Leftist guerrillas of the FARC (Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces) have killed a Colombian soldier and a US CIA agent and taken three other agents as prisoners of war after apparently shooting down their plane in Caqueta province in southern Colombia on February 12. The US government has been uncharacteristically quiet about the incident, but according to Colombian military sources cited by the Times of London, among other press accounts, the four US citizens and one Colombian soldier "were on a secret intelligence mission inside rebel-held territory" when they were shot down and captured.
According to the Times, the men were heading from Bogota to the Larandia military base, an anti-drug and counterinsurgency operations center deep in the jungles of Caqueta, in south-central Colombia. US Special Forces troops have used Larandia as a base for training Colombian Army anti-drug battalions, and the base is also known to harbor radar facilities used to track smuggling flights and coordinate the aerial fumigation of drug crops. Newsweek magazine reported this week that the plane carried "jungle-busting" radar used to try to track down and capture the leaders of the FARC's feared 15th Front.
According to conservative columnist Robert Novak, who penned a column calling for greater "force protection" for US mercenaries and soldiers in Colombia, the four US citizens were employees of California Microwave, Inc. of Sunnyvale, CA, working under contract with a CIA front called the Office of Regional Administration, which is housed in the US Embassy in Bogota. In spook speak, the men are thus "CIA agents," or persons hired by the CIA to do its dirty work. Persons actually employed directly by the agency are known as "CIA officers."
The dead US citizen was identified as James Thomas, hometown unknown, in the Colombia press; US officials have not identified him. While Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said the two men had been "murdered," and Colombian military commander Gen. Jorge Enrique Mora said they had been killed in an "execution-style in an act of cruelty," other accounts reported that the men had died attempting to resist capture by FARC guerrillas. And while US media outlets like the New York Times followed the official line in describing the other three CIA contract employees as having been "kidnapped" by the FARC, a less tendentious account might simply have noted that they were foreign belligerents captured by the enemy in enemy territory.
The FARC has stated publicly for several years that US government operatives assisting the Colombian state in its four-decades-old conflict with the guerrillas are legitimate military targets. A shift in US policy last year—from counter-narcotics to an open alliance with the Colombian state in the ongoing civil war against the guerrillas has only hardened that position.
Although the FARC has seized some 46 US citizens at various points in recent years, last week's incident marked the first -- and probably not the last -- time that it has captured US government employees or contractors.