THREE STORIES FROM THE APRIL
30 ISSUE OF
"FROM THE WILDERNESS"
- MORE HOLES IN THE
COVER-UP THAN IN THE AIRPLANE
- DEA VET CHALLENGES
GOV'T POSITION, ABC NEWS CHANGES STORY, WAS DYNCORP INVOLVED?
- REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY
OF ILLINOIS INTRODUCES BILL TO BAN USE OF CONTRACT COMPANIES
IN THE ANDES
COULD DOWNING OF MISSIONARY
PLANE IN PERU HAVE BEEN A PLAN COLOMBIA PUBLICITY STUNT
GONE BAD? -- Plenty Wrong With The Story We've Been Told
By Peter Gorman -- (Special
to "From The Wilderness")
IQUITOS, PERU - On Friday,
April 20th at 9:43 AM, a US Department of Defense radar-aircraft
manned by three former US-military men who were under contract
to the CIA and one Peruvian Air Force officer, notified
the US-controlled radar station at Peru's Morona Cocha military
base that it had sighted a plane that had crossed 3-4 miles
into Brazilian territory just off the Jivari river, the
Peruvian border with Brazil. According to US officials,
a second sighting of the plane occurred 12 minutes later,
when the same aircraft re-entered Peruvian airspace. US
officials say the American crew then asked Peruvian authorities
to determine if the craft had filed a flight plan. When
told it hadn't the Peruvian authorities decided to launch
an intercept and attempted to make radio contact. When they
couldn't, they began firing, despite the desperate pleas
of the CIA contract pilots to halt the assault.
About one hour and twenty
minutes from the time the plane was spotted re-entering
Peruvian airspace, it was shot down. Two passengers, 35-year-old
missionary Veronica Bowers and her seven-month old adopted
daughter Charity, were killed in the Peruvian fighter jet's
assault. Three other passengers, Bowers' husband, Jim, 38,
and their son, Cory, 7, were uninjured. The pilot, 42-year-old
Kevin Donaldson, was shot in the legs and is recovering.
On the surface, the story
is clean. The US routinely runs radar checks on planes flying
in Peru as part of a program that has been in place since
1995. When they spot a suspected drug plane Peruvian authorities
are alerted and a call made on whether to shoot it out of
the sky or try to force it to land. This should be a simple
case of mistaken identity and an unfortunate accident, but
it may be more than that.
In 1995, the US and Peru
came to an agreement on trying to stop the air transport
of basta, coca base, from Peru, to the refining labs in
Colombia. As part of the agreement, the US built a radar
station just outside Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian
Amazon. The base is run by former Special Forces troops.
The US runs the radar and suggests which planes might be
drug-planes; the Peruvian airforce does the dirty work.
The reason for the US running the radar show is to keep
temptation away from Peruvian officials who might be taking
But according to Peruvian
pilots formerly involved in the program-who for obvious
reasons won't give their names-no plane is intercepted or
shot down unless the US gives the go-ahead. And this is
where the story of the shootdown as reported in Reuters
and the AP falls apart. By Sunday morning the US was changing
its official story to accept that it had notified Peruvian
authorities of the sighting but was officially claiming
that it had tried to prevent the shoot-down. "The US
crew repeatedly expressed their concern that the nature
of the aircraft had not been determined," a US official
in Washington told Reuters. "Despite serious concerns
raised by the US crew, the shoot-down was authorized by
Peruvian authorities." One report had the Peruvian
pilots as cowboys who shot the Bowers' plane against US
wishes. While that is not an impossibility, that's not the
way it's generally done in Peru. The US calls the shots,
period. And since only roughly 40% of the planes they recommend
for downing can be connected with the drug trade-again,
according to pilots who have been part of the program-Peru
takes the public heat for downing innocent planes, but explains
that it only does what the US asks and thus keeps its hands
clean. The US makes the calls but doesn't do any shooting,
thus it too keeps its hands clean.
The reason so many planes
have been downed wrongly is simply the reality of small
plane traffic in the Amazon region of Peru: They're generally
old puddle-jumping Cessnas and very few have any instrumentation
left, including radios, and fewer still file flight plans.
They're generally piloted by bush pilots who fly by sight
at low altitudes, basically running errands for people who
live or work out on the rivers in the dense jungle. This
case was different. The Cessna 185 had full instrumentation.
Moreover, while the US insists the CIA-contract plane contacted
the Peruvian air tower in Iquitos to inquire about the Cessna's
flight plan and were told it had none, it is now possible
to download copies of that flight plan from CNN or from
the American Baptists for World Evangelism's website. The
Peruvian air tower initially agreed there had been a flight
plan filed-showing the plane leaving Iquitos for Islandia
the day before the shootdown and returning the following
day.. Islandia is a tiny Peruvian city on the river border
between Peru and Brazil.The Peruvian air controllers later
amended their statement to say the plan was filed while
the plane was in flight back to Iquitos from Islandia. Two
of those accounts have to be inaccurate.
Moreover, the Bowers' plane
was in regular radio contact with Iquitos throughout its
flight, including the moment when it was shot down just
outside of the river city of Pevas, about 100 air miles
outside of Iquitos. The US version of the story to date
is this:The US plane, operated by CIA contract agents spotted
a suspicious plane and alerted the Peruvian authorities
to the possibility that it was a drug plane. The Peruvian
air tower in Iquitos mistakenly told the US crew that the
Bowers' plane had not filed a flight plan, compounding the
suspicions that it was a drug plane. The interceptor jet
then tried to reach the Bowers' plane on the radio but only
tried military frequencies, which the Bowers' were not on.
The Peruvians then seriously breached military protocol
by shooting down the plane while the US plane heroically
and frantically tried to call them off. In sum: the deaths
are tragic; the fault lies with the Peruvians who made multiple
errors and seriously breached standard protocol for the
That story does not hold
up to scrutiny and only raises several questions.
First: The shooting occurred
more than 160 miles from the original sighting. The Bowers'
Cessna 185 has a top speed of 130 MPH. In this case it was
probably slower as it was near full-load with five passengers.
Which means it took 80-90 minutes to reach the intercept
point. The Peruvian fighter jet was a Cessna A37B, which
has a flight speed of 507 MPH. Taking off from the military
airport in Iquitos then it could have made the flight to
the intercept point at Pevas in about 15 minutes. So the
first question is why did the intercept take place where
it did and not closer to the Brazilian/Peruvian border?
To occur near Pevas meant
the Peruvian jet either took more than an hour to take off,
or the shoot down was purposely timed to occur at Pevas.
That it took the Peruvian jet more than an hour to take
off seems unreasonable given that the crew is on 24-hour
alert for exactly the purpose of intercepting drug-smuggling
planes. That the intercept was timed to occur at Pevas would
imply that it was intended that there be witnesses to the
shootdown-Pevas is the largest city on the Amazon between
Iquitos and the Brazilian border, with a population of about
4,000. It also has a Peruvian military base, the closest
base along the Peruvian Amazon to the Putumayo river, which
is the Peruvian border with Colombia and territory under
the control of Colombia's FARC rebels. The region is currently
being militarily bolstered on the Peruvian side (See FTW
March, 01) in anticipation of the-presumably-imminent start
of Plan Colombia bloodshed which is anticipated to drive
FARC rebels across the Putumayo onto Peruvian soil. Who
stood to gain in this scenario?
A second question involves
the alleged attempts of the Peruvian fighter jet to reach
the Bowers' plane on the radio. That the Bowers' radio was
on and working has been confirmed by the air traffic controllers
in Iquitos. The Peruvian government claims its pilots tried
and to communicate by radio with the Bowers' on three separate
frequencies during that time. But the Peruvian's allegedly
only tried to communicate on military frequencies. Why didn't
they try the standard commercial frequencies even once during
the entire 80-90 minutes it took from the time they were
alerted to the Bowers' plane's existence until they shot
it down. Was it simply a human error on their part? Or were
they under orders or military protocol not to communicate
with their target? Human error-simply forgetting to change
frequencies-seems unlikely since these are professional
military officers well trained in just this sort of activity.
But if they were either under orders not to communicate
with their target whose orders were they?
A third question relates
to what occurred after the Bowers' plane had made its emergency
landing in the Amazon. One wing was already on fire, according
to both Jim Bowers and Kevin Donaldson. Yet both Bowers
and Donaldson have said the Peruvians continued to strafe
them after they landed. Why? It is certainly not normal
military protocol in dealing with unarmed planes. There
are no roads out, so why fire on them while they languished
in the river? Who ordered that? Were the Peruvians simply
blood thirsty? Or is it possible they realized a terrible
mistake had been made and were trying to ignite the Bowers'
fuel to eliminate the evidence of the error?
Another question relates
to the initial CIA contract team's identification of the
Bowers' plane as a possible drug-smuggling plane. US procedures
demand that US planes attempt to identify planes by their
tail numbers. The Bowers' plane's number was clearly marked
and the US initially did not answer the press' questions
regarding the issue. On Tuesday, April 24, several days
after the shootdown, The Washington Post reported that US
officials had explained that the CIA contract crew had breached
its own identification procedures because they were afraid
that the suspected drug plane-the Bowers' plane- would flee
the country if they got close enough to read the tail numbers.
The Post further reported that the US claims the CIA contract
crew gave the tail number-identification task to the Peruvians,
and that they failed to follow through.
The Peruvians do not agree
with the US story. Peruvian Prime Minister Javier Perez
de Cuellar, the former U.N. secretary-general, has defended
the Peruvian military in the shootdown. On Tuesday, April
24, in his government's first official response to the US
allegations that the shootdown was Peru's fault, he said
"For the time being, it would be hasty to say that
the Peruvian air force is responsible, or that the pilot
of the [missionary] airplane was responsible."
If the events unfolded
the way the US claims there are too many unanswered questions.
The Bower's plane was well known around Iquitos: the Bowers'
had been there a long time and made regular flights from-and-to
the city. Could the Peruvians really have simply shot it
on their own? Would the pilots risk their position, and
very likely jail time, to shoot down the Bowers' plane on
their own? And even if they were authorized to shoot it
down by someone, why would they risk their posts and jail
time by continuing to strafe it once it was in flames on
And again, why in front
of Pevas, a reasonably good sized river town with a military
base. There were hundreds of witnesses to the entire affair.
If there were some reason to want the Bowers' dead, why
do it at Pevas? Between Pevas and the next town toward the
Brazilian border there is a stretch of nearly 100 miles
of almost nothing but tiny villages and a leper colony.
The Peruvian craft certainly had the speed to intercept
at any point along that stretch. Was there a purpose in
making the intercept near the closest large town to the
Colombian border and FARC territory? Was someone trying
to make it look as though the plane was coming out of Colombia?
In truth, Peruvians don't
shoot down planes without the authorization of the US. And
of all the planes shot down during the several years of
the joint US/Peruvian interdiction program-25 are admitted
to, though local figures put it several times higher than
that-none has been shot down entering Peruvian airspace.
Planes are shot down leaving, because when they leave they
are carrying coca paste to Colombia for refining. But planes
entering Peruvian airspace, particularly drug-running planes,
are entering with cash. Nobody shoots down planes loaded
with cash. They are simply forced down so their cash can
So very little of the official
US story makes sense the way it was told, unless the Peruvians
were completely at fault, either through utter incompetence
or malicious intent. What might the real story be? One important
background event must be put into the equation at this point:
On the day the Bowers' plane was shot down the Third Summit
of the Americas was opening in Quebec. With the exception
of Fidel Castro the head of every country in the Americas
was present, including George Bush. He was pushing the ratification
of the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement. In recent weeks
he has also changed the name of Clinton's Plan Colombia
to The Andean Initiative and has been working hard to give
it his own stamp.
But just weeks before the
summit, Uruguay's President Jorge Batlle Ibanez proposed
the worldwide legalization of drugs when he told The Washington
Post, "Imagine the money you spend to impede drug traffic
and imagine that huge amount of resources on education for
the people who really need help." Moreover, he had
promised to lobby for drug legalization in a speech in front
of all 34 heads of state at the Quebec Summit.
Given that as a background,
could it be that the downing of the Bowers' plane was a
high-profile publicity stunt that went bad? Would it be
a leap to imagine the CIA contract crew was told it would
be just terrific if they managed to intercept a drug smuggling
plane during the summit? Better yet, if a drug plane were
thought to be carrying drugs from the FARC rebels, the primary
targets of Plan Colombia/the Andean Initiative. That publicity
would completely defuse Uruguay's drug legalization message
by tying drugs to revolutionary movements in bright, bold
Now if that suggestion
was made to the US CIA contract crew and they thought they
had a drug smuggling plane when they caught radar-sight
of the Bowers' Cessna, all of the rest of the questions
would be answered: The call was given to the Peruvian authorities
to intercept and take down the craft. The location would
place the shootdown in front of Pevas, ensuring witnesses
and, because of Pevas being less than 60 mile proximity
to Colombian FARC held territory, the suggestion could be
made that it was a FARC drug-smuggling plane. No radio contact
was made because the order to kill was given in code by
the US. When it was later determined that the Bowers' plane
was not a drug-smuggling plane the US desperately tried
to call off the kill. But the order, once given, could not
be rescinded. Which would explain why the Bowers' were strafed
even after their emergency landing and while their plane
was on fire. At that point it would be better to simply
explode the plane to eliminate the evidence and give both
the US and Peru more time to come up with credible and matching
stories about the shootdown.
That scenario would
also explain why the US story has changed daily since the
shootdown. It would also explain why Peru says it is not
at fault in the incident.
[Peter Gorman is a Senior
Editor for High Times Magazine and a veteran journalist
who has spent many years living in Peru. He can be contacted
at [email protected] In the Feb issue of FTW he wrote a
chilling account of the arrival in Iquitos of former Navy
Seals to man gunboats along rivers bordering FARC controlled
regions of Colombia]
* More Holes in Shootdown
Story, Was DynCorp Involved? - ABC News Changes Web Site
FTW -- "It's bullshit!
I was in Iquitos and I flew on those shootdown missions.
Nobody, I mean nobody, shoots down anything unless the CIA
says so." So says retired DEA Agent Celerino Castillo,
a Bronze Star winner in Vietnam who served as a DEA Agent
in Peru from 1982-4. Castillo, author of the book Powderburns
(available at www.copvcia.com) was emphatic about the US
government's control of all military operations in the region.
"In those days we flew on helicopters and the Peruvian
soldiers would lean out the window with FN rifles and blast
holes from above drug smugglers' planes. I was on those
flights. Yes, the Peruvians did the shooting but it was
always the US who gave the OK."
Asked for a possible explanation
for the shootdown Castillo observed, "I think it all
has to do with Plan Colombia and the coming war. It's going
to crank into high gear very soon. I think that the CIA
was sending a clear message to all non-combatants to clear
out of the area and to get favorable press. It sounds like
a bigger shooting war is going to erupt any minute. Iquitos
is at the heart of everything the CIA is doing right now.
They don't want any witnesses." Castillo, who risked
his DEA career for exposing direct CIA involvement drug
smuggling from the Ilopango airfield in El Salvador during
the Contra war, now works as a substitute teacher in McAllen
Texas. He can be contacted at [email protected]
Even as the government
line continues to lose credibility, a change in a story
by Bill Reddeker of ABC Network news raises additional questions
about the possible role of the giant military contracting
corporation DynCorp in the shootdown. (Former CIA Director
James Woolsey is a stockholder in the privately held corporation.)
As repeatedly covered in FTW, DynCorp is the largest US
government contractor in the region and has armed civilian
personnel flying escort for Colombian military aircraft
on coca eradication missions in Southern Colombia. These
DynCorp operations are taking place in a region just miles
from the location of the Bowers' shootdown. Last February
FTW reported on a gun battle between a DynCorp helicopter
and FARC guerillas after a Colombian military crew was shot
down. But confusion remains as to whether DynCorp personnel
had been contracted by the CIA to fly on the US surveillance
plane which initiated the Bowers tragedy. A posting on the
ABC news web site (www.abcnews.com) from April 22, 2001
at 6:30 PM EDT contained the statement, "According
to senior administration officials, the Citation 5 surveillance
plane used in the operation is owned by the Pentagon. Its
crew was hired by the CIA from DynCorp, a private company.
And the program is coordinated by the U.S. embassy in Peru.
Dyncorp is involved in many aspects of Plan Colombia, a
controversial, $1.3 billion American program to cripple
drug production in South America."
Yet by April 24 a series
of four stories on the shootdown contained an amended statement
which now reads, "According to senior administration
officials, the Citation-5 surveillance plane, the US aircraft
flying with the Peruvian interceptor, is owned by the Pentagon.
The CIA hired its crew, and the program is coordinated by
the U.S. embassy in Peru." A search of the ABC News
web site reveals that all references to DynCorp in this
case have been removed. Contacted for comment, ABC Network
News spokesman Jeff Schneider had not provided a response
as of press time. DynCorp officials twice emphatically denied
any involvement in the incident, either by company employees
or any of their subcontractors. Contacted by FTW, the CIA
refused to comment.
At press time an April
29 New York Post story and stories by The New York Times
identify Alabama-based Aviation Development Corp. (ADC)
as the supplier of the contract crew. ADC is privately held
and may be a CIA proprietary company. Initial checks into
Alabama Secretary of State filings for the corporation suggest
that it may be a CIA proprietary operation (wholly owned)
rather than a contracting company that derives income from
A crucial question that
remains unanswered is where the CIA contract employees who
initiated the tragedy came from. If they came from DynCorp,
which has a demonstrable financial interest in continuing
hostilities another motivating factor needs to be addressed
by the Congress. Other Background - Chavez Caves In - Indications
of escalating conflict in the region poured in throughout
the month of April. On April 6, citing security concerns
about terrorism, the U.S. closed its embassies Ecuador,
Uruguay and Paraguay. On April 17 the State Department,
citing continuing violence, issued a travel warning for
all U.S. citizens in the region. On April 19 under pressure
to protect Venezuelan interests at the pending FTAA summit
in Quebec, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez relinquished
his longstanding opposition to Plan Colombia. As reported
by the AP, "At a news conference in Cartagena, Chavez,
who has been the region's most blunt critic of the U.S.-backed
strategy to drive rebels from Colombia's coca fields and
give aid to poor coca farmers, said he had changed his mind
about the plan. "'Where there were doubts about Plan
Colombia, now there is clarity,' declared Chavez, who is
seeking Venezuela's inclusion in the Andean Trade Preferences
And on April 21, The Washington
Post broke the story of a brutal massacre in the village
of Naya by right-wing paramilitary forces in which as many
as 80 villagers had been murdered with chain saws and machetes.
This, as preparations for wider conflict continue.
BILL INTRODUCED TO
BAN PRIVATE CONTRACTORS/ARMIES IN CIA WORK
FTW APRIL 25 - In the unsettled
wake of the CIA connected shootdown of an unarmed plane
carrying Baptist missionaries in Peru, Representative Jan
Schakowsky (D-IL) today introduced the Andean Region Contractor
Accountability Act (ARCAA) that would prohibit the federal
government from funding private armies in the Andean region.
The bill specifically targets private contractors such as
DynCorp which provide armed military support in the region
while escaping Congressional oversight.
As reported in a press
release from Schakowsky's office the bill would prohibit
the US government from entering into contracts with private
organizations or individuals "to carry out military,
law enforcement, armed rescue, or other related operations
[in the] Andean region."
Schakowsky stated, "The
American taxpayers are funding a secret war that could suck
us into a Vietnam-like conflict... Is [this outsourcing]
to hide body bags from the media and thus shield them from
public opinion?" The measure is co-sponsored by Rep.
Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) and Jim McGovern (D-MA).