Thursday, November 20, 2008

Someone in the CIA Lied: That's Why There's an Inspector General

The last I checked, everyone in the CIA is a human being: aside from the occasional cat, bat, or rat recruited as a special operative. Human beings can, sometimes do, lie.

So, I'm not surprised to see "CIA Inspector: Agents Lied About 2001 Missionary Shoot-Down in Peru" in today's headlines.

I'm disappointed, too, but not as much as I might be. My view of the CIA, and that of the more 'involved' people of my youth are not on the same page. In some cases, they're not even in the same space-time continuum.

2001: Peruvian Air Force Shoots Down Missionaries

Veronica and James Bowers, their children Charity and Cory, and pilot Kevin Donaldson, were flying a Cessna 185 floatplane from the Colombian border, headed to Iquitos, Peru.

The Bowers were Christian missionaries. The Peruvian air force thought the Cessna was dangerous, and shot it down. James, Cory, and Kevin survived. Veronica and Charity didn't.

The CIA really was involved. Agents were in Peru, involved in an operation that was supposed to keep Peruvian pilots from shooting down innocent people, as well as make the 'Andean airbridge' unusable by Colombian drug smugglers.

CIA agents, Peruvian Pilots, and a Missionary Family: Something Went Horribly Wrong

Right now, it looks like a contractor working for the CIA identified the Bowers' Cessna as a drug smuggler's aircraft, told the Peruvian air force to shoot it down, which they did.

Meanwhile, CIA agents were trying to tell the Peruvian pilots the plane had a couple of kids and a missionary couple inside. What the Associated Press called "language problems and established procedures" delayed the message until it was too late.

That was what Congress heard in 2001.

The truth is probably more complicated than that.

A CIA inspector general's report, finished about six weeks ago, says that "said the CIA covered up the actions of those involved," as FOXNews wrote.

A congressman, doing his job - finding CIA plots involving his constituents in this case - got the report declassified. And says that he's studying it.

Peruvian Pilots and CIA Plots

Assuming that what's in the news is somewhat accurate, it sounds like there was, literally, a CIA plot in Peru. Two of them, actually. One, to keep illicit drugs from getting out of Colombia by the 'Andean airbridge.' The other, to cover up details of what happened to the Bowers family and Mr. Donaldson.

The first was what the CIA is supposed to do.

The other wasn't.

At this point, there's no way of telling what happened: or why. I can think of a number of explanations that cover the published facts, ranging from the plausible to the wildly unlikely:
  1. The cover-up was a well-intentioned by misguided attempt to make the Peruvian air force not look like a bunch of trigger-happy bozos from a banana republic1
  2. The agents on the ground weren't lying, but a CIA bureaucrat is
    • The procedures he made the agents follow makes Dilbert's office seem functional
  3. The Bowers were missionaries, and drug smugglers
  4. The Cessna was shot down by alien spaceships, and the CIA is covering up a plot involving space aliens, the Illuminati, Masons, and Elvis

Seven Years to Write a Report?! Remember: the CIA is a Bureaucracy

Not many small businesses would survive, if it took seven years to write a report, but the CIA is a bureaucracy. Things take longer, when there are authorization forms, countersigning, forms to get forms, and nested committees to deal with - on top of the actual work.

Concerns About the CIA: Real and Imagined

One reason I like living in America is that this country's government has a system of checks and balances: which often work.

That's what I see happening here. There's an inspector general who reviews what's happened in the CIA, looking for things that need improvement. (No, really - that's how I see it.) There are members of Congress who gain status - and votes - if they can find some foul-up in a federal agency, and make it look like they have something to do with correcting it.

Are things perfect here? Hardly: but the system keeps getting tweaked. Which seems to be what's happening in this case.
But: It's the CIA!!!!!
I grew up in the sixties, went to college in the seventies, and went back in the eighties. I experienced political correctness, up close and personal, before it was called political correctness.

I know that a number of very sincere people really believe that the CIA is at least as dangerous as the FBI and the NRA. And, that they're all a real and present danger to our life, liberty, and pursuit of grooviness. (Remember when "groovy" was "cool"?)

I don't live in that world.

Given a choice between having a CIA agent, and an Al Qaeda agent move in next door, I'd pick the person from the CIA. That doesn't mean that I think the CIA is perfect. I don't see Congress that way, either. But I prefer to believe that the people in both outfits mean well, by and large.

CIA, Politics, and Stereotypes

In some circles, "everybody knows" who the players are, when it comes to defending the masses from CIA plots.

Which may be why this matter of CIA plots, Peruvian pilots, and a dead Michigan missionary, isn't getting quite the attention I expected. The parties involved don't follow the stereotype.
  • Michigan Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra had the CIA inspector general's report declassified, and drew attention to it
    • Republican?! Well, it's been a long time since Watergate
  • The story's on the Associated Press, but Fox News is the one that used "Agents Lied" in their headline
    • I've been told that Fox News is a tool of the Republican party - and 'should' be either covering up the plot, or whitewashing it
I remember the days when sincere, intense, people were convinced that commie plots were behind most of what they didn't like. The character Frank Burns, of the M.A.S.H. television series, is partly a broadly-drawn caricature of that type.

Although I'm not in the 'Russia can do no wrong' camp, I don't see communist plots behind every event, either.

The John Birch Society doesn't seem to have the traction now, that it did in the early sixties. These days, I'm more likely to run into sincere, intense, people who are convinced that Big Oil, Big Tobacco, the CIA, and/or an assortment of other nefarious enemies of the peoples' welfare, are behind most of what they don't like.

Times change, people: not so much.

Time to End this Post

Finally, the usual set of links. Both 'background' resources are on the CIA website. If your intestines tie themselves in knots at the thought of federal agents, or you have concerns about encountering hypnotic patterns on the screen: stay away.

Background: News:
1 I do not think that Peru is a 'banana republic.' It's one of the world's top producers of cocaine, but that seems to be part of the country's private sector. And, Peru participates in G-15, G-24 and G-77: a whole alphabet soup of international organizations, from APEC to WTO.

The country has a rather exciting political history, good and bad. Back in 2001, Alejandro Toledo was elected president: and became the first Native American / American Indian / Amerind Peruvian president. Putting Peru ahead of the USA in that department.

So, no: Peru isn't a 'banana republic.' No mustachioed generalissimo presidente whose predecessor committed suicide by shooting himself in the back. It's not a perfect place, but I don't know of any real Shangri-La. The Lost Horizon kind, not Doris Duke's Shangri-La in Hawaii.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.