Latin America

MELISSA BLOCK, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I'm Robert Siegel. In Columbia, the intelligence service is caught up in a major scandal. The country's chief prosecutor says the spy service bugged the Supreme Court, intercepted the phones of its justices and followed their every move. Prosecutors also say the illegal surveillance was directed from the offices then-President Alvaro Uribe, who in his eight years in power was Washington's closest ally in Latin America. NPR's Juan Forero has the story from Bogota.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

JUAN FORERO: Those are Supreme Court justices deliberating, a conversation illegally recorded by the DAS, Colombia's spy service. It was later provided to local radio stations, among hours of tapes in the hands of Colombia's chief prosecutor.

Prosecutors say the DAS, which is under the control of the president, targeted the court's justices and the investigative magistrates who function like prosecutors. The purpose: to find ties between the criminal underworld and the court in order to discredit the country's highest judicial body.

MISAEL RODRIGUEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Prosecutor Misael Rodriguez says at a court hearing that the agency was used to control, attack and discredit. He says Bernardo Moreno, Uribe's chief of staff, oversaw the effort. Moreno has been charged and is in jail awaiting trial. He denies the accusations.

Former President Uribe, who left office last year and has not been charged, denies any involvement. But prosecutors say the president's office wanted to derail court investigations linking illegal armed groups and congressmen allied with Uribe. William Romero is among the former high-ranking DAS members who've told prosecutors that the agency collected information and shipped it to the president's office.

WILLIAM ROMERO: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: What we were told, Romero tells NPR, is that these are the orders of the DAS director and the president.

Romero and other former agents also say some American assistance was used by DAS units in the illegal surveillance. The State Department in Washington says it has, quote, "no knowledge of U.S. government equipment being misused in Colombia."

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Here at this court chamber, bugging devices were placed under tables where exchanges between judges and witnesses take place. The person responsible for the bugging was Alba Luz Florez, a 33-year-old former agent known to DAS as Y-66.

ALBA LUZ FLOREZ: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: My bosses told me it was an issue of national security, Florez says in an interview.

FORERO: Florez, who avoided charges by cooperating with prosecutors, used court security people, chauffeurs and even the coffee ladies to plant bugs and gather intelligence. Among those she recruited was the driver for the court's top investigative magistrate, Ivan Velasquez.

FLOREZ: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: I knew everything about the driver's family, absolutely everything, Florez says. So I began to see how I could fill his needs. She learned the driver needed to pay child support for several children, so she paid him. And that he admired President Uribe.

FLOREZ: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Let's do it for the president, she recalls telling him. Velasquez, the star investigative magistrate, sits in his small office, which had once been bugged.

IVAN VELASQUEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Here I talk to lawyers and witnesses who want to provide information, says Velasquez. He says the surveillance was designed to intimidate him and witnesses.

But to date, 30 congressmen - virtually all allies of Uribe - have been convicted after being investigated by the court. And the attorney general's office has also been busy; four of Uribe's top aides are under investigation. The former president's conduct is also under review, by a special legislative commission. Juan Forero, NPR News, Bogota.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from