The Downing of Brothers to the Rescue Aircraft on February 24, 1996

Summary of Unanswered Questions

Prepared by Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR)




            Negotiations between the Cuban and United States’ governments to establish relations were underway as of February 24, 1996.  J. Sheehan, General, U.S. Marine Corps and Commander in Chief-U.S. Atlantic Command, (at the time of the shootdown), has lobbied to lift the embargo, before and after February 24, 1996, while on active duty and after retirement (1).


Statements of Facts and Questions


1.         The Clinton administration remained silent in connection with a “calculated warning” by the Cuban government.


Statement of Fact (SOF)


            Castro had discussed BTTR flights with U.S. officials (2).  Specifically,  three weeks before the shootdown of February 24, 1996, Cuban air force Gen. Arnaldo Tamayo asked U.S. Navy admiral Eugene Carroll (who was in Havana as part of an American delegation to meet with leaders of the Cuban military) what he thought would be the United States’ reaction if the Cuban air force shot down the BTTR airplanes.  The admiral referred the question to the State Department and the Defense Intelligence Agency.  The United States never responded to what Admiral Carroll has referred to as a calculated warning (3).


Questions (Q)


            Why didn’t the Clinton administration respond to Castro’s warning?  Why didn’t the Clinton administration warn BTTR (4)?


2.         The Clinton administration had prior knowledge that Castro was planning an attack on Brothers to the Rescue airplanes, yet, it never informed BTTR. 


            For political reasons, the Clinton administration is now trying to deport or “burn” a previously acquitted witness who can testify to the premeditation of this crime.


SOF:    In January 1996 U.S. intelligence agencies spotted Cuban MiGs test-firing air-to-air missiles and practice maneuvers to attack slow-moving aircraft similar to BTTR planes (5).   


            A witness to these maneuvers, Adel Regalado Ulloa, who fled to the United States in August of 1996, previously acquitted of sky-jacking, will be brought to trial again as a result of a political decision made by the Immigration Department.


Q:        Why wasn’t Brothers to the Rescue advised of the practice maneuvers?


Background Information:  Chronology of events related to the murder


Radar sighting of MiGs take off.  “Battlestations” alert placed at

Homestead base shortly thereafter                                                                     3:00 PM

“911” call from Major Jeffrey Houlihan (6.a) (7)                                                3:16 PM

First aircraft is shot down                                                                                  3:21 PM

Second aircraft is shot down                                                                             3:28 PM

Third BTTR aircraft crosses 24th parallel, Northbound                                      3:41 PM

MiGs make visual contact with the third BTTR aircraft                                       3:45 PM

MiGs positively identify the third BTTR aircraft as a light

blue Cessna 337 (8)                                                                                         3:47 PM

Third BTTR aircraft at 24:16’:18”, about 16 miles North of the

24th parallel      (9)                                                                                            3:49 PM

Third BTTR aircraft at 24-26’ North and 082-27” West.  About 26

miles North above the 24th Parallel in U.S. controlled airspace.  The

MiGs make visual contact for the third time.  MiGs are ordered to

suspend the mission.  At this point the Cuban MiG was three

minutes from U.S. shore (10)                                                                            3:53 PM


Background Information: Reaction Time of US Interceptors        


            The reaction time for an interceptor from Key West to reach the area is, if on “battlestations” alert: less than 5 minutes and, not on “battlestations” alert: less than 11 minutes (6.a).


3.         The“miscommunication error” that cancelled the “battlestations” alert at Homestead has never been explained


SOF:    The “battlestations” alert placed at the Homestead base was cancelled.  According to a Report of Inquiry prepared by Rodney P. Kelly, Brigadier General, USAF, the decision to take the Homestead aircraft off battlestations alert was due to a “miscommunication error” (which has never been explained).  According to Brigadier General Kelly, this “miscommunication error” did not affect the outcome of the event.  General Kelly also stated that: “No evidence suggests that any US element had prior knowledge of hostile intent on the part of the Cuban forces.”  He also indicates that “Due to speed of events and location of the shoot down, US aircraft could not have responded to the incident in time to prevent loss of life”(11).


Q:        What was the nature of this “miscommunication error”?


            According to the above information on the chronology of the shootdown and the reaction time of the interceptors, the shootdown of the second aircraft might have been prevented.  As a matter of fact, we are convinced that the take off of US interceptors by itself would have provided an immediate deterrent to Castro’s action, since Cuba was also radar monitoring the event.


4.         Response to a “911” call: “...we’re handling it, don’t worry” (6.a) (7)


SOF:    According to sworn testimony in US Federal Court by US Customs Official Jeffrey Houlihan, his “911” call to the Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida included the following exchange:  “What I told him was ‘do you see the Brothers to the Rescue aircraft?’  The

Senior Director Technician replied ‘yes’, that he did.  I said ‘do you know what’s going on with them today’ and he said ‘yes, we’ve been briefed’.  And then said ‘do you see that primary aircraft, 500 knot primary’ and he said ‘yes, we see it’.  I said ‘well, it looks like a MIG-23 to me heading directly towards the United States.  I think that’s important’.  And he responded ‘yes, we’re handling it, don’t worry’.”


Q:        What did all this mean?  Was the “battlestations” alert lifted before or after this call?


            Please refer to a letter by Howard G. DeWolf, Brigadier General, USAF, Director, Inter-American Region, dated September 5, 1996, to Congressman Dan Burton which indicates that “Department of Defense radars do not routinely and systematically track civilian U.S. aircraft operating in international airspace.  Our air defense personnel were informed by a Customs radar operator of the MiGs closing on slower aircraft and replied that they had the aircraft on their radars.  However, neither party knew that the two slow-moving aircraft were the BTTR aircraft nor were they aware of the Cuban Government’s intentions”.  Please also refer to Mr. Basulto’s letter of September 13, 1996 to Mr. Gil Kapen regarding the aforementioned letter from Brigadier General DeWolf for other inaccuracies and contradictions in said letter (12).


            Also,  please refer to a memorandum to the Secretary of Defense signed by Howell M. Estes III, General USAF, Commander in Chief, dated October 13, 1996, forwarding the Report of Inquiry prepared by Rodney P. Kelly, Brigadier General, USAF (11), which indicates that NORAD, the FAA, CARIBROC and Customs were all tracking BTTR activity on February 24, 1996, and Mr. Basulto’s response to this document dated February 19, 1997 which highlights certain inaccuracies and contradictions in this memorandum (13).  Also note that US radars had been placed on alert several days before February 24, 1996 to follow BTTR’s flights (ICAO report).


5.         U.S. interceptors were not deployed to deter MiGs in international waters, in contravention of standard operating procedure related to the “trigger line”.  Also, please refer to Item 7, below.


SOF:    According to sworn testimony in US Federal Court by US Customs Official Jeffrey Houlihan, it is standard operating procedure to deploy interceptors once Cuban MiGs cross the Cuban 12 mile territorial limit-the “trigger line” (6.b).  Also, he indicated that the presence of MiGs in the area was uncommon (6.c).


            Interceptors had been deployed on the morning of February 24, 1996 to deter Cuban MiGs in the area, hours before the BTTR aircraft took off in the afternoon.


Q:        Why weren’t U.S. Air Force interceptors deployed to deter the MiGs in international airspace?  Why weren’t Standard Operating Procedures followed?


6.SOF:             BTTR was never informed of the radar sightings of the MiGs on February 24, 1996 (4).  Similar calls had been made on numerous occasions in the past (6.d), and each call had taken less than 2 minutes.  Previously, when advised of Cuban MiGs, BTTR airplanes had returned to their base.


Q:        Why wasn’t a simple call made during the period from 3:00 PM to 3:53 PM?

Fifty three minutes of silence.  Fifty three minutes during which Cuban MiGs hunted two BTTR planes, murdered their four occupants in international airspace, and chased the third plane to within three minutes of the United States.  Why?


            Was there any attempt by the Clinton administration to contact the Cuban authorities during these events?


            And why now, a little over two years after the murder, the FAA instructs BTTR pilots to follow orders given by Castro’s MiGs?  Please note that this issue is being addressed by BTTR separately.


            And why now, a little over two years after the murder, without any changes on the part of Castro’s government, is the Clinton administration lifting the sanctions it reluctantly imposed on Castro after the crime?  Why were the key sanctions never even implemented?  (This subject is beyond the scope of this document.)


7.         There is evidence that substantiates that at least one of the MiGs in pursuit of the third aircraft did cross the 24th parallel.


SOF:    In the ICAO report, the United States has stated that there were no other small civilian aircraft in the area other than the BTTR aircraft and the Cuban interceptor MiGs.  In the transcript between the MiGs and the Cuban controllers, the MiGs positively identified the third BTTR aircraft three times, just as it had done with the other two aircraft, prior to shooting them down.  Yet,  it is interesting to note that in paragraph 1.1.47 of the ICAO report, the U.S. accuses Cuba of chasing a non-existing (non-existing because the U.S. agrees that there were no other aircraft in the vicinity) light blue and white Cessna # 337 and Cuba agrees that the Cessna it was chasing was not the third BTTR aircraft.  This bizarre explanation adopted by both the United States and Cuba appears to be a convenient position for both parties to take, to cover up the fact that the Cuban MiGs crossed the 24th parallel (14).


            In conclusion,  when the U.S. Air Force radar print screens and location data are cross referenced with the transcripts of the Cuban MiGs with their controllers, both documents concur that the third BTTR aircraft was well to the North of the 24th parallel and that the Cuban MiGs were within 3 minutes of reaching the United States. 


            The recorded communications of the two MiGs in pursuit of the third BTTR aircraft indicate a sighting of a Cessna 337 light blue or light blue and white at 3:47 and at 3:53 PM, respectively (15).  At that time U.S. radar (on alert that day) places the third aircraft 26 nautical miles North of parallel 24 (16).


            Also,  please refer to item 6 of the Testimony of José Basulto before the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere on September 18, 1996, specifically items 6 d and e which state:  “...Resist the Judge’s petition to produce in court the recordings of the radio communications of the MiGs pilots and their controllers, already heard by ICAO investigators, and partially released to the United Nations.  When finally obtained, these recordings provided BTTR with evidence that the MiGs pursued the last remaining BTTR aircraft above the 24th parallel and to within three minutes of the U.S.  When we were finally allowed to hear the tapes, we were given access to only two of the four tracks of the tapes” (17).


Q:        Where, other than at the same location of the third aircraft, could the MiGs be, if, according to U.S. sources, there was no other aircraft in the area? 


8.SOF:             The US Air Force does not allow BTTR to review the raw radar data held by it; it has only shown a computer depiction of the events.


Q:        Why?


9.SOF:             A meeting between U.S. and Cuban military officials regarding the shootdown was held on March 2, 1996 in New York (18).


Q:        What was the nature of this meeting?


10.SOF            Phase I of the report on the shootdown of Brothers to the Rescue aircraft issued in April of 1997 by the Department of Defense Inspector General was classified “Top Secret”.  We understand that Phase II of this report was recently completed, is also classified top secret, and could be made available to Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen. 


Q:        What procedures can BTTR undertake to gain access to this report?


11.Q:   What “information” did Juan Pablo Roque give the FBI on BTTR’s intentions for February 24, 1996 and what actions were taken based on this information (4) (18)?    


12.              For certain answers regarding how the survival of one plane foiled Castro’s plot please refer to article on this subject (19).





The Downing of Brothers to the Rescue Aircraft on February 24, 1996

Summary of Unanswered Questions

Prepared by Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR)


References are to the Dossier Index.


(1)  Letter of October 15, 1995 by General J.J. Sheehan, U.S. Marine Corps, Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Command, to Senator Sam Nunn, Senate, Committee on Armed Services

Diario de las Américas, March 14, 1998, “Está en Cuba ex-jefe de la OTAN” (Former Chief of NATO (General J. Sheehan) is in Cuba)

(2)  Section III.  The New Yorker, January, 1998, “Backfire”

(3)  Attachment 1.  CNN transcript of news show 9:25 am ET Feb. 25, 1996

(4)  Section III.  The Miami Herald’s Tropic Magazine, Feb. 16, 1997, “Brothers Unrescued”

(5)  Attachment 1.  Time Magazine, Oct. 28, 1996, “Clinton’s Cuban Road to Florida”

(6)  Attachment 12.  Transcripts of sworn court testimony by Major Jeffrey Houlihan.  Major Houlihan was at the time of this testimony U.S. Customs Service, Senior Detection Systems Specialist at March Air Force Base, California.  Formerly he had been with the Air Force.  First assigned to radar control duties in January of 1982.


(6.a)                 Pages 469-471

(6.b)                 Pages 482-484

(6.c)                 Pages 372 and 553-554

(6.d)                 Pages 429-430


(7)  The Miami Herald, July 3, 1996, “U.S. Radar Official: 911 call”

(8)  Attachment 10.  Exhibit G-2, pg. 10, 11 and 12.

(9)  Attachment 9. U.S. Air Force screen prints.

(10)  Attachment 10.  MiG’s Communications transcript. Exhibit G-2, pg. 13 for event time and U.S. radar data from radar site B94, for location.

(11)  Attachment 15.  Report of Inquiry prepared by Brigadier General Rodney P. Kelly

(12)  Attachment 15

(13)  Attachment 15

(14)  Attachment 11.  ICAO Report pg. 13, par. I.1.47, Tab 1

(15) Attachment 10.  Exhibit G-2, pg 12

(16) Attachment 9. Site J07, pg. 4, and Site B94, pg. 8

(17)  Testimony of José Basulto, President of Brothers to the Rescue before the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.  September 18, 1996.

(18)  Attachment 1.  Interviews by CNN with Juan Pablo Roque on Feb. 27, 1996 in Havana and “FBI admits paying Cuban to spy, inform on exiles”, Sun Sentinel, February 29,1996.

(19)  Section III.  The Wall Street Journal, March 26, 1996, “The Plane that Foiled Castro’s Plot”






DEC 28, 1998

Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515-0921

Dear Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen:

This is in response to an August 31, 1998, letter to the Attorney General of the United States, signed jointly by you and Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, requesting answers to several questions posed by Mr. Jose Basulto regarding the shootdown of two Brothers to the Rescue aircraft by the Cuban military. The Department of Justice forwarded a copy of your letter to this office for additional response because many of Mr. Basulto's questions (all but questions 9, 11, and 12) refer to the actions of the Department of Defense (DoD) elements in connection with the shootdown incident.

This office has conducted an exhaustive review of the shootdown incident and has issued two reports: Report Number PO 97-011, "The DoD Response to the Brothers to the Rescue Incident - Phase I," March 28, 1997; and Report Number IR 98-609, "The DoD Response to the Brothers to the Rescue Incident - Phase II," August 10, 1998. Copies of both reports were delivered to the chairman and ranking minority members of multiple committees of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. In addition, on September 14, 1998, members of my staff met with both Ms. Yleen Poblete, of your subcommittee staff, and Mr. Mike Delph, Professional Staff, House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, chaired by Congressman Dan Burton, to discuss Phase II report and questions raised by Mr. Basulto.

The two reports address all of the DoD-related issues raised by Mr. Basulto's question. The two reports, classified Secret and containing Sensitive Compartmented Information, are available to you or to an appropriately cleared member of your staff by contacting the security officer of one of the congressional committees. We do not have unclassified versions of the reports which could be shared with Mr. Basulto. Additionally, we note that national security classifications prohibit us from providing detailed responses to many of the questions raised by Mr. Basulto.

We trust that this information is helpful and we regret that we are unable to provide a more comprehensive response to the complicated and sensitive questions raised by Mr. Basulto.

A similar letter has been provided to Congressman Diaz-Balart. If we may be of further assistance, please contact me or Mr. John R. Crane, Office of Congressional Liaison, at (703) 604-8324.


Eleanor Hill
Inspector General