U.S. crew objected to attack on missionary plane

Monday, April 23rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Americans aboard a CIA-operated surveillance plane voiced objections to Peruvian air force authorities before a jet from that country shot down a plane carrying American missionaries, a U.S. intelligence official said.

The Peruvian jet shot down the missionaries' plane on Friday, killing two Americans, just one hour after the surveillance plane said it might be a flight ferrying illegal drugs.

At approximately 10:43 a.m., ``despite serious concerns raised by the U.S. crew,'' a shootdown was authorized by Peruvian air force authorities, the official said Sunday.

The American members of the crew of the U.S. surveillance plane, which also included a military officer from Peru, were concerned that the nature of the suspect plane hadn't been determined, said this official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

The Peruvian officer aboard the CIA plane requested permission from his superiors on the ground for the Peruvian jet to fire on the suspect aircraft in order to disable it, the U.S. official said.

At this point ``the U.S. crew voiced objections'' and asked that the interceptor jet's pilot fly alongside the suspect aircraft and get its tail number. The number was obtained but apparently was not called back to the Peruvian air force operations center on the ground before the shootdown was authorized at 10:43 a.m., the official said.

The U.S. surveillance aircraft is owned by the Defense Department but was operated by the Central Intelligence Agency, a second U.S. official said. This official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said it appeared that the Peruvian authorities moved too quickly to attack the plane carrying the American missionaries. As a result, all such surveillance flights have been suspended, he said.

In Quebec for a hemispheric summit that included Peru, President Bush pledged on Sunday to find out what went wrong, but said the role of the U.S. surveillance plane was ``simply to pass on information'' about aircraft suspected of carrying drugs.

The CIA has been involved in such surveillance flights over Peru since 1995 under authority provided in a law passed in 1994. The law permits U.S. government employees to assist foreign nations in interdicting aircraft when there is reasonable suspicion of illicit drug trade.