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U.S. Air Interdiction Efforts in South America After the Peru Incident

A Hearing of the Criminal Justice, Drug Policy
and Human Resources Subcommittee of the
House Government Reform Committee

May 1, 2001

[excerpts on CIA and secrecy, etc.]


REP. DAN BURTON: I guess I don't make myself clear. If you have one -- if the Defense Department is in charge of the overall operation that is taking place down there, if they're the one that's coordinating all this, why is it that we have difficulty finding out what happened if the CIA was the plane that was involved ordered by the ambassador to be up here?

MR. JOHN CROW (U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT): Well, as Admiral Belz mentioned, there are regional assets and there are country assets.

REP. BURTON: I understand. But somebody is in charge. Somebody is in control of that operation.

MR. CROW: But again, I submit that's precisely why this carefully picked high level team went down -- to come up with these answers. I can conjecture -- I have been stationed there -- but I can't possibly take the place of somebody who went down deliberately to be able to satisfy questions like this. I can assure you that they are taking it most seriously.

REP. BURTON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

REP. SOUDER: And I want to again reiterate for the record that we invited the CIA to testify today. We had earlier asked for a briefing; did not receive it. They were willing to do a briefing yesterday. But having gone through in the Government Reform Committee with other classified information that I was -- I feared at this point that in fact we would be told the things that were in the public record were in fact classified, and we would not be able to ask questions or sort some of these things through; it was better to do a classified hearing after this hearing because of our past experience. Clearly we want some answers. Clearly this is very difficult because, as was carefully stated, the CIA has other missions other than just what they were doing. And how to untangle a trust from the American public that in fact we are being told the whole story regarding the drug mission without trying to deal with other things that are in fact classified is a very difficult process.

But the American people want to know what the whole truth was, so that we can have confidence that if this is repeated, much like what we heard today, that we haven't -- if I may just take a second before I yield to Ms. Schakowsky.


REP. SOUDER: Thank you. Chairman Burton, did you have another question?

REP. BURTON: I just have one or two real quick questions. The State Department plane wasn't the one that shot -- or involved in this operation. Customs wasn't involved. DEA wasn't involved. And yet nobody can tell us CIA was involved, because it's classified. Why is that? Why is it classified? A plane was shot down. Americans were killed. It was a plane that was a civilian aircraft. Why is it that -- why is that classified? I don't understand that. This is not a national security issue. Why is that classified? Why is it you guys can't tell us that? Speak to me. (Laughter.)

MR. : I think you'd have to ask the CIA, if, indeed, it was their operation, why that's classified.

REP. BURTON: So if the CIA says, "Okay, it was our plane that shot this private plane down," and you guys are testifying from the other agencies and CIA says, "This is classified," you guys can't say, "It wasn't us; it was the CIA"? You can't even say that? I'll tell you --

MR. : My understanding, sir, is that we cannot reveal classified information from another agency. Only that agency --

REP. BURTON: Well, we're going to find out why CIA says this is classified. This is crazy.

REP. SOUDER: Mr. Chairman, will you yield for a second?

REP. BURTON: It's crazy.

REP. SOUDER: Will you yield? Mr. Crowe, could I ask you a different question that's been troubling a lot of us? Clearly much of this has gotten into the media. Could you explain briefly to us, in a crisis like this, or at least a crisis of confidence -- it's history, but the American public now is having doubts, combined with other things, about all of our anti-drug efforts, which is wholly unfair. How does the declassification process work in a situation where the State Department would say there's a general public interest in this? And how did the information get into the media if it's classified?

MR. CROWE: I don't know how it got in, but certainly what happened in Peru became immediately known because of the interest of the evangelical organization, obvious interest and concern in the event. And that catapulted it out into the open. And, I mean, it went from there. But again, Randy Beers is down there to find out what happened, what went wrong, and what can be done to ensure that it won't happen again. I mean, if there is to be any kind of a positive end from a very tragic situation, that would be it. It's in all of our interest to come up with these answers.

REP. SOUDER: And I think we've made it clear, and I'm sure you'll take back that it's going to have to be a pretty compelling case why that report would be classified. And it's in all of our interest in trying to work through both fairness and those of us who've worked so hard to support the different efforts. It's very difficult for us to carry the ball here when we, in fact, have people asking difficult questions. Mostly -- the majority of the questions today were coming from conservative Republicans, who have been steadfast supporters of these efforts.

MR. CROWE: I understand. And I would want to clarify so that there's no doubt that these operations, whether they're in Colombia or Peru or other countries, are under the control of the host nation. No American aircraft shoots down or forces down other aircraft. And that's important just to reiterate it.

REP. SOUDER: (Inaudible) -- provided the information, but we did not pull the trigger and we would not allow our --

MR. CROWE: There are many ways that information is provided, I suppose most of them classified. But, again, intel-driven ops or maneuvers are the best way to avoid wasting your time.

REP. SOUDER: Well, we know that you've all been here several hours. We very much appreciate it. This was a difficult hearing for you all to come to, and I appreciate that very much. Some additional written questions may come. And I want to say also for the record that the reason -- this illustrates part of the reason in the command and control why we created the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

It's also why that was moved up to Cabinet-level position, which hopefully it will stay, if I can put in a commercial, because, in fact, we have so many different agencies working with this that somebody needs to be focused on a responsible effort to try to coordinate. Each of you have multiple missions and multiple places, and there needs to be one agency that at least is providing direct oversight of the drug issue.

So thank you again for coming. If you have any additional statements you want to put in the record, and we'll have some additional questions here. Panel two is now dismissed, and if we can move to panel three.


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