Uranium Cache In Colombia Poses Rebel Puzzle

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Miami Herald
March 28, 2008 An alleged rebel cache of uranium is raising concern in Washington -- and questions about why the rebels had the radioactive metal.
By Pablo Bachelet
WASHINGTON--The State Department said Thursday it was ''deeply concerned'' by the discovery in Colombia of uranium linked to a Marxist guerrilla group.
''This underscores the terrorist threat that FARC poses to the people of Colombia and to the region,'' said State Department spokeswoman Heide Bronke.
On Wednesday, Colombian authorities dug up 66 pounds of what is presumed to be depleted uranium sought by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
The discovery suggests the FARC was dipping into the underworld of uranium trafficking, but the rebels' purpose is unclear. Depleted uranium is mostly used to make armor-piercing projectiles and tank armor but has little use as dirty bomb material and none to make a nuclear weapon. Depleted uranium is a byproduct of a process that turns ordinary uranium into enriched uranium, the material used to make weapons and nuclear energy.
Experts say depleted uranium has no known black-market value other than to trick buyers into thinking they are purchasing something more valuable.
Officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency will arrive next week in Colombia to analyze the uranium and talk about ''nuclear security,'' the government said Thursday in a statement. The visit was planned before the discovery of the uranium but after mention of the FARC's interest in the material was found on computers belonging to slain rebel leader Raúl Reyes in a March 1st cross-border raid on a clandestine camp in Ecuador.
The Bush administration wants to know why the FARC even wanted uranium.
''We have no indication at this time as to how the FARC intended to use the uranium,'' Bronke said. ``We commend the Colombian military for disrupting the FARC activity and hope that Colombian officials conducting the investigation will be able to determine the FARC's intended use.''
At Colombia's state geological institute, Ingeominas, director Mario Ballesteros said tests will determine the exact weight and condition of the uranium and just how depleted it is.
The discovery of the uranium is one of the most intriguing chapters to emerge from the computer files belonging to the slain guerrilla leader, which also suggest the FARC had broad financial dealings with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and contributed to the election campaign of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa.
José Miguel Insulza, head of the Organizaton of American States, played down the discovery because the uranium was not the more dangerous enriched kind.
''This is not an imminent problem,'' Insulza said. ``The FARC doesn't have some kinds of missiles that other [illegal] groups have; I would doubt they have any capacity to enrich uranium. But we will look into the matter''
The 34-member OAS is attempting to smooth over a deep diplomatic rift between Colombia and Ecuador following the incursion that claimed 25 lives.
It's not known whether whoever provided the uranium to the FARC could also supply more dangerous materials, or whether the insurgents believed they were buying something more valuable. The computer files suggested the FARC would purchase 50 kilograms of uranium -- 110 pounds -- at $2.5 million per kilo.
''There have been a lot of scams,'' said Frank von Hippel, a theoretical physicist and a professor of public and international affairs with Princeton University. ``It's not that easy to tell the difference [between highly-enriched uranium and the less dangerous kind], for an unsophisticated purchaser.''
Special correspondent Sibylla Brodzinksy contributed to this report from Bogotá.