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Interpol: Colombia didn’t alter computer files

Interpol said Thursday that computer files suggesting Venezuela was arming and financing Colombian guerrillas came from a rebel camp and were not tampered with.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Interpol said Thursday that computer files suggesting Venezuela was arming and financing Colombian guerrillas came from a rebel camp and were not tampered with, discrediting Venezuela's assertions that Colombia faked them.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez denounced the report as "ridiculous," saying a "show of clowns" surrounded the announcement. But the findings are sure to increase pressure on Chavez to explain his relationship with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

More revelations are likely to emerge, since Interpol also turned over to Colombia 983 files it decrypted.

"We are absolutely certain that the computer exhibits that our experts examined came from a FARC terrorist camp," said Interpol's secretary general, Ronald Noble, adding: "No one can ever question whether or not the Colombian government tampered with the seized FARC computers."

Chavez did just that, calling Noble "a tremendous actor" and an "immoral police officer who applauds killers."

"Do you think we should waste time here on something so ridiculous?" Chavez asked a journalist.

He denies arming or funding the FARC, though he openly sympathizes with Latin America's most powerful rebel army.

Computers recovered in raid into Ecuador
Colombian commandos recovered the three Toshiba Satellite laptop computers, two external hard drives and three USB memory sticks after destroying the rebel camp just across the border in Ecuador.

FARC foreign minister Raul Reyes and 24 others were killed in the March 1 raid.

Interpol addressed Chavez charges that no computer could have survived the bombardment by showing photographs of metal cases that protected them during the raid.

"Mr. Reyes is now dead. But they were definitely his computers, his disks, his hardware," Noble said.

Encrypted files cracked
The Interpol study was done at Colombia's request, and Colombia got a major bonus when Interpol ran 10 computers nonstop for two weeks to crack the encrypted files. Noble said it was up to Colombia to decide whether to make their contents public. Interpol also gave Colombia a separate confidential report for use in criminal investigations.

The 39-page public forensic report by the France-based international police agency concluded Colombian authorities did not always follow internationally accepted methods for handling computer evidence but said that didn't taint the data.

Interpol said it reviewed 610 gigabytes of data including 210,888 images, 37,872 written documents, 22,481 Web pages, 10,537 sound and video files, 7,989 email addresses and 452 spreadsheets.

Interpol limited itself to verifying whether Colombia altered the files and correctly handled the evidence, but did not address the contents of the documents, even making a point to use two forensic experts — from Australia and Singapore — who do not read Spanish.

Colombians' professionalism praised
A Colombian anti-terrorism officer accessed the computers before they were handed over to Interpol, leaving multiple traces in operating system files, which Noble said runs against internationally accepted protocol. But Colombian authorities properly told Interpol's experts about the episode and Noble praised their professionalism.

Noble said he tried to get Chavez and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, whom the documents also link to the FARC, to work with Interpol in its investigation, but neither responded.

"I've done everything in my power to invite Venezuela and Ecuador to participate," said Noble, a former U.S. Treasury enforcement chief in his second term heading the 186-member police organization.

Colombia has been leaking details from the documents since the day after the raid. The most damning evidence against Chavez was revealed to The Associated Press by a senior Colombian official.

More than a dozen rebel messages detail close cooperation with Venezuela, including rebel training facilities on Venezuelan soil and a meeting inside Venezuela's equivalent of the Pentagon. They suggest Venezuela wanted to loan the rebels $250 million and help them get Russian weapons and possibly even surface-to-air missiles.

"They are serious allegations about Venezuela supplying arms and support to a terrorist organization," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington. "Certainly, that has deep implications for the people of the region."

Some U.S. Republicans renewed calls Thursday for the State Department to add Venezuela to its list of state terror sponsors, which would prompt economic sanctions against a key U.S. oil supplier.