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Senate Panel Faults CIA in Shooting of Plane

Accident: Committee says lack of judgment led to two deaths in Peru.

November 01, 2001|From a Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Concluding that inadequate planning and bad judgment led to the mistaken shoot-down of a light plane carrying American missionaries in Peru, the Senate Intelligence Committee said Wednesday that the CIA should be removed from the business of spotting possible drug-runners along Peru's border.

"The lack of judgment displayed by key individuals involved was the primary factor leading to this disaster," said Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), the panel chairman. "Safety procedures, however, had degraded over time to the point where this kind of tragedy was almost inevitable. This program needs a dramatic overhaul before we should consider restarting it."

Under a program begun in 1994--but suspended indefinitely after the April incident--U.S.-owned and CIA-operated surveillance aircraft tracked suspected drug flights, providing information to the Peruvian air force, which was authorized to shoot them down.

On April 20, a Peruvian warplane downed the missionary flight. Missionary Veronica Bowers and her infant daughter, Charity, were killed. The pilot was wounded.

The Intelligence Committee said the missionary pilot did nothing wrong and should not have come under fire.

The report blamed an inadequate air traffic control system in Peru, a cumbersome communications and chain-of-command structure and the inability of the CIA operatives and Peruvian air force pilots to speak each other's language well enough to avoid misunderstandings.

The program should not be resumed until the problems are solved, the committee said. Even then, it added, such programs should require annual certification from the president, and some agency other than the CIA should be responsible for operating them.

"The primary culprit in this case was lax management," said Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), the committee's vice chairman. "Established safety procedures were permitted to erode unchecked for a period of years. CIA officials, from the program manager to the director, failed to properly manage this program--with tragic results."

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