Four years ago this
month, a planeload of American military contractors crashed in the jungles of
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
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�
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
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
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
�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
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.
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
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.
Conroy, is an investigative reporter and correspondent for Narco News,
where this story originally appeared. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.