Lawmakers Dispute Report Linking IRA, Colombia Guerrillas
Some Wary of Counter-Terrorism Plan
By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Two foreign policy issues that traditionally evoke passion on Capitol
Hill -- Northern Ireland and Colombia -- were joined
yesterday in a rancorous House hearing that erupted in allegations of bad faith and hidden agendas.
"The purpose of this committee hearing is not to determine facts, but
to rubber-stamp" conclusions already drawn by staffers
working for the House International Relations Committee, chaired by Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), charged Rep. William D.
Those conclusions were encapsulated, according to Delahunt and several
similarly irate committee Republicans, including
former chairman Benjamin A. Gilman (N.Y.), in the hearing's title: "International Global Terrorism: Its Links With Illicit Drugs as
Illustrated by the IRA and Other Groups in Colombia."
A report based on a committee investigation asserted there is strong
evidence of ties between the Colombian guerrillas, the Irish
Republican Army (IRA) and perhaps Iran and Cuba. As a result, the report said, "Colombia is a potential breeding ground for
international terror equaled perhaps only by Afghanistan," which "must be addressed by changes in U.S. law that will permit
American assistance for counter-terrorism programs" in Colombia.
The staff inquiry was led by John P. Mackey, committee investigative
counsel, who has long supported U.S. military assistance
In an interview Tuesday, Mackey said that the U.S. government was convinced
of organized IRA involvement in Colombia and
that the explosives techniques favored by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had clear roots in IRA
training. The leftist FARC is Colombia's largest guerrilla army.
But Delahunt, Gilman and others argued that neither the report nor the
testimony of yesterday's committee witnesses, including
Drug Enforcement Administrator Asa Hutchinson and the deputy director of the State Department's counter-terrorism office,
supported Mackey's conclusions.
Asked by Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) whether he was privy to any intelligence
information indicating IRA involvement,
Hutchinson replied, "I don't have any information on this."
Another witness, Colombian Joint Chiefs of Staff head Gen. Fernando
Tapias, said he had no information about organizational
links between the IRA and Colombian terrorists. Nor had the Colombian government detected any terrorist assistance or
training in his country by Iran or Cuba, he said.
Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) said he feared the report would be
used "by those who want to destroy the peace
process" underway for the past four years in Northern Ireland. Smith said in an interview that he had asked Colombia, Britain
and the U.S. intelligence community "if there is even one scintilla of evidence of connection between the IRA or Sinn Fein," the
IRA's political arm, with the FARC, "and the answer is no."
The hearing came as the White House is seeking congressional support
for a proposed Colombia policy change that would lift
restrictions limiting U.S. military aid to counter-narcotics programs and allow it to be used for counter-terrorist operations
there. In addition to its involvement with drug trafficking, the FARC increasingly uses terror tactics, including blowing up energy
infrastructure, placing car bombs on urban streets and kidnapping civilians.
The administration has listed the FARC as a terrorist organization but
has not described it in terms of the "global reach"
attributed to organizations such as al Qaeda. It has presented no evidence of FARC ties to any international terrorist network
or attempts to target the United States.
A number of lawmakers agree it is important to help friendly democracies
fight against terrorism even if there is no direct threat
to this country. Others have charged that the administration is seeking to link the Colombia situation to its anti-terrorism war as
a backdoor way of expanding the U.S. military presence there.
Potentially fertile ground for establishing such a link appeared last
August, when Colombia arrested two alleged IRA members
and a representative of Sinn Fein. The Colombian government has charged that the three, who are still awaiting trial, were
training FARC members to use sophisticated explosives techniques. The question raised since then has been whether their
activities were authorized by Sinn Fein or the IRA, both of which have denied involvement.
British government sources have said it is unlikely that IRA members
such as those arrested in Colombia would operate without
approval from the IRA or Sinn Fein leadership. The allegations, and yesterday's hearing, received major coverage in the British
and Irish media, many of which sent reporters to cover yesterday's hearing.
Several members at the hearing said that, despite their support for
the Northern Ireland peace process, they would, as Smith
put it, "throw the book" at the IRA if there were proof of involvement in Colombia.