Washington D.C., February 16, 2008 - U.S. espionage operations targeting top Colombian government officials in 1993 provided key evidence linking the U.S.-Colombia task force charged with tracking down fugitive drug lord Pablo Escobar to one of Colombia's most notorious para military chiefs, according to a new collection of declassified documents published today by the National Security Archive. The affair sparked a special CIA investigation into whether U.S. intelligence was shared with Colombian terrorists and narcotraffickers every bit as dangerous as Escobar himself.
The new documents, released under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, are the most definitive declassified evidence to date linking the U.S. to a Colombian para military group and are the subject of an investigation published today in Colombia's Semana magazine.
The documents reveal that the U.S.-Colombia Medellín Task Force was sharing intelligence information with Fidel Castaño, para military leader of Los Pepes (Perseguidos por Pablo Escobar), a clandestine terrorist organization that waged a bloody campaign against people and property associated with the reputed narcotics kingpin. One cable describes a series of meetings from April 1993 where, according to sensitive US intelligence sources, Colombian National Police director General Miguel Antonio Gómez Padilla said "that he had directed a senior CNP intelligence officer to maintain contact with Fidel Castano, paramilitary leader of Los Pepes, for the purposes of intelligence collection."
The new collection also sheds light on the role of U.S. intelligence agencies in Colombia's conflict--both the close cooperation with Colombian security forces evident in the Task Force as well as the highly-sensitive U.S. intelligence operations that targeted the Colombian government itself. Key information about links between the Task Force and the Pepes was derived from U.S. intelligence sources that closely monitored meetings between the Colombian president and his top security officials.
"The collaboration between paramilitaries and government security forces evident in the Pepes episode is a direct precursor of today's 'para-political' scandal," said Michael Evans, director of the National Security Archive's Colombia Documentation Project. "The Pepes affair is the archetype for the pattern of collaboration between drug cartels, paramilitary warlords and Colombian security forces that developed over the next decade into one of the most dangerous threats to Colombian security and U.S. anti-narcotics programs. Evidence still concealed within secret U.S. intelligence files forms a critical part of that hidden history."
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