Operación Jaque

July 2, 2008

A helicopter landed in a grassy clearing in southern Colombia. It was the final step of a Colombian Army intelligence operation, months in the planning. As the FARC, a Marxist guerrilla group emerged from the jungle, they believed they were greeting a group of humanitarian mission workers, TV journalists, and FARC colleagues who would transfer their hostages to another FARC camp. In fact, they were handing their hostages directly into the hands of undercover Colombian Army intelligence agents.

Radio Transmissions

At the heart of Operación Jaque was an electronic deception. Colombian Army cryptanalysts, who had broken FARC radio communication codes, came up with a plan to imitate FARC broadcasters. Over several months, a Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) team sent encrypted messages to the FARC camp they believed was holding the hostages, and tricked FARC leader César into bringing the hostages to a location where Colombian forces could carry out a rescue operation.

Hear some of these deceptive radio transmissions between Colombian Military Intelligence and the FARC guerillas below.

Related Artifacts

Chain, Colombia, ca. 2008

On loan from the Embassy of Colombia

The FARC used chains like this to shackle their hostages. “If the guards were in a bad mood, they pulled them tight around our necks,” hostage Ingrid Betancourt recalled. “If they were in a good mood, they would leave a little breathing room.”

Logbook of transmissions, Colombia, 2008

On loan from the Embassy of Colombia

After breaking the FARC codes, Colombian Military Intelligence sent the guerrillas deceptive radio transmissions.

Yaesu radio, 2000s

On loan from the Embassy of Colombia

To be convincing, Colombian Army Intelligence personnel had to exactly replicate FARC radio transmissions, using the same radios as the FARC guerillas.

International Humanitarian Mission T-shirt and vest, 2008

On loan from the Embassy of Colombia

The leader of the operation wore this shirt and vest when he posed as an international mission worker during the rescue mission. Since using the symbol of an actual humanitarian organization in a miltiary operation violates the Geneva Convention, the Colombian military invented a logo for its fake International Humanitarian Mission.

Military Sit Chart, Colombia, ca. 2008

On loan from the Embassy of Colombia

Colombian Military Intelligence used this chart to show where groups of hostages were held in different FARC guerilla encampments.

Rubber boots, Colombia, 2000s

On loan from the Embassy of Colombia

These rubber boots were worn by one of the female intelligence agents who posed as a FARC radio operator. In 2002,when Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt was detained by a group of armed men, she did not know at first whether this was a standard military checkpoint or a FARC abduction. Then she looked at the men’s boots and knew instantly she was in trouble: The Army wore leather boots. The FARC wore rubber. And these men wore rubber boots.

Helmet, Colombia, 2000s

On loan from the Embassy of Colombia

The pilot of Libertad 1, the Mi-17 helicopter that carried the hostages to safety, was undercover too: his helmet had the red and white design of a civilian, international mission.

Operación Jaque

Collection Highlights

View the complete collection of objects from Operación Jaque featured in the exhibit.