- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Drug Enforcement Administration did not properly investigate a 2012 drug operation in Honduras that took the lives of four innocent civilians, including two women and a 14-year-old boy, and misled Congress and the Justice Department about the incident, a government watchdog report concluded.

The Justice Department’s Inspector General report issued Wednesday states the DEA’s review of the incident was “significantly flawed” and that the agency incorrectly maintained to Congress that its “Operation Anvil” plan to intercept drug flights was led by Honduran officials, when in fact U.S. drug agents “maintained substantial control over the conduct of the operation.”

The operation garnered significant media attention when a team of DEA agents and Honduran officials opened fire on a riverboat carrying civilians, killing four Honduran civilians and injuring four others.

While the inspector general report concludes no DEA officials fired at the boat, it notes that a DEA agent in a helicopter directed a Honduran gunner to fire his machine gun at the riverboat.

The report states DEA officials initially decided against conducting a formal deadly force review because no DEA agents fired weapons. When mounting public pressure forced the agency to open a review, the inspector general reported that the “resulting investigation was little more than a paper exercise.”

The shooting occurred May 11, 2012, as DEA and Honduran law enforcement were piloting a small boat that carried a large amount of cocaine that had been seized in an operation earlier in the day. The boat’s engine cut out and it was drifting down the river as the larger passenger boat approached. As the passenger boat made contact, Honduran officials on the DEA boat opened fire, even shooting at people who had fallen into the water. A gunner from a helicopter carrying DEA and Honduran officials also opened fire.

At the time, DEA officials maintained that they had come under fire from people working for drug traffickers who were on the riverboat.

The inspector general’s report calls that account into question.

“Not only did the DOJ OIG find no credible evidence that individuals in the passenger boat fired first, but the available evidence, which was available to DEA at the time, places into serious question whether there was any gunfire from the passenger boat at any time,” the report states.

The report says the DEA’s failure to conduct a thorough review of the incident resulted in the agency providing inaccurate or incomplete information to both Justice Department officials and Congress.

“The review also found that DEA officials described information favorable to DEA’s positions while omitting unfavorable information, such as video evidence of Honduran law enforcement officers shooting at people who had fallen or jumped into the water,” the report states.

The report also says the DEA conducted flawed reviews of two subsequent Operation Anvil raids in which deadly force was used. Specifically, reviews of fatal shootings on June 23 and July 3 did not address discrepancies between DEA and Honduran officials’ accounts.

A DEA agent shot a killed a man who ignored commands and moved his hand toward a handgun in his holster during a June 23 raid, facts contained in the DEA report. But when Honduran officials submitted a report on the shooting, they indicated the man was shot during a firefight.

A DEA report on the July 3 raid said agents shot and killed a pilot of a downed airplane after he ignored orders and attempted to get back inside the aircraft. Honduran officials submitted two different reports on the incident, saying in one that the pilot was killed in the crash and in another that the pilot had a gun and fired at officers before they returned fire and killed him. DEA agents told investigators they were later informed that a Honduran officer planted a gun at the scene.

Sen. Patrick Leahy was deeply troubled by the report, calling it “nothing less than a wholesale indictment of the DEA and Honduran police.”

DEA, Honduran, and State Department officials provided Congress with incomplete, inaccurate and misleading information in order to perpetuate a self-serving narrative,” said the Vermont Democrat, the ranking member of the State Department and Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee. “This raises serious questions whether these cases are isolated incidents.”

The inspector general’s report faults the DEA for failing to adequately plan for the operation, saying American and Honduran personnel did not understand each others’ deadly force policies and that their “plan for responding to critical incidents was almost nonexistent.”

In a response to the report, DEA officials called the loss of life “tragic.”

DEA acknowledges that its pre-missions preparation was not as thorough as it should have been and that the subsequent investigation lacked the depth and scope necessary to fully assess what transpired that night,” reads a written response from the agency. “To that end, DEA has made significant changes in this area over the last five years.”

DEA officials agreed with a series of eight recommendations made by the inspector general.

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