Chavez, FARC and Colombia Posted by: McQ
on Monday, March 24, 2008
You probably remember the claim by Colombia earlier that our friend Hugo Chavez of Venezuela was fronting the terrorist organization FARC $300 million dollars. This information was allegedly found on laptop computers captured during a raid by Colombian military forces over the border into Ecuador. A high-level FARC leader was killed, Venezuela and Ecuador condemned the Colombian incursion and sent troops to their respective borders. Both Venezuela and Ecuador claimed the laptops were planted and the info they allegedly contained to be forgeries. Additionally, Venezuela has claimed there is no way laptops could have survived the Colombian attack.
All of this was supposedly settled with a kiss-and-makeup session at the Rio Conference held not long afterward.
Well it seems that there's more to come from those laptops. Colombia has engaged the help of Interpol forensic computer experts to take a look at the laptops and help them prove both their authenticity and the authenticity of the data they contain. Andres Oppenheimer of The Miami Herald has been following the story:
Following these denials, I called top Colombian officials, including Police Chief Gen. Oscar Naranjo, the man in charge of Colombia's investigation, and political analysts. I asked how they plan to convince the world that these documents are authentic. Among their answers:
First, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe would be making the biggest mistake of his political career — equivalent to President Bush's claim that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — if he had released documents that turned out to be forgeries.
Second, Uribe would be pretty dumb to have invited Interpol to examine Reyes' computers, and to make its report public. Colombia says it has given the Interpol team full access not only to the investigation, but also to the computers themselves.
Third, it's almost impossible to manipulate a computer's hard drive without leaving fingerprints that would be detected by forensic computer experts. ''Interpol's forensic computer experts will be able to determine beyond any doubt whether these documents were modified, erased or added to the computer's memory after the March 1 raid,'' Gen. Naranjo told me.
Fourth, there are more than 2,000 photographs of Reyes and his fellow FARC guerrillas in the computers, including some with well-known visitors to rebel camps. How could the Colombian army have forged those photos? Colombian officials ask.
Even a photo from Reyes' computer that Colombian officials had wrongly described last week as showing Reyes with an Ecuadoran cabinet minister turned out to be an authentic picture of the slain rebel leader with somebody else, they say.
Fifth, Costa Rican authorities last week found $480,000 in cash at the home of a FARC supporter near the Costa Rican capital, based on information found in Reyes' computers, Colombian and Costa Rican officials say.
Sixth, Colombian officials ridicule the FARC's claims that the computers could not have survived the attack: More than half of the estimated 60 people who were at the guerrilla camp at the time survived the attack, and many objects suffered little damage, they say.
Given all of that (the most damning to this point is the allegation that info on the computers captured led to the seizeure of cash in Costa Rica) these revelations, should they pan out, have the possibility of heightening tensions again, especially if they provide proof that both Ecuador and Venezuela have been actively supporting a terrorist organization in armed conflict with the government of Colombia.
Oppenheimer does a little more due diligence while checking the story out:
After interviewing Colombian officials, I called several forensic computer experts to ask whether it would be technically possible for the Colombian army to have tampered with the computers without leaving fingerprints.
''It would be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for somebody to plant hard evidence after the fact,'' said Jason Paroff, head of computer forensic operations of the Minneapolis-based Kroll Ontrack Inc., one of the world's largest data recovery firms.
``If anybody had planted evidence, the [Interpol] team would find it.''
The results are expected to be released in mid April. As the author notes:
My opinion: Either Uribe is crazy to have invited Interpol to verify the authenticity of the computer files or Chávez and Correa will soon be exposed to the world as compulsive liars and terrorist allies. Judging from what computer experts say, it will be one or the other. Make your bets.
Given Colombia's actions to engage third party computer experts from a respected law enforcement agency and Chavez's reputation, I'm betting that their findings will affirm what Colombia has alleged.