Artifacts from Operación Jaque, a new exhibit open at the Spy Museum through the end of the year. Courtesy Amanda Abrell, Spy Museum

By Southwester Staff

The International Spy Museum on L’Enfant Plaza has opened a new pop-up exhibit telling the story of Operación Jaque, a deception operation planned and executed by Colombian forces in 2008. 

Artifacts on loan from the Embassy of Colombia in the United States can be viewed at the exhibit, where visitors will learn about an operation involving codebreaking, cover identities, and the successful rescue of 15 hostages held by the FARC in the Colombian jungles — all without spilling a drop of blood.

Among the rescued hostages was Colombian Senator Ingrid Betancourt, who was campaigning for president when she was kidnapped by the FARC and held for over seven years before being freed in Operación Jaque. 

At the heart of the operation 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 a FARC leader into bringing the hostages to a location where Colombian forces could carry out a rescue operation.

After months of planning, the FARC emerged from the jungle, believing 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.

The exhibit will be on view through the end of the year. 

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