communications "must be
avoided." There "must be no written contracts with informants or civilian
members of the network; everything must be agreed to orally." And the
entire chain of command "will be covert and compartmentalized, allowing for
the necessary flexibility to cover targets of interest."

Facts about the new intelligence networks became known only after four
former agents in Barrancabermeja began testifying in 1993 about the
intelligence network there. What compelled them to come forward? Each said
the military was actively trying to kill them in order to cover up the
network and its crimes. By then the military had "disappeared" four other
ex-agents in an attempt to keep the network and its operations secret.

Since the military was already trying to kill them, the agents decided that
testifying about the network and its crimes might help keep them alive.
Saulo Segura was one ex-agent who took this gamble. But rather than
prosecuting his superiors over his and others' testimony, Colombia's
judicial system charged and imprisoned Segura. In a 1996 interview in La
Modelo, Bogota's maximum-security jail, Segura told me he hadn't killed
anyone and that his job within the network was limited to renting office
space and handling money. Segura then glanced about nervously before
adding, "I hope they don't kill me."

Two months later, on Christmas Eve, Segura was murdered inside his
cellblock. His murder remains unsolved; the whereabouts of the other three
ex-agents is unknown. No Colombian officers have been prosecuted for
ordering the Barrancabermeja crimes.

In 1994, Amnesty International accused the Pentagon of allowing anti-drug
aid to be diverted to counterinsurgency operations that lead to human
rights abuses. U.S. officials including General Barry R. McCaffrey, the
Clinton Administration drug czar who was then in charge of the U.S.
Southern Command, publicly denied it. But back at the office, McCaffrey
ordered an internal audit. It found that thirteen out of fourteen Colombian
army units that Amnesty had specifically cited for abuses had previously
received either U.S. training or arms. Amnesty made these documents public
in 1996. (Full disclosure: I provided the internal U.S. documents to
Amnesty; Winifred Tate and I provided the secret Colombian order to Human
Rights Watch.)

Colombian military officers, along with some of their supporters in the
United States, say the line between counterinsurgency and counter-drug
operations in Colombia is blurry, as Colombia's leftist guerrillas are more
involved today than ever before in drug trafficking.

Indeed, they are. For years, about two-thirds of the forces of the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and about half the forces of
the National Liberation Army (ELN) have been involved in the drug trade,
mainly protecting drug crops, according to both U.S. intelligence and
leftist sources.

Colombia's rightist paramilitary groups, however, are even more involved in
the drug trade, and they have been for a decade. Back in 1989, Colombia's
civilian government outlawed all paramilitary organizations after a
government investigation had found that the Medellin drug cartel led by the
late Pablo Escobar had taken over the largest ones.

At the time, Escobar and his associates were fiercely resisting U.S.
pressure on the Colombian government to make them stand trial in the United
States on trafficking charges. They took control of Colombia's strongest
paramilitaries and used them to wage a terrorist campaign against the
state. These same paramilitaries, based in the Magdalena Valley, were
behind a wave of violent crimes, including the 1989 bombing of Avianca
flight HK-1803, which killed 111 passengers. Investigators concluded that
Israeli, British, and other mercenaries, led by Israeli Reserve Army
Lieutenant Colonel Yair Klein, had trained the perpetrators in such
techniques. In February, Klein and three other former Israeli reserve
officers, along with two Colombians, were indicted in absentia for their
alleged involvement in these crimes.

The CIA bears some responsibility for the proliferation of drug trafficking
in the Magdalena Valley since it supported rightist counterinsurgency
forces who run drugs. But the CIA has also helped combat drug trafficking
in Colombia. In other words, different units within the agency have pursued
contrary goals.

The CIA's most notable success in the drug war was the 1995-1996 operations
that, with the help of the DEA, apprehended all top seven leaders of
Colombia's Cali drug cartel. One of those apprehended was Henry Loaiza,
also known as "The Scorpion," a top Colombian paramilitary leader. He
secretly collaborated with the CIA-backed intelligence networks to carry
out assassinations against suspected leftists.

A young, techno-minded CIA team led the Cali bust. Heading up the team was
a woman. "I'm just a secretary," she protested when I called her on the
phone at the time.

But despite her denials, she was not unappreciated. On September 19, 1995,
a courier delivered a white box to her at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota. I
happened to be in the lobby at the time. She opened the box to find roses
inside. They had been sent by the head of Colombia's National Police,
General Rosso Jose Serrano.

Most other agency counter-drug operations, however, have yielded few

The net result of CIA involvement in Colombia has not been to slow down the
drug trade. Mainly, the agency has fueled a civil war that has taken an
appalling toll on civilians.

Colombia is not the only place where these two elements of the CIA nave
clashed with each other.

In Peru, the CIA coordinates all of its counter-drug efforts through the
office of the powerful intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos -- even
though DEA special agents have produced no fewer than forty-nine different
intelligence reports about Montesinos and his suspected narcotics
smuggling. It is no wonder that agency counter-drug efforts in Peru have

In Guatemala, the agency has played a strong role in both counterinsurgency
and counter-drug operations. As in Peru, the agency has worked with
Guatemala's office of military intelligence, even though DEA special agents
have formally accused a whopping thirty-one Guatemalan military officers of
drug trafficking. Despite the CIA's efforts, not even one suspected officer
has been tried.

The Clinton Administration finally cut off CIA counterinsurgency aid to
Guatemala in 1995 after revelations that an agency asset, Guatemalan Army
Colonel Julio Roberto Alpirez, had been involved in the murder of Michael
DeVine, a U.S. innkeeper, as well as in the murder of Efrain Bamaca
Velasquez, a leftist guerrilla who was married to the Harvard-educated
lawyer, Jennifer Harbury. But the Clinton Administration has allowed the
CIA to continue providing counter-drug aid to Guatemala.

Most of the major drug syndicates so far uncovered by the DEA have enjoyed
direct links to Guatemalan military officers. One of the largest
syndicates, exposed in 1996, "reached many parts of the military,"
according to the State Department.

This year, the State Department reports, "Guatemala is the preferred
location in Central America for storage and transshipment of South American
cocaine destined for the United States via Mexico."

Mexico is the next stop on the CIA counter-narcotics train. The fact that
Mexico's former top counter-drug officer, General Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo,
was himself recently indicted for drug trafficking, raises the same old
question: What is U.S. policy really all about? Before Gutierrez was
busted, the DEA thought he was dirty, while U.S. officials, like General
McCaffrey, still sporting Cold War lenses, thought he was clean and vouched
for him shortly before his indictment.

Some DEA special agents question the CIA's priorities in counter-drug
programs. Human-rights groups remain suspicious of the same programs for
different reasons.

"There is no magic line dividing counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency
operations," says Salinas of Amnesty International. "Given the current
deterioration of human rights in Mexico," an expanded role in counter-drug
operations by the United States "could lead to a green light for further

Testifying before Congress in March, the CIA Inspector General, Frederick
R. Hitz, finally addressed allegations that the CIA once backed Cold War
allies like the Nicaraguan contras even though they ran drugs. Hitz
admitted that, at the very least, there have been "instances where CIA did
not, in an expeditious or consistent fashion, cut off relationships with
individuals supporting the contra program who were alleged to have engaged
in drug trafficking activity, or take action to resolve the allegations."

What CIA officials have yet to admit is that the agency is still doing the
same thing today.

Frank Smyth, a freelance journalist, has written a out the or drug
trafficking in The Village Voice, The New Republic, The Washington Post,
The Wall Street Journal, and Jane's Intelligence Review. He has also
contributed to "Crime in Uniform: Corruption and Impunity in Latin
America," published jointly by the Cochabomba-based Accion Andina and the
Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute.

Copyright 1998 Progressive Inc.

Source: Colombian Labor Monitor, - ---
Checked-by: Mike Gogulski