Covert CIA Operations in Colombia Officially Brought to Light…and Why It Matters to People of Faith

Image from the Washington Post; December 21, 2013
















Image from the Washington Post; December 21, 2013


“Why is this article such a big deal?  Didn’t we already know about this?”

Yes and no.

On December 21, 2013 the Washington Post ran a major and far-ranging article exploring and describing the ongoing CIA involvement in Colombia that has extended well beyond the billions already spent on Plan Colombia.  The article describes a black-ops budget for both the CIA and NSA with operation central out of the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá.  On December 24, 2013 Democracy Now aired two interviews, one with the reporter behind the Washington Post article and the other with Mario Murillo of Hofstra University.

For a long time many of us who have worked on issues of peace and justice in Colombia have suspected and talked about this level of involvement of our government in Colombia.  As I have observed the situation over the years I have wondered about such things.  I have heard Colombians talk about such things.  I have visited joint U.S./Colombian military installations and it was clear to my mostly untrained eye that much more was going on than the “official” story.   Friends who have friends in special-ops of the U.S. military have bragged to me about how they are constantly being deployed and re-deployed to Colombia. 

As the Edward Snowden documents came to light last year the noises got louder and fresh questions began to be asked about foreign operations in Latin America.  As many countries in Latin America publically voiced their concern and even outrage over what these documents showed, for the most part the political leadership of Colombia was silent. 

Colombia and our military involvement there is a jumping off point for many of the larger concerns that occupy our thoughts these days.  Our partnership through the Accompaniment Program in Colombia has brought us face-to-face with communities and people with whom we have sacred relationships.  As leaders in our faith-communities who might fall or have already fallen into the trap of weariness or tiredness with the ever-constant, seemingly impossible to work against drumbeat of war-making we must pick ourselves up to re-engage. 

We must pay close attention for so many reasons.  Here are just a few:


Targeted Killing

Dana Priest, the Washington Post reporter offers this insight in the Democracy Now interview:

“So, what was—if you look at it in a bigger sense, what was happening in Colombia was some of the same types of techniques that they were learning about and sharing with their counterparts, the CIA counterparts, in other parts of the world, this—again, this sort of targeting of individuals, which is new—which is a new phenomenon that began after 9/11. The U.S. didn’t do that well, and it didn’t do it with the CIA prior to that. And so, you see that the—what they were—how they were doing things overseas in other places is sort of the same that they were doing it in Colombia, and they ended up using the same legal justification for targeting and killing an individual. As you know, the U.S. law prohibits assassination. And so, they had to work through, in the beginning, whether this would be considered an assassination. And the lawyers decided, no, it would not, because they were in an active war state with a non-state actor, and that being the terrorist organizations, the FARC, al-Qaeda, in this case. So they were doing some of the same things [inaudible] was the same sort of fusing of intelligence that you saw in other parts of the world.”

The encrypted targeted missile systems delivered to Colombia and that the U.S. first led the way on testing and using was one of the ways the ways the U.S. government began to set legal precedent for targeting killings.  We now see this highly dubious logic at work in other “hotspots” around the globe, with targeted killings by missile and drone. 

Fast forward to the upcoming 221st General Assembly of our church in Detroit this summer.  The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship is helping address this growing area of theological concern with an overture addressing the theological issues behind drone warfare.  Medea Benjamin, author of Killing by Remote Control and of CodePink will be our keynote speaker at The Peace Breakfast at General Assembly to offer us her insights on our tasks as peacemakers.

The theological issues are enormous.  Here are a few to ponder:

What does it mean for us as people of radical nonviolence and peacemaking when our tax dollars, our government and its foreign policy is in the business of targeting killings by smart bombs and drones?  What does it mean when these so-called “targeted” killings oftentimes miss their target and kill innocent civilians instead, many times with the loss of children?  As people of faith, can we really allow our government to continue its justification of the targeted killing of any human life?  What does it mean for us when we have a mission partnership with communities and people who are the targets of these bombs and drones that our tax dollars have paid for?   What does it mean for us, how should we respond when we have a mission partnership in a country like Colombia where we are using targeted killings as a way of “experimentation” with the limits and bounds of international law?  Are the communities where our partners engage in ministry “experimentation zones?”


The Colombian Peace Process

The Colombian government is currently engaged in a peace process negotiation with the FARC and ELN.  Our mission partners in Colombia are closely watching this process and where it goes and what its implications might be.  PC(U.S.A.) policy related to Colombia is for a negotiated peace solution and against increased U.S.-led militarization.   The black-ops budget that remains in force in Colombia, the handing over of the encryption keys to smart-bomb technology to the Colombian military and the ongoing leadership of the U.S. in Colombia that is strongly weighed towards war and not peace makes the limited (but still worth pursuing) opportunities present at these peace negotiations hard to come by.   It is also clear that the U.S. has taken sides in the conflict, with the targeted killings related to one part of the armed conflict, the guerilla, when there are other armed actors such as the paramilitaries who continue to terrorize many in Colombia. 

Will these ongoing military strikes derail this portion of the peace process?  Is the U.S. in the way of a negotiated peace solution in Colombia, even one that if it succeeded would only be a partial process?  It is worth reminding our faith communities that our stated policy and theological position as Presbyterians is at polar opposite to what our government is doing.  We need to raise this issue once again as the 2010 overture on militarization in Colombia also directs the Stated Clerk and agencies of our larger church to continue to monitor this situation of militarization in Colombia and report its implications to the larger church for its consideration.

These journalistic pieces that were offered to us in late December 2013 invite many questions, only some of which have been raised here. 

As we turn the page onto the New Year we begin our tenth year of shared mission and partnership with the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia through the Colombia Accompaniment Program.  Our sisters and brothers in Colombia are dealing with some of the greatest pressures they ever have in the time since we began.   The crippling forces of militarism, death and the sin of murder are around us. 

We are committed in this New Year to redoubling our efforts to follow Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace and to continue to walk beside our family in the faith in Colombia no matter what and no matter where the road will take us. 


Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo is Director of Colombia Programs at the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and Transitional Presbyter for Albany Presbytery.