Casa Presidencial has included within its recent agenda for lawmakers the proposal for a non-political intelligence-gathering agency.
The Presidencia proposed the measure last September, and the bill has been in committee most of that time. In August lawmakers are obligated to work on bills that have a priority from the president.
The bill, No. 19.346, transforms the existing Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad into a new agency called the Dirección de Inteligencia Estratégica Nacional. The measure also creates an oversight committee that is supposed to meet at least once a year to supervise the work. The membership includes the minister of the Presidencia, the head of the Asamblea Legislativa, the president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia and other high-ranking officials. The proposed bill says that they cannot delegate this activity.
The summary to the bill correctly notes that there has been strong criticism about the agency, mostly because it has been seen as a secret police that reports only to the president. The summary notes that the agency has performed duties far removed from its principal function.
Expats who invested in the Luis Enrique Villalobos high-interest scheme were among those investigated by agents of the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad. Other agents traveled seeking the fugitive Villalobos.
Aides to then-president Abel Pacheco in 2002 and 2003 became concerned that some hot-headed expat investors were blaming the government for the failure of the high-interest scheme. That was a claim put out by Villalobos himself. For months intelligence agents kept an eye on unhappy investors until they realized that, despite complaining, they were unlikely to break any laws.
Even A.M. Costa Rica staffers at that time were getting telephoned death threats by investors who did not like the news coverage.
Although the agents were conducting surveillance for the president, the intelligence aspects were lacking. Also during the Pacheco administration, two men who probably were agents of the People’s Republic of China were picked up in Jacó. They were illegal and believed here to spy on the Taiwanese government at the inauguration of the Puente de la Amistad over the Río Tempisque.
The agents who had come from Panamá were supposed to be handed over to agents of the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad in San José for interrogation. No one told the intelligence agents, and the Chinese somehow vanished.
The new agency is supposed to be more professional. Casa Presidencial promises a non-political and transparent agency. However, the bill makes it clear that everything the agency does is secret for at least 20 years.
The bill also outlines an expanded role in that the new agency is supposed to fight organized crime and help other government agencies fight criminality. This is basically the same job as the Judicial Investigating Organization.
The description of objectives says that the new agency should give early alerts and detect and prevent risks that menace the integrity and stability of the country through the actions of other nations, organizations and criminals, both national and international.
Mariano Figueres, a close associate of President Luis Guillermo Solís, is head of the existing agency. He has insisted that such an agency is needed in Costa Rica in the face of demands from some lawmakers that the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad be broken up.
The bill is in the Comisión Permanente Especial de Seguridad y Narcotráfico. The legislative staff has studied the measure, but the conclusions were mainly technical as to wording.
Figueres was reported to have sought help from the Universidad de Costa Rica to obtain an idea of the correct characteristics of intelligence agents. The bill also calls for the intervention of a judge in some cases, as with other police agencies.
Casa Presidencial said when the bill was presented that training would be sought from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency or similar.