The bomb men | Opinion

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The commander of the Colombian Army, Nicacio Martínez Espinel, on May 20 during an appearance.LUISA GONZALEZ / REUTERS

During almost all of 2019, intelligence men from the Colombian Army had the task of investigating, monitoring, analyzing and profiling, in a massive and indiscriminate way, dozens of journalists. It did not matter what environment they worked for, whether they were Colombian or foreign.

The military had to make reporters' files where they included information about their friends, family, sources and followers of their social networks. Also, they collected georeferencing information with the places they had visited for several months. Thorough profiles of at least 30 journalists.

It was about meddling in their personal life, and inquiring about these matters: what topics do they cover? With whom do they meet? Who do you follow on Twitter? To the last like what a reporter gave could be relevant to pigeonhole them in political intelligence documents. This information was classified as Featured cases. In one of those folders, that of the correspondent in Colombia for The Wall Street Journal, There is a review that says: "Leon Valencia has a friend and is a supporter of the green party. A supporter of the FARC."

In other cases, these conclusions make mention of his race or religion: "He is Muslim, he is black." That was noted in another folder, that of a journalist who works for The New York Times. Other reporters share folders with guerrilla leaders. In some cases, they are young journalists who have served as a bridge or conducted interviews with members of these groups. It is about taking journalistic work to the field of war. Reckless annotations that label journalists with criminal groups based on the content of their journalistic works. A framework that makes it clear that the most powerful entity in the Colombian State, the Army, does not tolerate, at all, the work of the press, nor does it respect the foundations of a democracy.

Who, in the Army or in the Government, is interested in labeling journalists as dangerous actors and putting their lives at risk? Who has ordered the spending of millionaire resources for these operations?

As revealed The Hidden Folders, the detailed research carried out by the magazine Week, The money that financed this operation came, in part, from the cooperation that the United States gives to Colombia. "The Americans are not going to like that part of their own money, from the taxpayers, as they say, has been diverted from the legitimate purposes for which they gave it, the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking, and ended up being used to scavenge the life of journalists from important media in their own country. That is going to be a mess, "a source assured the magazine.

For years, Colombia has been in charge of recycling men and mechanisms that have been useful to spy on the press. Without exception, in all the governments of the last four decades there have been state apparatuses with resources and clear orders to spy on the press. Those in charge of this work are known as "men bombs." They are subjects who know the miseries of the institutions, be it the Army, the Police, or the Prosecutor's Office. Of course, these are people who know well the sins of their superiors or some politicians.

They are the same "men bombs" who worked for Andromeda, an espionage office that operated during the government of Juan Manuel Santos. And, the same ones that turned the DAS, a department of national security, into a criminal enterprise that persecuted, threatened and tortured journalists, during several years of the Álvaro Uribe government.

They are the men who know too much, or "bad apples," as President Iván Duque indulgently calls them; those that the military leadership prefers to keep in the troops and cover up their crimes, rather than face them.

The dirty war of the State against journalists, considered dangerous by the establishment, was the same one that persecuted Gabriel García Márquez, until he was forced into exile; also to Daniel Samper Pizano, Olga Behar and Antonio Caballero, to name a few. It was called the Security Statute and was carried out with strict discipline between 1978 and 1981. The men in charge of the illegalities during those years were never convicted.

Around those years, Guillermo Cano, an emblematic journalist from Colombia, assassinated by Pablo Escobar, wrote in The viewer, newspaper he ran, a column titled Police state. His pen warned: “The Police State is reached when all the arms constituted to defend the honor, property and life of citizens are becoming or become implacable owners of those same assets, of those same honors, of those same lives, to say to the bad ones, because the good ones do not serve them, what to do or undo with them, gradually demolishing or at once everything that constitutes the rule of law ”.

The details of this new espionage case have been in the power of the Supreme Court of Justice and the Prosecutor's Office since December 2019. However, there is no indication that the investigations are progressing and on the contrary, until now, the case remains the same recipe for impunity and those who must give answers avoid the fundamental questions: what is the origin of the initiative of these profiles; what is its purpose and; who, military and political, had access to the information collected.

Jonathan Bock is deputy director of the Foundation for Freedom of the Press (FLIP).

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