CIA Activities in Argentina - Argentinian Intelligence

Argentinian Intelligence

In the United States, the Executive Branch, and the Intelligence Community within it, are, at least in principle, subject to the oversight of United States Congress, and potentially to judicial review. There are barriers between intelligence and law enforcement, theoretically impervious in the case of the CIA and National Security Agency, and carefully controlled with the FBI. Police are largely decentralized at the state and local level. While there will be differences, especially with a parliamentary system, most European countries, as well as Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, have a workable set of controls, with continuing improvement.

Argentina, however, historically has not had such controls and the security and intelligence services remain today entirely exempt from this principle. In fact, there is no law regulating the powers or providing for accountability and control over the activities of the intelligence agencies. For Argentina, the consolidation of democracy is still the main political challenge in the 21st century. And within this overdue task, one of the most problematic issues is the control of the intelligence apparatus. It is problematic not only because of its historical relationship with the military dictatorship, but also because it is a complicated issue in the most well established democracies.

There still needs to be external control, but a basic internal control mechanism is the separation of the intelligence community into different agencies. Although this might reduce effectiveness, it eliminates the dangers of domination and monopoly by a single agency. The separation must be accompanied by a clear delimitation of responsibilities by each agency, trying not to overlap functions in a single one. A common way to do this is by diving the faculties and jurisdiction into external and internal conflicts.

This type of control is only beginning to evolve in Argentina, where Argentina's intelligence community today must be understood within an historical context that includes a recent experience with state terrorism, in which the military intelligence forces were the principal practitioners of state terror. During the years of dictatorship, the main role of the Armed Forces in Argentina shifted form defending the state from external aggressions to defending it from its internal enemies.

With the return to democracy many steps were taken to dismantle the authoritarian legacy and the issue of the power and autonomy of the intelligence agencies came into public debate. The considerable autonomy it had from constitutional controls, either legislative or judicial, began to be questioned and gradually began to be reversed.

As soon as the civilian government assumed power, the members of the military Juntas were tried and convicted for the atrocities they committed during the years of dictatorship. However, lower ranks were granted immunity after the enactment by Congress of two laws: "Punto Final" (Final Point) and "Obediencia Debida" (Justification Defense). Some other initiatives included the appointment of a civilian as head of the State Intelligence Agency and the functional delimitation of the different components of the intelligence community by the National Defense Law and the Internal Security Law

The intelligence agencies, moving forward, were not seen as effective or objective.

During the 1990s Argentina experienced two of the biggest terrorist attacks in its history: the AMIA (Israeli Association) and the Israeli Embassy bombings, that left a total of more than one hundred people dead. Till today, the authors of the bombings are still unknown. The inefficiency of the intelligence services is seen as the principal reason of this institutional failure. In August 2000, the head of the State Intelligence Agency, Fernando de SantibaƱes, was accused of paying bribes to opposition senators in Congress in order to enact a labor law. The scandal created an institutional crisis within Argentina. The head of the agency and several senators resigned in the last month. Additionally, the vice president Carlos Alvarez also resigned as an act of protest because he believed that the Executive Branch was not actively condemning the episode. A Federal Judge is still investigating the case

The Argentine system is, in some respects, more decentralized, and, in other respects, more decentralized than the US intelligence community. There is no equivalent to the US Director of National Intelligence, but there is a National Intelligence Center (CNI) that has a coordinating rather than management role. CNI, in principle, is responsible for medium and long-term analysis, while the State Intelligence Secretary (SIDE) is responsible for short-term strategic intelligence.

SIDE went through major changes in January 2000. First, the civilian head of the agency, Fernando de SantibaƱes, fired over 1000 employees. Many of the discharged agents were related to the military dictatorship of the 1970s, with histories of extortion, kidnapping, torture, disappearances and assassinations. A new set of priorities were established: rather than focus on a threat of internal and external subversion, the new focus is on "illicit trafficking, corruption, white-collar crime, terrorism, money laundering, organized crime, and the formulation of strategic policies in different areas for the President."

In the Argentine context, "security forces" are intermediate forces between police forces (provincial and federal) and the armed forces. They are coordinated, rather than commanded, by the National Direction of Internal Intelligence, located in the Interior Ministry. Still, they are national organizations, without decentralized police: the Naval Prefecture, National Gendarmerie, Federal Police Force, and Local Police Forces.

See for Argentinian methods used elsewhere in the Americas.

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