THE US GOVERNMENT HAD PRIOR KNOWLEDGE OF FIDEL CASTRO’S INTENTIONS TO SHOOT DOWN THE BTTR AIRCRAFT.
THE US GOVERNMENT DID NOTHING TO PREVENT THE CRIME AND DID NOTHING TO WARN BTTR.
1. U.S. intelligence agencies had evidence of Cuban MiGs’ practice maneuvers to ambush Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR) aircraft. Nothing was done to prevent the shootdown. BTTR was not warned.
In January 1996 US radars and monitors spotted Cuban MiGs test-firing air-to-air missiles and practicing maneuvers to attack slow-moving aircraft similar to BTTR.i
2. At 12:15 PM on Feb 24, 1996 Cuban MiGs took off in search of BTTR aircraft.
Before the departure of the BTTR flight, US interceptors responded to the presence of Cuban MiGs searching for BTTR aircraft in the same area of the air ambush later that afternoon. The US did not warn BTTR of this earlier MiG activity. (Tab D, Issue VI)
3. Certain individuals communicated with the Cuban government regarding BTTR flights. The US government did not warn BTTR
Prior to the shootdown, the Clinton Administration was working toward normalization with Castro, described later by President Clinton in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on November 9, 1997 as “a gradually evolving relationship with Havana”, much like the one he has with China.
While certain members of Congress were trying to toughen the trade embargo restrictions against Cuba, certain powerful economic interests together with Clinton and members of his Administration were trying to loosen these restrictions as one of the first steps in the normalization of the relationship with Castro. Among these members of the Clinton Administration, such as National Security Council and State Department officials, were Anthony Lake, National Security Advisor, Peter Tarnoff, Undersecretary of State, Morton Halperin, the senior National Security Council adviser and Richard Nuccio, the President’s Cuba policy adviser. ii
Bill Richardson, former Congressman from New Mexico, former US Ambassador to the United Nations during President Bill Clinton’s Administration, and present Secretary of Energy, stated early in January of 1996, when he was a congressman, that: “If we’re going to open up the island maybe some consideration should be given to lifting the embargo. Let clothes, goods, commerce and business get in there” ii. The release of some political prisoners by Castro was also considered part of this “opening up” agenda. Mr. Richardson is a close associate of President Clinton’s and has served as his special envoy on many sensitive missions.
John J. Sheehan, General, U.S. Marine Corps and Commander in Chief-U.S. Atlantic Command, (at the time of the shootdown), who has also visited Cuba, lobbied to lift the embargo, before and after February 24, 1996, while on active duty and after retirement. iii
Richardson met with Ricardo Alarcón, Cuban national assembly president, at the United Nations, on September 19, 1995. A number of individuals present on October 22, 1995 acknowledge seeing Richardson meeting Fidel Castro on that day at the United Nations. Richardson denies that he met privately with Castro. ii
Richardson arrived in Havana on January 17, 1996, ostensibly to resolve humanitarian questions, particularly the release of political prisoners. He was accompanied by Calvin Humphrey, a senior counsel to the House Intelligence Committee. Humphrey had received briefings from State Department officials, the National Security Council, and intelligence agencies. Richard Nuccio also spoke to Richardson before the trip. Richardson has indicated that in the past a lot of his missions were with the National Security Council and involved the President but that for this trip he worked with Peter Tarnoff. Tarnoff had initiated earlier secret talks with the Cuban government that led to migration accords. ii
Peter Bourne, who was interested in improving relations between the US and Castro, had collaborated with Richardson in a number of diplomatic missions and claims to have arranged Richardson’s meeting with Castro at the United Nations. Bourne has stated that an agreement was reached between Richardson and Castro: in exchange for the release of political prisoners Richardson conveyed assurances to Castro that the US would take steps to end incursions of Cuban airspace by BTTR. Richardson has denied this, although he acknowledges that the Cubans raised the matter of the overflights.ii
According to Humphrey, Castro brought up the overflights by BTTR. Richardson admitted two weeks after the shootdown that “When I met with him”(Castro) “he had warned me about these overflights and he wanted us to do something about them.” ii
On February 9, 1996 Richardson went to Cuba and returned to the US with three political prisoners that Castro had released. ii
Scott Armstrong, founder of the National Security Archive, had close ties to several senior National Security Council officials, including Lake, Halperin and Samuel Berger. Armstrong has stated that on the morning of January 18, 1996 he got a call from someone from the National Security Council. Armstrong has indicated that: “I got a call from someone at the Old Executive Office Building and was told that the Brothers’ problem had been resolved and that I should communicate this to the appropriate Cuban officials. I then conveyed the message to Alarcón through Fernando Remirez”-Cuba’s highest diplomatic officer in the United States. ii
4. The US never responded to a “calculated warning” by Cuba
Between February 5 and 9, 1996 the Center for Defense Information, at the direction of John J. Shanahan, Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.), hosted a delegation to Cuba of retired Pentagon officials and diplomats for discussions with top Cuban military officers. The delegation included, among others, Admiral Eugene Carroll, U.S. Navy (Ret.) and Robert White, the former US Ambassador to El Salvador and Paraguay.
During discussions the visiting group of U.S. dignitaries was asked by generals Arnaldo Tamayo, Chief of the Cuban Directorate of Intelligence (DI), and Rosales del Toro, Chief of Staff of the Cuban Military Forces, about what they thought would be the United States’ reaction if the Cuban Air Force shot down the BTTR airplanes.
Admiral Carroll and Ambassador White considered this a “calculated warning”. The group was debriefed upon their return by the State Department’s Office of Cuban Affairs on February 20, 1996. The information was conveyed again later at the debriefing at the Center for Defense Information with Defense Intelligence Agency officials. ii iv
To BTTR’s knowledge, the US did not respond to Cuba. The US did not alert BTTR.
5. The U.S. executed an elaborate plan to place its radars and monitors on alert with orders to follow and document BTTR’s flight of February 24, 1996.
Please refer to Tab D, Issue II.
To BTTR’s knowledge, the U.S. limited its efforts to document the events and did not undertake any preparations to prevent the shootdown. BTTR was unaware of this intense intelligence gathering focused on the flight.
6. Senior administration officials had expressed concern about BTTR airplanes. Again, nothing was done to prevent the tragedy, and BTTR was not notified.
Several days before February 24, 1996, Jeane Kirkpatrick, President Reagan’s former ambassador to the United Nations, was told by a senior administration official that “he was so concerned he had not been able to sleep at all. He was convinced something dreadful was going to happen to the Brothers’ planes.” After the shootdown, Ms. Kirkpatrick stated: “Non-notification is absolutely inexplicable.” v
On February 23, 1996 Richard Nuccio spoke with Chris Marquis of The Miami Herald’s Washington Bureau at the intermission of a ballet. Nuccio said he had an awful feeling that the Brothers to the Rescue were headed for a clash with Cuban authorities the next day. He gave no explanation. v
On February 23 Richard Nuccio and others at the Department of State Office of Cuban Affairs contacted the FAA Office of International Aviation to indicate that BTTR might fly in support of Concilio Cubano’s, (an organization of members of the nonviolent opposition to Castro in Cuba) efforts the next day. (ICAO Report).vi The State Department reported that Cuba was in a “rough mood” and was “less likely to show restraint”. v
On February 23, Richard Nuccio sent an urgent e-mail to his national security council superior Samuel Berger, warning that “this may finally tip the Cubans towards an attempt to shoot down or force down the planes”. ii In response to an inquiry by The Miami Herald, a US government official stated that given the volume of e-mails that Mr. Berger receives on a daily basis, it is difficult to determine quickly if Mr. Berger saw Nuccio’s e-mail. vii
US facilities were briefed a week in advance of an “intended” political action by BTTR on Feb 24, 1996 (Tab D, Issue II and attachment 14).
7. The U.S. government had knowledge that Juan Pablo Roque had arrived in Cuba on February 23, 1996. Again, BTTR was not notified.
The Department of State briefed certain members of Congress on the afternoon of February 23, 1996 regarding Roque’s departure from the US to Cuba.
Castro’s plot to down the BTTR aircraft on Feb 24, 1996 used Cuban spy, Maj. Juan Pablo Roque, who was initially portrayed as a “survivor” of the downing. Roque, who played a key role in the shootdown, joined BTTR in 1993 and acted as a double agent working for Cuba and the FBI. Roque was being paid by the FBI to give information on BTTR.
The FBI uncovered in 1999 that Roque was a conspirator in the Cuban spy network known as “Wasp”, to commit espionage by Cuba in the United States,
including US military installations. It coordinated in 1996 the conspiracy to shootdown the BTTR aircraft on Feb 24, 1996.
i. Time, October 28, 1996, “Clinton’s Cuban Road to Florida”, Attachment 1.
ii. The New Yorker, January 26, 1998, “Backfire”. Section III (Main Articles)
iii. Letter of October 15, 1995 from General J. J. Sheehan to Senator Sam Nunn, Senate, Committee on Armed Services.
iv. Letter of October 3, 1996 to the Honorable Dan Burton, Chairman Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, from John J. Shanahan, Vice Admiral, USN (Ret.), Attachment 15.
v. Tropic, The Miami Herald, February 16, 1997, “Brothers Unrescued” – Section III
vi. ICAO Report, dated June 1996. Report of the Investigation Regarding the Shooting Down of Two US Registered Private Civil Aircraft by Cuban Military Aircraft on 24 February 1996.
vii. El Nuevo Herald, February 21 and 23, 1999, “El Derribamiento de los Aviones, una Responsabilidad de Cuba y EU” (The Shootdown of the Airplanes, a Responsibility of Cuba and the US) and “Más Preguntas que Respuestas en el Incidente de los Aviones” (More Questions than Answers in the Incident of the Airplanes)