FARC Computer Files Are Authentic, Interpol Probe Finds

Ronald K. Noble of Interpol said there was no evidence that Colombian authorities had altered data from computers found in a March 1 raid on a rebel camp in Ecuador.
Ronald K. Noble of Interpol said there was no evidence that Colombian authorities had altered data from computers found in a March 1 raid on a rebel camp in Ecuador. (By Fernando Vergara -- Associated Press)
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By Juan Forero
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 16, 2008

CARACAS, Venezuela, May 15 -- Interpol, the international police agency, said Thursday that computer files seized by Colombia's army in a raid on a rebel camp belonged to a top guerrilla commander and had not been modified, falsified or forged.

The announcement, made at a news conference in the Colombian capital by Interpol's secretary general, Ronald K. Noble, was a blow to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who sought to discredit the files because they contain information linking his government with a rebel force fighting to topple Colombian President Álvaro Uribe.

"No one can ever question whether or not the Colombian government tampered with the seized FARC computers," Noble said in Bogota, referring to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia by the rebel group's Spanish initials. "We are absolutely certain that the computer exhibits that our experts examined came from a FARC terrorist camp."

The files contain e-mails and other documents that show how Venezuela's populist leader had formed such a tight bond with guerrilla commanders that his key lieutenants had offered help in obtaining sophisticated weaponry such as surface-to-air missiles while delivering lighter arms. The files also document links between the FARC and Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, a close ally of Chávez.

At a news conference in Caracas, Chávez questioned Interpol's impartiality, called the report "ridiculous" and mocked Noble as "ignoble" and a "gringo policeman," referring to his American citizenship. Chávez also called the Interpol chief corrupt and an "international bum."

Chávez also said Colombia committed an international crime by striking the rebel camp where the computers were found. "He came to applaud assassins," Chávez said of Noble and the Colombian officials who attended his news conference. "How sad. How indignant this is."

Chávez has consistently denied arming or funding the FARC.

In Paris, where she was traveling with Correa, Ecuadoran Foreign Minister María Isabel Salvador said the "chain of custody" of the documents had not been guaranteed, so the files had "lost moral value."

Noble said Interpol could not vouch for the content of the messages and other FARC documents. He also explained that the forensic experts who examined the files do not read Spanish, saying this was done purposely to ensure an impartial investigation.

Noble commended the professionalism of Colombian authorities and stressed that "there was no tampering with or altering of any of the data contained in the user files by any of the Colombian law enforcement authorities."

Interpol's findings, after a two-month forensic analysis, could fuel efforts by a small group of Republicans on Capitol Hill to have Venezuela classified as a state sponsor of terrorism. The FARC has long been listed in Washington as a terrorist group.

U.S. officials have worried since early in Chávez's term that the ideological affinity he shared with the FARC had translated into aid. Recently declassified cables, obtained by the nongovernmental National Security Archive in Washington, show how U.S. diplomats in the region believed Chavez was providing secret assistance.

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