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  U.S. Set to Resume Halting Latin Drug Planes
Posted by CN Staff on July 03, 2002 at 21:55:29 PT
By James Risen 
Source: New York Times  

justice President Bush is expected to approve the resumption of a program to force down or shoot down airplanes suspected of ferrying drugs in Latin America, a year after the program was halted by the mistaken downing of a plane carrying American missionaries in Peru, American officials say.

Once the president gives final approval, the State Department would take over the program from the Central Intelligence Agency. American officials said air interdiction operations could begin in Colombia as early as this fall and would likely be expanded to Peru later.

The Pentagon would support the program as well, providing intelligence about suspected drug flights gathered from ground-based radars and from other sources, officials said.

The program calls for the United States to identify and locate suspected drug planes and for Colombian and Peruvian air force planes to shoot them down if they do not respond to calls to land. American officials said the governments of both countries had expressed support for restarting the operation.

The program's many critics had assumed that the mistaken downing of the missionaries' plane, in which two Americans were killed, would make it impossible for the White House to start it up again. But the plans for resumption began months ago, and in recent weeks, Colombia's incoming president, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, visited Washington to urge an aggressive American role in stemming drug traffic from Latin America.

The decision to shift the management of the program to the State Department came after the C.I.A. director, George J. Tenet, made it clear that his agency no longer wanted any part of the operation, officials said. Since the plane's downing, Congress has placed restrictions on the C.I.A.'s involvement, officials said.

The C.I.A. said last year that an Alabama-based contractor, Aviation Development Corp., ran the program on its behalf. But Aviation Development was actually a C.I.A. front company, and public scrutiny of the operation after the downing prompted the C.I.A. to dissolve it, officials familiar with the program said. Alabama state records show that Aviation Development was dissolved in January.

But unlike Mr. Tenet, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has expressed strong support for resuming the air interdiction operations through the State Department, and he has repeatedly inquired about the progress of the department's work on the program, officials said.

Although Mr. Bush has not given final approval, the administration is already far along in its preparations for resuming the air interdiction program, several officials said. The Cessna Citation surveillance jets that the C.I.A. had operated in the program have been upgraded and transferred to the State Department, officials said. Colombian air force pilots have just completed flight training on the Citation jets in the United States and are scheduled to begin more advanced training as early as August in how to perform the complex interdiction missions.

In April, the State Department awarded a contract to a Maryland-based aviation company, Arinc Inc., to help train Colombian and Peruvian pilots and manage the operation, officials said. A spokeswoman for Arinc confirmed that the company had received the contract.

Arinc has tried to hire back many of the same workers who were involved with the program when it was run by the C.I.A. But some have refused, at least in part because they do not believe that the State Department is allotting enough time for training, according to people familiar with the program. Other American officials stressed, however, that the State Department plans to impose rigorous training standards.

One of the biggest changes under the new plan is that the Citation surveillance aircraft, previously flown by C.I.A. contractor crews, would be flown by Colombian and Peruvian pilots, officials said. Arinc would have one bilingual observer on each surveillance plane to offer recommendations. But the final decision on whether to direct fighter planes to fire on suspect aircraft would be with the Peruvian and Colombian pilots.

The United States would still provide the crucial intelligence for the missions, however, through an organization called the Joint Interagency Task Force-East. The task force, which is based in Key West, Fla., and is part of the military's Southern Command, would provide radar and other information to help Peru and Colombia know when to start their interceptor missions.

The administration suspended the air interdiction program immediately after a Peruvian air force interceptor jet shot down the missionaries' plane in Peru on April 20, 2001. Veronica Bowers, a missionary, and her 7-month-old daughter, Charity, were killed. Her husband, James, and their son, Cory, survived. The pilot of the small plane, Kevin Donaldson, was able to crash-land it along the Amazon River despite his wounds from the attack. The Bush administration has asked Congress to approve an $8 million compensation payment to the survivors of the attack, but officials said a final settlement was still pending.

The air interdiction program, first begun during the Clinton administration in 1995, was designed to halt the shipment of semirefined cocaine from Peru to Colombia, where it was processed and then shipped to the United States.

In Peru, the American-piloted Citation jets helped guide Peruvian fighter jets to suspected drug flights, often after receiving intelligence from an interagency task force based in Key West. The final decision on whether to fire on the suspected aircraft was left to the Peruvians, but the American and Peruvian governments worked out specific procedures expressly to protect innocent planes from attack.

The air interdiction program in Peru quickly had a major effect on drug flights. Between 1995 and 2001, the Peruvian air force shot down or forced down at least 38 aircraft involved in drug trafficking and seized another dozen on the ground.

Eventually, drug traffickers began switching to ground or river transportation, and by the time the missionary plane was shot down, United States officials said, there were few drug flights still operating.

American officials say there is evidence of increased drug-related air traffic in Colombia since the interdiction operation was suspended, but they have only limited information about the volume of drug flights out of Peru. Some drug flights are now trying to skirt the Peru-Colombia border by flying over Brazil, but the administration has not asked Brazil to get involved in an expanded air interdiction program, officials said.

The State Department office that conducted the inquiry into the downing last year would be in charge of the new interdiction program. The State Department's August 2001 report on the incident concluded that the program had lacked adequate oversight, that over time too many informal shortcuts had crept into mission procedures, and that a language barrier had made it difficult for the C.I.A. contractors to have much influence over the Peruvian fighter pilots.

Officials say that before President Bush could officially sign off on the program, he would have to notify Congress that the administration is confident of adequate training effective safety procedures. The State Department and its contractor are moving ahead with training now so they could assure Congress about the program soon after the president formally notifies legislators, expected to be in the fall.

Since Congress imposed stricter standards on any resumption of operations in Peru, the administration may express readiness to resume air operations in Colombia first, and Peru sometime later.

Complete Title: U.S. Set to Resume Its Role in Halting Latin Drug Planes

Source: New York Times (NY)
Author: James Risen
Published: July 4, 2002
Copyright: 2002 The New York Times Company

Related Articles & Web Site:

Bush Ready To Shoot Down Drug Planes

Anti-Drug Flights May Resume This Year

Peru Sees Drug Flights Relaunch, Washington Mum

U.S. To Resume Shooting Down Drug Planes

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Comment #7 posted by Jose Melendez on July 15, 2002 at 16:35:02 PT
State Dept. detains journalist for telling truth
I'm posting this here in the hope that someone in Colin Powell's office denounces this type of conduct as improper.

from: WASHINGTON, July 15 (UPI) -- The following is the text of a letter written by National Review Editor Richard Lowry to protest the detention of its correspondent Joel Mowbray on July 12, 2002, as published in the National Review under the headline "Let Mowbray Report" on July 15, 2002:

July 15, 2002

Richard Boucher

Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs

U.S. Department of State

2201 C Street NW

Washington, DC 20520

Dear Mr. Boucher,

I am writing to protest the State Department's treatment of National Review Online contributor Joel Mowbray last Friday.

Mr. Mowbray was detained by diplomatic security service officers in what I can only conclude was an attempt to intimidate a reporter whose work had proven highly inconvenient to the department.

When Mr. Mowbray reported in the July 1 National Review on the "Visa Express" program designed to give Saudi nationals easy access to the United States, the department's response was to attack Mr. Mowbray personally as a liar.

A press officer at the department's Consular Affairs office went on Fox News to say that "every word he writes is a lie, including 'the' and `and.'"

Fortunately, Congress wasn't distracted by such personal attacks on Mr. Mowbray, and instead followed up with hearings that vindicated his reporting: the State Department had indeed been running a "Visa Express" program that often allowed Saudis into the country with barely a second glance (as you know, three of the Sept. 11th hijackers got U.S. visas without an interview, thanks to this program).

The State Department responded to all the attention with a campaign of extraordinary mendacity, maintaining that the "Visa Express" program had been eliminated even though only its name was changed and all the other lax procedures were left in place.

This appeared to be a calculated attempt by the Consular Affairs and press offices to deceive Congress, and the public, about the program.

During this time, Mr. Mowbray was writing almost-daily pieces on National Review Online rebutting the State Department spin.

Things reached a head last week when, within 12 hours of one of your denunciations of Mr. Mowbray's reporting as a collection of "myths," the department did an abrupt about-face and fired the official responsible for visa-issuance, Mary Ryan, the longest-serving career diplomat at the department.

Also, that same day the American ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Robert Jordan, wrote a cable to Washington requesting that the "Visa Express" program, with its bias toward not interviewing Saudi visa applicants, be canceled.

"I am deeply troubled," he wrote, "about the prevailing perception in the media and within Congress and possibly the American public at large that our current practices represent a shameful and inadequate effort on our part."

This classified cable was highly embarrassing to the department, and to you personally, since it contradicted what you had been trying to pretend: that the "Visa Express" program had already been canceled.

The cable was classified, but contained nothing sensitive to national security, just a politically embarrassing policy recommendation. A whistleblower leaked the cable to Mr. Mowbray. He reported on the memo on National Review Online on Wednesday morning.

The Washington Post followed up with a report the next day that also quoted the cable.

On Friday, Mr. Mowbray brought a copy of the cable --- which you already knew was in his possession, from his prior reporting --- to your press briefing because he strongly suspected that you would try to distort its contents. Unfortunately, he was correct.

You said the cable was only a plea for more resources and not an end to the program (even though the subject line of the memo was "Request for Guidance on Termination of Visa Express").

As you might well have anticipated, Mr. Mowbray contradicted you, pointing out that he had evidence to the contrary in black and white, in his hands, in the form of the cable.

After an acrimonious exchange during which you misrepresented his work, Mr. Mowbray attempted to leave the briefing and the building. He was stopped by a State Department official with four armed security guards, who began to ask him for his source for the document.

Mr. Mowbray appropriately refused to identify the whistle-blower who had given him the document in the interest of having the public fully informed on the disposition of the "Visa Express" program (since, frankly, you weren't doing a very good job of it).

When Mowbray began to get the feeling that he couldn't leave even if he wanted to, he asked, "Am I being detained?"

When a diplomatic security official told him "no," Mowbray announced that he was leaving.

At which point, the guard stepped in front of Mowbray and said, "Now, you're being detained." He was physically kept from leaving the building, and repeatedly pushed to reveal his source, until, for whatever reason, he was allowed to go.

Now, let me assure you, Mr. Boucher, that few publications take security as seriously as National Review. We would fully support an effort by the State Department, for instance, to keep a reporter from grabbing classified material off someone's desk and exiting the building with it.

But that was far from the case here. The cable in question had already been reported on in National Review Online and the Washington Post. If the State Department considered the cable so sensitive it should have rushed officials to the offices of Mr. Mowbray and the Washington Post's Susan Schmidt and Glenn Kessler on Wednesday or Thursday to question them about it.

The fact is that Mr. Mowbray was trying to leave the building with the cable, only because he had entered the building with it in the first place. So, his detention could have had no security purpose, and you knew this, since you obviously followed Mr. Mowbray's reporting (several recent briefings were devoted to rebutting it), and presumably read the Washington Post.

The only reason, then, to hold Mr. Mowbray against his will in the building must have been to intimidate a young reporter who had made your life difficult.

I regret to say that I have found your conduct in this entire visa controversy, slipshod, deceptive, and, now, even thuggish.

I ask for a personal assurance from you that Mr. Mowbray will be allowed to continue his reporting at the State Department with no risk of similar incidents in the future, and indeed without any harassment at all.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.


Richard Lowry


National Review

[ Post Comment ]
Comment #6 posted by FoM on July 04, 2002 at 09:49:03 PT
Nice job setting the articles up. I hope you have a fun and safe holiday weekend.

[ Post Comment ]
Comment #5 posted by Sam Adams on July 04, 2002 at 09:44:28 PT
Where's the sensationalism?
Where's the down-in-the-gutter media when you need 'em? A girl gets kidnapped from her home somewhere in Utah and that's all you read about for 2 weeks.

A religious volunteer woman takes a bullet through the spine, which comes out the front and pierces her baby's skull, nah, let's sweep this one under the rug. The GOVERNMENT is involved.........

[ Post Comment ]

Comment #4 posted by Jose Melendez on July 04, 2002 at 09:32:25 PT
Colin Powell speaks truth, just not to power.
"Every organization," says Powell, "should tolerate rebels who tell the emperor he has no clothes ... and this particular emperor expects to be told when he is naked." As a young officer out of the ROTC program at New York's City College, Powell headed a platoon in Vietnam—where he learned something about how not to lead others. "We accepted that we had been sent to pursue a policy that had become bankrupt," he wrote in his best-selling autobiography. "The top leadership never went to the Secretary of Defense or the President and said, 'This war is unwinnable the way we are fighting it.'... They bowed to group-think pressures and kept up pretenses."

Sound familiar? I think they call that testing the waters. If planes with innocent families were being shot down in the US, would there not be an outcry? Yet that is the next logical step on this course. I personally hope that Colin Powell is taking on this project in order to expose the policy as ineffective.

[ Post Comment ]
Comment #3 posted by Jose Melendez on July 04, 2002 at 09:04:43 PT

“It didn’t affect me. But an old infantryman always remembers what tear gas and pot smell like when you walk into the barracks.”

— Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, commenting during a dinner Saturday in Quebec City about the tear gas that was dispersed upon citizens who were protesting near the Summit of the Americas.

[ Post Comment ]

Comment #2 posted by Dark Star on July 04, 2002 at 04:53:19 PT
Santayana Is Spinning in his Grave
It is chilling that the State Dept. is anxious to resume a program that the cold-blooded CIA considered too tainted for their taste. The imagination reels.

Powell is embracing the program, but this will harm his stature throughout the world and enhance Amerika's bully-boy image.

The program is illegal under international law. Beyond that, it is ineffective and morally disgusting. One can only hope that the State Department spooks speak Spanish better than the CIA did, for they were truly ugly and ignorant.

[ Post Comment ]

Comment #1 posted by freedom fighter on July 03, 2002 at 23:52:36 PT
How many more planes?

before we finally decide it is stupid!

Ooops! There are just as many boats floating by.... Oh, gosh, so many mules...


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