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Peru Airbridge ProgramPeru Airbridge Program

Jan. 10, 2003


Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, since 1994, the U.S. Government has provided tactical aerial intelligence assistance to the Government of Peru, to help it stop the shipment of illegal drugs across its borders.

U.S. surveillance aircraft owned by the Defense Department and operated by contractors employed by the Central Intelligence Agency are tasked to locate potential drug flights, which Peruvian military jets then intercept. Occasionally, the Peruvian military has shot down those aircraft.

Unfortunately, the mistaken shoot-down on April 20, 2001, of a civilian missionary aircraft resulting in the deaths of two innocent Americans, including a young child, and the wounding of the pilot, revealed serious deficiencies in the procedures governing this program.

After a thorough investigation and revision of the procedures, the State Department has recommended that this program be reinstated in Columbia, and it is anticipated that it may also resume at some point in Peru.

I understand the motivation for this program is to stop the shipment of illegal drugs. That is a goal we all share, and we are spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year in the Andes to do so. However, a policy of shooting down civilian aircraft in such circumstances would not be lawful in the United States, and I am concerned that the foreign pilots are performing the role of prosecutor, jury and executioner, even when there may be no cause for self-defense and no proof that the operators of the targeted aircraft have broken any law.

This policy, in essence, presumed any civilian aircraft in drug-producing areas to be guilty unless proven innocent, and permitted the use of deadly force when there was only the suspicion of involvement of smuggling drugs.

I have read a report issued by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in October of 2001, which describes the serious flaws in the aerial interdiction program in the Andean countries. I agree with many of the report�s findings. The Intelligence Committee report I refer to was commissioned specifically to investigate the April 20, 2001 incident in Peru.

Despite the appearance of legitimacy, the missionary plane was singled out by a U.S. surveillance jet as a possible drug smuggling flight. The U.S. surveillance aircraft was participating in the joint U.S.-Peru counter-drug aerial interdiction program. The surveillance jet tracked the path of the missionary flight and a Peruvian military jet responded.

A confused and ultimately unsuccessful effort was made by Peruvian military and Peruvian civilian authorities to identify the missionary plane and to surmise the intentions of its crew, all of which are mandated by the standard operating procedures that govern operation of the aerial interdiction program.

That information was available to the Peruvian authorities. But due to the lack of access to records of flight plans kept by Peruvian aviation authorities; the failure of a Peruvian officer to check a list of aircraft tail numbers that would have identified the missionary plane as a legitimately owned and operated aircraft; and inefficient communications between the aircraft involved and ground personnel, a presumption of guilt, without supporting evidence, led to this avoidable tragedy.

This incident is a glaring example of the dire consequences resulting from attempts by law enforcement and military agencies to take the place of prosecutors and courts to mete out justice to suspected criminals.

I am sympathetic to the motivations for this policy. But absent an imminent, serious threat to human health or safety, I do not believe that deadly force of this type should be used against civilian aircraft. While I hope I am proven wrong, I worry that the new procedures, while well-intentioned, may not be adequate to prevent another tragic mistake. I am also concerned that we risk providing other countries with an excuse to shoot down civilian aircraft over their territory, whether to stop illegal drugs or for some completely different reason which they may deem to be legitimate.

I urge the administration to reconsider this policy. Yes, we want to stop drugs. Yes, we want to conduct aerial surveillance of suspected aircraft. But shooting civilian aircraft out of the sky, when there is no cause for self-defense, no imminent threat to innocent life, and not even proof of illegality, I believe goes too far. We have seen what can happen. Let us not repeat that mistake.

Source: Government Printing Office
From CQ Congressional Record Service
Providing government documents on demand, in context.
©2003 Congressional Quarterly Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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