Released under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, the documents confirm what has long been suspected by activists and researchers: the CIA and the Pentagon, as part of a joint U.S.-Colombian task force charged with bringing drug lord Pablo Escobar to ground, were linked to one of Colombia's most notorious paramilitary leaders and drug kingpins, Fidel Castaño.
According to Michael Evans, director of the National Security Archive's Colombia Documentation Project,
...the U.S.-Colombian Medellin Task Force, known as "the Bloque de Búsqueda or 'Search Block,' was sharing intelligence information with Fidel Castaño, paramilitary leader of Los Pepes (Perseguidos por Pablo Escobar or 'People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar'), a clandestine terrorist organization that waged a bloody campaign against people and property associated with the reputed narcotics kingpin.
The killing of Pablo Escobar is the subject of popular cultural lore -- and disinformation. Witness the success of Mark Bowden's 2001 book, Killing Pablo, "a work that drew heavily on classified sources and interviews with former U.S. and Colombian officials," according to the Archive.
Evans goes on to inform us that,
The collaboration between paramilitaries and government security forces evident in the Pepes episode is a direct precursor of today's "para-political" scandal. 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.
According to Garry Leech, writing in the New York-based Colombia Journal:
The para-politics scandal has its roots in allegations made following the March 2006 congressional and municipal elections that paramilitary leaders had worked closely with right-wing pro-Uribe candidates in northern Colombia to ensure their victory at the polls. The scandal escalated dramatically following the seizure of a laptop belonging to [United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia] AUC commander Rodrigo Tovar, also known as "Jorge 40." The laptop was not delivered to authorities as part of the demobilization process; it was discovered in the possession of Tovar’s right-hand man when he was arrested in early 2006.
According to Colombia's attorney general's office, the laptop contained evidence that unemployed peasants in northern Colombia were paid to impersonate paramilitary fighters and to participate in the demobilization process while real paramilitaries continued committing crimes. These crimes, according to information on the laptop, included the killing of 558 individuals in just one region of northern Colombia during the cease-fire. The laptop also contained evidence of paramilitary links to local and national politicians as well as to state security forces. It is the information found on Tovar's laptop that spawned the para-politics investigation, not confessions or evidence obtained under the Justice and Peace Law.
It has long been known that the CIA and related U.S. intelligence agencies have utilized narcotraffickers and far-right paramilitary gangs as intelligence assets and "special warfare groups," particularly when the Agency and their local allies targeted left-wing political forces for extermination.
In Argentina for example, during the "dirty war" that followed the 1976 neofascist coup d'etat by the Argentine military, the CIA directly collaborated with Propaganda Due (P2) Nazis connected with José López Rega's notorious Triple A (Argentine Anticommunist Alliance) death squad in the transcontinental snatch-and-kill program known as Operation Condor.
Modeled after the CIA's Phoenix Program in Southeast Asia and NATO's European-wide Operation Gladio, Operation Condor was a cross-border alliance amongst the military elites of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. Its reach was global and Condor operatives carried out murders, bombings and "disappearances" of tens of thousands of left-wing activists deemed "terrorists."
According to researcher John Dinges CIA and U.S. military support for Condor extended far beyond casual contact amongst "sister" agencies.
FBI Agent [Robert] Scherrer said he learned that the CIA provided [Chilean intelligence agency] DINA with the computer systems and training that he presumed were used in the Condor data bank. ... The intelligence services were to communicate by telex and by a continent-wide radio network -- infrastructure elements that were also provided by the United States. The telex system was given the name "Condortel" ... A powerful military radio network provided by the U.S. military, whose central transmitter was located in the Panama Canal Zone, was also used for Condor communications. ... There were no restrictions, however, on the use of the radio transmitters by the Latin American military, and that ... intelligence agencies would have access to the system and with simple codes could have used it as the infrastructure for a continent-wide communications system. (The Condor Years, New York: The New Press, 2004, pp. 121, 122, 123)
In 1980, Condor-linked Bolivian military officers, drug lords and neo-Nazis, staged what came to be known as the "Cocaine Coup." Though Gen. Luis Garcia Meza was the front-man for the junta, drug kingpin Roberto Suarez was the power behind the throne.
Among the thugs employed by Argentine military intelligence whose "technical expertise" was essential to the coup's success and the horrors that followed, was the notorious Gladio operative Stefano Delle Chiaie and his sidekick, Pier Luigi Pagliani, described by the U.S. Embassy in La Paz as a "terrorist torture freak."
After the putsch, Interior Minister Luis Arce Gómez put together a Special Security Service led by Delle Chiaie and escaped Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie working in close collaboration with other Nazis known as the Fiances of Death.
Under the control of drug lord Suarez, this unsavory crew instructed Bolivian soldiers in torture techniques and provided protection for the booming cocaine trade. According to Martin A. Lee and Kevin Coogan in a 1985 Village Voice article, one of Delle Chiaie's confidantes claimed the Italian fascist served as a middleman between the Bolivian army's cocaine barons and the Sicilian mafia.
Fast-forward and a similar phenomenon emerges in Colombia. According to Peter Dale Scott,
Drug trafficking and right-wing terrorist activity have been linked in Colombia for at least thirty years. The evidence suggests that the Colombian state security apparatus, in conjunction with the CIA, has had continuing contact with this right-wing nexus and may even have played an organizing role. The story goes back to the Alianza Anticomunista Americana in the 1970s, an international network centered in Argentina that targeted revolutionaries with the assistance of CIA-trained Cuban American terrorists. Left-wing sources have claimed that the AAA operated in Colombia as part of the state security apparatus, and with CIA assistance. (Drugs, Oil, and War, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003, p. 85)
We now know with the release of declassified CIA and U.S. Embassy documents that this was indeed the case. More importantly, the documents provide confirmation that CIA "anti-narcotics interdiction efforts" do not target the drug trade per se, but only those criminal gangs who have run afoul of wider U.S. geostrategic interests in resource rich Colombia. In other words, U.S. policy in the area amounts to a protected drug traffic for allies engaged in anti-left counterinsurgency operations. Contextually, while the U.S. military and the CIA were targeting Escobar's Medellin cartel, they were collaborating via Los Pepes, with the equally brutal and substantially larger Cali syndicate to bring his organization down.
Michael Evans informs us:
An Embassy post-mortem cable on the Escobar affair, written less than a month after his death, similarly reported that "any substantiation of Cali-police complicity in the activities of Los Pepes would have seriously damaged the Bloque's credibility in their efforts against Escobar." (Document 30)
More importantly, U.S. military intelligence doubted that the Gaviria government was sincere about cracking down on Castaño's gang, questioning whether it made sense to target a group that shared a common enemy: leftist Colombian guerrilla groups. One briefing document prepared by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency in the midst of the Pepes episode concluded that the Colombian government's willingness to pursue Pepes military chief Castaño "may depend more on how his paramilitary agenda complements Bogota's counterinsurgent objectives rather than on his drug trafficking activities." (Document 16)
During the 1990s and contemporaneously, CIA operations, now under the flag of the Clinton-Bush Plan Colombia has facilitated precisely this policy. While Fidel disappeared and is presumed dead, his brother Carlos Castaño took over operations and united Colombia's paramilitary gangsters under the banner of the AUC, a hydra-headed monster notorious for its targeting of left-wing activists, peasant organizers and union militants.
Since the 1980s, over 4,000 union leaders and activists have been assassinated by Colombia's anti-union killing machine, often with the connivance of U.S. multinational corporations such as Chiquita Brands, Coca-Cola, Drummond Coal Company and Occidental Petroleum.
And, as on-going investigations by Daniel Hopsicker and Bill Conroy reveal, CIA and corporate America's collaboration with neofascist narcotics syndicates and death squads are an enduring feature of the capitalist deep state.