Months in the Planning, the Operation Included US Special Forces Posing as Members of a “French Humanitarian Group”
By Bill Conroy / Special to The Narco News Bulletin / July 3, 2008
A U.S. military special-operations unit carried out the recent rescue of three Defense Department contractors being held by the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), according to a source who has first-hand knowledge of the operation.
The U.S. military contractors – Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell – had been held captive by the FARC ever since their surveillance plane was shot down in February 2003 over the Colombian jungles. Also rescued in the mission were 11 Colombian military and police officers as well as former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt – who also is a French citizen.
The source of information for this report asked not to be identified, though Narco News has not been led astray by this source in the past. The source claims the rescue mission was a U.S.-led operation with Colombian support – as opposed to the reverse, as has been widely reported in the U.S. media. The operation had been underway for some months prior to the July 2 rescue day.
In priming this pump, the U.S. team managed to plant some satellite phones with the FARC. The source declined to provide details on how that was accomplished for fear of compromising future operations of this nature. From there, the U.S. military used its technology to set up surveillance by intercepting the FARC’s communications. The whole operation was carried out, the source claims, under the guise of being a humanitarian mission. The FARC, the source claims, believed they were dealing with a “French humanitarian group.” The communications intercepts helped to facilitate that deceit, the source adds.
A BBC report provides a similar account of the rescue operation, only that report claims Colombian soldiers were in the pilot seats.
“Colombian soldiers – apparently posing as members of a non-government organisation – flew them [the hostages] to freedom in a helicopter,” the BBC report states.
With the NGO pretense in place, a meeting was arranged between the supposed humanitarian group’s leaders and the FARC, which resulted in the three U.S. hostages and Betancourt being brought together in one place with the 11 Colombian soldiers and police captives, the source says. Prior to that, the source adds, the three groups of hostages were being held in separate locations. The U.S. special-ops forces then showed up in helicopters at the designated meeting place. They were dressed to look like humanitarian aid workers, the source contends.
Adding to the odds of success for the operation was the fact, the source claims, that the 15 hostages were being guarded by only two armed FARC members. To assure the FARC guerillas that the hostages would not gain the upper hand, the captives were all handcuffed and placed on the two helicopters – which, unbeknownst to the FARC guards, were being flown by U.S. pilots.
The plan, as far as the FARC guards knew, was to fly to another meeting place where the whole group would meet up with Alfonso Cano, now the top FARC commander. Once both helicopters were in the air, however, the ruse was up. The U.S. special-ops team (two on each helicopter in addition to the pilots, again in disguise to avoid prior suspicion) “beat the shit” out of the two FARC guys, and they all flew back to Colombian government-controlled territory, according to the source.
The rescue mission, carried out this past Wednesday, coincided with the visit of U.S. presidential candidate John McCain. The source claims that was coincidental-though it can’t be ruled out that McCain, a U.S. Senator with more than a little access to the White House, might have had some advance warning of the planned rescue attempt and arranged his visit to Colombia accordingly.
Now that the three U.S. hostages are back in the states – doing press conferences in San Antonio from the military hospital where they are recovering – it is worth noting how this whole affair began.
In February 2007, Narco News published a story as part of its Bogotá Connection series that revealed that the coordinates of U.S. spy and drug-interdiction flights in Colombia were being leaked out of the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá via allegedly corrupt DEA agents who were operating in partnership with Colombian narco-traffickers.
DEA sources told Narco News at the time the story was published that they highly suspected the three U.S. private contractors who were shot down over FARC territory in Colombia in February 2003 might well have been the victims of those leaks.
Given the recent dramatic rescue of those three hostages, this previous Narco News story takes on new relevance.
From the February 2007 story:
Time will tell if someone in the U.S. government will finally start to pay attention to the Bogotá Connection and the very real possibility that it is still operating and putting more lives at risk.
In the mean time, the so-called war on drugs in Colombia will continue, with the assistance of U.S. personnel and taxpayer money. And the three hostages being held by the FARC will continue to await their fate in the midst of that pretense – with the thought now in their minds that it might well have been their own government that betrayed them.
To read the entire report, go to this link: Did “Bogotá Connection” embassy leaks doom U.S. spy plane in Colombia?