CIA Missionary Plane Shootdown Draws OIG Blowback

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An internal report by the CIA's inspector general accuses agency officials of withholding information and obstructing inquiries regarding the investigation of a 2001 fatal downing of an aircraft thought to be carrying narcotics that was in fact carrying missionaries over Peru. Three aboard the stricken aircraft were injured when it crashed into the Amazon River. Two aboard, a woman and her infant daughter, were killed. The aircraft was attacked by a Peruvian air force fighter operating with CIA surveillance aircraft. The report itself states that the "routine disregard of the required intercept procedures" removed adequate safeguards to protect against the loss of innocent life; that violation of procedures was "sustained and significant" and that the agency denied Congress and other authorities including the Department of Justice access to those findings. Plus, the agency's counsel advised managers to avoid writing on the subject to avoid "legal scrutiny." Among the report's conclusions are that those intercept procedures were presidentially mandated and that "no one" involved in making changes to them had the authority to do so. According to the report, "In many cases, suspect aircraft were shot down within two to three minutes of being sighted by the Peruvian fighter -- without being properly identified, without being given the required warnings to land, and without being given time to respond." Not a single Peruvian pilot interviewed for the report said he had once attempted to visually signal a target aircraft to warn it had been intercepted.

Participants in the interdiction program told the Office of the Inspector General that "performing the required procedures would have taken time and might have resulted in the escape of the target aircraft," and that "it was easier to shoot the aircraft down than to force it down." The full classified report was reportedly delivered to CIA director Michael Hayden and passed on to the Justice Department, which in 2005 declined to pursue any prosecutions. The program, initiated by the Clinton administration in 1994 and continued for a time under the Bush administration, has since ended.