United States Senate
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
Washington, DC 20510-6226
October 3, 1996
HELMS CHARGES U.S. KNEW PLANES IN CUBA SHOOT DOWN WERE IN DANGER
Says U.S. Officials Watched as MiGs Approached, Yet "Nothing Was Done to Prevent the Tragedy"
WASHINGTON, DC - Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC) today charged that U.S. officials knew three American civilian planes shot down by Cuban government earlier this year were in danger, but took no action to either save them or even alert them of the impending attack. In letters to the Secretaries of State, Defense and Treasury, Helms called on them to direct their Inspectors General to investigate the incident.
"The American people have not been told the truth about this tragic event," Helms wrote in identical letters delivered today to Secretaries Christopher, Perry and Rubin. "There is substantial and growing evidence that U.S. military and civilian authorities were aware that the three American civilian planes... were in danger before Cuban fighters shot two of them down," Helms said.
"U.S. officials watched as Cuban MiGs headed toward the civilian aircraft," and yet, Helms wrote, "nothing was done to prevent the tragedy or to alert the civilian pilots."
Helms charges there is evidence that "Cuban aircraft were at one point about three minutes off the U.S. coast - and there was no U.S. reaction." He notes that "in the past U.S. aircraft were scrambled when Cuban aircraft were flying with a far less aggressive purpose and at greater distance from U.S. shores."
Helms included a list of questions he wanted answered about the incident. A copy of the letter and questions are attached.
United States Senate
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
Washington, DC 20510-4226
October 3, 1996
The Honorable William J. Perry
Secretary of Defense
Department of Defense
Washington, D.C. 20301-1155
Dear Mr. Secretary:
There is substantial and growing evidence that U.S. military and civilian authorities were aware that three American planes belonging to "Brothers to the Rescue" were in danger before Cuban fighters shot two of them down in the Florida straits on February 24, 1996. U.S. officials watched on radar as Cuban MiGs headed toward the civilian aircraft, and in one instance, we know that a U.S. Customs official alerted Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.
Nothing was done to prevent the tragedy or to alert the civilian pilots.
I am now advised that evidence was revealed at a National Transportation Safety Board hearing (regarding the revocation of Jose Basulto's pilot's license) that tape recordings of conversations between Cuban MiGs and the air control tower in Havana indicate that Cuban aircraft were at one point about 3 minutes off the U.S. coast - and there was no U.S. reaction.
In the past, U.S. aircraft were scrambled when Cuban aircraft were flying, with far less aggressive purpose and at a greater distance from U.S. shores. In this case, do you agree that Cuban fighter planes were allowed to fly too close to U.S. territory without a proper response from our government?
A House international Relations Subcommittee held a hearing on the shoot down last week and a U.S. Customs official with significant knowledge of the incident was prohibited from testifying in an open session; and the two DoD officials who testified could not or would not answer any questions. It seems strange to me that CIA officials were instructed to meet with Cuban intelligence officers immediately after the shoot down to show them "U.S. intelligence data" (as was reported in the Washington Post), but the American people have not been told the truth about this tragic event. Can you help remedy that situation?
I respectfully request that your Inspector General be directed to conduct an investigation of this matter to determine: 1) the facts surrounding the February 24 shoot-down: 2) the normal procedures to be followed by the US military during this type of incident (and whether these procedures were followed); and 3) how our government will respond to a similar scenario in the future. I ask that responses to the questions be part of the review.
Questions on the February 24, 1996
Shoot-down of "Brothers to the Rescue" Aircraft
Do U.S. officials have the capability of contacting civilian aircraft such as "Brothers to the Rescue" while they are in flight? If so, which agencies have the capability? Has "Brothers to the Rescue" ever been notified by U.S. officials about their flying in the Florida Straits to Rescue Cuban refugees? If so, please provide specific details regarding each event.
Is the Department aware of any prior incident where Cuban military aircraft followed and/or chased "Brothers to the Rescue" aircraft in the Florida Straits? If such an event occurred, did U.S. officials respond in any matter, a.g. did they notify "Brothers to the Rescue?"
Is the department aware of any incident where Cuban military aircraft have followed and/or chased U.S. civilian and/or military aircraft? If so, please describe each incident.
At 3:15 p.m., on February 24, 1996, a U.S. Customs official stationed in California placed a call to the Southeast Air Defense at Tyndall Air Force Base. What was the substance of this call? What was the reaction and/or response to his call by officials at Tyndall AFB? [Please include a copy of the recorded transcript of the phone call.]
According to a sworn statement by the Customs official who contacted Tyndall AFB about the Cuban MiG's, normal security procedures were not followed during the incident. Instead, the procedures were described as "extremely irregular." What are the normal security procedures? What happened in this case? Were the procedures followed? If not, why not?
Why were the civilian "Brothers to the Rescue" pilots not warned about the Cuban MiGs?
What measures could the US military have taken to protect the "Brothers to the Rescue" pilots? Were any of them taken? Who made the final decision not to notify the "Brothers to the Rescue" pilots before they were shot down? In this case, what level of authority did the final decision-maker(s) have?
Did U.S. official observe or otherwise have knowledge of the downing of the first "Brothers to the Rescue" aircraft at the time of the downing? After the first "Brothers" aircraft was shot down, was any consideration given by any U.S. official to notify the remaining two "Brothers" aircraft? If not, why not? If so, how was the decision reached, and who made the decision? After the second "Brothers" aircraft was shot down, then was there any consideration given to notifying the remaining aircraft that it was in danger? If not, why not? If so, please explain the details.
On February 24, did Cuban MiGs come within approximately three minutes (flight time) of U.S. territory? Is there any assessment as to whether Cuban MiGs being approximately three (3) minutes from U.S. territory constitute a threat to the United States?
At what point has or would the U.S. military scramble aircraft, or take other actions, in response to hostile and/or aggressive actions by any element of the Cuban military?
How frequently do Cuban military aircraft fly outside the northern 12 mile territorial limit of Cuba? What is the U.S. military response to such Cuban flights? Has the U.S. military scrambled aircraft in response to Cuban military aircraft flying north of Cuba's 12 mile territorial sea? If so, how frequent has the U.S. response been?