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Senate Intelligence Committee Tells Bush Administration To Take CIA Off Drug War Duty In Peru, Faults Agency For Deaths In Missionary Plane Shootdown

The Senate Select Intelligence Committee is urging the Bush Administration to end its policy of helping shoot down planes in Peru suspected of transporting drugs until it has appropriate safeguards in place to prevent another tragedy like the deaths of an American missionary and her daughter in April 2000. The New York Times reported on Nov. 1, 2001 ( “Practice Of Shooting Down Drug Planes In Peru Seems Sidelined”) that “Senator Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat and the committee chairman, said that Peruvian safeguards to protect against the loss of innocent life had eroded over the years and the C.I.A. had failed in its oversight responsibilities. ‘The lack of judgment displayed by key individuals involved was the primary factor leading to this disaster,’ said Mr. Graham, who released a committee report on the incident today. ‘Safety procedures, however, had degraded over time to the point where this kind of tragedy was almost inevitable. This program needs a dramatic overhaul before we should consider restarting it.’ The committee faulted an antiquated air traffic control system in Peru, a cumbersome communications system and chain of command for conducting interceptions and inadequate language skills of both Peruvians and Americans. It said that the pilot of the missionary plane, Kevin Donaldson, did nothing that should have led authorities to conclude he was transporting drugs. The report also noted that the American C.I.A. employees helping to track the plane had voiced ‘strong reservations’ as their Peruvian counterparts sought the use of deadly force.”

In spite of that conciliatory note, critics of the Agency were clear that CIA itself had to bear part of the blame. The Times continues:

“But Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the committee, said that that did not exonerate the C.I.A. ‘C.I.A. officials from the program manager to the director failed to properly manage this program with tragic results,’ Mr. Shelby said. The committee urged the administration to consider placing the program under the control of another agency, since it is not a secret operation. The committee’s findings were similar to those of the administration, which reported on its own investigation in August. The administration first reported that Peruvian authorities on the ground failed to run a check on the doomed plane’s tail number after pilots had radioed in the information, and that Peruvian pilots ignored or failed to understand the Americans’ objections.”

What this means for the shootdown program, and the overall role of US military and intelligence forces in the South American drug war, is uncertain. However, the Times notes, “One Senate official conceded that the committee demands are so sweeping they may spell the end of the program. Senators are less interested in a military approach than in finding ways to support eradication of the coca crop in Peru and Colombia, and enhance law enforcement coordination on the ground, the official said.”

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