Despite the official apology he received earlier this month from Eduardo Doryan, executive president of the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), union leader Jorge Arguedas is still upset about the 11 days of nearly constant surveillance to which he was subjected last December.
Arguedas, leader of the National Association of Technicians in Telecommunications (ANTTEC), found himself shadowed by investigators from ICE’s Institutional Protection and Security Office. Seven men took turns trailing him from the time he left his house in the morning to the time he came home in the afternoon. They took photos and kept exact minutes of Arguedas’ daily actions, following him to restaurants, grocery stores and a funeral.
The Institutional Protection and Security Office, which has been accused of espionage and compared to the Gestapo, also serves as the electronic security platform for the Judicial Branch and the Costa Rican Drug Institute (ICD). This is also the division of ICE that acts on orders given by judicial officials to tap phone lines.
The security office’s responsibilities include protecting phone centers and hydroelectric plants that could be targeted by thieves and drug traffickers, as well investigating cases of stolen cable or counterfeited cell phone SIM cards.
Since its inception in 2008, the Institutional Protection and Security Office has doubled the size of its staff, adding to its roster 150 new employees. Among these added employees are the investigators who tracked Arguedas.
Several of Arguedas’ seven followers were ex-police agents; at least one of whom had professional experience working undercover.
Arguedas realized that he was being followed when he saw an unusual vehicle parked outside of union offices. He managed to follow and confront the driver, and it was then that he learned of ICE’s orders to have his movements regulated.
In an interview with The Tico Times, Arguedas’ lawyer, Montero Pacheco, conveyed his client’s anger.
“Of course it wasn’t constitutional,” he said. “What they did to Jorge Arguedas was an order of espionage.”
ICE claims that it issued and carried out the surveillance order to investigate a supposed inconsistency in Arguedas’ reported work hours, despite Arguedas’ position as union leader proffering him legal permission to take care of union business on company time.
Pacheco says that a simple visit and inquiry into Arguedas’ office would have been sufficient. He believes that ICE is covering up a much more serious motive: attempted blackmail.
According to Pacheco, ANTTEC has not shied away from vocalizing concerns about acts within ICE that they have seen as irregular or suggesting corruption and foul play.
“We are sure that (the investigators) were following him because of this situation – not regarding his work hours but rather attempting to discover some secret activity that they thought he might have.” Said Pacheco, “They wanted to find something to discredit him and force him to shut up.”
In spite of multiple phone and e-mail inquiries from The Tico Times, ICE failed to respond to these allegations.
What really worries Arguedas and Pacheco is that ICE and its Institutional Protection and Security Office have the resources to similarly investigate whomever they want, civil servants and third parties alike.
“We are just discovering the tip of the iceberg. This still has more to it,” said Pacheco.