Thursday, August 09, 2007

Al-Qaida arming Colombia terrorists

Smuggling sophisticated weapons as country's intel chief quits
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Publishing Date: 08.08.07 20:35
By Gordon Thomas
LONDON - Counter-terrorism experts for Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, have advised embattled Colombia's intelligence service that al-Qaida has started to smuggle sophisticated weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, in its war against the pro-West government of President Alvaro Uribe.
The revelation came after MI6 had offered to send officers to Bogota to help fight FARC. The offer came days after the director-general of Colombian intelligence - 41 year-old Oxford educated Andres Penate - resigned, citing a need for a better salary.
In the two years he has headed the country's intelligence service, DAS, - similar to a combination of MI5 and MI6 - he had fought a running battle to get the government to increase his annual budget from $100,000. The figure equates with what British intelligence services and the CIA often spend in a day. The U.S. government already has given billions of dollars in military aid to the Colombian government.
Hundreds of DAS officers have left the service to seek work in private security, either in Colombia or abroad. They did so after Colombia's failure to hold on to three IRA terrorists who had been arrested in Colombia in 2001 for teaching FARC the latest guerrilla tactics in the 44-year war the organization has fought against the government.
The three Irishmen - Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan - were sentenced to 17 years each in jail for training FARC. They denied the allegations but escaped from the country while on bail and now are back in the Republic of Ireland, whose government refused to extradite them.
In his farewell speech to DAS, Penate said: "The IRA provided FARC with a quantum leap in their use of explosives. We have seen a huge improvement in their use of mortars, making them more accurate. We have also seen a great improvement in their ability to arm car bombs."
But the arrival of al-Qaida as the new weapons supplier to FARC will raise the pressure on the Colombian government to increase the annual budget of DAS. It is likely both the CIA and MI6 will provide secret funding - but they will require evidence that DAS will have a new leader able to take the fight to FARC.
Penate has accepted a lucrative appointment with the brewing giant SAB Millet. He admitted last week that one reason for his resignation was "I had to spend too much of my time weeding out corruption within my ranks."
The first thing he did on his appointment in 2005 was to take a lie-detector test. After he passed, he ordered all his assistant directors to do so. When some refused, they were fired. It was the start of internal strife within DAS that allowed the country's drug barons virtually unlimited success in exporting Colombian drugs into Europe and the U.S.
"One of the biggest problems is during that time FARC has developed sophisticated networks in our cities, especially Colombia, that our intelligence officers cannot penetrate," admitted Penate as he bade them farewell last week.
Gordon Thomas is the author of "Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad," published in a new edition in January. He specializes in international intelligence matters.

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