Dammed Diversion: Information Harvesting and the Alleged FARC Computers

It is time to break out the shovels and the pickaxes! Let the truth flow! Undoubtedly, these “magical computers’ will be generating a steady stream of “accusations of the day”. Our job is to start talking about Uribe’s support for terrorists, about US support for Uribe and interference in Venezuela.

In these days of water shortages, a lot of people are talking about water harvesting, which basically boils down to diverting and conserving and utilizing water sustainably. But water isn’t just diverted for good reasons. In my home in Tucson, Arizona, the Santa Cruz river was flowing just fifty years ago and folks used to go down there to fish. Today, you’d just be casting your line in the sand. That water got diverted by big agriculture, industry, unregulated growth, and poor conservation.

Just like big industry tends to divert and pollute water sources, the flow of information can be diverted, withheld, polluted, and selectively released. This is happening right now in regards to the conflicts between Colombia, and Venezuela and Ecuador. Perhaps it is time for us to get out our picks and shovels and go to work improving the flow and purity of information, and letting it water our landscape in a way that makes for a healthy garden that bears fruit in action for solidarity and justice!

On March 1st, the Colombian military conducted an air raid against a camp of personnel from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who were negotiating the release of some 700 prisoners. The raid killed over 20 people, including 5 civilian students visiting from Mexico, and the FARC’s second in command and top negotiator, Raul Reyes. In the aftermath of the raid, three laptop computers, three USB flash drives and two external hard disks (officially dubbed the “eight computer exhibits”) were allegedly discovered. A military video shows a remarkably orderly, clean, and relatively undamaged brief case lying on the ground containing the computers. At least one of those is said to have belonged to Reyes.

Here, the diversion begins. By focusing on these “magical computers” the emphasis is taken off this illegal incursion into Ecuadorian territory and off the question why anyone would want to bomb prisoner release negotiators in the first place. This is one of several actions taken by Colombia’s Uribe administration to set back these negotiations—actions condemned by world leaders and families of FARC prisoners.

Rather than explaining its sabotage of the negotiations, the Colombian government started leaking information it claimed exposed Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’ support for the FARC. One of the first claims made was that Chavez’ had given them $300 million. Investigative journalist Greg Pallast shows us the huge leap in logic required to make this inference:

…Here is, in translation, the one and only mention of the alleged $300 million from Chavez:

‘… With relation to the 300, which from now on we will call "dossier," efforts are now going forward at the instructions of the boss to the cojo [slang term for ‘cripple’], which I will explain in a separate note. Let's call the boss Ángel, and the cripple Ernesto.’

Got that? Where is Hugo? Where’s 300 million? And 300 what? Indeed, in context, the note is all about the hostage exchange with the FARC that Chavez was working on at the time (December 23, 2007) at the request of the Colombian government.

Indeed, the entire remainder of the email is all about the mechanism of the hostage exchange. Here’s the next line:

’To receive the three freed ones, Chavez proposes three options: Plan A. Do it to via of a “humanitarian caravan”; one that will involve Venezuela, France, the Vatican[?], Switzerland, European Union, democrats [civil society], Argentina, Red Cross, etc.’

As to the 300, I must note that the FARC’s previous prisoner exchange involved 300 prisoners. Is that what the ‘300’ refers to?

….To bolster their case, the Colombians claim, with no evidence whatsoever, that the mysterious “Angel” is the code name for Chavez.

But in the memo, Chavez goes by the code name … Chavez.”

After holding the “magical computers” for the next 9 days, the computers were handed over for examination to INTERPOL, the international police agency. But, even before INTERPOL had released its report, the Colombian government had released “information” that claimed Venezuela had armed the FARC with guns and ammunition and was preparing to supply the FARC with surface to air missiles and to send FARC personnel to the Middle East for training.

When the report came out, INTERPOL made several similar statements regarding the veracity of the computer files, including this one: "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."

What have others had to say about these “magical computers”?

Adam Isaacson, of the Center for International Policy in Washington DC, makes the point that, “…the documents in question are communications between guerrilla leaders. Several offer accounts of meetings with officials of the Venezuelan government, some of them high-ranking. No documents or writings from the Venezuelans themselves appear; the FARC communications only reflect the guerrillas’ version of events.”

The Organization of American States condemned the Colombian incursion as a violation of Ecuadorian sovereignty. OAS President Jose Miguel Insulza, responding to Florida Representative Connie Mack during a meeting of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, said, “You mean does Venezuela support terrorist groups? I don’t think so. There is no evidence, and no member country, including this one (United States) has offered the OAS such proof.”

Astrid Betancourt, whose sister, Ingrid, is a former Colombian presidential candidate being held by the FARC, dismissed the information presented from the computers as “very improbable”, adding that she believed the words of Ecuadorian Pres. Correa who told her that it was “…very strange that one would have found all of this information because the camp…was very destroyed by the bombing and it is very unlikely that this information would have been found intact….Assuming that these computers were found…[they] were in the hands of the Colombian government for a very long time.”

Ah, doeth your river run dry, yet? Again, the flow of information is being selectively diverted, and only a highly selective and polluted trickle is making it’s way into mainstream media.

US corporate press has joined a chorus that has lost all claims to objectivity regarding this matter. For instance, on May 18th, 2008, the Washington Post claimed that “On its face the evidence is enough to convict Mr. Chavez and his collaborators of backing terrorism against a democratic government.”

Or there is this Fox News Headline from May 16th, 2008: “Rebel Documents Present Damning Evidence of Venezuelan Aid to FARC”

How about this headline from the Wall Street Journal on May 9th, 2008—six days before INTERPOL’s report was released? “Chavez Aided Colombia Rebels, Captured Computer Files Show”.

Shall I go on? Perhaps, dear Information Harvesters, we may need to rent some large scale earth movers to make our way through these diversions! Seriously…because, according to the Colombian government and INTERPOL, the data contained in these “magical computers” equals a whopping 39.5 million filled pages in Microsoft Word documents. According to INTERPOL’s press release, “…it would take more than 1,000 years to read at a rate of 100 pages per day.” We may well be responding to information trickling out of this “magical computer” dam for the next several millennia! That should divert our attention from many a relevant issue!

INTERPOL maintains “…that there was no tampering with any data on the computer exhibits following their seizure on 1 March 2008 by Colombian authorities.” Yet INTERPOL’s report goes on to say that,

“All seized FARC computer exhibits were accessed by Colombian authorities between 1 March 2008, when they were seized, and 10 March 2008, when they were handed over to INTERPOL’s computer forensic experts…. Access to the data contained in the eight FARC computer exhibits did not conform to internationally recognized principles for handling electronic evidence by law enforcement…. Direct access may complicate validating this evidence for purposes of its introduction in a judicial proceeding, because law enforcement is then required to demonstrate or prove that the direct access did not have a material impact on the purpose for which the evidence is intended.”

Lawyer, author, and expert on US interventions in Venezuela, Eva Golinger writes that,

“Just hours after the illegal invasion and massacre…the head of Colombia’s National Police, General Naranjo, was announcing they had ‘found’ a ‘laptop’ that belonged to Raul Reyes, the FARC commander killed in the bombing, and that the computer contained information that showed a link between President Chavez and several members of his government, and the handover (or offering) of weapons and money to the FARC. (Now we would have to ask how the Colombian police found that key information so quickly amongst the more than 39,000 Word files and several million documents contained on the computers that the INTERPOL report says it would take 1,000 years to read). All of a sudden, evidence was found that not even the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency or the world’s top spies could encounter during years of secret missions, agent recruiting and handling and psychological operations….That mysterious machine contained anything the Empire could ever have dreamed up to bury the Venezuelan government and declare it over and done with.

But, there was a big problem: since the machine had been in the hands of the Colombian government—confessed adversary of its Venezuelan neighbor—and the ‘Documents’ that evidenced the relationship with President Chavez were actually just texts written in Word, without signature or seal, there was little faith in their credibility. How easy it is to just write a document in Word on some computer and say it was written by someone else! Word documents don’t have original signature….In today’s world, electronic information is unreliable. Computers can be manipulated from a remote source. Any decent hacker or computer techie can enter into a system and alter whatever, without leaving fingerprints….

There is no way whatsoever to authenticate the information contained on the thousands of Word documents and emails on those computers. They could be stories, wishes, dreams, prayers or fantasies. What they are not is actual hard core proof of a crime.”

So now that we have broken through some of these “dammed diversions” so that good, clean information can flow a bit more freely, perhaps we might examine some of the questions we have been diverted from asking.

Does Colombia feel threatened by Venezuela? Neither Venezuela’s Chavez nor Ecuador’s Correa have sent troops to carry out military attacks on Colombia. Yet not only did Colombia attack Ecuador on March 1st, 2008, but as recently as May 16th, 2008, Colombian troops crossed the border into Venezuela. And on May 18th, 2008, US military planes illegally entered Venezuelan airspace. Back in May of 2004, Colombian paramilitaries were captured in Venezuela, preparing to participate in a coup against Venezuela’s elected government.

Does Colombia accuse Venezuela of supporting terrorists? Such unsubstantiated allegations only serve to divert us away from much more substantiated ties of Pres. Uribe and the Colombian military to the paramilitaries.

Let’s look at just a few of the matters these “magical computers” and subsequent allegations are diverting us from.

Diversion # 1:

Whatever one may think of the FARC, it is important for us to know something of its history, and to understand exactly why many world leaders and many people across the planet do not agree that they should be simply dismissed and vilified as terrorists.

A few points-

  • The FARC was formed as a defense of peasant communities from ongoing attack by the military-paramilitary alliance. From the 1940s, during the civil war between the Conservative and Liberal Parties, until the early 60s, the government was attacking peasant communities because of their perceived affinities with Leftist ideas. Just being peasant or indigenous was considered evidence of guilt!
  • During the 1980s, when the FARC put down their weapons and entered the political process, some 4,000 of their candidates and elected officials were assassinated, forcing them to return to armed struggle.
  • In 2002, while negotiating with the Pastrana administration, and despite the supposed disbanding of paramilitaries, violence aimed at FARC members and peasant communities went on unabated, forcing the FARC to, once again, return to armed struggle.
  • Ever since the founding of the FARC in 1964, 70 to 80% of all political violence in Colombia has been committed by the military and paramilitaries, staying steadily at 80% since the turn of the millennium.
  • Military and paramilitary violence continues to escalate. Since 2002, over 9,000 FARC members have been killed, and violence against Colombian unionists is the highest in the world. In fact, 3 out of every 5 union members killed in the world today are killed in Colombia.
  • While the FARC has been trying to enter negotiations for the release of its prisoners, the Uribe administration has consistently maintained that a negotiated settlement is not possible—only a military one, as evidenced by the March 1st raid.

The fact is, the FARC has never had an honest opportunity to end its armed struggle. Especially, now, the FARC cannot be allowed to continue releasing prisoners and negotiating in good faith! They have much too important a role to play as the justification for isolating Venezuela and vilifying Pres. Chavez!

Diversion # 2:

While Colombia grasps at straws trying to portray the Venezuelan government as “supporting terrorists”, the evidence is much stronger for Colombian support for terrorists and narco-traffickers.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe was included on a 1991 US Defense Intelligence Agency list of “Important Colombian Narco-Traffickers”. The report noted that Uribe had “worked for the Medellin Cartel and…has been one of the politicians, from the senate, who has attacked all forms of the extradition treaty.”

While Uribe was governor of Antioquia, where Medellin is located, paramilitaries were immune from prosecution. In fact, they launched a reign of terror, killing and “disappearing” thousands of people. Governor Uribe led an effort to institutionalize paramilitaries into government sponsored private security forces designed to augment military forces. These “Convivirs” included known paramilitaries trained by the Colombian Army’s 17th Brigade. The Convivirs united in 1998 to form the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which is listed by the US State Department as a terrorist organization.

In 1997, US Drug Enforcement Administration officers seized 50,000 kilos of potassium permanganate off a ship in San Francisco that was destined for Colombia’s GMP Chemical Products. The owner of GMP was Pedro Moreno Villa, the campaign manager for Uribe’s presidential bid. These chemicals are an essential ingredient for the production of cocaine. The DEA has confirmed that between 1994 and 1998, when Uribe was governor of Antiochia and Moreno Villa was his chief of staff, Colombia’s biggest importer of potassium permanganate was GMP.

Recently, Uribe’s cousin and closest political advisor, Mario Uribe, was arrested for his associations with paramilitaries. In fact, there have been numerous cabinet members, lawmakers associated with Uribe, and Uribe family members who have been arrested or are facing accusations of ties with paramilitaries.

Supporters of Uribe point out the recent arrests, including extraditions to the United States, of several paramilitary leaders—but these are developments that have been slow in coming and have occurred under pressure. When a law was passed by the Colombian Congress calling for the demobilization of 30,000 paramilitaries, cousin Mario advocated for a near-amnesty for paramilitary leaders. The Constitutional Court insisted on imposing harsher penalties.

Uribe’s approach to disbanding the paramilitaries has been similar to his approach as governor, institutionalizing the paramilitaries into so-called “peasant militias” and a network of government informers. He has also pushed for increased military aid from the United States in an effort to double the size of Colombia’s military.

It also bears mention that the US has supported its share of terrorists, including Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, the Taliban and Al Qaeda (pre-9/11!), Saddam Hussein (pre-Gulf Wars, when he was destroying the largest secular democratic movement in the Arab World)…a whole host of unsavory characters when it served “our” interests. We are still harboring and protecting terrorists like Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada, who, while on the CIA payroll, carried out bombings of a Cuban passenger plane and tourist hotels, killing and wounding scores of innocent persons. Infamous for its training of some of Latin America’s and, especially, Colombia’s most violent military and paramilitary leaders is the US Army School of the Americas at Fort Benning, where torture and terror techniques are actually part of the SOA curriculum.

These unsubstantiated accusations against Presidents Chavez and Correa, and this selective release and withholding of information amounts to nothing but “dammed” lies.

Diversion # 3…and 4:

There is no credible evidence connecting Venezuela to support for the FARC. However, if it were true that Venezuela and Ecuador were funding or otherwise supporting the FARC, one could make a good case for such support being motivated by the “defense of necessity” against US/Colombian threats to Venezuelan and Ecuadorian democracy and stability. By shrilly accusing Venezuela and Ecuador of threatening Colombian security, attention is once again diverted from the ever present reality of US and Colombian aggressions.

The Uribe administration does nothing without the approval of its sponsors in Washington DC. Likewise, the Colombian military is utterly dependent on US funding and coordination. The US gives Colombia $600 million annually in military aid and Colombia is consistently, year after year, the 3rd, 4th, or 5th top recipient of such aid, right after Israel and Egypt. So, our third diversion is from looking squarely at the deep level of dependency the Colombian military-paramilitary alliance has on Washington DC.

But, above all, we are being diverted (# 4) from seeing the level of threat posed by the US and Colombia to the elected government of Venezuela. Up until recently, most solidarity activists working to change US policy toward Venzuela have dismissed the idea of a war against Venezuela. Our position was that, despite the anti-Bolivarian and anti-Chavez rhetoric, as the 5th largest supplier of oil to the United States, the US would not want to risk the disruption and instability that a war could bring.

Well, things have changed. On the one hand, the US/Corporate Empire is emboldened by the defeat of the constitutional reform package in Venezuela in December 2007. It is also emboldened by the illegal and largely boycotted vote in Bolivia for the secession of the resource rich state of Santa Cruz—a key development in trying to undermine progressive movements in Latin America. Empire clearly sees Venezuela as the linchpin in the movement toward participatory democracy and against corporate control and privatization of resources. The feeling is that if Venezuela’s elected government falls, then the whole movement will fall.

But the Empire is not only emboldened—it is worried. Paraguay has recently elected a president, Fernando Lugo, who joins Latin America’s progressive alliance. Many believe that Mexico has twice elected progressive presidents, only to have them denied office through fraud. Popular movements there are raising a powerful voice against the NAFTA free trade agreement. And despite its many efforts, the Bush administration has not been able to pass a similar free trade agreement with Colombia. Meanwhile, Nicaragua has returned the Sandinistas to power, and it is looking like El Salvador may elect a progressive government in upcoming elections.

So, on the one hand, Empire is emboldened. On the other, they are worried. There is a growing feeling that now is the time for decisive action, and that Colombia could be the proxy through which that action is taken. War, of course, is not the only option, and it is not the preferred option. But, try as it might, the US has not succeeded in any option, so far. Pres. Chavez’ approval ratings remain high. Bolivarian candidates have won election after election in votes that have been observed and certified as clean and transparent by organizations such as the Carter Center, the OAS, the European Union, and the NAACP.

By carefully and selectively damming the flow of information, and just as selectively releasing a trickle of accusations, the US/Corporate Empire and its lackey Uribe administration are creating a climate that is becoming daily more bellicose. Both the US and the Colombian people are war weary. It is by lying about Venezuela, by diverting and controlling the flow of information, that the Bush regime and corporate media are able to mask the reality about just who are and who aren’t the aggressors in this situation.

The US has also spent millions of dollars funding opposition political parties in Venezuela. Foreign funding of campaigns is against US law—and it is also against Venezuelan law. Still, the US funded the major organizations behind the attempted coup against Chavez in 2002—a coup that was thwarted when over one million Venezuelans poured into the Caracas streets to demand the return of their chosen government. The US also funded the major players in a crippling 2002 sabotage of the Venezuelan economy.

Consider the following:

  • the recent incursions by the Colombian military into Ecuador and into Venezuelan territory by both the Colombian and US militaries, not to mention Colombian paramilitaries;
  • the reestablishment by the US of the 4th Naval Fleet in the Caribbean after 60 years of retirement;
  • the leak of a CIA memo that revealed the US had spent over $8 million to defeat the reforms and had, indeed, adopted a detailed plan for destabilization—called Operation Pincers—that was to lead to another coup attempt had the reforms passed;
  • the opening up of a CIA Special Mission for Venezuela and Cuba in 2006 and the long term establishment of an “Office of Transition Initiatives” in Venezuela;
  • threats to move the Manta Air Base to disputed land claimed by Colombia along the Venezuelan border;
  • the discovery of an AUC paramilitary camp in Venezuela on April 24th, 2008.

There are, sadly, even more examples indicating the serious level of escalation. If a war did break out, it would not just be against Venezuela, but against popular movements for real democracy in Latin America today.

This threat is not just about Venezuela’s oil resources. Nor is it just about its water resources, which, with Brazil, are the largest sources of freshwater in the world. If these were all that was at stake, the threat of a war would entail too much chaos to be “worthwhile”. The biggest concern for the US/Corporate Empire is that Venezuela’s participatory democracy is catching on throughout Latin America. With its economy growing each year; with poverty rates reduced from 54% to 38.5% (30% if food subsidies and health care taken into account); with over 5 million acres turned over to poor and indigenous communities through its land reform laws; with almost half the population taking advantage of government education programs for all ages; with World Bank and IMF debts being canceled, and, thus, the austerity programs they impose; with so-called “free trade” and privatization schemes being rejected right and left and new, mutually beneficial trade alliances being pursued by Venezuela and its allies—the US/Corporate Empire is starting to seriously consider the possibility that it would be better to allow a proxy war than to allow participatory democracy to flourish and grow and to challenge its hegemony over Latin America.

That is what all this noise is about regarding these “magical computers”. It’s all about justification for another coup attempt, for more electoral manipulation by the US, even for a possible war.

For information harvesters who care about the truth, it’s time to break through these diversions. It is time to break out the shovels and the pickaxes! Let the truth flow! Undoubtedly, these “magical computers’ will be generating a steady stream of “accusations of the day”. Our job is to start talking about Uribe’s support for terrorists, about US support for Uribe and interference in Venezuela. If Colombia is beating the drums of war, then the drums and the drum sticks are coming straight out of Washington, DC.

Let’s start talking about real issues. Let’s break these dammed diversions and put an end to US and Colombian aggressions in South America!

For more information about how you can help change US policy and end the aggressions against Venezuela, visit www.vensolidarity.org . You can also write the Venezuela Solidarity Network at [email protected] or call us at 202-544-9355