Laptops Reveal Possible Chávez-FARC Ties

Amid all the saber-rattling by Venezuela and Ecuador over a recent raid by the Colombian military that killed a top guerrilla leader, some intriguing revelations are surfacing from several laptop computers and hard drives captured in the jungle operation.

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Amid all the saber-rattling by Venezuela and Ecuador over a recent raid by the Colombian military that killed a top guerrilla leader, some intriguing revelations are surfacing from several laptop computers and hard drives captured in the jungle operation.

Colombian officials are releasing a set of documents from the computers that appear to show that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has been actively supporting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas who have been fighting a four-decade conflict with the Colombian government. The documents include details of correspondence between Venezuelan officials and FARC commanders, including accounts of alleged meetings with Chávez as well as references to financial transactions.

Chávez has denied the allegations and accused Colombia of faking the documents.

But as U.S. News reported this week, Colombian investigators have been working to improve their computer forensics skills in recent years with the help of U.S. trainers.

As part of a program run by the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, teams of investigators and prosecutors from across Colombia have been trained in how to handle digital evidence, break encryption, and recover deleted documents using specialized equipment provided in large part by U.S. funding. The training has helped the Colombian government go after both FARC and the right-wing paramilitaries.

Now, Colombian officials are hoping these skills will help them weather a regional diplomatic assault protesting the military raid, which took place on Ecuadoran soil. For one thing, it was some of these U.S.-trained investigators who examined the captured FARC laptops.

Colombia's national police chief has also invited a multinational team from Interpol to examine the laptops and hard drives. The team will arrive next week.

"We have nothing to hide," police chief Brig. Gen. Oscar Naranjo told the Washington Post.

Kevin Whitelaw