Friday, March 28, 2008

"FARC Uranium," Less than Meets the Eye

In a corporatist society such as the United States, anonymous "government officials," "Western diplomats," and "military sources" often telegraph the animus of ruling elites to mass media on questions deemed critical to their constituents: the executive class who exercise real power.

No where is this more pronounced than on issues of U.S. foreign policy, particularly when natural resources (controlled by other nations) are assigned a "strategic value" by multinational corporations, their shareholders and the guardians of imperial order. Here too, the media's role is to serve as an "objective observer" simply reporting the "facts" as filtered through fixed frames of reference and agendas determined by the dominant political culture.

Since the March 1 "targeted assassination" of FARC leader Raúl Reyes and 24 others by Colombia, there are clear signs that Washington's crusade against Venezuela's democratic socialist experiment have escalated.

A key to unlocking the extent of Washington's current destabilization campaign is by deciphering the black propaganda "product" crafted by U.S. and Colombian disinformation specialists. One such "product" are the series of fraudulent documents I have dubbed Uribe's "dodgy dossier," a trial balloon introduced by Washington and their regional surrogates as a potential casus belli for direct U.S. military intervention to topple the Chávez government.

Three, sometimes four computer hard drives, are claimed to have been seized in the FARC encampment by Colombian commandos. But considering the concentrated firepower of multiple U.S. "smart bombs" dropped in the area, it seems highly unlikely that the hard drives would have survived such an onslaught.

Nonetheless, Colombian officials claim their analysis of the files "prove," among other things that the Ecuadorean and Venezuelan governments are colluding with the FARC. According to some readings, Defense Ministry spokespeople aver that Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez was planning to provide FARC with $300 million dollars. It has also been alleged, without a shread of documentary evidence to back up their assertions, that Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, has "allowed" the FARC to occupy its sovereign territory and create new firebases as launching pads for attacks into southern Colombia. Other readings even have the FARC bankrolling Correa's presidential campaign.

The most explosive charges, however, are allegations that the FARC intend to purchase enriched uranium for the construction of "dirty bombs." As resilient as the FARC may be as a fighting force, the group do not even field the most primitive ground-to-air missiles that would significantly hamper Colombian counterinsurgency operations, let alone possess the technical capacity to construct a uranium weapon. The most "sophisticated" ordnance in the FARC arsenal are highly-inaccurate gas-canister bombs, mortars, heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Depending on one's interpretation of FARC's commitment to a socialist transformation of society, it would be political suicide to even consider deploying a weapon such as a "dirty bomb" in a Colombian city!

But allegations by Colombian and U.S. "counterterrorist" officials do however, fit a discernible pattern. As a species of "news management" and "public diplomacy," U.S. disinformation serves the unmistakable purpose of fabricating the connection "Chávez = $300 million = FARC = uranium = terrorism" in the public mind. The standard practice of a continuous injection of known falsehoods into the media cycle (black propaganda) or more disingenuously, through nuanced media operations as in the run-up to the Iraq invasion where "the intelligence and facts [are] being fixed around the policy," are all in play here.

According to analyst Eva Golinger, a factor in U.S. elite planning, is the manufacturing of "evidence" that demonizes Chávez and links him to "drug trafficking," "money laundering," "terrorism," constructing "a dictatorship," fomenting "an arms race," and posing "a threat against regional security." If Golinger is correct, then we are witnessing a new phase in U.S. psychological warfare operations that have as their "target audience" the Venezuelan and American people.

According to declassified U.S. Army documents cited by historian Christopher Simpson, psychological warfare

"will employ any weapon to influence the mind of the enemy. The weapons are psychological only in the effect they produce and not because of the nature of the weapons themselves. In this light, overt (white), covert (black), and gray propaganda; subversion; sabotage; special operations; guerrilla warfare; espionage; political, cultural, economic, and racial pressures are all effective weapons. They are effective because they produce dissension, distrust, fear and hopelessness in the minds of the enemy, not because they originate in the psyche of propaganda or psychological warfare agencies." (Science of Coercion, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994, p. 12)

Since March 1, U.S. administration officials have been ratcheting-up the "fear factor" and creating what they hope will serve as a plausible scenario that justifies a new round of attacks against Venezuela. Wednesday's "discovery" by Colombian officials of "66 pounds of low grade uranium" outside Bogotá, is certainly following Washington's playbook in this regard.

However, as the "dodgy dossier" continues to be exposed as a fraudulent patch work quilt, Colombian Defense Ministry officials are scrambling for "proof" of FARC--and by implication, Ecuadorean and Venezuelan--perfidy. According to the Weekly News Update on the Americas,

On Mar. 17 the Bogotá daily El Tiempo published a photograph, supposedly from a laptop computer found at the FARC camp, which it said showed Reyes together with Ecuadoran internal and external security minister Gustavo Larrea. It was in fact a picture of Patricio Etchegaray, general secretary of the Communist Party of Argentina, who said he had a long interview with Reyes three years ago at a rebel camp. El Tiempo issued a retraction in the afternoon, saying its information came from the Colombian police. El Tiempo is partly owned by the Santos family, which currently has two members in the government: Vice President Francisco Santos Calderón and Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos Calderón. ("Ecuador: ID Bombs Used on FARC Camp," Weekly News Update on the Americas, No. 940, March 23, 2008)

Undeterred by the "facts," the Miami Herald breathlessly reports,

Colombian authorities said they seized up to 66 pounds of low-grade uranium hidden off the side of a road in southern Bogotá on Wednesday, which the Colombian Defense Ministry said belonged to FARC guerrillas.

The Defense Ministry said the discovery adds weight to the evidence found in a laptop belonging to slain guerrilla leader Raúl Reyes, which showed the rebels were interested in buying and selling the uranium on the international underground market. (Frances Robles, "Colombia Says it Found Uranium Linked to FARC," Wednesday, March 26, 2008)

Accordingly, Robles reports that "informants" gave "military intelligence officers," a "sample of uranium" allegedly "acquired by FARC rebels."

The "proof": according to Armed Forces commander Freddy Padilla, the uranium "was found Wednesday, hidden near the road that leads to San Juan de Sumapaz, a longtime rebel stronghold."

The FARC have vociferously denied any uranium deal. "Only developed nations like the United States and others have the conditions and the technology required to process uranium, not a guerrilla movement that still fights for people's dignity with rifles and even sticks."

Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos (a partial owner of scandal sheet, El Tiempo) asserts that the seizure "proves" that FARC are "negotiating to get radioactive material, the principal base for making dirty weapons of destruction and terrorism." Santos added, "This shows that these terrorist groups ... constitute a grave threat not just to our country but to the entire Andean region and Latin America."

And continuing the drum-beat, the Herald reported on Friday,

The State Department said Thursday it was "deeply concerned" by the discovery in Colombia of uranium linked to a Marxist guerrilla group.

"This underscores the terrorist threat that FARC poses to the people of Colombia and to the region," said State Department spokeswoman Heide Bronke. ...

The discovery of the uranium is one of the most intriguing chapters to emerge from the computer files belonging to the slain guerrilla leader, which also suggest the FARC had broad financial dealings with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and contributed to the election campaign of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa. (Pablo Bachelet, "Uranium Cache in Colombia Poses Rebel Puzzle," Miami Herald, Friday, March 28, 2008)

The Los Angeles Times were more circumspect in their story,

A Western official, however, expressed skepticism about the "dirty bomb" report, saying there is "a bit less than meets the eye here." U.S. Embassy officials declined to comment. ...

There has been no independent analysis of the laptops or their contents, and some analysts have cautioned that information described as being taken from them could be part of a government-sponsored disinformation program to discredit Ecuador and Venezuela.

Those allegations were strengthened somewhat when it was revealed this month that a photo from Reyes' laptop leaked to El Tiempo newspaper that alleged to show Reyes with Ecuadorean Interior Minister Gustavo Larrea did not actually picture Larrea.

One laptop is alleged to contain information linking Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to a $300-million donation to the FARC. Chavez has denied the allegation. (Chris Kraul, "Colombia Links Uranium to FARC Rebels, Los Angeles Times, March 27, 2008)

Reuters however, sticks close to the "product roll-out:"

Colombia ... claims the files show evidence that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has given financial support to the FARC.

The United States, which calls the FARC a terrorist group and has long considered Chavez a destabilizing force in Latin America, said the evidence is "disturbing".

Chavez openly sympathizes with the FARC but says Colombia's accusations are part of a U.S.-backed plot to smear him. He has also questioned how the computer files could have survived the bombing raid. (Hugh Bronstein, "Colombia Seizes Uranium from Leftist Rebels," Reuters, March 26, 2008)
If, however, the guerrilla organization did indeed purchase depleted uranium, rather than Colombian Defense Ministry officials "finding" the material in a "longtime rebel stronghold" where it could have easily been planted by a military power that does freely spew depleted uranium weapons across global battlefields, say the United States, FARC may have been seeking to increase their firepower. Bloomberg News reports,

The depleted uranium, found yesterday in a rural area outside the city, poses no health risk and can't be used to build a dirty bomb, said Charles Ferguson, a nuclear affairs analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. A video released by the Colombian military showed the metal had a slow radiation rate of 1.5 Microsieversts per hour, he said.

"You could stand next to this material for days and nothing would happen to you, unless you dropped it on your foot," said Ferguson.

Possible uses for the FARC might include making armor-piercing conventional weapons or an ingestible poison, Ferguson said. Less likely, the metal could be used as a shield while handling more potent radioactive materials that would be used to make a dirty bomb. ...

"The FARC may have wanted this material to build a stronger rocket that destroys the president or a minister's armored car, not create a weapon of mass destruction," said Cesar Restrepo, from Bogota's Security and Democracy Foundation. (Joshua Goodman, "Colombia Probes FARC Ties to Uranium Seized in Bogota," Bloomberg News, March 27, 2008)

The fact is we don't know the origin of Colombia's depleted uranium "discovery" any more than we have a clear picture of what additional files may be drawn from Uribe's "dodgy dossier." Whether or not this latest salvo in Washington's propaganda offensive against Venezuela will gain traction among U.S. power brokers and their media gatekeepers, as Eva Golinger cautions,

The US Government is waging war on Venezuela--not your typical, traditional war, but a modern, asymmetric--4th Generation War--against President Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution.
This too unfortunately, will continue...

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