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Investigation reveals corruption and illegal interceptions by the Colombian Army

The recent investigation by Semana magazine would show a new case of corruption in the Colombian Army, including the misuse of American aid for military…

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In an investigation published on Jan. 11, Semana magazine revealed a new case of corruption within the Colombian army, which would include illegal interceptions of communications from senior judges, politicians and journalists.

Over the past year, in an effort to address dissents from the former FARC guerrillas and the emergence of other paramilitary actors, the Colombian Army has strengthened its cybernetic intelligence team. To this purpose, they received two pieces of equipment as a donation from US intelligence agencies and bought a technological platform called Invisible Man for almost 3 billion Colombian pesos from the Spanish company Mollitiam Industries, dedicated to cyber-intelligence.

The Invisible Man platform, as explained by Semana magazine, thanks to the anonymous declaration of one of the uniformed personnel involved in operating the system, "allows you to do everything: [enter] any computer, access calls and conversations from WhatsApp and Telegram Web, download archived or deleted chat conversations, photos, and in general whatever is stored in the memory of the infected machine." As also revealed in the contract between the company and the Army, published by the same magazine, the infrastructure purchased by the Colombian Army is designed to operate with an infinite number of active agents.

The use of this type of technology is part of the functions of certain bodies of the Colombian Army. The problem, however, is that the Cyber-intelligence Battalion (Bacim) and the military intelligence battalions Baime 1 and Baime 4 were using this Spanish and American technology to illegally follow both politicians in opposition to the government (such as former Nariño Governor Camilo Romero and Senator Roy Barreras), and journalists (in fact, the same magazine reports that the journalists who worked on this investigation were heavily and extensively followed and threatened) and two magistrates of the Colombian Supreme Court: César Reyes and Cristina Lombana, who was, until recently, also an army major.

According to the information obtained and published by Semana, the results of these illegal investigations (carried out without a court order and at instances - such as the Supreme Court of Justice - that exceed the powers of the Army) were being handed over to a "recognized politician from the Democratic Center," the ruling party in Colombia today. This was particularly the case of Judge Cristina Lombana, who is involved in the investigation of two cases against former President and current Senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez.

Cristina Lombana is leading the investigation against Uribe Vélez following the statements of Andrés Sepúlveda, a Colombian hacker who was convicted of intervening in the 2014 elections in favor of Uribe's protected candidate, who at the time was Óscar Iván Zuluaga, doing work on social networks in order to go against the peace process with the FARC and publishing sensitive information on the guerrilla commanders involved in the negotiation.

Lombana was also the first Supreme Court justice to lead the investigation against Alvaro Uribe for alleged witness tampering.

The story of this case begins in 2014, when Senator Iván Cepeda cited a debate of political control over the former president for his possible participation in the formation of the Metro Bloc of the AUC, a paramilitary group. Cepeda called for a debate based on statements that former paramilitaries had given him while in prison. At that time, the former president sued Senator Cepeda before the Supreme Court for witness tampering. The Court investigated for 4 years, after which it exonerated Cepeda and decided to investigate Uribe on the same charges.  The investigation against Uribe was initially led by Judge Cristina Lombana, but was eventually reassigned to Judge César Reyes due to Lombana's military background.

In order to gather evidence on the case of hacker Andrés Sepúlveda, Magistrate Cristina Lombana ordered and led a raid on the Army Communications Canton, in particular the Cyber-intelligence Battalion. The operation was carried out on Dec. 18, 2019 at 8:45 a.m., lasted 16 hours and involved more than 40 investigators including members of the Procuraduría and the Dijín (National Police's Directorate of Criminal Investigation and INTERPOL).

Despite the fact that the Cyber-intelligence Battalion knew that the raid was going to be carried out, precisely because the communications of Judge Cristina Lombana had been intercepted, it was at the time of the operation that they began the hasty and rugged process of evidence destruction, with which traces were left behind. One of the surprises of the operation was the illegal tracking of the robed woman.

The illegal follow-up of another Supreme Court judge, Cesar Reyes, was revealed on the day Semana published its investigation. An assistant judge noticed an irregularity in the ceiling of the office on December 16. Upon inspection, they discovered a hidden 3-centimeter microphone. It is not yet known who might have implanted it or how long it had been there, but the microphone was not covered with dust, which could indicate that it had been implanted relatively recently. On Monday, it was learned that a second microphone had been implanted, this time at the assistant magistrate with whom Reyes is taking the investigation to Uribe for witness tampering. 

These revelations are extremely disturbing not only in relation to the level of corruption within the Colombian Army, but also about the fragility of democracy and the way in which the corruption of multiple entities has made the separation of powers increasingly fragile.

The other deeply distressing factor in the case is the allegations made by Semana about the persecution of its journalists for carrying out the investigation. According to the report, their journalists have been followed, their communications intercepted and they have received threats against them and their families, as well as other forms of intimidation, such as tombstones placed on their cars.

Former president and senator Álvaro Uribe and other Democratic Center politicians have been quick to come forward to deny possible charges against them in this case. The problem is that by joining two points, a line is formed.

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