Dispatches From The Edge:Laptop Doubts; Iraq Flim Flam

By Conn Hallinan
Thursday June 19, 2008 - 09:59:00 AM

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has been caught,” is how a recent editorial in the New York Times characterized the findings of the International Police Agency (Interpol) on three laptop computers, several USB thumb drives, and two external hard disks seized during Colombia’s March 1 invasion of Ecuador. 

The Colombian government says the computers link the governments of Venezuela and Ecuador to the oldest guerrilla group in Latin America, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Based on those claims the Bush Administration is threatening to add Venezuela to its list of “terrorist” states—Syria, Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Sudan—which would trigger economic sanctions. 

Not so fast, say three information technology professors at the University of Ecuador. At a May 20 press conference, the professors, led by Deacon Carlos Montenegro, criticized Interpol head Ronald Noble for his statement that the laptops and hard drives were from FARC. According to Quito-based reporter Daniel Denvir, “the investigation was explicitly limited to determining whether the hard drives had been altered,” not whether the laptops were from FARC. 

The Ecuadorians pointed out that between March 1, when the computers were seized, and March 3, when they were turned over to Interpol, the laptops were in the hands of Colombia’s anti-terrorism unit. This, according to Interpol, “did not follow internationally recognized principles in the handling of electronic evidence,” but the lapse “had no effect on the content of any user file.” 

But, according to the Ecuadorians, Interpol has no way of determining if Colombian officials modified, deleted or created documents over the three-day period. 

On top of which, Colombia gave Interpol the files, not the hard drives. According to Denvir, the professors then demonstrated to the press how easy it was to change the creation and modification dates of documents. The only traces of such changes would be on the hard drives, which remain in the hands of the Colombians. 

The Bogotá government has selectively leaked documents suggesting there were official ties between the Chavez government and FARC. But as the Financial Times reports, the documents do not “provide conclusive evidence that Venezuela is providing money, weapons and logistical support to the FARC.” Indeed, the newspaper points out “None of the communications are from Venezuelan officials,” adding, “The competing leaders of the FARC, fragmented after years of successful counter-insurgency, have cause to exaggerate proximity to Mr. Chavez.” 

The $5 billion in U.S. aid to Colombia—over half of which has gone to the military—has badly hurt FARC. The organization’s use of kidnapping and its association with the cocaine trade has also lost it popularity.  

But most analysts say FARC is hardly finished. “They’re still a force to be reckoned with,” says Jorge Restrepo, director of the Conflict Analysis Resource Center in Bogotá.  

Chavez recently called on FARC to release kidnap victims and end its military struggle. But he also urged Colombia to recognize the guerrilla organization as a legitimate political force rather than simply a terrorist group. Chavez’s position is widely supported throughout Latin America. 

FARC’s persistence has less to do with its politics than the fact that the issues which sparked Colombia’s 40-year old civil war are still the same: 65 to 67 percent of the population are classified as “poor,” and 30 percent of the landowners control 95 percent of the land. 

“The land problem is at the center of the conflict,” says refugee advocate Jorge Rojas.  

But fueled by U.S. military aid, Colombia’s government continues to pursue the chimera of a military victory, even if it means invading neighboring countries or cooking intelligence. 

Sound familiar?  


When is a permanent U.S. base in Iraq not a permanent base? If it has one Iraqi soldier guarding it. That little piece of flim flam is just one of the ways that the Bush Administration is trying to conceal the details of its push to make American occupation of Iraq permanent.  

According to Andrew Cockburn of the Independent, the Bush administration is demanding permanent bases, the right to arrest Iraqi citizens, to engage in military attacks without consulting the Iraqi government, and legal immunity for its soldiers and private contractors. 

Iraqi lawmakers say the United States wants 58 permanent bases and absolute control of Iraqi skies up to 30,000 feet. 

The United States is also demanding the power to determine if Iraq is the victim of aggression, a right that Iraqi lawmakers say could pull Iraq into a U.S.-Iran war. “The points that were put forth by the Americans were more abominable than the occupation,” Jalal as Din al Saghir, a member of parliament from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), told Lelia Fadel of the McClatchy newspapers. 

A majority of Iraq’s parliament recently wrote to the U.S. Congress demanding the end to the U.S. occupation, but the White House has an ace in the hole.  

According to Cockburn, the United States is using $20 billion in legal judgments against Iraq to put the squeeze on the Baghdad government. 

The scheme is right out of the Sopranos. 

Iraq is currently under a UN Mandate, which means its reserves are immune from legal judgements.  

But, according to Cockburn, “the U.S. side in the [status force] talks has suggested that if the UN Mandate, under which the money is held, lapses and is not replaced by a new agreement, than Iraqi funds would lose this immunity.” 

That would cause the immediate loss of $20 billion, or 40 percent of Iraqi’s foreign exchange reserves. 

In short, sign the status force agreement or there may be trouble over extending the U.N. Mandate. 

The White House is trying an end run around Congress by claiming that the status force agreement is not a treaty, but an alliance, so it doesn’t have to be submitted to the Senate. 

Many Iraqis are not happy. “We are being asked to sign for our own occupation. That is why we have refused all that we have seen so far,” says ISCI’s Saghir. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says his government will reject the proposed agreement. Reports say the Americans have dropped the immunity for contractors demand. 

But the Baghdad government is utterly dependent on the United States, as the recent fighting between the Iraqi Army and Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army demonstrated. 

Tony and his boys know how to lean on people. 


The real story behind Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ firing of Secretary of the Air Force (AF) Mike Wynne, and Air Force Chief of Staff Mike “Buzz” Moseley has little to do with “loose nukes” and everything to do with the U.S. military’s war plans for the 21st Century. 

The firing was supposedly over six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles that went AWOL for several hours last year, and several nuclear missile nose cone assemblies that were mistakenly shipped to Taiwan. Gates was also annoyed that the flyboys were dragging their heels about deploying robot killers like the Predator and the Reaper, on which the United States is increasingly relying in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The AF insists only fully certified pilots can guide the robots. The Army, Marines and Navy use their recruits from the video game playing generation to fly the drones.  

But the robots are a piece of a bigger story. What is really going on is that, while Gates is planning to fight scores of Iraqs and Afghanistans, the AF wants to fight China. 

In a recent Alabama speech, Gates said “Asymmetrical conflict will be the dominant battlefield for decades to come, and procurement and training have to focus on that reality.” Thar means that brushfire wars and counter-insurgency is the future. 

The nail in the coffin for the AF chiefs was an $80 million Air Force ad campaign called “Above All,” which claimed that China had the world’s biggest air force. It does, but only if you count 40-year-old airplanes. The U.S. Air Force is vastly superior to China’s, and the AF chiefs know it.  

The Air Force also refused to accept only 183 F-22 stealth fighters, a very expensive and absolutely useless aircraft originally designed for breaking up massive formations of Soviet fighters invading Europe. This is not such a problem these days. Apparently Wynne and Moseley went over the Pentagon’s head and lobbied Congress to build more F-22s. 

The dangerous part in all of this is the focus on “asymmetrical conflict,” which means a return to the era which produced that ‘60s poster: “Join the Army, visit exotic places, meet interesting people, and kill them.”