Colombia: What did Interpol find in the laptops?

Colombia: What did Interpol find in the laptops?

Forrest Hylton: This is really about manufacturing threats -   May 22, 2008
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Forrest Hylton teaches history and politics at the Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá). He is the author of Evil Hour in Colombia (Verso, 2006), and with Sinclair Thomson, co-author of Revolutionary Horizons: Past and Present in Bolivian Politics (Verso, 2007). He has contributed to New Left Review, NACLA Report on the Americas, and CounterPunch, and his short fiction and translations have appeared in the Brooklyn Rail. Most recently he authored the novel Vanishing Acts: A Tragedy (City Works Press, 2010).


After the Colombian military illegally attacked a FARC camp in Ecuador in March with US assistance, the Uribe government claimed to have found laptops belonging to the rebels that they say show clear ties between the FARC, Venezuela and Ecuador. The Colombian government handed these laptops to Interpol for verification, but what did Interpol really find?


Colombia: What did Interpol find in the laptops?PEPE ESCOBAR, ANALYST, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: On March 1, the Colombia military, assisted by US Special Forces and US Satellite Telephone tracking attacked illegally a rebel FARC camp inside Ecuador. This mission could not have happened without Washington's approval. Over 20 people were killed while they slept, including RaĂșl Reyes, the FARC second in command, and also a key player in the FARC hostage negotiations with Colombia, led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The attack was framed by both Washington and BogotĂĄ as part of the war on terror. On one side, there was Chavez and Ecuador President Rafael Correa, on the other side, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and George W. Bush. US presidential candidates McCain, Obama, and Clinton, they all supported Uribe and Bush. Three FARC laptops miraculously survived the bombing. The Colombians asked Interpol to examine the files. Interpol released its report on May 15, admitting there was no evidence the Colombians tampered with the files. But the report also said there was no proof there was no tampering. This story goes way beyond three high-impact laptops. It's part of a relentless, concerted campaign against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. To better understand this South American thriller, I spoke to Forrest Hylton, one of the foremost experts in South America and author of Evil Hour in Colombia. So, Forrest, what's really happening with this dodgy laptop story? Look, Interpol is saying, basically, that, I quote, "There was no tampering with the contents of the laptops." But then, in the middle of the report, they also say that Interpol experts didn't, I quote, "evaluate the accuracy or the source of the exhibit's content."

FORREST HYLTON, HISTORIAN: That's precisely why the Colombian government agreed to turn it over to Interpol in the first place is that they knew that Interpol would not be able to testify to the veracity of the contents. And if you read the Interpol report carefully, as you said, they say that, in fact. They also say that what they call the chain of custody—this is a sort of technical term that forensic experts use—the chain of custody was broken between March 1 and March 3. And, in fact, during that 48-hour period, the computer was under the control of the Ministry of Defense and an elite anti-terrorist squad. And, in fact, the Interpol report says that the Colombian government had direct access to those computers in that 48-hour period.

ESCOBAR: In the middle of the report, they say that some documents, they have different date stamps on them as well. So this proves that they could have been tampered.

HYLTON: Absolutely. They could have been tampered with. And the only source that says they were not tampered with is the interested party, which is to say the Colombian government itself. So what this is really all about is manufacturing threats.


RONALD KENNETH NOBLE, SECRETARY GENERAL, INTERPOL: The volume of this data would correspond to 39.5-million pages in Microsoft Word—39.5-million pages. It would take more than 1,000 years—more than 1,000 years—to read all the data if one person read 100 pages per day.


ESCOBAR: So how could the Colombian government read them in two or three days?

HYLTON: Well, see, this was one of the most remarkable things about the whole incident of Colombia's violation of Ecuadorian sovereignty on March 1, when it bombarded this guerrilla camp in which the FARC top negotiator RaĂșl Reyes was located. They were able to produce an interpretation of the documents on the laptop within 24 hours.

ESCOBAR: Almost as frightening as this whole process is the way the media spun the whole thing, especially here in the US. I'll quote you what The Wall Street Journal said:

"Interpol certification proves that Mr. Chavez is trying to destabilize a US ally, his approval and support of terrorism in our own hemisphere."

And The New York Times, the same thing. You know. Their May 16 headline:

"Files tying Venezuela to rebels not altered, report says."

So the media's indicting Chavez.

HYLTON: Right. This is the propaganda war on Chavez and the Venezuelan government taken to a new level in terms of being a really systematic international disinformation campaign. I think it's safe to assume that the Colombian government expected the US media to simply act as microphones for the claims that it was making about the actions of neighboring governments, and in fact that's mostly what happened. It does sort of stretch the imagination to think that after launching smart bombs into a guerrilla camp very far from any electrical outlets or Internet connections, that they would then be able to recover absolutely strategic information, as well as USB memory sticks. Now, it's unlikely that computers would survive that type of attack; it's even more unlikely that USB memory sticks would survive that sort of attack. On the other hand, the computers that were in the hands of top paramilitary leaders who were extradited to the United States just this week are miraculously missing, even though those computers were under the authority of the prison authorities in Colombia ["in-PICK"]. So the Colombian government has an astonishing ability to recover computer files belonging to the FARC and at the same time to lose track of, lose sight of, or even to actively disappear computer materials from its paramilitary allies.

ESCOBAR: And, obviously, none of this will be touched by the American press, right?

HYLTON: Absolutely not. The fact that these laptop computers belonging to the top paramilitary leaders extradited to the US on cocaine trafficking charges is a non-story for the US media. The only story that matters is that the laptop proves that Chavez has ties to the FARC. That's the only story that they're interested in.

ESCOBAR: Yeah, but the demonization campaign seems to be reaching another level nowadays. Look at these developments. A US Navy surveillance plane—the Pentagon admitted they had entered Venezuelan airspace. They are trying to resurrect, in fact, the force fleet. And on top of it, the Pentagon plans to build a Colombian military base near Venezuela's border. So where are we heading next?

HYLTON: This is, along with the disinformation campaign, there's clearly a sort of escalation of provocations. And I would say that it's roughly similar in some ways to the escalation of provocations with Iran. And it's very hard to know what is happening inside the Bush administration right now. At no point has it been characterized by transparency, and in that respect it's very much like the Colombian regime of Alvaro Uribe—they're joined at the hip; they're sort of Siamese twins. But right now it's not clear what exactly is going on in terms of this sort of escalation of provocation, but it looks very much like the pattern we see in Iran. And it's incredibly worrisome, because Colombia's violation of Ecuadorian sovereignty was one of the gravest breaches of diplomacy in the hemisphere in some time, and instead of kind of drawing back and really, you know, rethinking that type of policy of provoking its neighbors, Colombia has continued on the same path and has been encouraged to do so by the United States and the US media. But I agree with you that this has clearly reached kind of a new level of tension and polarization and provocation.


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