After 40 years of fighting to keep its revolutionary war alive in the jungles of Colombia, the world’s oldest armed rebel group could finally be brought down by its increasing dependence on technology.
In an unprecedented computer-assisted analysis of FARC data from more than 50 guerrilla computers and electronic equipment seized by Colombian soldiers and police, Semana magazine gave a rare inside look at Colombia’s largest and oldest rebel group that, in “their own words,” suggests a bleak outlook.
According to La Semana’s analysis, the seized data not only reveals the “critical military, psychological and economic state” of the guerrilla force, but also details explicitly the brutal history of the almost 50-year-old FARC.
“It is clear that [the data’s] importance lies not only in the amount of information, but in what it reveals,” La Semana reported. “Hundreds of killings, forced recruitment and abuse of minors, drug trafficking, a marked weakening of its military and a terrible assasination campaign within its own ranks are documented by the FARC.
The Computer Trail
The brutality of the FARC is not a unfamiliar, but what the analysis proves is that advances in technology have become the FARC’s worst enemy.
This irony had not been lost on the FARC’s top brass. A bombing raid in March 2008 that killed guerrillas and top leaders – and landed rebel computers into the hands of the government – prompted FARC founder Manuel “Tirofijo” Marulanda Velez to lament the loss of what he called the “crown jewel” of guerrilla intelligence.
“Secrets of the FARC have been lost,” Tirofijo said, in what were some of his last public words read in a long email to a group of fighters by guerrilla leader Mono Jojoy. Tirofijo died of a heart attack in March, shortly after the raid in Ecuador that killed Reyes.
Tirofijo saw the importance of the electronic data and what it meant for the computers to fall into the hands of authorities. He also saw what it meant in the FARC’s other battle, for public opinion, La Semana reported.
Reyes’ laptop alone, for example, revealed a wide array of information, from “terrorist plots, links to drug traffickers and arms smugglers, to alliances and support from foreign governments.”
However that now-famous raid was only the tip of the iceberg as far as government intelligence gatherers are concerned. In reality, the government had already been compiling a database on the FARC from seizures of computer equipment dating back as early as 2004. This database includes information from computers, hard drives, portable USB memory drives and other devices equalling an estimated 4.7 terabytes of data.
From the jungle to cyberspace
In sifting through that mountain of data, La Semana suggested that increased law enforcement and military operations against the FARC on the ground had forced many of its top leaders to limit mobility within their own territoties. In response they begain relying more on the internet to conduct meetings and exchange information and data.
The jungle canopy offered security on the ground, and the FARC use of data encryption systems emboldened the leaders to continue with its new communications strategy. Perhaps too much, La Semana suggested, because as the data flow became so fluid, police and military operations soon focused on where the top leaders would be encamped – along with their computers.
In one such early raid in 2004, commandos struck near Cartagena del Chaira, Caqueta and captured Nayibe Rojas, aka “Sonia” and the chief financial officer for the FARC’s Southern front. In Rojas’ laptop was detailed information on what La Semana described as a “mafia”-style drug business, including partners, property and bank accounts in Colombia and abroad.
Since then and especially between 2007 and 2009, the government has increased the number of similar operations against the FARC throughout the country, adding to the police and military intelligence database that La Semana reviewed. The inside story on the FARC was culled from thousands of emails, Microsoft Word and Excel documents, secret reports, manuals, videos and millions of pictures including historical images of the rebel group dating back to the 1960s.
La Semana reported that it was “obvious even to the guerrillas themselves how rapidly the secret data would cause a blow and contribute to rapid decline of the armed group.”
Say you want a revolution
The information is also a public relations blow to the FARC, suggesting many FARC leaders were more like Mafioso, who betrayed the leftist “revolutionary” banners they flew for the cause with their great extravagances.
For example, the information paints the Commander of the 43 Bloc, Gener García, aka “John 40,” as a self-absorbed drug-trafficker.
“Until recently he spent millions of dollars on mafia eccentricities, such as buying expensive race horses and dogs,” La Semana said about García , who also used funds to create CDs and buy “fancy clothes” for his “narcocorrido” band. Several Excel documents also detailed as much as COP$122 million that García used on airfare and other transportation costs to bring prostitutes to rural rebel camps, and to pay for cosmetic surgery for some of the rebels’ girlfriends. This apparently unnerved some top leaders who called the extravagances “excessive” and called for more discipline among the ranks.
What is ironic, La Semana reported, is that while spending millions of dollars “of the revolution” on drink and women, the same top commander also ordered “so-called martial drastic sanctions,” among the rank and file, including shootings of guerrillas under his command for drunkenness and other misdeeds. Others were shot for “stealing a panela” or “food waste”, as outlined in other FARC disciplinary documents.
That double standard and the difference between the privileges of the commanders and their fighters were not exclusive to the front 43, or ‘John 40’, La Semana continued.
In another computer seized in 2007 during an operation in the eastern plains, photographs and videos revealed parties “in different camps where liquor is plentiful and there are dozens of guerrillas who appear drunk.” There are photos showing guerrillas with lavish costumes and girls, which La Semana declined to publish because they appear underage.
FARC in decline
FARC leaders blamed many recent military losses on this “lack of discipline,” especially in isolated fronts in eastern Colombia. An email found in the computer of Manuel de Jesus Munoz, alias Ivan Rios, leader of the Jose Maria Cordoba front laments a decline in FARC discipline.
“Our Achilles heel is the poor training of middle managers and even members of staffs on the fronts (…). More than the merits of the enemy, this is the cause of most of the blows we have received . Lack of leadership, gift of character. … The relations between the commanders themselves and between them and the guerrillas should be reconsidered. It looks lazy, compinchería, pandering, cronyism. We must promote the renewal and make an effort to incorporate new people. “
Munoz was later assassinated by his bodyguard in March 2008.
With that argument to curb indiscipline, lack of control and to “renew” combatants, ‘Ríos’ instigated a veritable slaughter among members of his own bloc, consisting of four fronts. In his computer were about 300 “courts-martial” documents conducted between 2005 and 2007, which ended with the shooting of an equal number of guerrillas.
The most common official charges to justify the shootings were for contributing to decline in morale, and for accusations being spies for paramilitaries or the army. What also followed in Rios’ case were “incredible extremes of paranoia that ended with the death of former guerrillas who had spent years with him.” To compensate for the purged ranks the FARC stepped up the forced recruitment of young boys and girls. One computer showed hundreds of photos of these new fighters, which, most were underage girls, La Semana reported.
Rios was not the only one who pursued a policy of extermination. In fact, with increasing military pressure throughout the country, several guerrilla leaders also turned to indiscriminate internal purges. One of them was Jorge Briceno, alias “Mono Jojoy,” chief of the Eastern Bloc.
“As far this year 112 had deserted, of those 33 were captured, leading to court martial, and of those 22 were shot,” according to an email by Mono Jojoy to John Philip Curl, alias ‘Jurga Jurga,’ the 10th Front commander who died in an operation in Arauca on 28 July 2008. Like many leaders of the Eastern Bloc, he kept copies on his computers of communications, orders and war decrees sent by Jojoy to his men.
No one is saved
Documents with detailed descriptions of the guerrillas who have been killed, often on mere suspicion, abound on almost all computers confiscated. Not even underage guerrillas were spared the indiscriminate violence, La Semana continued.
In computers of guerrilla leders Aycardo Agudelo, alias the ‘Country’, and Archimedes Muñoz, alias ‘Jerome’, there are hundreds of photographs of minors who were recruited by the FARC. The guerrillas even had resumes on the child soldiers, which listed not only their true ages, but also detailed information on parents and siblings. This in effect was intended to act as a threat or deterrent for the young recruits to desert.
There are also “unreasonable” disciplinary reports on the young recruits. For example, by falling asleep during guard, Yuri, a 13-year-old conscript, was forced to make trenches for two months, to carry “100 loads of wood” for three months, and to make 50 holes for trash. Sneider, another minor, was not so lucky. In April last year he was summoned to a council of war from the 48th Front. He was accused of lowering group morale, “stealing from the people” and “attempted desertion.” Of the 40 fighters who were part of the “jury”, 39 voted to execute him, regardless of the fact he was just 15 years old.
As all this information clearly shows the decaying state of the FARC in the military field, the results are hardly encouraging for the group, La Semana concluded. In the computers confiscated are reports of permanent dropouts. The war parties of different fronts show a high number of dead and wounded in combat. Documents from the 35th front, for example, show that while this unit eventually grew to 300 members during eight years, by early 2008 there remained only 44 members.
To analyze all the information that has fallen into the hands of the authorities will take years. However, although much remains, the FARC’s reality today, described by them, reveals a bleak outlook for the world’s oldest guerrilla group, La Semana concluded.