The July 2 rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. military contractors owed its success not just to artful deception, but also to a five-year U.S.-Colombian operation that choked captors' ability to communicate.
Known as “Alliance,” it began with a satellite phone call in 2003, just weeks after the Americans' plane crashed in the Colombian jungle, according to investigators and court documents.
The call came from Nancy Conde, the regional finance and supply chief for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, whose boyfriend would become the hostages' jailer. She was calling confederates in Miami to see if they could supply the rebels with some satellite phones.
What Conde didn't know was that state security agents were listening.
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U.S. law officers arrested the Miami contacts, who in exchange for promises of reduced sentences put Conde in touch with an FBI front company, according to a U.S. law enforcement official involved in the investigation.
Over more than four years, that company provided wiretapped satellite phones and other compromised equipment that threw the rebels off balance and helped authorities strangle their supply lines.
The operation laid groundwork for the brazen rescue of 15 hostages held by a rebel unit that Conde supplied, the biggest blow ever dealt to the FARC.