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Problems with Current U.S. Policy.

The adoption of a shoot-down policy by Peru and Colombia sparked an intense debate within the Clinton administration in 1994, prompting the Department of Defense (DOD) to suspend real-time intelligence sharing due to concerns that the use of force against civil aircraft might subject DOD personnel to legal liability. State Department policymakers complained that the suspension would set back progress in counterdrug cooperation, while critics of the policy from the State Department's legal office maintained that the shoot-down policy violated domestic and international law, emphasizing that "mistakes are likely to occur under any policy that contemplates the use of weapons against civil aircraft in flight, even as a last resort."

Under intense pressure from Congress, the Clinton administration, according to a State Department memo, decided to "eliminate domestic and international legal impediments" to the shoot-down policy. U.S. law was amended to allow the use of U.S. intelligence in operations against suspicious planes when "the country has appropriate procedures in place to protect innocent aircraft." Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) sponsored legislation providing legal immunity for U.S. officials involved in these operations. The new policy did not solve the international legal problems raised by the shoot-down policy, but rather sought "to reduce the [U.S. government's] exposure to criticism that such assistance violates international law." With the legislation's passage the U.S. became accessory to a policy in violation of international law and the principle of due process.

Also disturbing are indications that Andean governments accept U.S. counterdrug assistance largely as a means to fight insurgent groups. A 1992 CIA report noted that "Andean government assertions that increased attacks against the insurgents would affect the drug trade are primarily an attempt to convince the U.S. to allow the use of counternarcotics aid for counterinsurgency operations," and that "officials in Lima and Bogota, if given antidrug aid for counterinsurgency purposes, would turn it to pure antiguerrilla operations with little payoff against trafficking." Indeed, as of 1991 the Colombian army had no apparent intention to attack the drug trade. A Colombian army document obtained by Human Rights Watch indicates that a 1991 reorganization of the Colombian military intelligence system--drawn up with assistance from CIA and DOD officials--made no mention of drugs and instead focused on "the armed subversion."

Restrictions were modified in March 1999 to permit the sharing of intelligence on guerrillas for the purpose of planning counterdrug operations. However, that same year the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that U.S. officials "do not have a system to ensure that [intelligence] is not being used for other than counternarcotics purposes" and that "U.S. embassy officials sometimes have difficulty distinguishing insurgents from drug traffickers."

The concept of the "narcoguerrilla" endorsed by many U.S. and Colombian officials has made it even more difficult for the U.S. to segregate counterdrug intelligence from that related solely to insurgent groups. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, then an adviser to the incoming Bush administration, said in January that that the U.S. "cannot continue to make a false distinction between counterinsurgency and counter-narcotics efforts." More recently, Gen. Mario Montoya, commander of Colombian army operations in southern Colombia told reporters that he no longer tries to distinguish between the various armed factions. "For us they are all drug-traffickers." The characterization of insurgent groups as drug cartels misrepresents the political objectives of the guerrillas and unduly simplifies the nature of Colombia's internal conflict.

Perhaps even more disturbing are allegations raised in Mark Bowden's recent book, Killing Pablo, about the U.S. role in the hunt for Colombian drug trafficker Pablo Escobar in 1992. The investigation found evidence that members of the task force charged with Escobar's capture collaborated with an illegal group that systematically eliminated people and property associated with Escobar's network. Individuals in the Colombian National Police passed intelligence obtained from the U.S. to this group, the People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar (Los Pepes), which used it to carry out assassinations, bombings, and other attacks on Escobar's family and associates. One of the group's alleged principals, the now-deceased Fidel Castano Gil, is the brother of Carlos Castano, the leader of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a paramilitary organization openly involved in the drug trade and blamed for the vast majority of the country's massacres, killings, and displacements in recent years. Documents obtained during the investigation show that officials from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency had frequent contact with Fidel Castano and other paramilitary leaders during the hunt for Escobar.

Intelligence sharing arrangements are further compromised by corruption among Andean security forces. Several Peruvian generals have been arrested since the flight of President Alberto Fujimori last year, charged with everything from bribery to drug corruption to state-sponsored terrorism. Peruvian Gen. Juan Miguel Aguila, indicted in connection to the bombing of a bank in Lima, recounted that, "The U.S. was our partner in every respect, giving us intelligence, training, equipment, and working closely with us in the field." The issue has prompted a Peruvian congressional investigation and criticism of the U.S. intelligence program. Fujimori's former intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, considered a staunch U.S. ally in the drug war, is now charged with some 31 criminal counts in connection to civilian massacres, drug trafficking and other crimes, including the illegal diversion of arms to Colombian guerrilla groups. The U.S. has yet to provide a full accounting of its involvement with these individuals.

Key Problems

* U.S.-supplied counterdrug intelligence has been used by host governments in ways that violate U.S. and international law, implicating the U.S. as accessory to potentially criminal acts.

* Counterdrug intelligence is used to target guerrilla groups, threatening to draw the U.S. into a Vietnam-like counterinsurgency conflict.

* Several individuals with whom U.S. intelligence agencies have developed close ties now face a variety of corruption and human rights charges.

Michael L. Evans <> is the director of the Colombia Documentation Project at the National Security Archive, a nongovernmental research organization located at George Washington University that works for the declassification of documents under the Freedom of Information Act. He is author of several National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Books. The views expressed here are his alone and do not reflect those of the National Security Archive.
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Article Details
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Author:Evans, Michael L.
Publication:Foreign Policy in Focus
Date:Jun 4, 2001
Previous Article:U.S. Drug Policy & Intelligence Operations in the Andes.
Next Article:Toward a New Foreign Policy.

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