Inspector General Report Shows DEA Covering Up Its Role In A Shooting That Left Four Foreign Citizens Dead

from the civilian-casualties-in-the-war-on-drugs dept

Here’s the latest on how we’re winning the Drug War, stripped of the DEA’s deceit and spin by the Office of the Inspector General. The report [PDF] takes a look at three incidents the DEA was involved with in Honduras during 2012. The DEA’s FAST (Foreign-Deployed Advisory and Support Team) team was supposed to help Honduran drug warriors (TRT– Tactical Response Teams) fight the local drug war. It was only supposed to act in an advisory role, but it took a much more hands-on approach.

A seized boat loaded with cocaine lost power in the middle of a river on its way back to the nearest village. While drifting around awaiting rescue, a passenger boat “made contact” with the seized boat (called a “pipante”). All hell broke loose.

Video recorded by a CBP surveillance plane shows that, following contact, officers in the pipante fired at the passenger boat. The gunfire continued for about 26 seconds, including several seconds when officers in the pipante appear to be shooting at people in the water who had fallen or jumped from the passenger boat.

The spin machine began shortly after this. First, the DEA claimed it wasn’t a passenger boat, but rather drug dealers coming to reclaim their stash. Gunshots were fired by people on the boat, according to the joint task force, even though video of the incident showed otherwise. And the DEA apparently felt its advisory role included telling Honduran helicopter door gunners where to shoot.

At least one DEA FAST member observing the encounter from a helicopter directed a Honduran door gunner to fire his machine gun. The door gunner then fired multiple rounds at the passenger boat.


No evidence of narcotics was ever found on the passenger boat.

These are ugly facts, but the DEA — along with the Honduran task force — did everything they could to prevent these facts from being uncovered. As for the civilians caught in the literal crossfire? Sorry about that. Maybe try moving to a country without a drug war.

FAST and TRT did not conduct a search and rescue mission for individuals from the passenger boat who may have been injured, and instead focused solely on recovering the law enforcement officers stranded in the pipante. After the recovery of the officers and the cocaine from the pipante, the ground team loaded the helicopters and returned to base.

And the DEA might have gotten away with it if too, if it hadn’t been for pesky, frightened locals.

Embassy officials soon received reports from Ahuas that innocent civilians had been killed and injured and that there had been abusive police activity in a nearby village.

Not that this evidence (which the OIG report diplomatically refers to as “conflicting”) changed the DEA’s narrative. It continued to insist police were shot at by passengers on the boat and that it had no involvement in the hail of gunfire that left four dead and four injured. Only when local law enforcement backed up the civilians’ stories did the DEA slightly alter its version of the facts.

DEA changed its mind after a local Honduran police report asserted four people were killed (including two pregnant women) and four others were injured after a helicopter with DEA personnel confused cargo in a passenger boat for bales of drugs and opened fire.

It was all a big misunderstanding. Which left innocent people dead. The mere existence of drugs shouldn’t be a reason to open fire on other humans. I mean, Honduras isn’t the Philippines. And the DEA should be on hand to prevent this sort of thing from happening, not telling door gunmen how much to lead civilian targets in a moving boat.

The DEA’s continued lies led to even more obfuscation.

U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske authorized State’s Diplomatic Security (DS) to investigate the three incidents after she became frustrated by her inability to obtain information from DEA and concerned the Honduran investigation would not satisfy those interested in the May 11 incident. DEA refused to share information with DS or provide access to relevant personnel.

The DEA then claimed it had already investigated itself and found nothing that said one way or the other that firing on unarmed civilians was against the Drug War rules. But as the OIG points out, the DEA’s definition of “investigation” meant handing over a stack of forms to someone unwilling and uninterested in performing an internal investigation.

DOJ OIG found that the resulting investigation was little more than a paper exercise. DEA assigned the matter to a FAST Supervisor who did not conduct any interviews and merely collected written statements from FAST agents – statements we found in a few instances were improperly prepared or omitted material facts, such as the direction given by a FAST member to the Honduran door gunner to fire his machine gun at the passenger boat. The FAST Supervisor did not determine whether weapons checks, as required by DEA procedures, were conducted after the shooting (they were not). He also did not seek to interview or obtain witness statements and reports from FAST’s U.S. and Honduran partners who participated in the operation. We also did not find evidence that he gave any consideration to the accounts of survivors from the passenger boat or local residents of the village.

It then took these alternative facts to its Congressional overseers, hoping to head off any additional scrutiny.

DOJ OIG found that DEA’s misplaced confidence in its assumptions of the events that took place on May 11, and its failure to conduct a thorough post-incident investigation, resulted in DEA making several factual representations to DOJ leadership and to Congress that were inaccurate, incomplete, or based upon unreliable and insufficient information. This included representations regarding the central premises of DEA’s narrative regarding the May 11 incident, namely that individuals in the passenger boat had fired first and Honduran officers returned fire, and that no DEA agents discharged their weapons.

The evidence presented by the DEA to Congress did not include recordings that called into question its depiction of a gunfight (rather than the one-sided bullet hell it actually was). Instead, its narrative before Congress utilized a highly-questionable “Sources of Information” (SOIs).

As we describe in Chapter Five, SOI #2 provided inconsistent accounts of the May 11 incident to DEA over the course of three interviews and admitted to lying to DEA during his/her first interview. Yet, DEA failed to adequately question SOI #2 about his/her multiple versions of events or confront him/her with the inconsistencies between his/her various stories and the May 11 video footage. Further, even after SOI #2 admitted to lying to DEA and providing conflicting accounts, we found no evidence that DEA officials clarified or modified their prior representations to DOJ leadership and Congress.

The tales that began in Honduras grew larger in the telling. With the DEA controlling the investigation and the evidence, Congress heard a story that bore almost no resemblance to the actual incident.

[D]EA officials described information favorable to DEA’s positions while omitting unfavorable information, such as video evidence of TRT officers shooting at people who had fallen or jumped into the water, the inconsistent TRT reporting and TRT gun-planting incident, and the results of a preliminary report from the Honduran National Police that made findings critical of law enforcement actions on May 11. DEA officials also did not disclose the existence or results of the video enhancement and analysis by the DS video analyst who found no evidence indicative of gunfire from the passenger boat. Moreover, DEA continued to inaccurately and incompletely characterize its role in Operation Anvil as being supportive and advisory only.

With one level of oversight thwarted, the DEA started fending off the Inspector General’s office.

DEA failed to timely produce numerous responsive e-mails of certain senior DEA officials connected to Operation Anvil, without justification. While DEA promptly produced responsive e-mails of non-Senior Executive Service (SES) employees, it initially refused to produce to the DOJ OIG responsive e-mails of SES employees despite the fact that the OIG was entitled to access the material pursuant to the Inspector General Act. Only after lengthy discussions over a 4- month period were some of those e-mails of SES employees finally produced to the OIG. Others were not produced until as much as 11 months after we asked for them.

Second, while DEA produced a large number of documents in response to our requests, it omitted certain highly relevant reports and statements related to the specific issues of our review. For example, none of the eight document productions provided us with the initial witness statement of the only percipient DEA witness in the boat during the May 11 drug interdiction that resulted in the deaths of four individuals, even though this statement was clearly within the scope of our requests.

This is how we fight the Drug War. With lies and cover-ups and press releases touting the number of kilograms seized while making no mention of the collateral damage. And this is why Congressional oversight is mostly useless. It can’t compel the DEA to tell the truth. All it can do is wait for the truth to come out, which is years after the fact and often the result of other entities: whistleblowers, Inspector General investigations, FOIA requesters, etc. As long as the fight is viewed as a “good” one, agency sins will be forgiven and politicians will continue to believe internal policy changes are anywhere near as substantial as internal culture changes.

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Comments on “Inspector General Report Shows DEA Covering Up Its Role In A Shooting That Left Four Foreign Citizens Dead”

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David says:

Terrorists and drug lords don't value human life.

You don’t want to disadvantage the DEA by forcing them to be more chickenshit than their enemies, do you?

If you stop the DEA from indiscriminately mowing down people, some of those people may get away. That would not deserve being called a war against drugs: at best that’s a bit of a domestic disagreement about drugs.

A war needs casualties or people will not take it seriously.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Terrorists and drug lords don't value human life.

The war on drugs just needs to end, period. It’s doing far more harm then good. Innocent people are being killed all over, not just here, but in the U.S. in raids, and Ops, went to the wrong house and shot a innocent person in bed. Oh well, The police did no wrong.

For some reason, All these people Pro Abortion and what you do to your own body, even though it’s really killing a innocent life that had no choice in the matter. but Drugs, again doing to your own body is somehow really bad, even though Alcohol is all legal and does far more hard to people. Banning that didn’t stop it from happening. Hell the police and mayors and so on were all still drinking away.

Just make it all LEGAL!!! Same goes with Prescription drugs. How about no prescription needed. Go up and tell them what you want, they dish it out to you and give you the warnings and whatnot, DONE! Just make it all LEGAL.

Drug cartels will disappear. Gangs no longer can hang around corners making money on drugs when people can just walk into a store and buy anything they want. Quite frankly, when you ban something, you just make people want it that much more.

This war will never end. It can never be stopped. It’s completely pointless. At this point all it’s doing is creating a huge Industry of more Police, More jails, and on and on. If someone kills themselves because of drugs, that’s on them. It’s not like it doesn’t happens already.

End the DRUG WAR!!! I can buy all the Alcohol now that I want and have been able to for YEARS, and yet I rarely drink anything. I can’t remember the last time I had a beer. I drink mostly water.

I’ve done Marijuana in the past. Bongs, joints. I did some of that back in High School. The War sure didn’t stop me from getting it back then, is it hasn’t since, though I haven’t done any of that in YEARS. It sure wasn’t the gateway to other drugs. I have self control, and just no interest in any of it.

End the War!!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Terrorists and drug lords don't value human life.

You don’t want to disadvantage the DEA by forcing them to be more chickenshit than their enemies, do you?

What is a terrible indictment against the American people, and it’s government, is that your sarcasm is not just lost on them, but actively supported.

"Yeah! Why in hell should we let drug dealers get off on a technicality!!!" and damn the consequences for any innocent – or even not so innocent – bystanders.

The ever voracious maw of "we had to destroy the village in order to save it" is lost on the far right. From what I gather, they simply do not care if the "other" (as defined by their cant as "non-white" and/or non Protestant) is impacted. Or at least, I’ve never seen them get upset by even the most egregious abuses of justice so long as those sentenced to long terms in prison, death, or summary execution are not WASPs.

To me, that is the razor’s edge on true justice. One doesn’t care what the accused is guilty of, you care that all the protections of what you hold dearest are given.

I’m perfectly fine with letting ten thousand guilty go free to protect that one that is innocent.

Too bad that "freedom" and "justice" are defined by your race and religion. That’s just too f’ing bad if you’re on the wrong side of the (non) issues.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Terrorists and drug lords don't value human life.

I always go to Dick Cheney (on MTP) when I need to be reassured that it’s all OK:

25 % of the detainees though, 25% turned out to be innocent. They were released.

Where are you going to draw the line, Chuck? How are–

Well, I’m asking you.

–you going to know?


Is that too high? You’re okay with that margin for error?

I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ambassador unhappy

this IG report will be filed & forgotten and there will be no punishment to the DEA agents responsible for those deaths & coverup

however, it’s highly unusual for this type of investigation/report to happen at all—– reason was that the US State Dept (particularly the US Ambassador to Honduras) was really pi$$ed about DEA lies to her (the dead bodies were just an incidental detail)

That US Ambassador is supposed to be the ultimate command authority for everything DEA plans or does in Honduras—- but DEA blew her off completely & blatantly lied to her about what was going on… she took all the diplomatic heat for the murders

the IG report itself is a ponderous, plodding bureaucratic narrative—- taking great effort not to directly ruffle any DEA feathers or name any of the guilty people in DEA.

It’s all just Federal bureaucratic infighting
(what’s the Federal body count now, after 45 years of the War on Some Drugs ?

Anonymous Coward says:

And this is why Congressional oversight is mostly useless. It can’t compel the DEA to tell the truth.

It can compel them to tell the truth. It just doesn’t have any interest in doing any actual compelling.

I will grant that the tools it’s given to compel the DEA are not particularly flexible. It’s options, in essence, go directly from "Pretty please tell the truth (insert picture of kitten here)" to "multiple air to surface guided bombs followed by a walking artillery barrage" and end with "dear god, the Russians have nuclear missiles in Cuba."

But it undoubtedly can compel them if it had an interest in doing so.

Daydream says:

A thing about war...

As I understand it, it’s illegal to purposefully target civilians in wartime; doing so is a war crime.
You’re even supposed to give forewarning by leaflets or radio or whatever before you invade or bomb a place, to give innocents time to evacuate.

In a sense, that makes lawful war a sort of choice. You’re given the option to stay and fight, or you can run, or surrender.

The people in this…incident, the people on that passenger boat, weren’t given a choice.
They didn’t fire any guns, they didn’t wear any uniforms or insignias. They weren’t warned they were heading into a conflict zone. They weren’t allowed a chance to turn back.
Four of them are dead now. Killed without being given a choice.

Being drug-free doesn’t make you safe. Keeping away from drug-users doesn’t keep you safe. You don’t get to make the decision to be shot at or not.
The DEA involved in this had a choice. They chose to become police officers, they chose guns, they chose to shoot people.
Their victims aren’t given choices.

Maybe it’s time to rethink who we shoot at.

Seegras (profile) says:

Re: A thing about war...

Maybe it’s time to rethink who we shoot at.

I see. You mean we should shoot any DEA agent on sight, because they could be armed, dangerous and shoot us if we don’t shoot them first? Yeah, makes sense. After all, we can at least plead self-defense after we’ve shot them, which we can’t after they’ve shot us dead.

Or maybe we should just shoot everybody affiliated with this war on drugs, because neither the drug-lords nor the DEA apparently care that we’re NOT involved in it?

Gigi Duru says:

Now explain to me one single thing – why would a civilian boat with civilians on board would go way out of it usual route towards a stranded boat that still have people on it, people that haven’t asked for your help?
Why would they go there when those people yell at you to go away and point weapons at you?
No, they either thought that this was an easy picking or thought that it was still their boat and went it to help them save the drug of their cartel.
If i would have been in their place i would have also opened fire on them, no hesitation whatsoever.
BTW, why would a boat filled with people going to steal drugs from other dealers would already have drugs in it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Now explain to me one single thing …

Did you read any of the Inspector General’s report quoted here? If you did, do you disbelieve it? If you believe it, several possible answers to your question should be obvious. The other boat might have been attempting to render aid to a disabled vessel when they were fired upon. They might have been merely curious what these foreigners were doing in their river. From what I can tell of the incident report, it is not clear that the victims had time to realize the DEA was hostile before they came under fire. If they were fired upon before they had an opportunity to turn around, then your remark:

Why would they go there when those people yell at you to go away and point weapons at you?

is irrelevant. Boats do not turn instantly, or even particularly quickly for some designs. It’s very possible that, by the time they realized the DEA was yelling at them and menacing them, they did not have enough time to disengage before the DEA decided to fire upon them.

If general distrust of government malfeasance had not taught me not to render aid to those in need, I too might have deviated to offer assistance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

at gigi duru-
a-n-d another authoritarian quisling is outed…
stop goosestepping to the tune called by Empire, and start thinking, IF you are a capable of it, which seems HIGHLY unlikely given your initial response…
if you don’t know, it is quite common for boaters to lend a hand on the water when they see another boat that appears in trouble… (in fact, ‘the law’ in some places to lend a hand to distressed boaters)
it is both common and EXPECTED, whether the other boat ‘asks for it’ or not… but, i have little doubt the actual factuals matter to you, you are going to take the side of Empire NO MATTER how egregious its crimes…
you are not a freedom-loving American, you are a wormtongued toady to Empire…

Anonymous Coward says:

The DEA will have sold those drugs in the US.

They’re the biggest drug cartel that exists INSIDE the United States itself.

They pretend to ‘burn’ cocaine/marijuana, but sell it in US cities and control vast swathes of gang territory with the money they make (that isn’t publicly declared because ‘national security’).

DarkKnight (profile) says:


Business as usual, in the War on Drugs. Don’t be too shocked if all the seized drugs and money doesn’t arrive to the Evidence Locker. That is after all, what the “War on Drugs” is really about. Ill gotten gains. When a drug seizure occurs and they tout what they seized, it should be obvious that stacks of cash, drugs, cars, and whatever else, “disappeared” and will never be shown as “evidence”. Is it much of a stretch to assume that some of these DEA blokes actually work for a competing Drug Lord?

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