CIA covert action in Colombia revealed

The Washington Post on Dec. 21 ran an in-depth report exposing CIA oversight of the Colombian government's campaign of targeted assassinations of guerilla leaders. Forces from the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) have also provided assistance to the program. The US assistance has transformed the Colombian military's "less-than-accurate" 500-pound gravity bombs into precision-guided munitions (PGMs) or "smart bombs" by attaching a "$30,000 GPS guidance kit" to the gravity devices. The bombs have been used to kill around "two dozen rebel leaders," including Luis Edgar Devia Silva AKA Raúl Reyes. He was "considered to be the No. 2 in the seven-member FARC secretariat" and was killed in Ecuador—an operation that Ecuador's government strongly condemned as a violation of its sovereignty. The White House viewed it as an act of "self-defense" because Ecuador would not attack the FARC within its territory.

As reporter Dana Priest noted, two US presidential findings "authorizing covert action" already exist. One permits the CIA to conduct operations against "international terrorist organizations," and the other, signed by President Ronald Reagan, authorizes action against "international narcotics traffickers." Lawyers for the White House initially questioned whether it was legal under these orders for the US to target individual FARC leaders with "smart bombs." One unnamed attorney asked, "Could we be accused of engaging in an assassination, even if it is not ourselves doing it?"

The White House Office of Legal Counsel decided to employ the same legal basis used to justify targeted killings of suspected members of al-Qaeda and "associated forces." Lawyers determined: "Killing a FARC leader would not be an assassination because the organization posed an ongoing threat to Colombia. Also, none of the FARC commanders could be expected to surrender." FARC was found to be a "threat to US national security" under terms of Reagan's finding issued in response to the "crack cocaine epidemic" on the streets of the US.

The US government recognized that Colombia's leaders might use the "smart bombs" to target "perceived political enemies." From 2006 to 2010, the CIA retained control over the use of "smart bombs" by inserting each with an encryption key. The National Security Agency also provided communications intercepts to Colombian forces to assist the operations—aid that was considered a "game changer." (Fire Dog Lake, Dec. 23)

Earlier this year, the Colombian Air Force began to participate in training exercises with NATO planes in Canada. On June 25, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón and the deputy secretary-general of NATO, Alexander Vershbow, signed an "Agreement on the Security of Information." The accord "will allow NATO and Colombia to explore future cooperation and consultation in areas of common interest," NATO said in a press release. Vershbow added: "As an Alliance of democracies, we are gratified when countries sharing similar values reach out to us." Earlier in June, President Juan Manuel Santos announced his administration's intention to seek increased cooperation with the North Atlantic alliance—immediately eliciting strong condemnation from the FARC, as well as the governments of Bolivia and Nicaragua. (Spectrezine, UK, June 27; NATO, June 25)