“Amazon to Darien, Atlantic to Pacific” – Intelligence in Colombia with former Head of its Navy Admiral Hernando Wills


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Admiral Hernando Wills Velez (Twitter) joins Andrew (Twitter; LinkedIn) to discuss intelligence in Colombia. He is the former professional head of the Colombian Navy.

What You’ll Learn


  • What it is like to be the head of an entire Navy
  • Intelligence from the point of view of a senior military officer
  • The unique set of challenges Colombia faces – insurgents, terrorists, paramilitaries, drug-cartels, etc.
  • The role intelligence played in the daring Operation Jacque


  • The blessings and curses of geography
  • Capacity building in organizations

And much, much more…

Episode Notes

To hear more about his remarkable career as former professional head of the Colombian Navy, and to discuss Colombia and intelligence, Andrew sat down with Admiral Hernando Wills Vélez.

Colombia and its navy must reckon with a unique combination of challenges – including Marxist insurgents, right-wing paramilitaries, drug cartels, crime syndicates, and a vast and diverse territory. To sum up, it is a remarkably fascinating case-study for the role intelligence might play.

Admiral Wills was also the commander of the Pacific Fleet, head of the Colombian Coast Guard, and a former aide de camp to the President of Colombia. His father was a career military officer who served in the Korean War with the Colombian Navy. He is an NDU graduate.


“Operation Jacque.”

This episode coincides with a pop-up exhibit at our museum on a 2008 Colombian intelligence-led operation to rescue 15 hostages held for many years by the FARC, a Marxist guerilla group who were involved in drug trafficking, extortion, and terrorism. 3 Americans and 12 Colombians were rescued, including a candidate for the Colombian presidency. Bottom line: all the hostages were freed from deep within the rainforest without a single shot being fired. Intelligence baby, intelligence.

Quote of the Week

"Time goes so fast. I joined the Navy when I was 15 years old, very young. I finished high school. in the Naval academy. And then you start your regular business as a young lieutenant in ships and destroyers and positions on land. And all of a sudden, you see yourself as an admiral. I mean, it's a crazy thing…[then] I had the privilege to be selected by the president to lead the Columbia Navy." – former Head of Columbia's Navy Admiral Hernando Wills.


Headline Resource


  • Colombia: A Concise Contemporary History, M. Larosa & G. Mejía (R&L, 2017)
  • Out of Captivity: Surviving 1967 Days in the Colombian Jungle, M. Gonsalves, et al. (W. Morrow, 2009)

Beginner Articles



Primary Sources

*Wildcard Resource*

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