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U.S. Drug Policy & Intelligence Operations in the Andes.

The Bush administration recently suspended intelligence flights over Peru and Colombia after a Peruvian air force jet--acting on U.S. intelligence--fired on a civilian aircraft mistakenly suspected of drug trafficking, killing an American missionary and her daughter. The incident raises important questions about U.S. intelligence sharing in the Andean region at a time when funding for such programs has markedly increased under Plan Colombia. It also confirms the fears of State Department officials who warned in 1994 that "a shootdown leading to the death of innocent persons would likely be a serious diplomatic embarrassment for the United States."

The U.S. conducts a range of intelligence operations in the Andean region. Plan Colombia is only the most recent manifestation of an increasingly militarized policy that has focused largely on stopping the flow of illegal drugs at the source. The counterdrug mission, in the words of former U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) chief Gen. Charles Wilhelm, relies upon "timely, accurate, predictive, and actionable intelligence." As the intensity of source-country counterdrug operations has increased in the 1990s, so too have the associated intelligence support programs.

The first Bush administration enhanced intelligence sharing in 1989 as part of a broader militarization of U.S. counterdrug programs with the issuance of National Security Directive 18. NSD 18 and subsequent policy papers called for "real time intelligence techniques that use leading edge radar," establishing a constellation of coordinated intelligence systems throughout the U.S. and Latin America. President Bill Clinton strengthened source-country interdiction programs in 1993 with the issuance of Presidential Decision Directive 14, shifting the emphasis away from transit zones in Central America and the Caribbean and toward the Andean source countries. The resulting Air Bridge Denial Program, in place since 1995, uses U.S. intelligence assets and private military contractors to track suspect aircraft in the Andean region for interception by host government forces.

The U.S. employs Relocatable Over-the-Horizon Radar (ROTHR) systems in Texas, Virginia, and Puerto Rico to provide wide-area detection and surveillance of air targets throughout the region. The U.S. has also established Forward Operating Locations (FOL) in the Dutch Antilles, Ecuador, and El Salvador to replace aerial tracking facilities lost with the 1999 closure of Howard Air Force Base in Panama. An integrated network of radar systems, including the Caribbean Basin Radar Network and other ground-based radars throughout the region, also assists regional military operations. Detailed maps are provided by DOD's National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), while the ultra-secret National Security Agency (NSA) monitors communications and other electronic signals. These operations are planned, coordinated, and supervised by the Joint Interagency Task Force East (JIATF-E) in Key West, Florida. JIATF-E also houses the Joint Southern Surveillance and Reconnaissance Operations Center (JSS-ROC), which fuses and disseminates intelligence gathered by aerial, ground-based, ROTHR, and other radar systems.

Hoping to avoid U.S. casualties, the counterdrug strategy relies on source-country security forces to act on intelligence gathered by U.S. systems. This arrangement limits the extent to which the U.S. can control the way the data is used. Sovereignty issues also complicate efforts to enforce end-use restrictions.

The shoot-down in Peru is only the most recent case in which counterdrug intelligence sharing has implicated the U.S. in the potentially criminal activities of host governments. U.S. intelligence was used to locate the targets of illegal Colombian paramilitary groups during the hunt for drug kingpin Pablo Escobar in 1993. A number of Peruvian officials who were on the receiving end of U.S. intelligence assistance--including former intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos--are wanted or awaiting trial on charges ranging from drug trafficking to terrorism to illegal arms trafficking.

There are also indications that U.S. intelligence is supporting counterguerrilla operations. Recent statements from U.S. and Colombian officials emphasize an inextricable link between guerrillas and the drug trade in an apparent effort to permit the diversion of U.S. security assistance--including intelligence--to combat rebel groups. Just days after the shoot-down of the missionary plane, troops from the Colombian army's U.S. trained and equipped Counter-Narcotics Battalion killed guerrillas for the first time during a counterdrug operation. Furthermore, over the past several years the U.S. has significantly loosened restrictions on intelligence sharing with Andean governments. Until 1995, U.S. law banned the use of U.S. intelligence information in support of the shoot-down of civil aircraft. Guidelines in place before March 1999 also prohibited the use of U.S. intelligence in counterguerrilla operations. Both restrictions have since been relaxed.

Key Points

* The U.S. conducts a wide array of intelligence operations in the Andean region, passing information collected to host governments.

* The nature of the intelligence-sharing relationship limits the extent to which the U.S. can control how such information is used by the Andean governments.

* U.S. officials have sought to relax restrictions on intelligence sharing with Andean governments at a time when these provisions need to be strengthened.

Michael L. Evans <mevans@gwu.edu> 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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Author:Evans, Michael L.
Publication:Foreign Policy in Focus
Date:Jun 4, 2001
Words:888
Previous Article:Toward a New Foreign Policy.
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