Congressional Record: January 10, 2003 (Senate)
Page S202

                         PERU AIRBRIDGE PROGRAM

  Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, since 1994, the U.S. Government has 
provided tactical aerial intelligence assistance to the Government of 
Peru, to help it stop the shipment of illegal drugs across its borders.
  U.S. surveillance aircraft owned by the Defense Department and 
operated by contractors employed by the Central Intelligence Agency are 
tasked to locate potential drug flights, which Peruvian military jets 
then intercept. Occasionally, the Peruvian military has shot down those 
  Unfortunately, the mistaken shoot-down on April 20, 2001, of a 
civilian missionary aircraft resulting in the deaths of two innocent 
Americans, including a young child, and the wounding of the pilot, 
revealed serious deficiencies in the procedures governing this program.
  After a thorough investigation and revision of the procedures, the 
State Department has recommended that this program be reinstated in 
Columbia, and it is anticipated that it may also resume at some point 
in Peru.
  I understand the motivation for this program is to stop the shipment 
of illegal drugs. That is a goal we all share, and we are spending 
hundreds of millions of dollars each year in the Andes to do so. 
However, a policy of shooting down civilian aircraft in such 
circumstances would not be lawful in the United States, and I am 
concerned that the foreign pilots are performing the role of 
prosecutor, jury and executioner, even when there may be no cause for 
self-defense and no proof that the operators of the targeted aircraft 
have broken any law.
  This policy, in essence, presumed any civilian aircraft in drug-
producing areas to be guilty unless proven innocent, and permitted the 
use of deadly force when there was only the suspicion of involvement of 
smuggling drugs.
  I have read a report issued by the Senate Select Committee on 
Intelligence in October of 2001, which describes the serious flaws in 
the aerial interdiction program in the Andean countries. I agree with 
many of the report's findings. The Intelligence Committee report I 
refer to was commissioned specifically to investigate the April 20, 
2001 incident in Peru.
  Despite the appearance of legitimacy, the missionary plane was 
singled out by a U.S. surveillance jet as a possible drug smuggling 
flight. The U.S. surveillance aircraft was participating in the joint 
U.S.-Peru counter-drug aerial interdiction program. The surveillance 
jet tracked the path of the missionary flight and a Peruvian military 
jet responded.
  A confused and ultimately unsuccessful effort was made by Peruvian 
military and Peruvian civilian authorities to identify the missionary 
plane and to surmise the intentions of its crew, all of which are 
mandated by the standard operating procedures that govern operation of 
the aerial interdiction program.
  That information was available to the Peruvian authorities. But due 
to the lack of access to records of flight plans kept by Peruvian 
aviation authorities; the failure of a Peruvian officer to check a list 
of aircraft tail numbers that would have identified the missionary 
plane as a legitimately owned and operated aircraft; and inefficient 
communications between the aircraft involved and ground personnel, a 
presumption of guilt, without supporting evidence, led to this 
avoidable tragedy.
  This incident is a glaring example of the dire consequences resulting 
from attempts by law enforcement and military agencies to take the 
place of prosecutors and courts to mete out justice to suspected 
  I am sympathetic to the motivations for this policy. But absent an 
imminent, serious threat to human health or safety, I do not believe 
that deadly force of this type should be used against civilian 
aircraft. While I hope I am proven wrong, I worry that the new 
procedures, while well-intentioned, may not be adequate to prevent 
another tragic mistake. I am also concerned that we risk providing 
other countries with an excuse to shoot down civilian aircraft over 
their territory, whether to stop illegal drugs or for some completely 
different reason which they may deem to be legitimate.
  I urge the administration to reconsider this policy. Yes, we want to 
stop drugs. Yes, we want to conduct aerial surveillance of suspected 
aircraft. But shooting civilian aircraft out of the sky, when there is 
no cause for self-defense, no imminent threat to innocent life, and not 
even proof of illegality, I believe goes too far. We have seen what can 
happen. Let us not repeat that mistake.