Peru: CIA releases report on “drug plane” shooting

On Nov. 1 the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) released the full text of a declassified 2008 report on the agency’s involvement in the April 2001 downing of a small civilian plane in Peru. A Peruvian Air Force jet shot the plane down on orders from CIA agents as part of the US “War on Drugs,” killing US missionary Veronica Bowers and her infant daughter Charity. Bowers’ husband and son and a pilot were also on the plane but survived the attack.

The Bowers’ plane was one of 15 shot down in “Narcotics Airbridge Denial,” a 1995-2001 US program that was supposed to interdict the shipment of coca paste from Peru to Colombia by shooting down small civilian planes when there was a “reasonable suspicion” they were transporting drugs. Many of these planes fell into remote areas of the Amazon region and were never inspected to see if there were actually drugs on board. The program was suspended after the April 2001 incident.

The report shows a pattern of violations of procedures in the attacks on the planes. “CIA officers knew of and condoned most of these violations,” according to the report, “fostering an environment of negligence and disregard for procedures.” The report also shows that CIA officials misled the White House and the Senate Intelligence Committee and withheld information from Justice Department investigators.

According to a CIA press release issued on Nov. 1, 16 current and retired officers received administrative penalties from current CIA director Leon Panetta in December 2009. But ABC television revealed last February that the punishment may just be a letter of reprimand inserted in the files of the people still working for the agency.

“If there’s ever an example of justice delayed, justice denied, this is it,” Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) told ABC in February. The Bowers live in Hoekstra’s district, and Hoekstra, a conservative and a ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, has led the fight to get information on the shootdown. “The [intelligence] community’s performance in terms of accountability has been unacceptable,” he said. “These were Americans that were killed with the help of their government, the community covered it up, they delayed investigating.” (Associated Press, Nov. 1, via El Comercio (Peru); New York Times, Nov. 2; ABC News, Feb. 3; Drug War Chronicle, Feb. 4)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 7.

See our last post on Peru.