The CIA today was accused of lying to Congress and covering up its role in the deaths of two innocent Americans, a mother and her infant daughter, at the hands of the CIA and the Peruvian Air Force nine years ago.
"If there's ever an example of justice delayed, justice denied, this is it," said Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R.-Mich., ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee. "The [intelligence] community's performance in terms of accountability has been unacceptable. These were Americans that were killed with the help of their government, the community covered it up, they delayed investigating."
On April 20, 2001, Jim and Veronica "Roni" Bowers and their two children, six-year-old son Cory and infant daughter Charity, were returning to their home in Peru from a trip to Brazil in a small airplane piloted by Kevin Donaldson.
The Bowers' worked as Christian missionaries along a stretch of the Amazon River near Iquitos, Peru, a remote jungle region near the Brazilian and Colombian borders heavily traveled by drug traffickers.
The CIA and the Peruvian Air Force were working in the same area, trying to interdict the drug smugglers. Starting in 1995, they'd operated a joint program to intercept drug planes, shooting them down if necessary.
On April 20, a CIA spotter plane saw the Cessna in which the Bowers family was flying and alerted the Peruvian Air Force. What happened during the next hour and 49 minutes is captured in a CIA videotape.
The CIA spotter plane, with two operative aboard, sneaked up behind the Cessna as it flew over the Amazon.
"We are trying to remain covert at this point," one of the CIA pilots on the plane can be heard to say on the tape.
The CIA pilot describes the aircraft as a high-wing, single–engine float plane, which is accurate, that it has picked up on the border between Peru and Brazil.
But the CIA personnel misidentified the craft as a drug plane. The CIA alerted the Peruvian Air Force, which scrambled an interceptor. Over the next two hours, the CIA personnel would express doubts, but would not correct their error, and would repeatedly violate what the White House believed to be strict rules of engagement.
Said former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, who served in the White House at the time on the National Security Council, which created the anti-drug program, "Either the CIA spotter aircraft or the interceptor is supposed to get up close, identify the plane from the tail number, try to indicate to the plane that it should follow them to the ground."
That did not happen. Instead, the decision was made not to try to identify the tail number, because it might allow the plane to escape.
" You know, we can go up attempt the tail number," says a CIA operative on the tape. "The problem with that is that if he is dirty and he detect us, he makes a right turn immediately and we can't chase him."
When the Peruvian Air Force jet arrived it issued a warning to the target plane, saying, 'We will shoot you down." The warning was in Spanish, which the Bowers and their pilot could understand, but it was on the wrong frequency.
The CIA pilots begin to have doubts. "This guy doesn't, doesn't fit the profile," says one. But nothing was done to pull the plane back.
The CIA then asks a Peruvian Air Force liaison, "Are you sure is bandito? Are you sure?"
"Yes, okay," says the Peruvian.