Electronic Weapons: Frying FARC With A Classic Deception

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July 11, 2008: The recent rescue of fifteen high-profile kidnapping victims in Colombia was, it turns out, a classic deception operation. In short, Colombian military intelligence had taken advantage of the recent death of the FARC founder, and Internet access to both the rebel group (led by a fellow called Cesar) that was holding the fifteen high value hostages, and the new FARC leader (Alfonso Cano). Colombian intel knew that Cano and Cesar had never met, and knew very little about each other. So the military intel took a chance and used a communications relay (a third party that passed on email messages, to make it more difficult for the government to identify and locate rebel leaders) they had taken over, to make Cesar believe that Cano had ordered him to move the hostages (to where they could be rescued), and keep Cano in the dark about what was going on.

The army was able to pull this off because, for the last six years, they had been hammering FARC, and caused much disruption to communications. The FARC has lost over half its people in that period, and much territory. FARC leaders have often never met some of their peers, and have to scramble to keep in touch with supreme headquarters.

The U.S. had contributed several billion dollars of military aid to Colombia during this period, including the services of electronic warfare specialists. As a result of that, FARC had stopped using cell phones for important communications, and were forced to use codes, "man in the middle" and all manner of tricks to keep from getting hunted down via their communications. But along the way, the government allowed some lines of communication they had tapped into, to stay active, so that they could monitor what the FARC leadership was up to. This is another old trick in the intel business, and the Colombian intel people were willing to sacrifice one of these valuable "monitored lines" in order to free the fifteen captives.

It's likely that the government has tapped into other types of FARC communication. That won't be known for a while, since the deception game is still going on. Once the fifteen captives were rescued, and the media was all over it, FARC figured out real quick the extent to which their communications had been compromised. But it got worse, since FARC had to consider that the degree of compromise might be even greater. Setting up new communications will take time, and will leave the FARC high command, and several dozen senior subordinates, out of touch with each other over the next few months. This gives the army yet another battlefield advantage. And the FARC realizes there's no guarantee that the army intel people have not infiltrated the new communications systems. This adds some more fear to the environment the FARC leadership has to operate in. That's another advantage for the army, and the Colombian government, which is urging many FARC factions to accept an amnesty deal (which many left and anti-left rebels have already done successfully.)

Thus the rescue of fifteen hostages (including a former presidential candidate and three Americans) was much more of a military victory than it first appeared to be.

 


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