CIA Coverup Followed Another Spy Flight Mystery in Colombia

Source: CQ Politics
Revelations that the CIA misled Congress and the Justice Department about the 2001 downing of a Peruvian plane carrying American missionaries could shake loose still-secret details about another crash in the area two years earlier.

On  July 23, 1999, a U.S. Army surveillance plane went down under mysterious circumstances in the mountains of Colombia near the Ecuador border.

The Defense Department’s official investigation said that Army pilot Jennifer Odom lost her way in the darkness amid the high Andes.  But in the weeks leading up to her doomed flight, Odom had confided to her husband, an Army colonel, that she and the crew of intelligence technicians in the back of her plane, who were supposedly eavesdropping on narcotraffickers, had been "lit up" by radar missiles in the jungle.

As I wrote for in July 2000, that led the couple to suspect that the intelligence crew were not targeting drug kingpins, as she had been led to believe, but Marxist guerrillas fighting the Colombia government.  Over time, the two became indistinguishable. 

But the reason for covering up important details about her death, her husband, Col. Chuck Odom, told me, was that the U.S. was far more deeply involved in Colombia’s civil war than publicly acknowledged, with "hundreds of Special Forces people running all over the country."

And there were other sinister factors in the mystery: Jennifer Odom reported to Col. James Hiett, the top U.S. counter-narcotics official in Colombia. 

It would later emerge that Hiett and his wife had been corrupted by the drug lords. He was helping her launder the proceeds of her cocaine smuggling through the U.S. embassy with the help of his chauffeur.

All this was unknown to Jennifer Odom, who had been planning her surveillance flights with Hiett. 

Hiett was under investigation, but according to later reports he was being tipped off by the investigators. Until then-U.S. Customs Director Ray Kelly (now chief of the NYPD) blew the whistle, the Army was planning to dispose of the case quietly

Their arrest five months after Odom’s death left her family wondering whether Hiett or other U.S. officials responsible for sensitive drug interdiction missions could be trusted.

"Jennifer briefed Hiett on her mission on July 14," her grief-stricken mother, Janie Shafer, told me. "Nine days later the crew was dead." 

Chuck Odom, who has struggled to get to the bottom of the case for almost a decade, could not be reached for comment Thursday. 

In the Peru case highlighted today by Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., the CIA recklessly downed at least 10 aircraft suspected of carrying narcotics over the South American country. 
The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick reported

"As part of a joint U.S.-Peruvian anti-drug program that began in the mid-1990s, CIA officers helped Peruvian air force pilots identify aircraft suspected of carrying illegal drugs through the country’s airspace. The program had succeeded in bringing down numerous suspected planes when, in April 2001, a Peruvian pilot mistakenly shot into a small plane carrying U.S. missionaries. Two of the Americans on board, Veronica ‘Roni’ Bowers and her infant daughter, Charity, were struck by bullets and killed. The pilot, although wounded, managed to land the plane. Bowers’s husband and their 6-year-old son were not injured."

According to the agency’s inspector general, CIA managers covered up the problems and knowingly gave false accounts to government officials investigating whether agency employees committed crimes, Hoekstra said.

"These are the most serious and substantial allegations of wrongdoing I’ve seen in my time on the committee," said Hoekstra, whose western Michigan district was home to two of the Americans killed in the 2001 incident.

A CIA spokesman said agency director Michael V. Hayden is looking into the matter.