Bogota: President Juan Manuel Santos denied that his administration was in any way involved in the reported spying by members of an elite army cyber-unit on the digital communications of government peace negotiators and at least two top leftist politicians.
"This is totally unacceptable," Santos told reporters yesterday in brief remarks at police headquarters. He said he had ordered a full investigation.
Colombians had awoken to a report in the country`s leading news magazine that the cyberspies, along with young civilian hackers they recruited, had collected for more than a year emails and text messages from his negotiators at Havana peace talks.
"They were apparently gathering intelligence specifically from the negotiators," the president said, adding that the operation appeared aimed at seeking to derail 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 there are rogue elements in the military." He said, without specifying when, that he had been informed that the eavesdropping`s apparent center of operations in the capital was searched 10 days before. The magazine, Semana, is edited by a nephew of the president.
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 cybersecurity classes.
The eavesdroppers did not intercept voice communications but were ordered to break into email 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 reported. The eavesdroppers also were engaged in spying on urban rebels, the magazine said.
Semana said government negotiators would likely not have discussed sensitive issues in their digital communications, mindful that intelligence agencies including the Cubans were likely monitoring them.