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Shoot first, ask questions (much) later

Peru | CIA lied about missionary plane shoot-down

Issue: "2008 Daniel of the Year," Dec. 13, 2008

CIA officials lied to Congress about a tragic drug war shoot-down that killed Baptist missionary Veronica Bowers, 35, and her 7-month-old daughter Charity, according to a CIA Inspector General (IG) report. The Bowerses died in April 2001 over a Peruvian jungle when a Peruvian air force jet shot down their plane after receiving a CIA tip that it could be carrying narcotics. The single-engine Cessna, owned by the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE), had been flying at a normal altitude in Peruvian airspace after having filed a detailed flight plan to a nearby consulate to obtain a visa for newly adopted Charity. The shoot-down, which injured three others including Bowers' husband, Jim, and their 7-year-old son, prompted the suspension of the CIA-aided drug interdiction program known as Narcotics Airbridge Denial.

According to the IG report, portions of which were declassified in late November, "CIA officers began to characterize the shoot-down as a one-time mistake in an otherwise well-run program. In fact, this was not the case." Key Peruvian and American Airbridge participants told the IG that program safeguards designed to protect innocent lives were "in many cases" skipped because they took too much time. One of those procedures was the requirement to establish contact with target aircraft and try to force them from the sky. This was "difficult," according to the IG report: ". . . it was easier to shoot the aircraft down than to force it down."

"To say these deaths did not have to happen is more than an understatement," said Rep. Peter Hoekstra, who represents the Michigan congressional district the surviving Bowers still call home. "The CIA knew about repeated serious issues with this program, but took no corrective actions, which could have prevented this needless tragedy."

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In a Nov. 20 letter to CIA Inspector General John Helgerson, Hoekstra said he plans to ask the justice department to review the incident and ensuing cover-up for possible criminal prosecutions. Officials at ABWE could not be reached for comment.

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