Report on U.S. Use of Smart Bombs to Kill FARC Members

There is a fascinating report in today's Washington Post about the U.S. providing Colombia with smart bombs to kill FARC members. The program, which of course includes major NSA surveillance and the CIA and JSOC, began under George W. Bush and has continued under Obama. It is funded by a "multi-billion dollar black budget." ($52 billion to be exact, here's a related report on the numbers.)

The covert program in Colombia provides two essential services to the nation’s battle against the FARC and a smaller insurgent group, the National Liberation Army (ELN): Real-time intelligence that allows Colombian forces to hunt down individual FARC leaders and, beginning in 2006, one particularly effective tool with which to kill them.

That weapon is a $30,000 GPS guidance kit that transforms a less-than-accurate 500-pound gravity bomb into a highly accurate smart bomb. Smart bombs, also called precision-guided munitions or PGMs, are capable of killing an individual in triple-canopy jungle if his exact location can be determined and geo-coordinates are programmed into the bomb’s small computer brain.

It all began as part of the War on Drugs. Similar programs exist in other countries where "violent drug cartels have caused instability." Examples: Mexico and West Africa.

The Office of Legal Counsel signed off on the targeted assassinations/killings. [More...]

The White House’s Office of Legal Counsel and others finally decided that the same legal analysis they had applied to al-Qaeda could be applied to the FARC. Killing a FARC leader would not be an assassination because the organization posed an ongoing threat to Colombia. Also, none of the FARC commanders could be expected to surrender.

Bush and Congress' reasoning: They feared Colombia would become a failed state and have an even greater role in sending drugs to the U.S. They wanted to use the military to prevent this.

Here's how it worked:

To hide the use of the PGMs from public discovery, and to ensure maximum damage to a FARC’s leaders’ camp, the air force and U.S. advisers developed new strike tactics. In a typical mission, several A-37 Dragonflys flying at 20,000 feet carried smart bombs. As soon as the planes came within a three-mile “basket” of the target, a bomb’s GPS software would automatically turn on.

The Dragonflys were followed by several A-29 Super Tucanos, flying at a much lower altitude. They would drop a series of dumb bombs in a pattern nearby. Their blast pressure would kill anyone close in and also flatten the dense jungle and obscure the use of the smart bombs.

Then, low-flying, Vietnam-era AC-47 gunships, nicknamed Puff the Magic Dragon, would strafe the area with mounted machine guns, “shooting the wounded trying to go for cover,” according to one of several military officials who described the same scenario.

Shooting the wounded as they tried to take cover? Nice.

As for the CIA and NSA:

The CIA also spent three years training Colombian close air support teams on using lasers to clandestinely guide pilots and laser-guided smart bombs to their targets.

Most every operation relied heavily on NSA signal intercepts, which fed intelligence to troops on the ground or pilots before and during an operation. “Intercepts . . . were a game changer,” said Scoggins, of U.S. Southern Command.

The CIA trained Colombian interrogators and created databases of the debriefings.

The CIA also trained Colombian interrogators to more effectively question thousands of FARC deserters, without the use of the “enhanced interrogation” techniques approved for use on al-Qaeda and later repudiated by Congress as abusive. The agency also created databases to keep track of the debriefings so they could be searched and cross-referenced to build a more complete picture of the organization.

The NSA didn't just collect records. It wiretapped and planted listening bugs.

They [Colombians] helped make sense of the NSA’s voice intercepts, which often used code words. Deserters also sometimes were used to infiltrate FARC camps to plant listening devices or beacons that emitted a GPS coordinate for smart bombs.

The NSA lawyers: It's self-defense:

U.S. national security lawyers viewed the operation as an act of self-defense. In the wake of 9/11, they had come up with a new interpretation of the permissible use of force against non-state actors like al-Qaeda and the FARC. It went like this: If a terrorist group operated from a country that was unable or unwilling to stop it, then the country under attack — in this case, Colombia — had the right to defend itself with force, even if that meant crossing into another sovereign country.

This was the legal justification for CIA drone strikes and other lethal operations in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and, much later, for the raid into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.

< Govt. Releases New Documents to Justify NSA Surveillance | Colorado Loses Long-Time Underdog Champion >
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  • Display: Sort:
    you are correct, with respect to FARC. (5.00 / 3) (#2)
    by cpinva on Sun Dec 22, 2013 at 08:20:19 PM EST
    however (and i read the article), i have (and have had) a problem with turning what is essentially criminal activity into a military one. we've already seen some results of that here in the US, with the para-militarizing of our civilian police forces, all in the name of the "War on (some) Drugs". god help us all,if the police are allowed to drop bombs and use drones, in their efforts to eliminate drug dealers. it will be a dystopian nightmare become real.

    Um... If we didn't promulgate, worldwide, insane (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Mr Natural on Sun Dec 22, 2013 at 09:10:44 PM EST
    anti drug policies, nobody could finance anything with illegal drug sales.

    Umm, NO! (none / 0) (#5)
    by Politalkix on Sun Dec 22, 2013 at 09:35:00 PM EST
    What Mr. Natural wrote is quite silly. Lots of terrorist and separatist organizations (not just FARC) including Al Qaeda, Kosovo Liberation Army, Tamil Tigers, etc finance their militancy and terrorism through the drug trade in Europe which have different laws than America.



    Not silly at all (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 01:15:16 AM EST
    Mr. Natural is quite right.

    The point that I am making (none / 0) (#11)
    by Politalkix on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 06:47:12 AM EST
    Even if a country called the United States (with all its laws and narco-consumers) did not exist you would still have

    (1) militancy and terrorism activities of groups (like Al Qaeda, KLA, Tamil Tigers, etc)funded by drug trafficking.

    (2) a high percentage of consumers of drug trafficking that funded violent militancy and terrorism would be citizens of countries in Europe with liberal drug laws.

    (3) countries currently wrecked by violence committed by groups that indulge in narco trafficking to fund their militancy would still be torn apart by violence.

    Blaming our drug laws for the violence caused by separatism and militancy that prevails in a lot of countries around the world is far fetched in my opinion.


    I have to tell you (none / 0) (#12)
    by Dadler on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 10:19:36 AM EST
    Your claims of clairvoyance without supporting theoretical logic, and your, IMO, completely irrational view of US drug laws affecting other nations terrible, do not in any way seem even the slightest bit credible. What is your vision of a middle east that was never colonized by the west? Or the Americas without the same? It seems safe and logical to say, again IMO, that sans colonialism, which many problems can be traced to today, a lot of problems we have would be entirely different in nature, if they existed in any recognizable form at all, than we have today. Your argument seems to be that no matter what happens, the same result will arise later. I think you can do better than that, having read much of your stuff here.

    Ever read America's Constitution? (none / 0) (#14)
    by Mr Natural on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 11:43:01 AM EST
    It was written by "militant" "separatists."

    If the drugs were not illegal (none / 0) (#15)
    by scribe on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 09:02:30 PM EST
    there would be little if any market for them because all the plants from which they are derived grow like the proverbial weeds.  If consumers can grow the dope easily, the markup won't be there to support all the other activities that are so odious.

    The markup is created by the risk and expense of producing something illegal and shipping it clandestinely.  

    The same principle worked when Prohibition ended:  the quality of the booze went up (no more wood alcohol poisoning nor bad bathtub gin, save among hillbillies intent on contining to use old car radiators in their moonshine stills) and the prices went down.


    KLA link (none / 0) (#6)
    by Politalkix on Sun Dec 22, 2013 at 09:40:47 PM EST
    Farc doesn't sell drugs, it (5.00 / 3) (#8)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 01:36:58 AM EST
    makes its money in the drug trade by taxing narco-traffickers who transit through the areas it controls and imposing rules on local production.

    FARC are the left wing rebels. It has focused on the cultivation and processing of coca -- not the distribution or sale to the U.S.  The right wing paramilitary groups like AUC have been more likely to be involved in transnational
    trafficking and trading drugs for arms. See this 2007 U.N. report.

    For the past year or more, FARC has been in peace talks in Havana. It has proposed a plan for reducing Colombia's drug problem:

    FARC's proposal focuses on the socioeconomic and cultural aspects of the illegal drug trade.

    It calls for an examination of the root causes that are leading poor farmers in Colombia and elsewhere to plant coca, poppy seeds, and marijuana; and seeks a viable solution - a strategy to develop sustainable alternative crops to secure the interests of those communities involved in illicit crop plantations.

    It also asks the government to seriously fight the criminal organisations and paramilitary groups that are cashing in on the illegal drug trade, as well as to purge the state's security apparatus which has been compromised by the drug economy.

    ...FARC's proposal also addresses the need to improve the existing regulations that govern the global financial system where most of the proceeds from illegal drug trade are being laundered and invested, and also highlights the international criminal organisations involved.

    The hits against FARC and its decreased role in Colombia have not eliminated the perceived drug problem. It just shifted production to Peru control to other groups. And depriving the farmers of growing coca has led to their increased participating in illegal mining as a substitute.

    As for FARC's kidnappings in Colombia, why is that our battle? And why should our military be assassinating them with our dollars?

    I, for one, think the millions we spent extraditing Colombians to the U.S. to try them and incarcerate them for decades would be well better spent on programs that benefit Americans at home -- like health care and shoring up social security.

    left out an "and" (none / 0) (#9)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 01:38:44 AM EST
    Should be "It just shifted production to Peru and control to other groups."

    link to article on UN Report finding (none / 0) (#10)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 01:45:03 AM EST
    shift of cocaine production from Colombia to Peru

    The U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime announced Wednesday that in 2012 Peru surpassed Colombia in farm acreage of coca leaves, the raw material for cocaine, for the first time in two decades. According to the annual U.N. survey, Peru last year cultivated 156,250 acres of coca bushes compared with Colombia's 120,000 acres.

    Are we going to start extraditing Peruvians next?  Our federal prisons are already overcrowded and costing us too much. And we certainly shouldn't shift the military to Peru to kill them.


    Are we going to start extraditing Peruvians next? (none / 0) (#13)
    by Dadler on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 10:23:03 AM EST
    It would seem the answer is yes, since Mr. Hope and Change can't even reign in his own DEA, or doesn't want to. Same wretched result either way.

    Inside this country... (none / 0) (#4)
    by unitron on Sun Dec 22, 2013 at 09:19:03 PM EST
    ...we aren't supposed to use the military for law enforcement.

    I'm pretty sure drones aren't quite versatile enough yet to read someone a Miranda warning and handcuff them to take them in to stand trial, until a conviction at which they are presumed innocent.