A classified CIA report suggests that the agency lied to Congress and withheld information from the Justice Department concerning a clandestine drug interdiction mission in Peru that resulted in the deaths of a missionary and her infant daughter in 2001, says a congressmen who helps oversee the intelligence community.
Veronica Bowers, a Baptist missionary from Michigan, was holding her 7-month-old daughter, Charity, on her lap when their small plane was mistakenly identified as a drug-running craft and blasted from the sky by the Peruvian Air Force over the remote Amazon. Bowers and her daughter were killed, but her husband, her son, and the pilot all survived a crash landing near the Colombian and Brazilian borders.
At the time, the Peruvian military and the CIA, which was involved in identifying Bowers's plane, admitted to the mistake but claimed that proper procedures had been followed and that the plane had refused orders to land.
But a new report from the CIA's inspector general, however, suggests that the spy agency may have misled Congress and withheld information about its drug interdiction program called "Airbridge Denial," says Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.
The report, "Procedures Used in the Narcotics Airbridge Denial Program in Peru, 1995-2001," remains classified, though lawmakers have requested that the CIA-IG make the findings public.
According to Hoekstra , the IG report also suggests that the spy agency withheld information from the Justice Department, which in 2005 ended a criminal inquiry into whether four CIA officers lied to Congress and their agency superiors about the clandestine airbridge operation.
The IG's findings were made public by Hoekstra, who represents Michigan and has followed the case for years. In 2005, when he was head of the Intelligence Committee, Hoekstra said he was satisfied with the Justice Department decision not to prosecute anyone from the agency who was involved in the Bowers incident. The new IG report finds otherwise, suggesting "an active cover-up within the community," Hoekstra says. "This is about as ugly as it gets: an agency operating outside the law, covering it up, and getting away with it."
The investigation also raises questions about whether other innocent aircraft may have been shot down under the program, adding that there were more than 10 incidents where planes were shot down and operational rules were violated. "The possibility exists that there might have been another Bowers," he said, calling for a renewed criminal investigation and a series of hearings on the matter when Congress resumes business next year. "The committee is charged with conducting oversight of the intelligence community and takes these matters very seriously," says Vince Perez, spokesman for Democratic Rep. Silvestre Reyes, who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
CIA Director Michael Hayden, who was not in charge of the spy agency when the incident occurred, received a copy of the IG report in late August and is still considering what actions or disciplinary measures need to be taken within the agency. "That's why he is also seeking input from a cleared outside expert—one who knows the complex issues involved in an air interdiction program—before making any decisions," says CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield. He says the agency will "continue to cooperate with Congress on these matters."
Another senior intelligence official fired back at the congressmen, calling into question Hoekstra's motives for disclosing the report and calling the timing of the report "curious."
"Hayden is considering a course of action and still gathering information; disclosing this now just injects politics into the matter," said the official, who asked not to be identified when speaking about the ongoing review.
In a letter to John Helgerson, the CIA inspector general, Hoekstra said that his request to declassify portions of the findings were "without prejudice" to Hayden's internal review.