The New York Times
May 16, 2008
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- Interpol said today it found no evidence of tampering in computers Colombia says it seized from a slain leftist rebel. The finding discredits Venezuelan assertions that the files are bogus and gives Colombia the international backing it sought.
The forensic study by the France-based international police agency will increase pressure on Venezuela's socialist president, Hugo Chavez, to explain documents indicating his government was financing and arming the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
Colombia said its commandos recovered the three Toshiba Satellite laptop computers, two external hard drives and three USB memory sticks after destroying a rebel camp across the border in Ecuador. FARC foreign minister Raul Reyes and 24 others were killed in the March 1 raid.
Chavez has called the documents fakes, mocking Colombia's revelations about "the supposed computer of Raul Reyes." He denies arming or funding the FARC, though he openly sympathizes with Latin America's most powerful rebel army.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe turned to Interpol in hopes of dispelling any doubts about the documents' authenticity, and after two months of forensic work, the agency's 39-page report gives him what he wanted.
Interpol found Colombian authorities did not always follow internationally accepted methods for handling computer evidence, but that they did not modify, delete or create any user files.
"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 following their seizure on March 1," said Interpol's secretary general, Ronald Noble, a former enforcement chief for the U.S. Treasury Department.
The drives contained a vast trove of information -- 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 said. Ten Interpol computers ran nonstop for two weeks to crack the 983 files that were encrypted, Noble said.
The forensic exam was limited to verifying whether Colombia had altered the files and correctly handled the evidence. Interpol was not asked to analyze the contents of the documents themselves.
Interpol's two forensic experts, from Australia and Singapore, do not speak Spanish, "which helped to eliminate the possibility that they would be influenced by the content of any data they were examining," reads the report.
Attached to the report are photos including one of Reyes at his laptop wearing combat fatigues.
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.
An independent computer forensics expert consulted by the AP, Richard M. Smith of Boston Software Forensics, said it would be very difficult to manipulate data generated by the computer's operating system, which records when a computer is turned on or off and any time a document is opened, modified or moved.
Interpol's experts first obtained access to the data on March 10, according to the report. Colombian officials first showed reporters copies of some of the documents on March 2 and have been leaking pieces of information ever since.
The most damning evidence to date against Chavez came in text files shown to The Associated Press last week by a senior Colombian official.
More than a dozen internal rebel messages detail several years of close cooperation between top Venezuelan and FARC officials, including rebel training facilities on Venezuelan soil and a meeting inside Venezuela's equivalent of the Pentagon.
They also suggest Venezuela was preparing to loan the rebels at least US$250 million (euro190 million), provide them with Russian weapons and possibly even help them obtain surface-to-air missiles for use against Colombian military aircraft.
"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."