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Special Reports Last Updated: Feb 23rd, 2007 - 00:57:30

Did "Bogot� Connection" embassy leaks doom U.S. spy plane in Colombia?
By Bill Conroy
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Feb 23, 2007, 00:54

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Four years ago this month, a planeload of American military contractors crashed in the jungles of Colombia.

The contractors were on a spying mission (their single-engine Cessna was loaded with sophisticated radar) to spot coca fields and to also report back on the troop locations of leftist rebels, known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC.

The contractors, in fact, found the FARC, who were at the scene of the plane crash. Two of the plane�s passengers, the American pilot and a Colombian intelligence officer, were allegedly shot dead on the spot. The other three passengers, American civilians who worked for a subsidiary of military contractor Northrop Grumman, were taken captive by the FARC.

The fate of the hostages has been the subject of numerous mainstream media reports in recent years. The circumstances that led to the plane crash, though, have received scant attention.

However, DEA sources who helped to expose the Bogot� Connection (an alliance of corrupt U.S. and Colombian law enforcers in league with Colombian narco-traffickers) have advanced a startling theory about the crash that they claim needs to be investigated by Congress.

These DEA sources contend that corrupt law enforcers in the U.S. Embassy in Bogot� might well have facilitated the downing of the contractors� airplane. They also contend that DEA is fully aware that, at the time of the plane crash, on Feb. 13, 2003, the coordinates of U.S.-backed flights over the Colombian jungles were being leaked out of the U.S. Embassy to narco-traffickers. That classified information, the DEA sources claim, could well have made its way to the FARC through the back channels of Colombia�s black market to be used to target and shoot down the Northrop Grumman spy plane.

Originally, the U.S. and Colombian governments said the contractors� plane crashed due to engine failure, according to media reports. However, the FARC claims they shot the plane out of the sky.

To this day, the three men who survived the ordeal (Marc Gonzalves, Keith Stansell and Thomas Howes) remain hostages of the FARC. Efforts to negotiate their release have failed and talk is even now turning toward some type of military-backed rescue plan -- which would almost certainly lead to the hostages� deaths.

To the FARC, these aerial spying missions over their territory are a threat to their lives. That�s because if FARC troop locations were identified, the Colombian military (or its right-wing paramilitary allies) surely would seek to kill those troops. Protecting the jungle coca fields that help fund the guerilla war effort also is a priority for the FARC, since Colombian- and U.S.-government backed fumigation missions threaten that economic engine, as well as other legal crops and the health of the workers who tend to those fields.

The American contractors, by engaging in a spying mission for the Colombian government, simply inserted themselves into that war.

As a result, the FARC has an incentive to shoot these spy planes out of the air -- and a number of them have been brought down by the FARC over the years.

Politics aside, that�s just the nature of the decades-long war between the FARC guerilla movement and the U.S.-backed Colombian government.

The evidence

In early 2003, a DEA polygraph specialist hooked his machine up to a Colombian narco-trafficker who also worked as an informant for DEA�s Bogot� office.

However, the narco-trafficker�s �informant� status was a two-way street, it seems, since his DEA handlers in Bogot� also apparently worked for him.

An internal Department of Justice document (known as the Kent memo) that was made public last year details the allegedly corrupt roles played by U.S. law enforcers in the Bogot� Connection. Among the allegations in the Kent memo is that the narco-trafficker who took the lie-detector test �had several agents on his payroll who provided him with classified information.�

�The agents were believed to work in Colombia and Washington, D.C.,� the Kent memo states.

The Colombian narco-trafficker was brought to Florida for the polygraph test after it was discovered that he had betrayed another DEA snitch -- a North Valley Cartel-connected player named Jose Nelson Urrego, who was cooperating with the DEA by helping to set up a sting on the FARC, which had attempted to purchase communications equipment from him.

The polygraph was conducted on Feb. 28, 2003, only days after the Northrop Grumman spy plane crashed in the jungles of Colombia.

One of the revelations in the subsequent polygraph report, which was obtained by Narco News, is key to supporting the theory that the contractors� spy plane was shot down because the FARC had advance knowledge of its coordinates. In fact, the polygraph report indicates the narco-trafficker/informant confirmed that flight coordinates were being leaked to Colombian narco-traffickers.

�Narco-traffickers knew a day in advance, with coordinates, when DEA/CNP [Colombian National Police] were going to fumigate the marijuana/coca fields. Thus, they were always prepared to protect the fields,� the polygraph report states.

The DEA polygraph report continues: �The CS [the narco-trafficker/informant] stated that over the last few years, he/she had been able to obtain between 50 to 60 documents from the BCO [the DEA Bogot� Country Office] at will.

�This is not a new revelation to us . . . as we met with [DEA Miami Group Supervisor] David Tinsley on January 2000; whereas GS Tinsley related to us that he had a CS [confidential source who also was a narco-trafficker] that was obtaining documents from inside the BCO and showed us an original document, not a photocopy.�

FBI knows nothing

As part of the effort to investigate the theory advanced by DEA sources concerning the plane crash, Narco News attempted to contact one of the family members of the hostages last year to determine if the families were aware of the allegations in the Kent memo or of the information contained in the DEA polygraph report.

Shortly after Narco News made that phone call, FBI agent Joe Deters of the bureau�s Miami Division contacted Narco News and confirmed that there is an active FBI investigation into the FARC-held hostages and that he is one of the agents involved with the investigation. However, he claimed not to be aware of the leaks out of the U.S. embassy in Bogot�.

Deters might not be aware, since Narco News is the only publication that has reported on the polygraph report, and he apparently is not an avid reader. But not everyone with a law enforcement background is in the dark on that front.

Sandalio Gonzalez served as the chief of the South America Section in DEA�s Office of International Operations from 1995 to 1998. He later was promoted to the post of associate special agent in charge of DEA�s field division in Miami -- where the Bogot� corruption charges outlined in the Kent memo first surfaced. Gonzalez retired in 2005, after finishing out his career as the head of DEA�s El Paso, Texas, field division.

Gonzalez is very upfront about his assessment of whether U.S. Embassy leaks led to the downing of the contractors� plane -- as well as other spy flights that have been shot down in recent years.

�It is a possibility that the coordinates were leaked out of the U.S. Embassy [in Bogot�],� Gonzalez says. �We�ll never really know unless there is a full-fledged investigation. Congress has to look at it.

�As representatives of the people, they have to know if this is, in fact, what happened,� Gonzalez adds. �We are hearing this stuff (that information is being leaked out of the U.S. mbassy) from very credible sources.�

Why the allegations contained in the Kent memo and the DEA polygraph have not led to a major law enforcement public-corruption investigation -- and there is no evidence they have at this point -- is not known.

DEA claimed the Kent memo allegations are without merit, but that was before the DEA polygraph report (a separate document validating allegations in the Kent memo) became public. The agency has been silent on the matter since then.

Time will tell if someone in the U.S. government will finally start to pay attention to the Bogot� Connection and the very real possibility that it is still operating and putting more lives at risk.

In the mean time, the so-called war on drugs in Colombia will continue, with the assistance of U.S. personnel and taxpayer money. And the three hostages being held by the FARC will continue to await their fate in the midst of that pretense -- with the thought now in their minds that it might well have been their own government that betrayed them.

Bill Conroy, is an investigative reporter and correspondent for Narco News, where this story originally appeared. He can be contacted at

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