COLOMBIA, US, VENEZUELA, ECUADOR: Improbable Laptops, Probable Endgame

Posted on July 7, 2008


All that has happened in Colombia since March 1, 2008, when Colombia bombed a FARC camp in Ecuador that killed several people including FARC Commander, Raul Reyes, amounts to nothing but a prelude for the main event. If the US has its way, Colombia, especially after the “rescue” of the hostages a few days ago, will acquire a new image worthy of a free trade agreement and Alvaro Uribe’s past will be cleansed so he can remain at the helm. Meanwhile, President Chavez will be demonized beyond anything seen thus far and Venezuela and Ecuador will be subjected to relentless US-Colombian destabilization schemes. Colombia has become the Israel of South America and as such will perform the US’ dirty work. The endgame is removal of Chavez and Correa and privatization of South America’s resources.

Maurice Lemoine has written an excellent account of the role that the “FARC laptops” play in a serious attempt to frame President Chavez as well as President Correa. Colombia is making numerous claims that the laptops seized after the raid on the FARC camp reveal that Chavez and Correa are allied with the FARC. Lemoine’s article adds quite a bit of additional information not heretofore sewn together.

Improbable Database Of A Farc Commander

Raúl Reyes’ Hard Drive

July, 07 2008

By Maurice Lemoine
Source: Le Monde diplomatique

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Media attention following Ingrid Betancourt’s dramatic release from captivity should not obscure a surprising revelation: laptop computers implausibly retrieved from an obliterating air raid on a Farc base in Colombia are being used to sour the country’s relations with Ecuador and smear the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, in western and Latin-American media.

The first of 10 smart bombs guided by GPS hit its target at 00.25 on 1 March 2008, less than two kilometres from the Ecuador-Colombia border, along the Putomayo river. Four Blackhawk OH-60 helicopters appeared out of the darkness with 44 special commandos from Colombia’s rapid deployment force on board. But there was no fighting: the temporary camp of the Farc (the Marxist-inspired Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) had been destroyed by the explosions and 23 people killed in their sleep (1). Among them was Raúl Reyes, the Farc’s second-in-command and the group’s “foreign minister”. His remains were taken back to Colombia by ground troops as a trophy.

Early that morning the Colombian president Alvaro Uribe contacted his Ecuadorian counterpart, Rafael Correa, to brief him on the raid: the Colombian airborne unit had been attacked from within Ecuador and had pursued the rebels in legitimate self-defence. But, he assured Correa, their return of fire came from Colombian territory and didn’t violate Ecuador’s airspace. Colombia’s defence minister, Juan Manuel Santos, gave the same assurance later.

Initially Correa took Uribe at his word. Until this incident they had been on good terms and spoke on the phone every day. Two weeks before, Correa had said in private to one of the close advisers of the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez: “Tell Chávez that I get on very well with Uribe and that if he wants I can help smooth things out between them.” Correa felt betrayed, a feeling compounded when Ecuadorian military personnel arrived at the bombed camp: not only had the Colombians violated Ecuadorian territory, they had also, as Correa put it in a press conference on 2 March, conducted “a massacre”.

Reyes’ death sparked a crisis. Ecuador severed diplomatic relations with Colombia and deployed 11,000 men along its border. Venezuela also sent 10 battalions to its border. “We don’t want war,” Chávez warned, “but we won’t allow the [North American] empire, nor its little dog [Colombia], to weaken us.” Nor were they willing to allow it to act with impunity on its neighbours’ territory.

Unanimously rejected

The word “condemnation” was avoided, but South American governments unanimously “rejected” Colombia’s incursion. The United States supported Bogotá in the name of the “war on terror”. Craig Kelly, principal deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, explained: “What we have said is firstly that a state must defend itself against the threat of terrorism and that when you talk about a border, you have to consider the general context, which [in this case] is a continual violation of the borders by the Farc.” An interviewer asked: “Does that mean that, for example, if Mexico pursued drug traffickers _into the US, the US wouldn’t have any objection to Mexican forces entering its territory?” Kelly replied: “I’m not going to get into a theoretical discussion” (2).

There has been speculation about the planes used on 1 March. Five Brazilian-made Supertucanos EMB314s and three US-manufactured A-37 attack aircraft have been mentioned, but the bombs couldn’t have been released from either of those planes. One thing is certain: weapons of the same sophisticated kind did a lot of damage during the US invasion of Iraq.

The long arm of Washington was also discernible when Correa made other discoveries, notably that his military command had lied to him. Tension peaked when General Jorge Gabela, the Ecuadorian air force commander, revealed that the radar nearest to Santa Rosa, the zone where the Farc camp was located, had been down for maintenance for several days. Correa sacked the head of the army’s intelligence services, Colonel Mario Pazmiño, and announced in a broadcast to the nation that “the CIA has totally infiltrated some of Ecuador’s military intelligence bodies”. He also replaced defence minister Wellington Sandoval with loyalist Javier Ponce. Correa’s reassertion of his authority also led to the resignations of the joint chief of staff and the heads of the army, navy and air force.

Correa soon began to see the consequences of his actions. He had announced in his election campaign that he would close the US base at Manta. The lease on this “foreign operating location” granted to the US in 1999 expires in 2009. On 28 February the assembly set up to “refound the country” adopted an article which asserts that “Ecuador is a land of peace; foreign military bases or foreign installations with military purpose will not be allowed.” With its state-of-the-art technology, Manta plays a key role in US military support for Colombia. During the operation on 1 March it would have controlled the air space the mystery planes overflew.

Opening salvo

The Colombian government announced that during the raid its army had seized a laptop (later increased to three laptops) belonging to Reyes, which revealed that both Chávez and Correa have close links to the Farc.

In the absence of hard evidence, questions arise. Reyes’ main camp is known to be in Colombia near the border. In that region the Farc have many hiding places, secret shelters and secondary camps. Yet the guerrilla leader had apparently gone to Ecuador with three laptops, two hard drives and three USB drives – everything but the kitchen sink. According to the Ecuadorian army, the 10 missiles made craters 2.4m wide and 1.8m deep and destroyed the vegetation all around, yet the computers emerged without a scratch.

What a tale those laptops told. The Spanish daily El País, which is the spearhead of a campaign against the progressive governments of Latin America, didn’t stop to question the authenticity of the revelations. On 12 March its readers learned in an article, “Farc finds refuge in Ecuador”, that “guerrillas drive around the north of Ecuador in vans, as a member of the OEA (Organisation of American States) attested. He privately expressed astonishment at encountering fully equipped guerrillas in restaurants in border country.”

What readers didn’t see was a letter sent to the editor of El País on 15 March by the OEA’s secretary general, José Miguel Insulza, in which he expressed his “astonishment and indignation”: “I can assure you that this claim is absolutely false. The OEA does not have special missions, nor does it have representatives at any level deployed on Ecuador’s northern border, therefore it is impossible that any member of the organisation could have made such a statement” (3).

Reyes and his guerrillas were in Ecuador. Reyes had for months been the key contact for the representatives from France, Spain, Venezuela and Ecuador negotiating hostage releases, including that of the French-Colombian Ingrid Betancourt. The Farc have long been intransigent over their demand for direct dialogue with the Colombian government. They insisted on “humanitarian exchange” – hostages for guerrillas – or nothing. Their aim is political: to achieve the status of legitimate combatants by gaining recognition from the Colombian government. The Farc have been on the list of terrorist organisations since 2002 but have never accepted that they are terrorists. Uribe wanted to avoid giving them recognition at all costs.

Chávez mediates

The mediation which Chávez set in motion on 31 August 2007 broke a stalemate that had lasted since 2002. The guerrillas freed seven hostages unconditionally, leading Caracas to say: “The Farc are using a more political logic, which is a positive sign for how things could develop.” But hostages warmly thanking members of the Venezuelan government dressed in red must have been a great source of irritation to the Colombian president.

Open dialogue had been ongoing in Caracas through the intermediary of Farc leaders Iván Marquez and Rodrigo Granda, and sometimes even with Reyes at the camp in Ecuador. The French and Ecuador governments knew this. A troubling detail is that a week before the 1 March raid, French representatives met Colombia’s High Commissioner for Peace, Luis Carlos Restrepo, in Panama. Restrepo told them they should stay in contact with Reyes. “He’s the one who can help you. He’s your man. He can help you get Ingrid freed.” This explains Correa’s fury: “Look how low Alvaro Uribe has sunk! He knew that in March 12 hostages were going to be freed, including Ingrid Betancourt. He knew that, and still he used his contacts to spring this trap.” Kill the negotiator and you kill the negotiation.

But the hostage aspect of this crisis took second place to the revelations at a news conference on 3 March by the director general of the Colombian police, General Oscar Naranjo. He revealed that, based on computer equipment found near Reyes’ body, there was an “armed alliance” between the Farc and the Venezuelan government, as well as political and economic links between Correa and the guerrillas from the time of his election campaign.

Media revelation

The media went to town with these “explosive documents” from the seized computers, which the Colombian intelligence services had helpfully filtered. Prominent were the Spanish El País (4) and the Colombian daily El Tiempo, which is owned by the Santos family, to which both the vice-president and the defence minister belong. On 4 March El País ran with “Bogotá unmasks the Farc’s support”. On 10 May, in the first of a series of articles by Maite Rico, “The Farc papers point the finger at Chávez”, readers learnt that “without raising an eyebrow Chávez approved a request for $300m” from the guerrillas. On 12 May the article condemned by the secretary general of OEA appeared. The day before Rico had written of “groups linked to Chávism which regularly train in Farc camps in Venezuela”. There were even claims of waiting lists to take part in their courses.

When The Economist wrote about Chávez’s generosity in providing $300m to the Farc on 24 May, it mentioned as its source a message from Raúl Reyes reproduced in El País and the Colombian weekly Semana. It also quoted from a document obtained by the Wall Street Journal: “The Venezuelan interior minister, Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, asked the Farc to train Venezuelan soldiers in guerrilla tactics.” It’s unclear whether the Wall Street Journal copied the Miami Herald, which printed the same claim.

The improbable was followed by the bizarre: between 2000 and 2002, the Farc and ETA allegedly planned an attack in Madrid on prominent Colombian figures – the current vice-president Francisco Santos Calderón, the former head of state, Andrés Pastrana, and the former ambassador in Spain Noemi Sanín (El Tiempo, 2 June). BBC Mundo reported on 5 March that the Farc had tried to get hold of uranium to make a dirty bomb.

According to the Reyes documents, Chávez’s friendship with the Colombian rebels dated back at least as far as 1992. When he was imprisoned for a failed coup attempt in February that year, he received $150,000 from the Farc (Le Figaro, 5 March and Wall Street Journal, 11 March). He must have spent it all in the prison canteen, because when he was released in 1994, he had no money and had to stay in a small apartment in central Caracas belonging to his future minister of the interior, Luis Miquilena, who also lent him a car.

Though it was more cautious, Le Monde ran a piece on 12 March about a Farc deserter: “According to the deserter, the Farc leader Iván Marquez and its commander-in-chief Manuel Marulanda are staying in Venezuela”. That will stick in the reader’s mind, as will the Figaro heading “Dangerous liaisons between the Farc and Chávez” (15 May).

In Venezuela, the dailies El Nacional and El Universal, along with the private channels Radio Caracas Télévisión (RCTV) and Globovisión, are having a field day. They are only too happy to broadcast the views of the governor of Zulia state or the former presidential candidate Manuel Rosales, accusing president Chávez of betraying the country.

One of the many editorials in the Washington Post about Venezuela sums up this media firestorm: “If managed correctly, the laptop scandal will surely deepen the domestic political hole into which the would-be `Bolivarian’ revolutionary is sinking.”

Verified by Interpol

Throughout, Bogotá and the media have relied on a seemingly unimpeachable line of defence: the validity of seized documents has been verified by Interpol. And yet, closer examination yields interesting results.

General Naranjo requested Interpol’s independent opinion of the eight key “exhibits” (the computer equipment) on 4 March. Interpol’s report was presented in Bogotá on 15 May by its secretary general, the American Ronald Noble. He paid extensive tribute at his press conference to General Naranjo, who was seated beside him, and to the Department of State Security (DAS), the political police (5). Naranjo, the former head of the Colombian anti-drug police, had to stand down after his brother, Juan David, was arrested in Germany in March 2007 for drug trafficking. He was implicated by the Venezuelan interior minister for his links with the “narco” Wilmer Varela (assassinated on 29 February). As for the DAS, its former director, Jorge Noguera, was arrested on 22 February 2007 for allowing paramilitaries to use its resources.

According to Noble’s report (6) and statements, Interpol’s role was limited to “(a) determining the actual data contained in the eight seized Farc computer exhibits, (b) verifying whether the user files had been modified in any way on or after 1 March 2008, and (c) determining whether Colombian law enforcement authorities had handled and examined the eight seized Farc computer exhibits in conformity with internationally recognised principles for handling electronic evidence by law enforcement.” But “the remit of the IRT and Interpol’s subsequent assistance to Colombia’s investigation did not include the analysis of the content of documents, folders or other material on the eight seized Farc computer exhibits. The accuracy and source of the user files contained in the eight seized Farc computer exhibits are and always have been outside the scope of Interpol’s computer forensic examination.”

Interpol’s team of experts, who came from Singapore and Australia and didn’t speak Spanish, didn’t examine the contents of the files. Perhaps this is understandable: in the 609.6 gigabytes in the eight “exhibits” there were 37,873 text documents, 452 spreadsheets, 210,888 images, 22,481 web pages, 7,989 email addresses (no reference to emails, though they were widely quoted in the media), and 983 encrypted files. “In non-technical terms, such a volume of data would correspond to 39.5 million full pages in Microsoft Word format and . . . would take more than a thousand years to go through it all at a rate of a hundred pages per day.”

That’s a lot of data for one man to produce. Especially Raúl Reyes, constantly on the move in the jungle, living the dangerous life of a guerrilla. But it wasn’t too much data for the Colombian government, which within a few hours had begun releasing a continuous stream of revelations from the files. Nor was it too much for journalists who wove the documents (authenticated by Interpol) into their own stories.

A troubling lack of rigour

The Interpol report shows a troubling lack of rigour. It says Reyes and Guillermo Enrique Torres, alias Julián Conrado, a Farc commander, were killed in the operation (page 10). But Bogotá, which had announced the death of Conrado on _1 March, had to retract that after a DNA examination of the only body (apart from Reyes) brought back by their forces. Similarly, the statement “Farc has been designated a terrorist organisation by Colombia, other governments and Interpol” (page 10) requires qualification. The designation has only been adopted by the US, Colombia, Peru, the EU, and Israel (31 countries in all), or 17% of the 186 countries that are Interpol members.

More significantly, the statement: “the eight seized Farc computer exhibits belonged to Raúl Reyes” or: “the eight seized Farc computer exhibits” (both page 10) should more properly have been: “the eight exhibits given to Interpol by the Colombian authorities”. Interpol has accepted the Colombian version of events, though there was no witness present to verify that the equipment was actually found near the body of the Farc leader. This provoked Correa to say on 13 May when he visited Paris: “Who can show that the computers were indeed found in the Farc camp?”

In the first fax Naranjo sent on 4 March to request Interpol help, he mentioned “three computers and three USB devices” (Appendix 2 of the report). In his reply of 5 March, Noble agrees on behalf of his organisation to examine “three computers and three USB keys” (Appendix 3). But on 6 March, in a letter to Interpol from the director of DAS, Maria del Pilar Hurtado, the equipment has become “three laptop computers, the three USB keys and [for the first time] two hard-disc drives” (Appendix 4). Where did these hard drives come from? Had no one noticed them before?

The overall conclusion of the report is that “no data were created, added, modified or deleted on any of the these exhibits between 3 March 2008 at 11.45 am [the date and time when they were entrusted to the computer forensic specialists of the Colombian Judicial Police] and 10 March 2008 when the exhibits were handed over to Interpol’s experts to make their image discs” (page 29). It also states that “access to the data . . . [during the same period] conformed to internationally recognised principles for handling electronic evidence by law enforcement” (page 28).

But what happened between 1 March and 3 March? An officer of Colombia’s anti-terrorist unit “directly accessed the eight seized Farc computer exhibits under exigent and time-sensitive circumstances” (page 30) and they were all connected to a computer “without prior imaging of their contents and without the use of write-blocking hardware” (page 31). As a result of this, during those three days, “access to data . . . did not conform to internationally recognised principles for handling electronic evidence by law enforcement” (page 8). This is not insignificant, as Interpol discovered that a total of 48,055 files “had either been created, accessed, modified or deleted as a result of the direct access to the eight seized exhibits by Colombian authorities between the time of their seizure on 1 March 2008 and 3 March 2008 at 11.45am” (page 33).

No court of law anywhere could rely on the results of such a report to pass judgment on anyone. But that doesn’t stop the rumours or the headlines. The rumour mills are now turning in Ecuador and Venezuela. Even if today the conditions are not yet right for Venezuela to be classed as a terrorist or rogue state, this campaign is creating the right conditions in public opinion. According to Maximilien Arvelaiz, an adviser to President Chávez: “George Bush wants to leave behind a time bomb so that, whatever the outcome of the election in November, it will be very difficult to soften US policy on Venezuela.”

But an unforeseen turn of events can never be ruled out — as has been shown by the spectacular, surprise release by Colombian troops of the French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other hostages, held for years by Farc guerrillas in jungle captivity. ________________________________________________________

(1) Among the dead were an Ecuadorian, four Mexican students and a Colombian soldier killed, not in combat, as Bogotá claimed when it accorded him a state funeral, but by a falling tree.

(2) BBC Mundo, London, 7 March 2008.

(3) http://www.vtv.gob.ve/detalle.php?s=2&…

(4) The centre-left El País belongs to the multinational Prisa group, which controls more than 1,000 radio stations in Spain, the US, Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, Argentina and Chile with a total audience of 30 million listeners.

(5) http://www.interpol.int/Public/ICPO/speech…

(6) The full public report in English can be downloaded here: http://www.interpol.int/public/ICPO/PressR…

Translated by George Miller
From: Z Net – The Spirit Of Resistance Lives
URL: http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/18120