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Republican Lawmaker Alleges CIA Cover-Up in 2001 Aircraft Shootdown

A senior Republican lawmaker says an internal CIA report raises serious questions about a possible CIA cover-up in the 2001 shoot down of a civilian plane carrying American missionaries in Peru. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from the capital.

In the 2001 incident, a surveillance aircraft operated by a CIA contractor working on an agency-run drug interdiction program mis-identified a small Cessna plane carrying American missionaries as one transporting illegal narcotics.

According to a 2001 State Department report, the surveillance team had doubts about its identification, but its attempt to rescind a shoot down order came too late.

A Peruvian fighter aircraft fired on the small plane, killing 35-year-old missionary Veronica Bowers and her 7-month-old daughter. Bowers' husband and 8-year-old son and the pilot survived the resulting crash.

Republican lawmaker Peter Hoekstra, a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, has released unclassified portions of the CIA inspector general's report that he says, show the agency misled the Justice Department and Congress, and that CIA officers knew of and condoned violations of procedure.

"Parts of the intelligence community, parts of the CIA, were acting outside of the law with the drug interdiction program at the time that the Bowers' plane was shot down [and] that there was an active cover-up in the community and it was enabled by a culture that failed to recognize either internal or external accountability," he said.

In a letter he made public, Hoekstra asks CIA Inspector General John Helgerson to declassify portions the lawmaker asserts detail actions by CIA personnel to avoid and possibly obstruct criminal and civil liability stemming from the incident.

He wants the Justice Department to review the CIA report, and the department's previous finding in 2005 that criminal charges stemming from the incident were not appropriate.

When the Justice Department ended its investigation in 2005, Hoekstra said he agreed with the decision not to prosecute. But he told reporters on Thursday that the department now must examine whether the CIA was being truthful.

"The most disappointing thing is rather than the individuals standing up and being held accountable for this, they covered it up. It is a blot, a dark stain, this is a sad day for the CIA, a sad episode, and this is why there needs to be a change of culture within the CIA of accountability and rule of law," he said.

As summarized by Hoekstra, the report also finds that violations of procedure also occurred in at least 10 other shoot downs under the CIA program, which he did not detail, contradicting the agency position that the Peru incident was an isolated error.

Hoekstra says he asked CIA Director Michael Hayden in October, before Congress recessed for the U.S. presidential election, to take steps to ensure that the appropriate people are held accountable.

Hoekstra says there was a significant delay before the CIA inspector general's report, apparently completed in August, reached the House Intelligence Committee.

While any hearings on the matter should include testimony from former senior CIA officials, Hoekstra says it is not possible to say at this point who may have been specifically involved in what he calls "the agency's cover-up".