It’s taken me 2 1/2 months, as it was one task among many. But I’ve now given a close read to all 400 pages of the report on DEA activities in Honduras that the State and Justice Departments’ inspectors-general put out on May 24. It discusses three incidents in 2012 involving an elite DEA team assigned to interdict drug traffickers in rural Honduras, an effort called “Operation Anvil.” In all three there was loss of life. In the worst incident, four innocent civilians were killed, including two pregnant women.
Mistakes happen in tense situations, and the right thing to do is admit them, take care of the victims, and figure out how to keep something like that from happening again. Yet the report details a shameful, pathetic pattern in the DEA’s and State Department’s efforts to get to the bottom of what happened, to keep Congress and the U.S. ambassador informed, and to attend to the victims.
So much of this report rewards a close read. But here are some quotes that stood out to me, in the order they appear. Highlighting is mine.
Honduras was OK with active-duty Guatemalan Air Force pilots running law-enforcement missions over its territory
To carry out interdictions, Operation Anvil included the temporary relocation to Honduras of [redacted] INL helicopters stationed in Guatemala, which were flown by U.S. contractor pilots employed by DynCorp International (DynCorp) and co-pilots from the Guatemalan Air Force. (Page 9)
According to the Country Attaché and the Assistant Regional Director, Ambassador [Lisa] Kubiske and her representatives were privy to discussions concerning the security concerns implicit in the planned drug interdiction missions. The Assistant Regional Director told us that the Ambassador would often state, “If there’s a shooting…,” and DEA officials would interrupt her and state, “[N]ot if. There will be several fatalities here. There will be shootings.” (Page 16)
Top diplomat would not have approved Operation Anvil
John Feeley, who was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) for Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA), told us that he did not become involved in Operation Anvil until shortly before the May 11 shooting incident took place. However, he said that based on his experience in other countries, he would not have approved the concept of operations for Operation Anvil had he been the Chief of Mission because the risk of an officer losing his life was too great. (Page 16)
Herding and controlling the “Hondos”
The initial drafts contained a provision near the end of the order stating that the Honduran TRT [National Police Tactical Response Team] would be the “supported command,” that arrests and seizures would be conducted in accordance with local law, and that FAST [DEA Foreign-Deployed Advisory and Support Team] would provide an advisory role to the Honduran TRT. During this early drafting phase, the FAST Team Leader told FAST and INL officials that “[e]ach FAST Agent will be assigned X number of Hondo’s to herd/control.” (Page 18)
State/INL runs a foreign assistance program—the largest military-police aid program active in Latin America. It’s not supposed to be paying for a DEA operation.
[A]n INL [State Department Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs] attorney raised concerns with INL officials that the language in the CONOPS [Concept of Operations for Operation Anvil] reflected an operation that could not be supported with INL funds: “…It has been the Department’s long-standing policy not to provide operational support with foreign assistance funds, but if we are going to provide it, we need to be clear that the support is for Honduras law enforcement. INL is not authorized to be DEA’s air taxi, and host nation involvement must be real and not simply a fig leaf.” (Page 18–19)
DEA officials responsible for Central America opposed these operations, but were overruled by DEA leadership in Washington
The [DEA] Assistant Regional Director [for North and Central America] told the OIGs [Office of Inspector General] that she and RD [Regional Director Joseph] Evans recommended against Operation Anvil and the use of FAST. She said that interdictions are very difficult and dangerous, and she did not believe the planned interdiction effort was going to improve the situation in Honduras. She said she believed the focus instead should have been on training Honduran prosecutors and professionalizing the police force. (Page 20)
“That’s just not the way it’s going to happen.”
The [DEA] Assistant Regional Director told the OIGs that RD [Regional Director Joseph] Evans had raised his and her concerns about the operation with DEA Headquarters, and they were effectively overruled. In addition, she said that she thought the notion of DEA leading from behind, as stated in the Ambassador’s e mail, was unrealistic. She said that in the event of violent confrontations with the DTOs [drug trafficking organizations], which she expected, the idea that armed DEA agents would wait for the Hondurans to take the lead was not practical. “That’s just not the way it’s going to happen.” (Page 24)
They didn’t. Speak. Spanish.
During Operation Anvil, there were approximately [redacted] FAST personnel on each interdiction mission, plus at least one medic. The Bravo and Delta Team Leaders told us that they were both conversant, but not fluent, in Spanish. With respect to their team members, it appears that none of the Bravo and Delta Team members were fluent in Spanish, but half of the Bravo team members and only one Delta team member were conversant to different degrees. (Page 25)
No training on use-of-force, but…
Training materials and other documents provided to the OIGs do not indicate that FAST and the TRT provided training or instruction to the other on their respective deadly force policies. The OIGs were provided with a FAST training PowerPoint slideshow the FAST agents viewed prior to leaving for Honduras. The slideshow did not include a description of the Honduran use of force policy; however, it did include a slide describing the sexually transmitted diseases prevalent in Honduras. (Page 30)
They knew that they had probably wounded or killed people. But they didn’t bother to help them. (This might be the most monstrous revelation in the report.)
[T]he facts in this chapter demonstrate that no effort was made, or even considered, to search for and render aid to the people who may have been injured. We found that at a minimum the FAST members on Helicopter [redacted] who witnessed the encounter on the river knew or should have known that there would be individuals injured. We found no evidence that Honduran authorities were contacted by FAST or TRT during or immediately following the interdiction to render aid to any injured. This was a flaw in both the planning and the execution of the operation, regardless of whether the officers believed at the time that the people in the passenger boat may have been innocent bystanders or suspected targets of the operation. (Page 80)
The U.S. Ambassador was stonewalled by DEA and State/INL.
The SID [State Department Diplomatic Security Special Investigations Division] Agent told us that the Ambassador looked to SID to investigate these incidents because “she asked DEA for information. Get nothing. She asked INL for information. Get nothing. So she asked that we look into it and give her … what transpired.” (Page 217)
“Brownfield was not happy about the initial findings because of their potential to create problems for INL.”
According to notes taken at the meeting, AS [Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William] Brownfield inquired as to why DEA was not cooperating with the [State Department Diplomatic Security, or DS] investigation and stated that he felt that DS was as much to blame for the impasse as DEA. According to the DS participants in the meeting, AS Brownfield was not happy about the initial findings because of their potential to create problems for INL. They also told the OIGs that Brownfield expressed his opinion that DS should not be involved in the investigation at all and that he compared the dispute to a juvenile competition. (Page 229)
Congratulations to both agencies’ inspectors-general for a courageous, thorough report.