Pubdate: Tue, 24 Apr 2001
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2001 Los Angeles Times
Author: Sebastian Rotella, Norman Kempster, Times Staff Writers
Note: Kempster reported from Washington and Rotella from Buenos Aires. 
Times staff writers Bob Drogin and Edwin Chen in Washington contributed to 
this story.


Attack: The U.S. Defends Program In Peru, But It Was Aware That Smugglers, 
Evangelists Fly Same Routes.

BUENOS AIRES--U.S. and Peruvian anti-drug officials knew all along that 
missionaries and drug smugglers fly the same routes over the Peruvian 
jungle, and they had worried about just such an incident as Friday's 
inadvertent downing of a plane carrying an American missionary family, 
former officials of the U.S. Embassy in Lima said Monday.

"Our worst fear was: 'What if we shoot down [some] missionaries.' " said 
one former embassy official involved in anti-drug efforts. "You don't know 
how much we talked about that at the embassy. We went through all kinds of 
pains to put the right sequence of protocols in place so that couldn't happen."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United 
States and Peru will conduct an exhaustive investigation of the attack that 
cost the lives of a Baptist missionary and her infant daughter, "to make 
sure it doesn't happen again."

But the Bush administration defended U.S. aid to the Peruvian air force in 
shooting down suspected airborne drug runners as crucial to the 
international war on narcotics, and Boucher made it clear that the 
administration hopes to resume intercepting suspected narcotics flights as 
soon as possible. The program was suspended pending the outcome of the probe.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, interviewed Monday on PBS' "NewsHour," 
said, "It was a good program that had this tragedy connected to it. . . . 
It should not have happened, [but] it did."

Audio and video tapes were made before and during the attack, U.S. 
officials said. The video footage, shot from the CIA-operated surveillance 
plane flying a mile away, shows the missionaries' plane under attack, a 
U.S. intelligence official said.

"The video is better than you'd think," the official said. "You can't see 
bullets flying or anything. But you can see the plane fly and land in the 

Once in the water, however, clouds sometimes hide the plane from view. 
Clarity is also a problem on the audio tapes.

The air interdiction program is a cooperative venture between the United 
States and the Peruvian air force. U.S. surveillance planes spot suspected 
drug flights and give Peruvian pilots the information they need to shoot 
down the suspected narcotics runners.

Since the summer of 1994, Boucher said, Peruvian warplanes have shot down 
more than 30 small aircraft flying near the Peruvian-Colombian border, a 
prime corridor for narcotics flights. Before the attack Friday on the 
missionary plane, he said, "there have been no injuries to anyone that 
wasn't found to be smuggling drugs. So, it's a terrible tragedy and a 
horrible occurrence, but this is the first time something like this has 

The program is fundamentally dependent on the United States, which provides 
radar and listening technology located in land bases in Peru and aboard spy 
planes operated by CIA contract employees, who are mostly retired U.S. 
military airmen with combat experience, the former embassy official said.

U.S. officials in Washington said similar programs operate with the air 
forces of other drug-affected countries. White House spokesman Ari 
Fleischer said the operations in other countries are continuing despite the 
suspension in Peru.

U.S. air interdiction of narcotics flights began at least 20 years ago, a 
senior State Department official said. However, the program was suspended 
after the Soviet air force on Sept. 1, 1983, shot down a Korean Air Lines 
commercial flight that the Soviets said had invaded their airspace. 
Although the KAL incident had no link to the Andean counter-narcotics 
programs operated by the United States, the officials said, the Reagan 
administration decided to suspend the U.S. Andean operations to avoid the 
embarrassment of shooting down an innocent civilian aircraft the way the 
Soviets had done.

The air interdiction program was resumed in the summer of 1994 and has 
continued since.

"The program itself is an important program, a successful program over the 
years to interdict drugs from coming into the United States," Boucher said. 
"Certainly, the overall effort to interdict drugs is very, very important 
to us and to Peru and to others in the region."

The rules of engagement require Peruvian pilots to issue warnings by radio, 
waggling wings and other internationally recognized signals, and then 
firing warning shots intended to force the suspect pilot to land. U.S. 
officials said that although the facts are somewhat in dispute, the 
Peruvian jet apparently did not follow those rules.

Boucher said the crew of the CIA surveillance plane tried "to hold the 
Peruvians back from taking action in this case" but were unable to do so. 
He refused to speculate on the reason that the Peruvians went ahead despite 
the U.S. warning, asserting that the investigation--which has not yet 
begun--will answer that question.

In Lima, Peruvian air force spokesman Cmdr. Rommel Roca said: "The only 
thing I can tell you is that the air force followed the procedures. It 
regrets this lamentable accident in which two people died."

The most recent of the shoot-downs of drug planes occurred in July. The 
most recent incident in which a drug plane was forced to land without being 
fired upon was in January, according to a U.S. official in Lima, the capital.

But former Ambassador Dennis Jett, who served from 1996 to 1999 and who is 
widely respected in Peru, said there was a close call in 1997, when the 
Peruvian air force downed a smuggling plane without going through all of 
the required warning procedures. The plane turned out to be a smuggling 
craft, but the policy underwent intense review, nevertheless, according to 

"That was a wake-up call to all of us," Jett said.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens