Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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Guilty Pleas by FARC Operatives Shows How Pipelines Work
Three Colombians have pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting FARC guerrillasthrough efforts to launder money on behalf of the terrorist organization and alien smuggling.

The case is important not only for putting FARC supporters and corrupt agents of the Colombian government in prison, but because it gives a glimpse into the pipelines that cross over between terrorist/guerrilla groups and transnational criminal networks.

The FARC, the oldest insurgency in Latin America, has long made its economic fortune through participation in the cocaine trade and in the cruel tactic of long-term kidnappings of valuable hostages, many who die after years of captivity, others whose lives are shattered because the FARC cannot and does not negotiate in good faith.

In the interest of full disclosure, I know several people who have been taken hostage by the FARC, including the most famous of the current crop, Igrid Bentancourt.

Ingrid is a friend of mine and I came to know her as a tremendously courageous senator taking on drug traffickers in the corrupt government of Ernesto Samper. She (and many others, including three American contractors) have been held in inhuman conditions for years.

Besides the terrorism and corruption based on a now-defunct ideology, the FARC engages in this this type of crimes against humanity on a regular and systematic basis. The recently-released tape of Ingrid looking gaunt and feeble briefly brought some attention to the abuses of the FARC, but that is soon likely to fade.

In this particular case in Miami, the corrupt government officials were involved in alien smuggling and attempts to launder large quantities of cash for the FARC. The same pipelines could be used for moving shipments of cocaine, illegal Chinese immigrants, stolen cars or weapons.

The members of the pipeline network are not important for what they have, but for who they are-discreet facilitators in making sure goods flow through the pipeline with impunity.

This is significantly different from a criminal enterprise that controls something of economic value: cocaine, diamonds, cobalt etc. The intrinsic value of those commodities is clear. What is less visible but equally important is the pipleline that moves the goods across borders. Both need each other to thrive, but do not necessarily have an organic link.

The centralization of the pipelines that was the paradigm of the mega drug cartels in the 1980s and much of the 1990s no longer exists. The current, non-centralized and often virtually leaderless networks move things for anyone who can pay.

These pipelines are not as efficient in the centralized operations, but they are far harder to combat. Where once one could cripple a money laundering operation or smuggling operation by going after one or two key individuals, the new networks are far less dependent on a few top individuals. Rather, they have the ability to morph and adapt across a broad range of options, some which may be used and then discarded for long periods of time.

This is true in Colombia, as it is true in the al Qaeda-linked groups in Iraq to the Hezbollah networks in West Africa. Small victories are important, but they must be consistent to make a serious difference in the long term.

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