In a footnote to a tragic mistake, the CIA revealed Monday that 16 retired and current officers were given administrative punishments for their role in Peru's 2001 shootdown of a plane that killed two innocent Americans.
American missionary Veronica Bowers and her infant daughter were killed when their plane was shot down after it was wrongly identified by the Peruvian Air Force as carrying drugs.
The 35-year-old Muskegon, Mich., woman and daughter Charity were with Bowers' husband, Jim, their son Cory and pilot Kevin Donaldson of Morgantown, Pa., who managed to crash-land the plane on the Amazon River despite serious leg wounds.
Most of the facts of the case have already been reported. A declassified 2008 CIA inspector general report released Monday recommended punishments for the CIA personnel. Agency Director Leon Panetta accepted those penalties in December 2009, the CIA said in a statement.
Bowers' plane was one of 15 small civilian aircraft shot down between 1995 and 2001 as part of the CIA's Airbridge Denial Program, a counternarcotics program "designed to interrupt the transport of coca paste by civil aircraft from Peru to Colombia," according to the now-unclassified 2008 CIA inspector general report.
The blame for the actual shooting went to the Peruvian military, which "misidentified the plane as involved in drug trafficking and engaged the aircraft over the objections of CIA personnel," according to the agency's internal investigation and a subsequent accountability review.
But the investigators concluded "there were problems with the program" and mistakes were made, leading to the disciplinary action, according to a CIA statement released by spokeswoman Paula Weiss.
The inspector general report was released as part of the 2010 intelligence authorization act.
Its release ends a personal battle for Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. Bowers' family lives in Hoekstra's district, and he pushed hard for several years for declassification of the document.
Hoekstra arranged with Panetta for Bowers' parents and siblings to be briefed on the report last year "to bring some peace and closure to the families." On Monday he praised Panetta for taking the action against the employees, but he expressed frustration at the mild punishment handed out for what he called "sloppy oversight" of the Peru program.
"In most cases, this amounts to nothing more than a slap on the wrist," Hoekstra said. But all these years later, he said, "it's probably all Panetta could do. It's awfully hard to hold people accountable eight years later."