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What the 'Farc Files' Really Reveal

A conservative thinktank's attempt to reheat widely discredited Colombian military claims about Farc is pure black propaganda

The release Tuesday of a "dossier" of Farc files, which were supposedly seized by the Colombian government in 2008, is truly a non-event. The report, by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), appears to be an attempt by hawks in the US and the UK to perpetuate, using "black propaganda", the failed policies of the George W Bush administration, as well as previous administrations of the cold war era, to which they respectively once belonged. All of its conclusions are based on the false premise that the documents that it claims to analyse are entirely trustworthy.

Impartial observers of the events surrounding the supposed capture of computer files from the Farc, and their subsequent revelation in the media, have long ago concluded that the files are highly dubious at best. The Colombian military, which claims to have obtained the documents from computers and flash drives following an illegal bombing raid on a Farc camp inside Ecuador in March 2008, is the only party that can know for sure whether the documents are authentic.

The IISS, and others who want the world to believe in the documents' authenticity, rest much of their case on the supposed verification of the files by Interpol. But what Interpol actually said, in its 2008 report on the documents, was that the Colombian military's treatment of the files "did not conform to internationally recognised principles for the ordinary handling of electronic evidence by law enforcement". Interpol noted that there was a one-week period between the computer documents' capture by Colombia, and when they were handed over to Interpol, during which time the Colombian authorities actually modified 9,440 files, and deleted 2,905, according to Interpol's detailed forensic report. This "may complicate validating this evidence for purposes of its introduction in a judicial proceeding", Interpol noted at the time.

Following their remarkable initial "discovery" and "capture" (the computers, we were told, survived a bombing raid completely unscathed), the Colombian military made "revelations" that quickly turned out to be false. A photo depicting a high-level Ecuadorian official meeting with the Farc was revealed to be a fake. Even more embarrassing, the Colombian military's claims that files showed the Farc were planning to make a "dirty bomb" were publicly dismissed by the US government and terrorism experts.

The documents' evidence of Venezuelan support for the Farc was so weak that Organisation of American States secretary general José Miguel Insulza told the US House subcommittee on western hemispheric affairs just a month later that there was "no evidence" of such support or collusion.

Even more damning for the Colombian military's case were statements last year by General Douglas Fraser, head of the US Southern Command, in response to questions from Senator John McCain, regarding the alleged Venezuela-Farc connection, and the laptop "revelations": "We have not seen any connections specifically that I can verify that there has been a direct government-to-terrorist connection," Fraser stated, adding, "I am skeptical." (Fraser recanted his testimony the following day, following a meeting with the top state department official for Latin America, Arturo Valenzuela. But Fraser, as the US military's leader for activities in South America, is in a much better position to know.)

But perhaps most telling of all are the current close relations between the governments of Venezuela and Colombia, now that Juan Manuel Santos has taken over from Alvaro Uribe as president of Colombia. If Colombia, indeed, had evidence of Venezuelan support for the Farc, would Santos have so readily warmed to the Chávez administration, quickly boosting trade and political support? Santos, interestingly, is the man who, as Colombia's defence minister, oversaw the raid on the Farc camp.

US policy, during much of the Uribe administration (2002-2010), seemed designed to provoke tension between Colombia and Venezuela. Now, with Santos in office, and Colombia "looking ahead" and even dropping a Uribe era agreement stipulating an increased US military presence in Colombia, promoters of this policy are again hoping to stir up trouble, through the IISS.

The world is being asked to trust the word of former Bush administration intelligence officials and national security advisers – who help to oversee IISS's activities – and their counterparts in the UK, who include former advisers to Blair and Thatcher. The IISS expert chosen to present the dossier's findings this week in Washington, for example, is a former British intelligence officer who conducted intelligence operations in Latin America. Other notable IISS advisory council members include Robert D Blackwill (former deputy national security adviser to George W Bush), Eliot Cohen (formerly secretary of state Condoleezza Rice's senior adviser on strategic issues), Sir David Manning (formerly foreign policy adviser to Tony Blair) and Prince Faisal bin Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia. In other words, some of the same people who deceived the people of the United States and the United Kingdom into invading Iraq now want us to believe their "revelations" about Venezuela, Ecuador and the Farc.

The IISS is full of people who should know a thing or two about "black propaganda" – forged or altered information, the source of which is masked, in order to advance policy objectives. The use of such "black propaganda" is as old as espionage itself, and used routinely by the CIA and MI6. The former CIA officer, Philip Agee, described several such operations in his revelatory memoir, Inside the Company: CIA Diary, published in the 1970s.

If Bush cronies are now using "black propaganda" to smear the Chávez government in an attempt to undermine it, it would not be the first time. The Bush administration supported Chávez's brief overthrow, in April 2002. The use of altered information – film footage that was manipulated to make it appear as though Chávez supporters had gunned down unarmed demonstrators – played a key role in that coup d'etat. Why should anyone take at face value former high-level Bush administration officials' claims about Venezuelan or Ecuadorian connections to the Farc?

Unfortunately, there are many loud voices that continue to see Latin America through a cold war prism, such as the current heads of the US House foreign affairs and western hemisphere committees, as well as various editorial writers at major US media organisations, who will be all too happy to take the IISS spooks and neocons at their word – just as they did in the runup to the invasion of Iraq.

© 2020 The Guardian
Greg Grandin

Greg Grandin

Greg Grandin is a professor of history at Yale University. He previously taught at New York University. His most recent book was the 2020 Pulitzer Prize Winner in General Nonfiction, "The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America."  His previous books include, "Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman," "The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World" and "Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City," a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history.

Miguel Tinker Salas

Miguel Tinker Salas is professor of history at Pomona College. He is the author of The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture and Society in Venezuela (2009)

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