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BP hands 'tarred in pipeline dirty war'. Colombia's military have been blamed for the murder of thousands of civilians. New claims link the British oil company to a security campaign supplying equipment to a notorious army unit and running a spy network of former troops. By Michael Gillard, Ignacio Gomez and Melissa Jones. Saturday October 17, 1998
The northern part of the Ocensa pipeline winds through Antioquia and the Magdelena Medio - the areas most savaged by Colombia's 33-year armed conflict.
Peasant farmers living near the pipeline are caught in the crossfire between the Colombian army, its feared paramilitary allies and leftwing guerrillas.
In the past 10 years more than 30,000 unarmed civilians have been the victims of politically motivated killings in Colombia. International human rights groups hold the state security forces and paramilitaries responsible for 70 per cent of these murders.
Many of the tortured and decapitated bodies - community leaders, trade unionists, church workers, peasant farmers and human rights defenders - are buried in the land around the pipeline.
Their families will never see those responsible prosecuted, because the Colombian security forces implicated in this dirty war escape with almost total impunity.
BP is a major shareholder in the Ocensa consortium, along with the Canadian firms TransCanada and IPL Enterprises and the French oil company Total.
Ocensa recently completed the 520 mile pipeline, which transports high-quality crude from BP's huge oilfield in the eastern foothills of the Andes to tankers off the Caribbean coast.
The pipeline, which is a military target for the guerrillas, has two lines of defence.
First is an internal security department created and run by a secretive Anglo-American company, Defence Systems Limited, which is based in London. DSL and its former SAS soldiers were initially brought to Colombia by BP to protect its £25billion oilfields.
Second is a secret agreement with the Colombian defence ministry to provide protection by counter-guerrilla brigades based near the pipeline.
Ocensa's defence needs are worth millions to the private security industry and the Colombian military. BP is also the country's biggest investor.
With this in mind the Israeli security company Silver Shadow approached Ocensa's security department in the summer of 1996. In July it sent a two-page fax to Ocensa's security manager, Roger Brown, detailing what it called "The Turn Key Project".
The proposals for protecting the northern section of the pipeline included armoured attack helicopters, the "direct supply of anti-guerrilla special weaponry and ammo", night-vision goggles, small robotic spy planes (drones) and secure communications equipment.
Mr Brown is a former British army officer and veteran of the Oman war. In civvy street he joined DSL and in 1992 was sent to Colombia to run security for BP's oilfields. Three years later he was transferred to set up and run Ocensa's pipeline security department. The two security operations worked closely together and handle security matters for the consortium.
The Guardian has obtained copies of the correspondence between Silver Shadow and Ocensa, including other documents related to the arms deal.
The Silver Shadow papers reveal that Mr Brown said he had received "verbal agreement" from Ocensa's management to study pipeline protection plans, including the Turn Key Project.
Ocensa transferred an advance payment of $202,000 (£126,000) to Silver Shadow's Tel Aviv account.
And in May last year, when the US export licence was approved, 60 pairs of restricted night-vision goggles were sent directly to the notorious 14th Brigade, which operates in Segovia, through which the pipeline passes.
This brigade has one of the worst human rights records in Colombia's dirty war. Lawyers have proved the involvement of a brigade commander and officers in one of Colombia's worst massacres in Segovia in 1988 when more than 90 men, women and children were attacked and 43 of them killed.
In 1996, while Ocensa and Silver Shadow were discussing arming the brigade with attack helicopters and guns, the brigade was once again under investigation for its role in the execution of 14 civilians in Segovia that April. The incidents were unconnected with oilfield protection.
Numbed by the latest massacre, officials of the government ombudsman wrote to Ocensa in November 1996 to express concern at the social and environmental impact of its operation on the community in the region.
"The people asked us if the 14th Brigade has the right to kill you when you are detained. They feel very unprotected," said Beatriz Londoño, who visited Segovia for the ombudsman's office.
She added: "We are very worried about the large number of police and army protecting the pipeline. The unequal investment [by oil companies] in security over community projects generates more conflict."
Ocensa refuses to comment on its relationship with the 14th Brigade and DSL. But BP's chief spin doctor, John O'Reilly, told the Guardian the sale of military equipment and the general relationship with the brigade were "unavoidable" under Ocensa's secret agreement with the defence ministry.
Mr O'Reilly also denied that any attack helicopters were bought for the army, but justified Ocensa's involvement by citing the "terrible security situation at the time" caused by guerrilla attacks on the pipeline.
But it was not the only target. So too were communities living near it. Amnesty International points out that the Turn Key Project was negotiated when paramilitary death squads, with 14th Brigade support, had intensified political cleansing operations against government critics and perceived subversives in the region. More than 140 people were killed last year alone.
An Amnesty researcher, Susan Lee, also questioned another aspect of Ocensa's relationship with the brigade.
"In the past this brigade brought in an Israeli security company to provide mercenary training for paramilitaries operating under its control," she said. "These death squads went on to commit widespread atrocities against the civilian population."
Silver Shadow was not involved in that operation. Its director, Asaf Nadel, is a former Israeli army officer who once worked at the embassy in Colombia. The Turn Key Project was his first commercial venture there.
Mr Nadel would not discuss the Ocensa deal, other than to say: "They got everything they paid for."
The Silver Shadow papers also reveal a disturbing plan to give Ocensa and BP top management "a state-of-the-art investigation-intelligence and psychological warfare 18-day seminar". It would be tailored "to suit Ocensa/BP special requirements" along the pipeline.
According to one confidential fax, Mr Brown and Silver Shadow discussed using former Israeli intelligence officers - "whose methods are [sic] known worldwide" - to train Ocensa security staff in interrogation, intelligence collection, targeting and running informants in the field, preparation of intelligence files and investigating private individuals.
The discussions took place between July 1996 and February last year and, according to Mr Brown's correspondence, had the approval of senior Ocensa management.
The spying plan fits perfectly with BP's confidential security review, which said: "In order to have peace, we must train for war." But it contradicted BP's public policy that its "best security lies in the support of local communities."
Amnesty is concerned that the target of the psychological warfare could have been civilians.
BP said that the "psy-ops" training did not proceed for "budgetary reasons". Anyway, insisted Mr O'Reilly, the intelligence course was about community relations training, not spying.
Last year the Guardian revealed how DSL had written a proposal for BP to create "intelligence cells" of local informants around its oilfields. BP has consistently denied that it would ever have implemented this option. But it appears that Ocensa did.
We have spoken to a former Colombian army officer who worked for DSL at the Ocensa security department for two years. He revealed his own involvement in a spying operation targeting perceived guerrillas and "subversives" in communities in and around the pipeline.
Senior human rights sources warned the Guardian that if this man is named he could be killed, declared mentally insane or forced to retract his statements by Colombian security agents determined, as in previous cases, to destroy evidence of their clandestine operations.
The security official was part of a 35-strong team of former Colombian officers who reported to Mr Brown and a BP security manager, Alvaro Pérez. He described his own role as "the eyes of the state security forces."
Ocensa security staff, he says, work as civilians in local communities. They keep quiet about their military past but are chosen by DSL because of previous experience in a particular region as serving officers.
His job was to nurture informants in the local community. "They pass intelligence on little bits of paper left in drop zones to be collected," he said. "The community is unaware they are passing information secretly."
Informants are told to find out about union and community leaders or sent to spy on a community meeting. They are paid from a secret fund at Ocensa's security department, where security officials must register their informant's name and payment. "Everything is authorised and registered in documents in Ocensa," he told the Guardian.
Intelligence reports are written daily and passed to senior Ocensa security officials. The information is regularly shared with the Colombian defence ministry and local army brigade. Ocensa, he says, pays the brigades for "intelligence", and registers the payments in the company's security accounts.
The security source denied that Ocensa or BP had any links with paramilitary groups.
Ocensa may argue that this intelligence arrangement is necessary to protect its pipeline and staff.
Even so, says Ms Lee, "It is disturbing that intelligence information is passed by Ocensa to the Colombian military who, together with their paramilitary allies, have frequently targeted those considered subversive for extra-judicial execution, and disappearance."
BP told the Guardian: "We have absolutely no evidence of this intelligence network."
It is, however, the second time such explosive insider testimony has emerged.
In 1995 a Colombian military intelligence officer, Colonel Luis Garces, then working for the 16th Brigade, which is paid by BP to protect its oilfields, spoke to a government human rights commission. He told it that oil companies, including BP, had shared intelligence such as photographs of the local communities, with his unit. Col Garces's testimony was made in front of several lawyers, who still say he explicitly mentioned BP's name.
BP strongly denies the allegation and claims the colonel later wrote to them denying he had named BP. But the oil company refuses to release this letter.
An official report on this and other allegations of BP's complicity in human rights abuses was published this year by the Colombian government. The authors did not interview Col Garces or those who heard his evidence.
They did, however, find in the 16th Brigade's files 18 irregular payments by BP totalling $312,000 between May 1996 and August last year. BP said in the report that this was for "extras", including "intelligence work".
Nevertheless, the Colombian government closed the investigation into BP for lack of evidence. It is a move which has left many British NGOs and Amnesty International convinced that the allegations against BP were not thoroughly investigated.
However, the government kept open its investigation into DSL, following the Guardian's revelations last year that former SAS soldiers working for DSL were secretly training the Colombian police in counter-insurgency tactics on BP oil rigs. BP says this training was defensive.
As a result of this latest scandal, Ocensa and BP sacked Mr Brown and asked DSL to conduct yet another internal inquiry while BP investigated which managers authorised what.
DSL, whose multi-million pound contract with BP Colombia was renewed in August, refuses to comment, as does Mr Brown.
Today's exposure of the Silver Shadow papers will give the Foreign Minister Tony Lloyd much to discuss when he arrives in Colombia on Wednesday.