How worried should we be about FARQaeda?

As noted in this morning's brief, Jay Bergman Drug Enforcement Agency director for the Andean region of South America, told Reuters today about the worrying development of Colombia's FARC rebels collaborating with al Qaeda:

Three West African men accused of ties to al Qaeda were extradited to New York in December on drug trafficking and terrorism charges.

It was the first time U.S. authorities established a link suggesting al Qaeda is funding itself in part by providing security for drug smugglers in West Africa.

"As suggested by the recent arrest of three alleged al Qaeda operatives, the expansion of cocaine trafficking through West Africa has provided the venue for an unholy alliance between South American narco-terrorists and Islamic extremists," Bergman said in an interview over the weekend.

However, as I noted last month, the three men arrested (whose self-proclaimed links to al Qaeda have yet to be proven) last month, were not caught making a deal with FARC, they were making a deal with an undercover DEA agent that they thought was representing FARC. The ringleader of the group, Harouna Toure, did boast to the agent about smuggling "two tons of hashish to Tunisia" and the "human smuggling of Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian subjects into Spain," but these wouldn't involve South American naro-terrorists. Is there any other evidence that FARC and al Qaeda are actually taking advantage of the "venue" they've been provided?

It's true that South American cocaine is increasingly being smuggled through West Africa to Europe with disastrous consequences for the stability of that region, and there are increasing concerns about Islamist miltants -- particularly Hezbollah -- operating in South America. But it does seem like the DEA is stretching the evidence a bit in its portrayal of this "unholy alliance."

(Hat tip to UN Dispatch's Matthew Cordell for the most excellent name FARQaeda.)



The Obamas' scandalous lack of interest in embassy parties and 'Beltway salons'

Heavens to Betsy! The Obamas aren't going to enough embassy parties, frets Time's Mark Halperin, the self-styled voice of Washington's collective wisdom:

In 2008 the country clearly craved new leadership that would sweep into the capital and change the ways of Washington. But politically and personally, the First Couple and their top aides have shown no hankering for the Establishment seal of approval, nor have they accepted the glut of invitations to embassy parties and other tribal rituals of the political class. In the sphere of Washington glitter, the Clintons were clumsy and the Bush team indifferent, but the Obama Administration has turned a cold shoulder, disappointing Beltway salons and newsrooms whose denizens hoped the über-cool newbies would play.

That's via Matt Yglesias, who mockingly says it's "[s]hocking that the über-cool don’t want to go to embassy parties."

I don't think I need to point out that Halperin's gripe is ridiculous. I will posit, however, that perhaps the Obama's aren't playing a Beltway game. Michelle, for instance, made a much-ballyhooed guest cameo on the Food Network's Iron Chef America program Sunday night, touting her organic White House vegetable garden. I don't know about Georgetown salons, but a lot of the eco-friendly folks in various European embassies would probably heartily approve of that sort of thing.