As we noted earlier, a leaked State Department memo suggests that Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield tried to discourage investigators from State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security from investigating the circumstances in which four villagers were killed in a joint DEA-Honduran police counternarcotics operation in Ahuas, Honduras last year. Additionally, according to the allegations summarized in the memo, DEA officials refused to cooperate with OIG investigators working on the same case.
The memo, which dates from October of last year and which CEPR has seen, summarizes “several investigations into possible cases of misconduct [that] were influenced, manipulated or called off,” as Reuters described them. Some of the other cases mentioned in the document include allegations that members of the Secretary of State’s detail “allegedly engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries,” including in Colombia (the memo notes that “[t]hese events occurred prior to the Secret Service scandal in Colombia”); and that U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman, “routinely ditched his protective security detail in order to solicit sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children.” (Gutman denies the allegations.)
The section on the Ahuas shootings also reveals that, although the DEA agents in Honduras were officially under the authority of the U.S. ambassador in Honduras, the ambassador’s security attaché – also known as the Regional Security Officer (RSO) - was initially “not aware of the incident, as DEA had not reported it.” The State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence, Special Investigations Division (DS/ICI/SID) only “became aware” of the incident “through news reporting.”
The memo suggests, in other words, that the DEA was not in a hurry to notify the State Department that several people – with no apparent ties to drug-trafficking – had been killed in their operation, and several others shot and wounded. The memo then notes that this lack of cooperation apparently continued: “Despite requests by the U.S. ambassador to Honduras and congressional pressure, DEA reportedly is not cooperating with DS/ICI/SID.”
As noted previously, the memo cites Brownfield as “not [being] forthcoming” and “[giving] the impression he believed DS [the Bureau of Diplomatic Security] should not pursue the investigation.” The summary of the Ahuas case concludes by stating that “Although [Special Investigations Division] has provided DEA with the investigative information obtained, to date DEA has not cooperated with DS and the investigation cannot proceed further.”
In response, Brownfield told Foreign Policy’s The Cable blog that "Allegations in the press that I stymied an investigation into a shooting incident in Honduras are false," and "[t]he issue was never whether the incident would be investigated, but rather which U.S. Government organization would review the involvement of U.S. law enforcement support of a foreign police operation overseas."
Here is the “DEA Shootings in Honduras” summary from the memo in full:
Case Name: DEA Shootings in Honduras
Summary: Around May 2012, DS/ICI/SID became aware, through news reporting, of a shooting incident in a remote Honduran village by a DEA FAST team that resulted in approximately four deaths and several injuries. The RSO at post was not aware of the incident, as DEA had not reported it. The DEA agents were under chief of mission authority on an INL-funded mission, and thus were subject to investigation by the RSO and DS/ICI/SID in coordination with DEA. Despite requests by the U.S. ambassador to Honduras and congressional pressure, DEA reportedly is not cooperating with DS/ICI/SID. The case agent interviewed Assistant Secretary for INL, William Brownfield, who reportedly was not forthcoming and gave the impression he believed DS should not pursue the investigation. Although SID has provided DEA with the investigative information obtained, to date DEA has not cooperated with DS and the investigation cannot proceed further.
The memo dates from October of last year so it is possible that progress on this, and other cases cited in the memo, have moved forward since this was drafted. However, the memo’s brief summary of the hurdles that OIG investigators reportedly encountered while trying to investigate the Ahuas killings appears to confirm strong suspicions – outlined in a recent CEPR-Rights Action report – that officials at both DEA and the State Department are actively seeking to prevent all the truth around the tragic Ahuas killings from coming to light.
Note: An earlier version of this post mistakenly stated that the leaked memo suggested that Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield had sought to discourage investigators from the Office of Inspector General. In fact, the memo referred to investigators from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.