Américo Balbuena, a former intelligence officer from the Federal Police accused of spying on a community media outlet for ten years, was given a two-year suspended sentence.
Balbuena started to work as a journalist in the Walsh News Agency, renowned at the time for having fluent contact with social movements, in 2002. The agency’s director and founder Rodolfo Grinberg brought him on— he knew Balbuena from primary school and coincidentally encountered him again at the massive 2001 protests in Buenos Aires during the social and economic crisis.
According to the plaintiffs, Balbuena only posed as a journalist to gain privileged access to information about protests so the police could get the upper hand. For his work at the agency, Balbuena interviewed relatives of the Cromañón disco tragedy that left some 200 dead in 2004 and the family of Luciano Arruga, a young man that disappeared in 2009 in a case where the police were a suspect. He also maintained contact with other social movements and unions — but most of that information did not end up in any of his articles.
On May 2013, Balbuena’s colleagues found out he was a member of the Federal Police — a former intelligence officer, José “Iosi” Pérez, had tipped them off. They accused him of spying on them, as well as on social movements, activists, and political parties through the media outlet. Grinberg called Balbuena to his house and confronted him. The story made headlines.
Then-Security Minister Nilda Garré expelled the intelligence officer from the force shortly after news broke out about the infiltration. Balbuena did not participate in the Walsh News Agency after that.
Five and a half years later, in 2018, federal judge Sergio Torres called Balbuena for a deposition. The former intelligence officer claimed that his participation in the agency had been a “hobby” and not related to his work in the Federal Police. Torres also subpoenaed his two superiors in the Federal Police, Alfonso Ustares and Alejandro Sánchez— both contended that the goal of Balbuena’s infiltration was to put together a “protest agenda” for the force.
The three of them were charged with “abuse of authority.” Both Ustares and Sánchez also got suspended sentences of two years.
According to the plaintiffs, Balbuena and his superiors violated several laws, including conducting investigations without a warrant, working at a media outlet as a federal police intelligence officer, and gathering information on people because of their political opinion or their belonging to political organizations.