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Wanted Poster: Pablo Escobar Gaviria, ca. 1993

Colombian Paramilitaries and the United States:
"Unraveling the Pepes Tangled Web"

Documents Detail Narco-Paramilitary Connection to U.S.-Colombia Anti-Escobar Task Force

CIA Probed Whether U.S. Intelligence Was Passed to 'Los Pepes' Terror Group

Colombian Government Both Recipient and Target of U.S. Intelligence

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 243

Edited by Michael Evans

Posted - February 17, 2008

For more information contact:
Michael Evans - 202/994-7029
mevans@gwu.edu

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Washington, D.C., February 17, 2008 - U.S. espionage operations targeting top Colombian government officials in 1993 provided key evidence linking the U.S.-Colombia task force charged with tracking down fugitive drug lord Pablo Escobar to one of Colombia's most notorious paramilitary chiefs, according to a new collection of declassified documents published today by the National Security Archive. The affair sparked a special CIA investigation into whether U.S. intelligence was shared with Colombian terrorists and narcotraffickers every bit as dangerous as Escobar himself.

The new documents, released under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, are the most definitive declassified evidence to date linking the U.S. to a Colombian paramilitary group and are the subject of an investigation published today in Colombia's Semana magazine.

The documents reveal that the U.S.-Colombia Medellin Task Force, known in Spanish 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. One cable describes a key meeting from April 1993 where, according to sensitive US intelligence sources, Colombian National Police director General Miguel Antonio Gómez Padilla said "that he had directed a senior CNP intelligence officer to maintain contact with Fidel Castano, paramilitary leader of Los Pepes, for the purposes of intelligence collection."

The no-holds-barred search for Escobar began in July 1992 after his escape from a luxury prison where he had been confined since surrendering under a special plea agreement with Colombian authorities. U.S. anti-narcotics strategy in Colombia was intensely focused on Escobar, the legendary Medellín Cartel kingpin who for years had waged a violent campaign of bombings and assassinations against Colombian law enforcement. This gloves-off strategy forged alliances between Colombian intelligence agencies, rival drug traffickers and disaffected former Escobar associates like Castaño, the godfather of a new generation of narcotics-fueled paramilitary forces that still plagues Colombia today.

The new collection also sheds light on the role of U.S. intelligence agencies in Colombia's conflict—both the close cooperation with Colombian security forces evident in the Task Force as well as the highly-sensitive U.S. intelligence operations that targeted the Colombian government itself. Key information about links between the Task Force and the Pepes was derived from U.S. intelligence sources that closely monitored meetings between the Colombian president and his top security officials.

Several of the documents included in this collection were released as the result of a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act brought by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a Washington-based policy group. To support its request, IPS relied on information revealed in Mark Bowden's 2001 book, Killing Pablo, a work that drew heavily on classified sources and interviews with former U.S. and Colombian officials. Since then, the National Security Archive has been working to assemble a definitive collection of declassified documents on the Pepes episode, precisely because the documents cited by Bowden have yet to see the light of day.

"The collaboration between paramilitaries and government security forces evident in the Pepes episode is a direct precursor of today's 'para-political' scandal," said Michael Evans, director of the National Security Archive's Colombia Documentation Project. "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."

"Sensitive PALO Reporting"

The documents include two heavily-censored CIA memos (Documents 25 and 28) describing briefings provided by members of a "Blue Ribbon Panel" of CIA investigators to members of U.S. congressional intelligence committees and the National Security Council. The Panel—which included personnel from the CIA's directorate for clandestine intelligence operations—had been investigating the possibility that intelligence shared with the Medellín Task Force in 1993 ended up in the hands of Colombian paramilitaries and narcotraffickers from the Pepes. That investigation concluded on December 3, 1993, the day Escobar was killed.

The CIA Panel aimed to compile a complete inventory of all U.S. intelligence information shared with the Task Force that may have been passed to the Pepes. And while the group's conclusions were not declassified, the briefing led one congressional staffer to comment that it was "one of the most bizarre stories" that he had ever heard, and to question why the CIA had been chosen to look into the matter rather than "some outside element." Why, in other words, would the CIA be put in charge of an investigation that so directly implicated the Agency itself?

For months, U.S. intelligence had been reporting about Task Force links with the Pepes:

  • The Embassy suspected some level of cooperation between Los Pepes and the Task Force as early as February 1993, when it reported that the Pepes attacks could be the work of "rogue policemen taking advantage of the rash of bombings to give Escobar a taste of his own medicine." (Document 8)
  • A secret CIA report from March 1993 found that, "Unofficial paramilitary groups with a variety of backgrounds and motives are assisting Bogota's efforts against both the Medellin druglord Pablo Escobar and radical leftist insurgents. (Document 10)
  • Around the same time, the CIA reported that the Colombian defense minister, Rafael Pardo, was "concerned that the police are providing intelligence to Los Pepes." In a document titled, "Colombia: Extralegal Steps Against Escobar Possible," Agency analysts predicted that President Gaviria's "demand for an intensified effort to capture Escobar may lead some subordinates to rely more heavily on Los Pepes and on extralegal means." [Emphasis added] (Document 15)

By far the most detailed declassified record on the Pepes affair, the August 1993 Embassy cable, "Unraveling the Pepes Tangled Web," reveals that the Colombian government was both the recipient of U.S. intelligence information and the target of U.S. intelligence operations. Just as technical and investigative intelligence techniques tracked Escobar's movements and communications, other agents eavesdropped on the Colombian president's inner circle.

The most important information in the cable is attributed to "PALO" sources, an acronym that likely refers to the CIA. One indication of this is the fact that the cable—which includes the sensitive "NODIS" designation, limiting its distribution to a highly-select group of addressees—was referred to CIA before declassification.

According to the cable, Colombian prosecutor Gustavo DeGreiff had "new, 'very good' evidence linking key members of the police task force in Medellin charged with capturing Pablo Escobar Gaviria (the "Bloque de Busqueda") to criminal activities and human rights abuses committed by Los Pepes."

The cable describes a series of meetings from the previous April, including one where, according to "PALO" intelligence sources, Colombian National Police director General Miguel Antonio Gómez Padilla said "that he had directed a senior CNP intelligence officer to maintain contact with Fidel Castano, paramilitary leader of Los Pepes, for the purposes of intelligence collection."

A few days later, "PALO" reported that Colombian President César Gaviria ordered intelligence cooperation with Los Pepes to cease and told police intelligence commander General Luis Enrique Montenegro Rinco, "to 'pass the word' that Los Pepes must be dissolved immediately." Montenegro, according to the source, "was not a member of Los Pepes, but as commander of police intelligence knew some of the members, and was aware of their activities."

The very fact that Gaviria chose to deliver his message to Los Pepes through one of his senior police commanders was also significant, according to the Embassy, as an indication that "the president believed police officials were in contact with Los Pepes."

"Fidel Castano, Super Drug-Thug"

Besides the possible transfer of U.S. intelligence to the Pepes, a big concern among U.S. officials was the possibility that information connecting the Pepes to the Task Force—or an official investigation into the matter—would undermine the anti-Escobar effort and could provide significant leverage to the Cali Cartel in surrender negotiations with the Colombian government.

The Embassy reported in the "Tangled Web" cable that President Gaviria "must deal with the issue in such a way as to remove the offenders, but at the same time, not discredit the police efforts against Escobar." (Document 20)

If Cali has concrete information of Bloque misdeeds that could embarrass the [Government of Colombia], it could be a powerful tool as they pursue surrender negotiations… The implication of key police officials and perhaps other high-level [Colombian government] officials in these activities, or the fact that high-level officers may be operating in the pay of the Cali cartel, could dramatically improve Cali's position.

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)

By May 1994, only five months after the Task Force was dissolved, the State Department's intelligence branch was calling Fidel Castaño a "super drug-thug" and "one of Colombia's most ruthless criminals" who "could become a new Escobar." Castaño, the report read, "is more ferocious than Escobar, has more military capability, and can count on fellow antiguerrillas in the Colombian Army and the Colombian National Police." It was, State reported, "unlikely that police or military officials would be willing to vigorously search for him if he did, in fact, act as an intermediary to deliver Cali bribes to senior police and military officers." (Document 32)

The warnings proved to be deadly accurate. While Fidel disappeared in the mid-1990s and is presumed dead, his brother, Carlos Castaño, took over after Fidel's disappearance, uniting and strengthening Colombia's paramilitary armies under the banner of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a ruthless killing machine that vied with guerrilla groups for control of the country's lurcrative drug trade and which for many years met with little to no resistance from government security forces. A third Castaño brother, Vicente, allegedly murdered his brother Carlos and is said to be leading a new generation of Colombian narco-paramilitary groups.

Concerns that former Pepes would use their knowledge of official corruption to extract concessions from the Colombian government in surrender agreements resontate in the ongoing negotations with demobilized paramilitary leaders under the Justice and Peace law. Unlike the Cali traffickers--many of whom actually were taken down by authorities in the years that followed--Castaño and many of the other paramilitary thugs from Los Pepes largely escaped justice and have gone on to become major drug trafficking and paramilitary bosses in their own right. Former Pepe Diego Fernando "Don Berna" Murillo is currently in custody and seeking a reduced sentence under the law.

Hidden History

Unfortunately, the vast majority of U.S. diplomatic and intelligence reporting on Los Pepes remains classified. A more complete declassified account of the matter—including the conclusions of the CIA investigation—would be of tremendous value both to historians and to ongoing peace and reconciliation efforts in Colombia. Among other things, the release of this material would support the Colombian government's National Commission on Reparation and Reconciliation (CNRR) in the production of its report on the emergence and evolution of Colombia's illegal armed groups.

At issue is the exact nature of the relationship between the U.S.-Colombia Task Force and narco-terrorists led by Fidel Castaño, perhaps the most important single figure in the birth of Colombia's modern paramilitary movement. While it is certain that the Task Force was exchanging information with Castaño and Los Pepes, we do not know how long the Task Force maintained these ties and whether the relationship was sanctioned—either tacitly or explicitly—by U.S. participants in the Task Force, the Embassy, or at a more senior level of the U.S. government.

And while we know about the CIA's investigation, its conclusions are far from clear. Nor is it at all certain that the "Blue Ribbon Panel," which issued its findings only days after Escobar was killed, was the final word on the matter. Until the CIA is forced to open its files on the Pepes, we may never fully understand one of the key periods in the history of Colombian paramilitarism.

 


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U.S. Intelligence and Colombian Narcotics Cartels

Document 1
1992 July 29
ARA Guidances, Wednesday, July 29, 1992 [Colombia: Chasing Escobar]

Department of State cable, Unclassified, 4 pp.
Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

Department of State press guidance prepared just after Escobar's escape from confinement indicates that Colombia has the "full support" of the U.S. in the search for Escobar.

Document 2
1992 July 31
Council of State Plans Hearings on Overflights, Gaviria Responds
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Confidential, 5 pp.
Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

Challenged over his decision permitting U.S. overflights of Colombian territory, Colombian President César Gaviria says that his order was constitutional and, according to this cable, "that the Colombian police authorities need the technical assistance of the [U.S. government] in order to find Pablo Escobar. Gaviria's explains that the U.S. C-130 aircraft "carry technical equipment, not armament" and are not "warplanes," and that his authorization of the overflights without informing the Council of State should thus not trigger any constitutional concerns.

Document 3
1992 August 10

GoC to Begin Hitting Narcs on All Fronts
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Confidential, 17 pp.
Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

Shortly after Escobar's escape from confinement, Colombian Defense Minister Rafael Pardo assured Ambassador Busby that Colombia would "apply pressure on all the narco trafficking fronts" and that he had "ordered acting Armed Forces Commander General Manual Alberto Murillo Gonzalez to develop a plan that fully involved the Army, Navy and Air Force. The heavily-excised document adds that, "Pardo's enthusiasm and determination to go after the narcos using all of the above tactics fits squarely with our counternarcotics interests in Colombia. We need to be as responsive as possible to the [Colombian government's] requests for assistance."

Document 4
1992 August 11

Monthly Status Report – July 1992
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Confidential, 16 pp.
Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

A brief Embassy post-mortem on Escobar's escape during an operation to move him to a conventional prison, calls the affair "an example of the correct strategic decision (to shut Escobar down) executed with unbelievable incompetence," concluding that corruption was "the determining factor." The cable reports that the Colombian government "has launched a full-court press to capture Escobar" and that the Embassy was "now looking at longer-range tactics." Well-publicized U.S. intelligence overflights of Colombia "may have spooked" Escobar, according to the report.

Document 5
1992 September 28

Results of General Joulwan Visit to Colombia
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Confidential, 16 pp.
Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

Following the visit to Colombia by General George Joulwan, commander-in-chief of U.S. Southern Command, the Embassy reports that he met with Embassy staff for a discussion focused on "the US/Colombian effort to capture Escobar." Much of the remainder of this heavily-censored cable concerns the importance of strengthening  both U.S.-Colombia intelligence cooperation and military-police coordination in Colombia.

Document 6
1992 December 04

Colombians to Continue the Fight Through the Holidays
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Secret, 4 pp.
Source: State Department Appeals Review Panel declassification release under FOIA

Colombian government contacts have assured U.S. Embassy staff "that no operational unit commanders are being granted holiday leave" and that, "Police continue planning operations involving interdiction, fumigation, hunt for Pablo Escobar, and visits by senior officers to field operating units."

Document 7
1993 March 29

Beyond Support Justice IV (SJIV)
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Secret, 12 pp.
Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

As the hunt for Escobar continues, Embassy reporting reflects its recommendation that the U.S. widen the scope of the counternarcotics effort in Colombia "to include the full array of military support" and going "far beyond" previous levels of assistance. The Embassy contrasts "increasingly successful" intelligence and operational cooperation under the "Support Justice" program with other bilateral policy issues where there is more friction (like trade). Among many other issues, the Embassy lauds the "great strides in tactical capability (which we provided) made in the search for Pablo Escobar."

Los Pepes

Document 8
1993 February 01

Escobar Family Target of Medellin Bombings
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Secret, 3 pp.
Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

The Embassy speculates that recent attacks directed against Escobar family members are "almost certainly related, [and] perhaps carried out by[,] members of the Galeano-Moncada organization retaliating for Escobar's murder of the two former colleagues." Another possibility is that the attacks were the work of "rogue policemen taking advantage of the rash of bombings to give Escobar a taste of his own medicine."

Document 9
1993 February 24

[Operation Envigado / Pablo Escobar-Gaviria]
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Limited Official Use, 6 pp.
Source: DEA declassification release under FOIA

The DEA reports on the emergence of a new anti-Escobar group called Colombia Libre (Free Colombia) whose alleged purpose is "to employ and pay informants for information in connection with the whereabouts of Escobar and his cohorts." The group claims to be non-violent and is said to "cooperate fully with government officials." The report adds that "the Colombia Libre group does not command a great deal of credibility at this time."

Document 10
1993 March
"Alliances of Military Convenience," from Latin American Military Issues, Number 3
U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Secret, extract, 2pp.

Source: CIA declassification release under FOIA

A classified CIA periodical on Latin American military issues reports that, "Unofficial paramilitary groups with a variety of backgrounds and motives are assisting Bogota's efforts against both the Medellin druglord Pablo Escobar and radical leftist insurgents."

Document 11
1993 April 06

Monthly Status Report – March 1993
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Confidential, 7 pp.
Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

This Embassy "summary of significant events" for March 1993 reports that the ebb in terrorist attacks attributed to Escobar's organization "could be attributed to a combination of the unrelenting pressure exerted by the Colombian security forces and the Pepes (People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar) against Escobar and his associates." So far in March, "four top lieutenants of Pablo Escobar were killed—two by Colombian security forces and two by the Pepes," according to the Embassy.

Document 12
1993 April 06

GoC Denies Negotiations in Response to Pepes
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Confidential, 3 pp.
Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

In response to allegations advanced by Los Pepes,Colombian officials deny that the government is negotiating the surrender of Pablo Escobar, adding that they "energetically reject any criminal form of fighting crime, as well as all types of private justice which attempt to assume responsibilities which correspond constitutionally to law enforcement authorities and the judiciary."

Document 13
1993 April 15

GoC Foreign Policy Advisor on Latest Development in the Search for Escobar
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Confidential, 3 pp.
Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

In the midst of a series of high-level Colombian government meetings concerning ties between the Medellín Task Force and Los Pepes (see Document 20), the Embassy reports that President Gaviria's foreign policy advisor, Gabriel Silva, had said in an April 13 meeting "that it was not entirely coincidental that publicity regarding the search for Pablo Escobar had cooled off somewhat in the past few weeks." Silva told Ambassador Busby "that the GoC had become concerned about the expectations which had been built up concerning the Pablo Escobar Task Force (Bloque de Busqueda) in Medellin in the minds of the public" and that "expectations were running away from reality."

Interestingly, a subsequent reference to this same meeting from the "Tangled Web" cable (Document 20) reports that Busby had met with Silva that day "to express his strongest reservations" about Los Pepes, indicating that he suspected links between Colombian security forces and the terrorist group. These reservations are not mentioned in the April 15 account of the meeting.

Document 14
1993 April 26

Los Pepes Declare Victory and Call it Quits
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Confidential, 3 pp.
Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

Shortly after the mid-April meetings described above (and in greater detail in the "Tangled Web" cable), Los Pepes announced that the group's "military objective" against Escobar "has been completed in its majority" and that they would dissolve their organization in an effort to "assist the authorities, who in the end will be the ones to bring Pablo Escobar to justice." The letter further requests that "if military actions against Pablo Escobar and his organization continue in the name of the 'Pepes,' that they launch an exhaustive investigation to determine the real perpetrators."

Commenting, the Embassy says: "The entire Pepes episode has been bizarre at best," citing "rumors … of government involvement with the Pepes at the local police and military level." However, discussions with the Colombian government "lead us to believe it rejected the Pepes' tactics, were [sic] fearful of the implications of the appearance of yet another criminal organization, and were [sic] sincere in their offer of rewards to try to stop the organization."

The cable concludes with the Embassy's promise to "offer our own speculation and such information as we have in a separate cable."

Document 15
Undated, Ca. April 1993

Colombia: Extralegal Steps Against Escobar Possible
U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Classification unknown, extract, 3pp.
Source: CIA declassification release under FOIA

A heavily-censored CIA intelligence report finds that Colombian President César Gaviria "is worried that his political leverage and economic program will suffer unless Pablo Escobar is captured soon." Minster of Defense Rafael Pardo, meanwhile, "is concerned that the police are providing intelligence to Los Pepes, a violent paramilitary group of anti-Escobar traffickers." The report concludes that while there is "no evidence Gaviria would sanction police support for Los Pepes, his demand for an intensified effort to capture Escobar my lead some subordinates to rely more heavily on Los Pepes and on extralegal means."

Document 16
Undated, Ca. April 1993
Information Paper on "Los Pepes"
U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Secret, 4 pp.
Source: DIA declassification decision under FOIA

This DIA information paper prepared for the FBI provides general background information on Los Pepes, including its origins, composition and activities. The report finds that "Fidel Castano Gil," identified as "chief of operations" for the Pepes, could pose new and different challenges in a post-Escobar era," noting that "Castano's drug trafficking activities provide him the financing necessary to further an anti-left agenda." DIA concludes that the Colombian government's willingness to take on Castaño "may depend more on how his paramilitary agenda complements Bogota's counterinsurgent activities rather than on his drug trafficking activities."

Document 17
1993 May 07
Text of Escobar's Latest Letter to the Fiscal
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Limited Official Use, 5 pp.

Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

The Embassy forwards the unreleased text of a letter from Pablo Escobar to the Colombian attorney general, Gustavo De Greiff. Escobar says that the Pepes have not disbanded and that "it is simply a stratagem" to "get the government to stop running its little television reward offer" for information on the Pepes. Escobar blames Fidel Castaño, the Cali cartel, and others for his problems and suggests that he could never get justice in Colombia's corrupt judicial system.

Document 18
1993 June 08
Los Pepes Deny Involvement in Anti-Escobar Terrorism
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Classification unknown, 2 pp.

Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

After the Pepes issued a communiqué denying responsibility for continuing attacks against Escobar associates, the Embassy comments that the Pepes likely are still involved in anti-Escobar terrorism "but publicly deny this in order to avoid [Colombian govnerment] persecution."

Document 19
1993 July 08
Family Diaspora: Tracking Down the Escobars
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Confidential, 5 pp.

Source: State Department Appeals Review Panel declassification release under FOIA

By July 1993, the Medellín Task Force and Los Pepes had Escobar on the run, and his family had spread out across the globe, as reported in this cable. The Embassy speculates that one reason for this might be that, "Pablo and his brother Roberto are trying to protect family members from reprisals similar to those the anti-Escobar group 'Los Pepes' conducted" earlier in 1993.

Document 20
1993 August 06

Unraveling the Pepes Tangled Web
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Secret/NODIS, 10 pp.
Source: State Department Appeals Review Panel declassification release under FOIA
[NOTE: Portions of this document released on appeal appear with white letters on black background and can be difficult to read.]

By far the most detailed declassified record on the Pepes affair, this August 1993 Embassy cable reveals that the Colombian government was both the recipient of U.S. intelligence information and the target of U.S. intelligence operations. Just as technical and investigative intelligence techniques tracked Escobar's movements and communications, other agents eavesdropped on the Colombian president's inner circle.

The most important information in the cable is attributed to "PALO" sources, an acronym that probably refers to the CIA. One indication of this is the fact that the cable—which includes the sensitive "NODIS" designation, limiting its distribution to a highly-select group of addressees—was referred to CIA before declassification.

According to the cable, Colombian prosecutor Gustavo DeGreiff had "new, 'very good' evidence linking key members of the police task force in Medellin charged with capturing Pablo Escobar Gaviria (the "Bloque de Busqueda") to criminal activities and human rights abuses committed by Los Pepes."

The cable describes a series of meetings from the previous April, including one where, according to "PALO" intelligence sources, Colombian National Police director General Miguel Antonio Gómez Padilla said "that he had directed a senior CNP intelligence officer to maintain contact with Fidel Castano, paramilitary leader of Los Pepes, for the purposes of intelligence collection."

A few days later, "PALO" reported that Colombian President César Gaviria ordered intelligence cooperation with Los Pepes to cease and told police intelligence commander General Luis Enrique Montenegro Rinco, "to 'pass the word' that Los Pepes must be dissolved immediately." Montenegro, according to the source, "was not a member of Los Pepes, but as commander of police intelligence knew some of the members, and was aware of their activities."

The very fact that Gaviria chose to deliver his message to Los Pepes through one of his senior police commanders was also significant, according to the Embassy, as an indication that "the president believed police officials were in contact with Los Pepes."

The Embassy concludes that President Gaviria "must deal with the issue in such a way as to remove the offenders, but at the same time, not discredit the police efforts against Escobar." Incriminating information about the Task Force known by the Cali Cartel "could be a powerful tool as they pursue surrender negotiations," according to the cable, and "the implication of key police officials and perhaps other high-level [Colombian government] officials in these activities, or the fact that high-level officers may be operating in the pay of the Cali cartel, could dramatically improve Cali's position."

Document 21
1993 October 26
The Hunt for Escobar: Next Steps
U.S. State Department cable, Secret/NODIS, 2 pp.
Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

In another highly-sensitve "NODIS" cable, the State Department, in a message meant exclusively for Ambassador Morris Busby or his deputy, requests a "detailed analysis" of certain U.S. support operations in Colombia connected to the "hunt for Pablo Escobar." The analysis is to focus on the contribution of each support element and also "put into perspective the evolution of our participation and the Colombian effort."

Noting with concern allegations of "human rights abuses" connected to the Escobar Task Force, the State Department also instructs the Embassy to press President Gaviria for the "immediate removal from duty" of a member of the Task Force "pending resolution of the investigation into the charges against him." The cable references the August 6, 1993, "Tangled Web" cable, indicating that the issues discussed in that message--including specific information tying the U.S.-Colombia Task Force and the Colombian National Police to the Pepes--was probably the source of the State Department's concern.

Document 22
1993 October 27
The Hunt for Escobar: Next Steps
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Secret/NODIS, 2 pp.
Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

Resonding to the State Department's cable of October 26 (Document 21), Ambassador Busby says that the so-called "debate" about the future of U.S. "hunt for Pablo Escobar" operations "frankly mystifies" the Embassy. Busby notes that a "complete review of our intelligence and operations traffic so far reveals nothing extraordinary" and that nothing had changed over the last two-and-a-half months "which would prompt such a 'debate.'" Busby adds that the Embassy "would very much appreciate the Department articulating to us the origin and substance of this debate."

Document 23
1993 December 06

Colombian Law Enforcement Action Against Pablo Escobar
U.S. Department of State cable, Unclassified, 1 p.
Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

Acting Secretary of State Peter Tarnoff sends a congratulatory cable to Ambassador Busby, commending his "success in coordinating the many U.S. government agencies which worked with the Colombian government for more than seventeen months to end Pablo Escobar's ability to evade Colombian law." Tarnoff wants to maintain momentum as they continue "efforts to strengthen Colombia's ability to arrest, prosecute and imprison cartel kingpins."

The Aftermath: Colombia After Escobar

Document 24
1993 November

The Illicit Drug Situation in Colombia
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Drug Intelligence Report, Classification unknown, 67 pp.
Source: DEA declassification release under FOIA

This is an unclassified DEA overview of the illegal narcotics industry in Colombia.

Document 25
1993 December 06

Briefing of NSC and SSCI on "Los Pepes" Affair
Central Intelligence Agency memorandum for the record, Secret, 3 pp.
Source: CIA declassification release under FOIA

In two separate briefings, members of the CIA's "Blue Ribbon Panel" on the Pepes matter—including officials from the Directorate of Operations and the chief of the CIA's independent investigations unit—brief the National Security Council and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence staffers just days after Escobar is killed. Assembled in early November, the Panel was to look at whether U.S. intelligence information provided to the anti-Escobar Task Force was shared with members of the Pepes terror group, which was by then known to have connections to senior Colombian police officials leading the Task Force. The Panel told the NSC that the "Embassy Joint Task Force" on Escobar "maintained no record of information passed to the Colombians," but that another source, excised from the declassified memo on the briefing, "kept a log of all information passed to the Colombians," that the Panel was trying to obtain. The SSCI staff received a shorter briefing, asked no questions, and was not told about the existence of a separate log.

A separate memo reports the briefing given by the Panel to members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (see Document 28)

Document 26
1993 December 17

President Gaviria Threatened by Escobar Associates
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Secret, 4 pp.
Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

A 'Secret' cable from the Embassy reports that President Gaviria had received a letter from Escobar's group "The Extraditables" threatening to assassinate the president. Commenting, the Embassy says that "the threat from the Escobar organization is being interpreted as a retaliation against the government not only for the death of Escobar, but also for the favoritism the [Government of Colombia] is showing towards the Cali cartel."

Document 27
1993 December 20

New National Police Chief Appointed
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Confidential, 3 pp.
Source: State Department Appeals Review Panel declassification release under FOIA

Longtime Colombian National Police director General Miguel Antonio Gomez Padilla has resigned and will be replaced by General Octavio Vargas Silva, the man "who headed the successful anti-Escobar task force." A portion of the cable redacted upon first review but later released by the State Department's Appeals Review Panel says that Gomez "was especially disturbed over the influence of the Cali cartel in numerous levels of government" and that he "had simply had enough of the situation." The career of General Vargas, the Embassy adds, has been tainted by "press reports which attributed part of his success in hunting Escobar to assistance by Cali traffickers."

Document 28
1993 December 27

Briefing for HPSCI Staff on Results of "Los Pepes" Panel and on Death of Pablo Escobar
Central Intelligence Agency memorandum for the record, Secret, 6 pp.
Source: CIA declassification release under FOIA

In a briefing similar to those reported in Document 25, the CIA's "Blue Ribbon Panel" on the Pepes affair met with staffers from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on December 6.

Attached to a memo about the meeting is a heavily-redacted copy of a paper on the "findings and conclusions" of the Panel. Also attached is a "background" paper on the Panel itself. The Panel "met full time from 8 November through 3 December 1993" and produced "daily 'fact sheets' for the [Executive Director] beginning on 15 November" as well as a "final Panel report" that "integrates these fact sheets."

After the briefing, HPSCI staffer Dick Giza called the issue "one of the most bizarre stories" he'd ever heard of, "both in how it arose and how it was investigated," asking why the investigation had not been assigned to an "outside element" like the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB).

Document 29
1994 January 04

Secret Witness Linked to Villa Alzate Missing
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Confidential, 4 pp.
Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

A news item on the disappearance of a former member of the anti-Escobar Task Force and secret paid witness of the attorney general's office catches the Embassy's attention. Ex-police agent Jaime Rincon Lezama ("Fernando") disappeared in May 1993 and had been allegedly providing prosecutors with "information on the identities and activities of Los Pepes within the Bloque [Task Force]." Rincon reportedly worked for the former delegate attorney general for judicial police affairs, Guillermo Villa Alzate, who has been linked to the Cali cartel and "whose exact whereabouts remain unclear." Despite Villa's ties to the cartel, the Embassy comments that "it would be premature to discount altogether unofficial police participation in his disappearance considering that Fernando supposedly fingered over 10 of his former colleagues as operatives of Los Pepes."

Document 30
1994 January 07

Villa Alzate Speaks: Denies Any Connection with Disappearance of Secret Witness
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Confidential, 5 pp.
Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

Former delegate attorney general for judicial police affairs and alleged Cali cartel conspirator Guillermo Villa Alzate reemerges to defend himself following accusations (detailed above) that he is connected to the disappearance of a former police official who had been providing him information on the Task Force's connections to Los Pepes. The Embassy notes that the development "once again raises questions as to the extent of possible Cali cartel influence," adding that "it is also clear 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 31
1994 February 11

Presidential Contender Samper and Ambassador Discuss Narcotics, Political, and Economic Issues
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Confidential, 9 pp.
Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

Amidst a discussion about the death of Pablo Escobar, Colombian presidential candidate and later president Ernesto Samper tells U.S. Ambassador Myles Frechette that the Cali cartel "is worse" than Escobar "because its level of sophistication has permitted it to penetrate Colombian society at virtually all levels." However, Samper says that "the door should be kept open for those who wish to exercise the option to use legal procedures" to dismantle the Cali cartel. Ambassador Frechette doubts that the Cali capos would hold up their end of the bargain, observing that "the cartel's armed branch, the 'Pepes' was capable of assassinations and violent crime." Samper campaign finance director and ex-justice minister Monica DeGreiff replies that "her sources within the cartel had warned her that the deal would greatly reduce the possibility of violence from 'difficult to control cartel elements.'"

Document 32
1994 May 26
Profile of Fidel Castano, Super Drug-Thug
Department of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Intelligence Assessment, Secret, 3 pp.

Source: State Department Appeals Review Panel declassification release under FOIA

This State Department intelligence profile of Fidel Castano says that the former Escobar strongman was "a principal leader of Los Pepes, which provided officials with information on the whereabouts of Escobar and attacked supporters and properties of Escobar." Castano "reportedly acted as an intermediary between the Cali cartel and the Escobar search force." The Pepes were "financially backed by the Cali cartel" and "reportedly had the tacit support of some senior Colombian police officials," according to the report. The report details the Castano family's long history of involvement in violent narcotrafficking and anti-guerrilla activities. According to the report, Castano is "more ferocious than Escobar, has more military capability, and can count on fellow antiguerrillas in the Colombian Army and the Colombian National Police." The report says that Castano "hopes his work with Los Pepes will earn him judicial leniency," adding that "it is unlikely that police or military officials would be willing to vigorously search for him if he did, in fact, act as an intermediary to deliver Cali bribes to senior police and military officers."

Document 33
1994 June 30

Delivery of Demarche to President Gaviria
U.S. Department of State cable, Secret, 5 pp.
Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

A toughly-worded diplomatic note to Colombian president-elect Ernesto Samper makes clear that the State Department expects results from the new administration, which has been tainted by a narcotics scandal. The State Department says that it is "deeply troubled by the information pointing to the influence of drug trafficking organizations" in Samper's presidential campaign," which create the impression "that drug traffickers have used intimidation and financial power to purchase influence in your administration." The State Department also reminds the Embassy that "our bilateral relationship will be predicated on Samper taking a tough counternarcotics stance."

Document 34
1994 September 07

GoC Overhauls Police Leadership
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Confidential, 7 pp.
Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

Colonel Hugo Martinez, commander of the "Search Bloc" that hunted down Pablo Escobar in 1993, is named director of the National Judicial Police (DIJIN) a special police intelligence organization. The Embassy notes that Martinez, "as head of the unit," was "responsible for directing the actions of the Bloque," which, according to the Colombian attorney general, had "a high incidence of human rights complaints" and about which there were "allegations that the Bloque (and Martinez) was closely tied with "Los Pepes" (a group committed to killing Pablo Escobar) because of their common goal."

Document 35
1997 January 17

Police General Montenegro to Head DAS
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Confidential, 3 pp.
Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

In January 1997, Colombian National Police commander General Rosso Jose Serrano named Gen. Luis Enrique Montenegro Rinco, the former police intelligence commander, as the new director of the Administrative Security Department (DAS – similar to U.S. FBI). As police intelligence chief, Montenegro had been a key informational link between the Medellín Task Force and Los Pepes.

Document 36
2003 October 03

Medellin Snapshot
U.S. Embassy Bogotá cable, Confidential, 3 pp.
Source: State Department declassification release under FOIA

This 2003 'snapshot' of Medellín reports that unidentified individuals had told the Embassy that, "elements of the army" were supportive of paramilitaries from the Nutibara Block, "composed of former leaders of the ultra-violent 'Pepes' group that played a key role in bringing down drug kingpin Pablo Escobar."

 

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