Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos dissolved the country's scandal-ridden DAS domestic intelligence agency on Monday, after announcing earlier that the agency would be replaced by a new entity. Santos added that DAS employees will be transferred to other state offices.
The agency was caught spying on presidential foes including judges, reporters and human rights activists during the 2002-2010 administration of Santos' predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, Washington's closest ally in the region at the time.
Some DAS agents and officials also colluded with extreme-right militias that killed and displaced thousands and persecuted labor activists.
Uribe's first DAS chief, Jorge Noguera, was convicted last month of murder in the 2004 death squad killing of a left-wing university professor.
A later DAS director, María del Pilar Hurtado, obtained political asylum in Panama with Uribe's help to avoid a fate similar to Uribe's former chief of staff, Bernardo Moreno.
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Moreno was jailed in July pending trial on criminal conspiracy charges for allegedly ordering illegal espionage. He says he is innocent.
About half the 6,000 DAS employees will go to the chief prosecutor's office, where many investigators will join the CTI investigators' corps. Others are being shifted to the national police and government ministries.
"A lot of people in the DAS have been stigmatized, unjustly I would say," Santos told reporters, speaking with current DAS director Felipe Muñoz at his side. "So many law-abiding people shouldn't pay for a few sinners."
Muñoz said 92 percent of the agency's employees will retain government jobs, and the agency's liquidation will take until Dec. 31. He said Santos would announce the creation of a new intelligence agency later this week.
Neither he nor the president, who did not take questions, explained how they would prevent DAS employees who might have been involved in illegal activities from being incorporated in the new agency.
It was not immediately clear, either, how much U.S. assistance the new agency might receive. Before the scandal, the DAS received some U.S. training and equipment, including a unit that worked closely with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. U.S. government officials say the agency's use of that aid was closely monitored to prevent abuses.
A lot of people in the DAS have been stigmatized, unjustly I would say.
- Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos
The scandal broke in February 2009 after the newsmagazine Semana revealed the illegal spying on prominent Uribe foes. At least 20 current and former DAS officials have been jailed.
Two senior agency officials cooperated with prosecutors and have received eight-year prison sentences in return.
The DAS has been a multi-faceted agency, with responsibilities that encompassed not just intelligence work against criminals and leftist rebels but also protecting Colombia's borders and handling migration matters.
The latter responsibilities will now be transferred to the Foreign Ministry.
In previous administrations, the DAS was an important tool in the government's fight against drug traffickers.
In December 1989, a car bomb attack ordered by the late cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar ripped open the agency's Bogota headquarters, killing more than 50 people.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.