INTERPOL releases Forensic Report requested by Colombia on seized FARC computers and hardware

15 May 2008

BOGOTA, Colombia - INTERPOL today presented the results of its forensic examination of eight seized FARC computer and hardware exhibits following a request for assistance in March of this year by Colombia, one of INTERPOL's 186 member countries.

INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble advised senior Colombian law enforcement officials that INTERPOL's team of forensic experts discovered 'no evidence of modification, alteration, addition or deletion' in the user files of any of the three laptop computers, three USB thumb drives and two external hard disks seized during a Colombian anti-narcotics and anti-terrorist operation on a FARC camp on 1 March 2008.

'Based on our careful and comprehensive forensic examination of each of the eight seized FARC computer exhibits and on consideration of all the evidence reviewed by our experts, INTERPOL concludes that there was no tampering with any data on the computer exhibits following their seizure on 1 March 2008 by Colombian authorities,' said Secretary General Noble.

Other key findings confirm that the Colombian Judicial Police computer forensic experts followed internationally recognized principles in the handling of electronic evidence from the time they received the exhibits on 3 March 2008. However, between 1 and 3 March, direct access to the seized computer exhibits by Colombia's first responder anti-terrorist unit in order to view and download their contents did not follow internationally recognized principles in the handling of electronic evidence under ordinary circumstances. INTERPOL's experts verified that this direct access and downloading had no effect on the content of any of the user files on the eight seized computer exhibits.

'It is all too common in law enforcement operations worldwide for first responder police units to directly access seized electronic evidence rather than make write-protected copies. Anti-terrorist units in particular think about getting to and analyzing the evidence right away to prevent that next attack. One of INTERPOL's three recommendations proposes that police devote more time and resources to training first responders in order to limit those situations for example when first responders are faced with the choice of either directly accessing the seized evidence or risking a terrorist attack,' added Secretary General Noble.

INTERPOL's report also emphasized that the remit of its technical examination was not to evaluate the accuracy or the source of the exhibits’ content.

Using sophisticated forensic tools, INTERPOL's experts determined that the eight seized computer exhibits contained more than 600 gigabytes of data, including 37,872 written documents, 452 spreadsheets, 210,888 images, 22,481 web pages, 7,989 email addresses, 10,537 multimedia files (sound and video), and 983 encrypted files.

In non-technical terms, this volume of data would correspond to 39.5 million filled pages in Microsoft Word and, if all of the seized data were in Word format, it would take more than 1,000 years to read at a rate of 100 pages per day. To break the 983 encrypted files, INTERPOL's experts linked and ran 10 computers simultaneously 24 hours a day / 7 days a week for two weeks.

'INTERPOL's technical assistance in this inquiry was requested because of its unique capacity as the world's largest police organization to provide independent, objective and expert analysis to any one of its 186 member countries - and this is what it has clearly demonstrated throughout this inquiry,' said Mr. Noble.

'INTERPOL's involvement at the express request of one of its member countries has shown it can draw on the best resources and expertise worldwide to serve national and international law enforcement needs.'

In early March, Secretary General Noble also offered to meet with Ecuadorian and Venezuelan law enforcement authorities with regard to this matter, an offer which was repeated in April when he met with the heads of the INTERPOL National Central Bureaus from Bogota, Quito and Caracas - the first such meeting involving law enforcement officials from all three countries since the seizure of the FARC computers and hardware.

'At no stage has INTERPOL had any stake in the outcome of the findings except to determine and report on the truth. As made clear in the report made public today, INTERPOL's computer forensic assistance was endorsed by the Organization of American States and not objected to by any of its 186 member countries,' said Secretary General Noble.

In addition to its ongoing global initiatives in the war on terrorism and traditional transnational crime, INTERPOL has often been called upon to provide expertise in other sensitive inquiries, including the UN Oil-for-food scandal and the ongoing investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri in 2005.