Alleged army cyber spying on Colombia negotiators

2014-02-05 13:28
A scandal has engulfed South Korea's spy agency. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

A scandal has engulfed South Korea's spy agency. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Bogota - President Juan Manuel Santos said on Tuesday that enemies of his government's efforts to make peace with leftist rebels may have been behind reported spying by members of an elite army cyber-unit on the digital communications of government negotiators.

"This is totally unacceptable," Santos told reporters, saying he had ordered a full investigation. Hours later, two army generals were suspended from their posts.

Colombians had awakened to a report in the country's leading news magazine that the cyber spies, along with young civilian hackers they recruited, had for more than a year collected emails and text messages from Santos' negotiators at Havana peace talks.

"They were apparently gathering intelligence specifically from the negotiators," Santos said. He said the operation appeared aimed at derailing peace talks launched in November 2012 to end a half-century conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc.

Santos said a probe would determine "if rogue elements in the military" were allied with "dark forces" trying to undermine the talks.

Generals suspended

He said, without specifying when, that he had been informed that the eavesdropping's apparent centre of operations in the capital was searched last week.

The chief prosecutor, Eduardo Montealegre, said authorities seized 20 computers, memory sticks and other electronics in the raid on 24 January.

Late on Tuesday, the government announced that two generals were being relieved of duty during the investigation.

Defence Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon did not specify any relationship between the purported cyber spying and the two officers -  General Mauricio Zuniga, chief of army intelligence, and Gen Jorge Andres Zuluaga, director of the army's national intelligence centre.

Semana's report said the spy ring operated for 15 months ending in October from a clandestine storefront that sold cheap lunches and also billed itself as offering website design and cyber security classes.

The eavesdroppers did not intercept voice communications but were ordered to break into e-mail accounts and intercept messages from the popular WhatsApp service as well as obtain the Blackberry PINs of targets, the magazine said

Their targets included chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle and peace commissioner Sergio Jaramillo as well as politicians not directly involved in the negotiations, including leftist congressman Ivan Cepeda and former Senator Piedad Cordoba, a key go-between with the Farc, Semana said. The eavesdroppers also were engaged in spying on urban rebels, the magazine said.

- AP

Read more on:    juan manuel santos  |  colombia  |  cybercrime
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