Skeptical U.S. law enforcement officials are seeking access to computers and documents that authorities in Colombia say show the leftist group FARC sought "50 kilograms of uranium" for a possible dirty bomb. The material was seized by Colombian police in a raid into Ecuador that killed FARC commander Raul Reyes and has led to talk of war by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who has moved troops to the border with Colombia.
U.S. intelligence officials, while they did not comment directly on the possibility of FARC engaging in the illicit uranium trade, cautioned that reports of FARC attempting to acquire materials for a radioactive dirty bomb should be treated with extreme skepticism.
The evidence of FARC's participation in the uranium trade was first alleged this week by Colombia's national police chief, Gen. Oscar Naranjo, who also said that evidence seized proved Venezuela had interfered in Colombia's affairs by providing $300 million in support to FARC.
Gen. Naranjo cited an e-mail to Reyes dated Feb. 16, 2008 from a top lieutenant that indicated crop eradication had weakened FARC's cocaine trade and revealed the rebel group's desire to sell about 110 pounds of uranium -- supplied by the same man who "provides material for the explosive we prepare" -- for more than $1 million per pound.
"They propose the sale of each kilo (of uranium) at $2.5 million and that they deliver and we watch who we sell it to, and that it should be a business (transaction) with a government," a copy of the e-mail to Reyes, translated by ABC News, read. "Arto has 50 kilos ready, and they can sell much more; they have direct contact with those who have the product."
"When they mention negotiations for 50 kilograms of uranium, this means that the FARC are taking big steps in the world of terrorism to become a global aggressor. We're not talking of domestic guerrilla but transnational terrorism,'' Gen. Naranjo said at a news conference.
The Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration are seeking their own access to the laptops, documents and other materials seized based on a 2004 criminal indictment against the leadership of FARC, including Reyes, who was No. 1 on the U.S. list of FARC leaders.
"The Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration has an unsealed criminal indictment since 2004 against the entire leadership of the FARC to include Raul Reyes for drug trafficking. The DEA is in the process of requesting permission from the Colombian Government to review the laptops and other documents recovered from Raul Reyes' FARC camp to assess its evidentiary value for the U.S. criminal indictment and DEA's ongoing investigation against the FARC," a senior federal official said in a statement.
While FARC had its beginnings about 40 years ago by seeking to spread the country's wealth beyond Colombia's elite to the majority of the population, it has since become a violent narco-terrorist organization fueling its bombing campaigns with money from the cocaine trade. It has kidnapped and held hostage hundreds, some for ransom, others for political leverage.
The raid by Colombia's national police on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia sanctuary inside neighboring Ecuador triggered a war of words, trade sanctions and choreographed troop movements by Ecuador and Venezuela; nations whose officials have injected themselves with some success into efforts to free hostages held by the leftist group FARC. The hostages include three American defense contractors shot down in 2003 and held in the jungles of Colombia ever since.
Ecuador's President Rafael Correa on Monday said that the raids had scuttled the talks. "'I'm sorry to tell you that the conversations were pretty advanced to free 12 hostages, '' said Correa in a televised address reported on by Associated Press. ''All of this was frustrated by the war-mongering, authoritarian hands of the Colombian government."