Author Topic: DynCorp, US Role in Massive Aerial Herbicide Spraying Revealed  (Read 8061 times)

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Offline Catalina

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Despite years of ongoing, critical public health controversies in Colombia and Ecuador over the US-assisted aerial herbicide spraying of coca and poppy crops while trying to reduce illegal cocaine and heroin production, US State Department officials are pursuing that very same spraying strategy.

In fact, last year, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's administration temporarily cast aside the latest of several State Department exhortations to begin massive herbal spraying operations on poppy crops producing heroin there.

Colombian aerosol dusting of a mix of Roundup Ultra, Cosmo-Flux and other plant-penetrating agents began seven years ago. (In 2006 alone, the United Nations reported the spraying of approximately 172,025 hectares of coca crops, producing cocaine. That equals a bit over 664 square miles.)

In the meantime, untold thousands of Colombians and Ecuadorians have become sick from the blended chemical spray. Studies have shown the environmental dangers of inhalation and skin and eye saturation of the floating mist. And critically valuable maize, yucca and plantains have been destroyed in large swaths of the fertile country.

For years, DynCorp International of Fort Worth, Texas, has had the lucrative US multimillion-dollar annual contract for Colombian aerial spraying operations.

The company is being sued in Washington, DC, and US District Court by a class of 3,000 Ecuadorians who claim spray blown over the border from Colombia has sickened them.

"Glyphosate is used all over the world without these kinds of claims," said Gregory Lagana, a DynCorp spokesman. "We spray in Colombia, and there Glyphosate is used extensively. But we don't have any complaints where we spray it and what we do when we spray it. If there are health problems in Ecuador, they are certainly caused by something else." The spray itself, said Lagana, "is prescribed by the governments of Colombia and the United States. Monsanto makes the spray."

Monsanto, the herbicide manufacturer, has from time to time been identified by various Internet sites as the supplier of Roundup Ultra to Colombian spraying operations. But, through spokeswoman Tamara J. Craig Schilling, Monsanto refused to say whether the company is or was a supplier for Colombian spraying. Schilling refused to disclose the differences between regular Roundup and Roundup Ultra. The company claims Roundup is not harmful if instructions on the label are followed. Schilling said a Monsanto official in Mexico referred all such inquiries to the State Department. But, Monsanto also lists an office in Colombia inside its website.

Along with Dow Chemical, Monsanto was one of several US Army suppliers of the infamous Agent Orange, the herbicide used to deforest huge areas of jungle during the Vietnam War. The chemicals were alleged by many in multiple lawsuits to have caused birth defects and cancers among a large population of natives as well as US soldiers and their families.

Despite DynCorp spokesman Lagana's claims that Colombians are not being sickened by the spray, an American Friends service report, as early as 2002, said there were indeed health repercussions in Colombia as well. They cited the Putumayo Health Department report as saying: "Three municipalities targeted by spray campaigns from December 22, 2000, to February 2, 2001, indicated that medical personnel in three local hospitals reported increased visits due to skin problems, gastrointestinal infections, acute respiratory infection, and conjunctivitis following spraying."

In August 2001, a commission from a European Human Rights Organization found in a visit to the Province of Santanter that: "Contrary to official declarations about the harmlessness of Glyphosate, we were able to verify skin conditions (rashes and itching caused by the skin drying to the point of cracking) in both children and adults who were exposed directly to spraying while they worked their land or played outside their homes."

In fact, in spite of Lagana's insistence that Colombians haven't complained about the spray, a Colombian judge temporarily stopped spraying operations in July 2001 as a result of health complaints from indigenous groups.

Then in January 2002, the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations ruled "The UN (Human Rights) Commission should urge the United States and Colombia to discontinue the aerial herbicide application program and seek alternative eradication methods."

Based on a complaint from Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, the council concluded: "The combination of (1) health, food resource, and environmental impacts to Colombians and Ecuadorians, (2) the toxicity of the spray mixture and the failure of the United States and Colombia to instruct sprayers to observe health and environmental safety recommendations, (3) the failure of the United States and Colombia to disclose sufficient information about the mixture and its application, (4) the failure of the United States and Colombia to conduct sufficient health and environmental assessments, and (5) the potential human rights abuses that may result from future health studies, clearly places the United States and Colombia in violation of the rights of Colombians and Ecuadorians to a clean and healthy environment, health, life, sustenance, property, privacy, and access to information."

Ecuador has threatened for months to go to The International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, to pursue a case against the herbicide spraying by Colombia drifting across their common border. Repeated attempts over several weeks by this writer to contact an Ecuadorian government spokesperson concerning the herbicide spraying controversy failed.

"Colombia is convinced that the herbicide used in aerial spray of coca and poppy crops is harmless for human health and the environment," said Jurgan Kaiser, a Colombian government spokesman. "A scientific study recently undertaken under the auspices of the Organization of American States (Inter-American Commission against Drug Abuse) confirmed this. For more information about this, check the commission's web page at"

But a search of that site leads to a report on that scientific study that mentions many conflicting conclusions about the environmental impact of the herbicide mix sprayed in Colombia. It intricately discusses the pros and cons of a scientific treatise essentially concluding that the poppy spray is harmless to humans and the environment.

The US State Department believes the spraying of herbicide in Colombia is not harmful to the environment or to humans, said its spokeswoman Susan Pittman.

Contrary to government officials' and manufacturers' claims of non-toxicity, at least five inquiries have found that Roundup causes serious human health problems.

Specifically, seven scientific investigators, studying symptoms of Ecuadorians exposed to a mix of Roundup Ultra and other additive chemicals, concluded: "A total of 24 exposed and 21 unexposed control individuals were investigated using the comet assay. The results showed a higher degree of DNA damage in the exposed group compared to the control group. These results suggest that in the formulation used during aerial spraying Glyphosate had a genotoxic effect on the exposed individuals."

Mitra's Natural Innovation blog cites four more studies: "A group of scientists led by biochemist Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini from the University of Caen in France found that human placental cells are very sensitive to Roundup at concentrations lower than those currently used in agricultural application.

"An epidemiological study of Ontario farming populations showed that exposure to Glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, nearly doubled the risk of late miscarriages. Seralini and his team decided to research the effects of the herbicide on human placenta cells. Their study confirmed the toxicity of Glyphosate, as after eighteen hours of exposure at low concentrations, large proportions of human placenta began to die. Seralini suggests that this may explain the high levels of premature births and miscarriages observed among female farmers using Glyphosate"-. They found that the toxic effect increases in the presence of Roundup "adjuvants' or additives. These additives thus have a facilitating role, rendering Roundup twice as toxic as its isolated active ingredient, Glyphosate.

"Another study, released in April 2005 by the University of Pittsburgh, suggests that Roundup is a danger to other life forms and non-target organisms. Biologist Rick Relyea found that Roundup is extremely lethal to amphibians. In what is considered one of the most extensive studies on the effects of pesticides on non-target organisms in a natural setting, Relyea found that Roundup caused a 70 percent decline in amphibian biodiversity and an 86 percent decline in the total mass of tadpoles. Leopard frog tadpoles and gray tree frog tadpoles were nearly eliminated.

"In 2002, a scientific team led by Robert Belle of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) biological station in Roscoff, France showed that Roundup activates one of the key stages of cellular division that can potentially lead to cancer. Belle and his team have been studying the impact of Glyphosate formulations on sea urchin cells for several years."

Notwithstanding the billions of US and Colombian dollars spent on hazardous aerial spraying of crops that some scientific studies insist adversely impact humans, animals and fish, United Nations estimates say Colombian illicit drug production in metric tons has actually doubled in the decade ending in 2006. As well, says the UN, Colombia still remains the world's biggest coca grower, producing 62 percent of the world's supply of cocaine.

Sometimes, when Colombia's illegal drug totals dropped, those in Bolivia and Peru, where aerial spraying is illegal, went up, UN reports say. Even when narcotics-enforcing officials are successful one year, the demand for illicit drugs is so strong in the United States and elsewhere, the poppy crops pop up again and again from year to year.

In the meantime, these annual United Nations inquiries show the Far East, once a booming drug black market for the world, has dramatically cleaned up its act without major environmental harm.

"Thailand has been opium-free for a long time. Vietnam is also opium-free. Laos has cut opium production by 94 percent in less than a decade (down to 1,500 hectares, or about 5.79 square miles). Burma's share of the world opium market has collapsed from 30 percent in 1998 to under six percent in 2007. A decades-long process of drug control is clearly paying off. Thailand, in particular, stands out as an inspiration to its neighbors and a role model for other countries trying to overcome their drug problems," says the UN report.

Thailand worked over three decades to eventually replace poppies with other valuable agricultural production, says the UN. The government concentrated on battling the drug trade with a more comprehensive two-pronged approach: a crop replacement program and stronger police control over drug dealing. "In 1969, the Thai efforts were pioneered by King Bhumibol Adulyadej who introduced a crop replacement project after the establishment of his new Phubing Palace in Chiang Mai adjacent to an opium poppy-growing village on the mountain Doi Pui. He promoted a long-term and cooperative approach to opium control that encouraged finding income-generation alternatives rather than law enforcement," the report says.

Contrasting with Colombia, the US government, which assisted Thailand in its efforts, "removed Thailand from the US list of major drug-producing countries in the late 1990s because of the country's success in limiting opium cultivation to its current low levels, and from the list of major drug transit countries in 2004 when it was apparent that local trafficking in and through Thailand had no significant impact on the United States. There is, effectively, no cultivation or production of heroin, methamphetamine or other drugs in Thailand today," said the US State Department's own report.

Herbicide manufacturers and officials from the State Department, Environmental Protection Agency and Drug Enforcement Administration, plus Colombian officials, have been claiming for about seven years that the chemical cocktail including Roundup Ultra, in fact sometimes deadly to plants and often fish, is harmless to humans. Safe, they say, provided it is sprayed properly with just the right mixture; assuming humans are not covered with the mist more than several times; and supposing the chemicals don't repeatedly make their way into drinking water supplies. Apparently, however, there are few, if any, independent overseers to make sure the spray is consistently totally non-toxic or is targeted just to the coca and poppy crops.

Despite the benign chemical claims, Rand Beers, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics & law enforcement affairs, testified in 2002 in the federal court case against DynCorp ongoing today, that there had been no scientific tests of the environmental impacts of the combinations of chemicals used for the extensive Colombian sprayings, then two years old.

Most tellingly, the US State Department has been unable to convince other nations to follow Colombia's lead. After once again considering the repetitious US proposal to spray the lucrative drug-producing Afghan harvests, President Hamid Karzai's administration cast aside the offer in October. "We have rejected the spraying of poppy in Afghanistan for good reasons: the effect on the environment, other smaller crops and on human genetics," the acting minister for counter-narcotics, General Khodaidad, told Britain's The Guardian.

However, says the article, Karzai promised to continue the difficult manual plant eradication, ongoing with help from US forces for six years, not long after US and Afghan troops began their continuing war with terrorists. Scores of US contract employees, soldiers and Afghan security men have used sticks, tractors and all-terrain vehicles with harrows to destroy poppies. But, this plan proves to be as dangerous as spraying; contractors have been regularly fired upon by terrorists or those allied with farmers, or otherwise blocked in their poppy-bashing efforts by corrupt officials bent on favoring farmers with powerful political connections, a plethora of news reports say.

The incredible difficulties with manual eradication apparently left Karzai with some doubts, so he has not yet completely eliminated the possibility of reconsidering a US-sponsored effort to spray the poppy crops from the air with weed and plant killer Roundup and the typical additives accompanying it.

In February 2006, William B. Wood moved from his post as US ambassador to Colombia to become the ambassador to Afghanistan. At that point in time, Sam Logan of ISN Security Watch editorialized: "it is worrying that (Wood) might promote the same failed drug policies used in Colombia"-. Fumigation alone "" the leading method for reducing the supply of coca plants "" has eradicated other, legitimate crops and caused international disputes between Colombia and Ecuador. Environmental concerns linked to the use of herbicide to kill coca bushes inside Colombia's national parks underline the lengths the US government will go to target small, clandestine coca plantations in Colombia. Aircraft spraying chemicals in Colombia must fly at high altitudes to avoid damage due to small arms fire from the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)."

It appears, however, that back-to-back wars in Afghanistan have created intense public animosity to airborne chemicals. Many Afghans are fed up with the decades of hazardous pollutants welling up from US aerial bombardments and bunker-busters, home-made terrorist bombs, radioactive depleted uranium dust from fired US munitions, smoke from oil and other chemical fires and a host of other sorts of dangerous chemical contaminations.

"The US government was pushing for this to happen," said Said Mohammed Azam, a former Afghan Ministry of Counter-Narcotics official. "But the Brits were reluctant, particularly when it (developed) that the spray (could) have happened in Helmand province. Nearly half of the opium that was produced last year came from Helmand alone "- most (Afghan officials) were afraid of nodding yes to (the spray) because they were not very much aware of the (contents)"-. This concern among Afghan officials underpinned when the two sectarian ministries, public health and agriculture opposed the idea because they reasoned the chemicals could harm the environment in areas where the spray took place. I heard the eradication of poppy started (in early 2008) in Helmand province and the Interior Ministry has deployed 500 extra troops from center for this purpose. Apparently the eradication will happen through traditional means: hand, tractor or using oxen or other animals."

Thomas "Dennie" Williams is a former state and federal court reporter, specializing in investigations, for the Hartford Courant. Since the 1970's, he has written extensively about irregularities in the Connecticut Superior Court, Probate Court systems for disciplining both judges and lawyers for misconduct, and failures of the Pentagon and the VA to assist sick veterans returning from war. (He can be reached at [email protected]).

Spare no cost for truth's sake, neither depart from it for any gain. -Proverbs 23:23

Bestow not the gifts that God has given you to get worldly riches. -Proverbs 23:4

Offline Satyagraha

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DynCorp's Drug Problem: Narcotics trafficking in Colombia
« Reply #1 on: August 03, 2009, 07:54:20 am »
This article from 2001 on DynCorp's involvement with Columbia & flying out the coke...
Think much has changed?

DynCorp's Drug Problem
By Jason Vest, The Nation
Posted on July 10, 2001
Could the State Department's antidrug contractors in South America possibly be dabbling in narcotics trafficking? A key part of the U.S.'s $1.3 billion contribution to Plan Colombia -- the scheme that will supposedly expedite the end of Colombia's civil war -- calls for the use of private contractors (as opposed to actual U.S. military assets) to fly airborne missions against both the fields that grow coca and poppy and the labs that process them. While some contractors, like Aviation Development Corporation of Montgomery, Alabama, fly surveillance missions for the CIA, those that fly on retainer for other U.S. government agencies are a bit more expansive in their missions.

Consulting giant DynCorp's private pilots in the Andes fly everything from fixed-wing fumigation runs to helicopter-borne interdiction missions ferrying troops into hot spots. If you take DynCorp's word for it, any notion of the organization's being involved in drug trafficking is ludicrous. "Whether or not you believe this, we are a very ethical company," said a senior DynCorp official, who insisted on being quoted off the record. "We take steps to make sure the people we hire are ethical."

Yet the existence of a document that The Nation recently obtained (under the Freedom of Information Act) from the Drug Enforcement Administration -- combined with the unwillingness of virtually any U.S. or Colombian government agency to elaborate on the document -- has some in Washington and elsewhere wondering if, like virtually every other entity charged with fighting the drug war, DynCorp might have a bad apple or two in its barrel. According to a monthly DEA intelligence report from last year, officers of Colombia's National Police force intercepted and opened, on May 12, 2000, a U.S.-bound Federal Express package at Bogota's El Dorado International Airport. The parcel "contained two (2) small bottles of a thick liquid" that "had the same consistency as motor oil." The communiqué goes on to report that the liquid substance "tested positive for heroin" and that the "alleged heroin laced liquid weighed approximately 250 grams." (Freebase heroin, it bears noting, is soluble in motor oil, and can therefore be extracted without much trouble.)

But perhaps the most intriguing piece of information in the DEA document is the individual to whom it reports that the package belonged: an unnamed employee of DynCorp, who was sending the parcel to the company's Andean operations headquarters at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. More interesting still is the reluctance of DynCorp and the government to provide substantial details in support of their contention that this situation isn't really what it seems.

According to DynCorp spokeswoman Janet Wineriter, the viscous liquid that the Colombians tested was not, in fact, laced with heroin; it was simply "oil samples of major aircraft components" that DynCorp technicians are required to take and send to the U.S. "on a periodic basis." Explaining that the drug test was conducted "with apparently faulty equipment" that produced "an incorrect reading," Wineriter could not specify what testing procedures or equipment were used. She identified her source for the explanation as Charlene A. Wheeless, DynCorp's Vice President for Corporate Communications.

Unable to cite any source other than Wheeless ("I'm assuming when someone passes along this information that it's accurate"), Wineriter told The Nation to call the Colombian National Police and the State Department for further details. The State Department liaison with DynCorp did not return phone calls, and when the Colombian National Police in Bogota were contacted, an official informed The Nation that the CNP would not comment on the matter, referring all queries to the DEA. A DEA spokesman in Washington said the matter was not a DEA case, and referred calls to the U.S. Embassy in Bogota.

It took six days for the embassy to produce a terse, 143-word response to The Nation's queries -- a response that echoed, but did not mirror, DynCorp's account. The embassy did confirm that the vials of oil are "routinely shipped to DynCorp facilities at Patrick AFB for analysis related to proper maintenance" of aircraft, and confirmed that "several aircraft motor oil samples" were confiscated by Colombian police who used "NARCOTEX equipment [and] detected the presence of heroin in unspecified amounts." Unlike Dyncorp, the embassy did not blame the test results on a false positive caU.S.ed by faulty equipment; what's odd is that the embassy has no idea what ultimately became of the seized oil. "The samples seized at the airport were sent to the CNP's Forensic Institute for further analysis, but the CNP did not subsequently pursue the matter with the U.S. Embassy or DynCorp personnel in Colombia," the embassy said, adding that the embassy has "asked the CNP to clarify the status of any investigation of this matter."

Many questions remain about the CNP interception of the DynCorp package in Bogota last year. While there's nothing unusual about sending aircraft oil samples to DynCorp's main base in the U.S., DynCorp's assertion thatpoorly calibrated drug testing equipment caused a false positive has experts scratching their heads -- as does the U.S. Embassy's description of the testing itself.

When asked to specify what, exactly, "NARCOTEX equipment" is and what testing methodologies it, an embassy official responded that he had "no idea." A veteran DEA agent said he had "never heard of anything called NARCOTEX," and after a hard round of research, staffers at the International Association of Chiefs of Police's Drug Recognition Experts Section told The Nation they couldn't find evidence of any drug testing technology with the name. And according to a number of scientists with backgrounds in chemical testing and opiate research, the information provided by DynCorp and the U.S. Embassy in Bogota isn't nearly enough to ascertain independently just what was in those bottles seized by the Colombian police.

Peter Facchini, a University of Calgary biochemist and leading expert on opiates, notes that any number of several types of tests may or may not have been conducted, and without knowing specifics or lab protocols, it's impossible to render a scientific conclU.S.ion. But, he and others add,it's unlikely that any testing apparatU.S. would errantly identify something as heroin in motor oil. Drug tests for coca and opiates look for the presence of alkaloids -- and alkaloids, says Facchini, aren't naturally present in fuel oils. "I can't imagine any reason there should be even a trace of an alkaloid in aircraft oil or motor oil -- that doesn't make any sense at all," he says.

Thomas Tullius, chair of Boston University's chemistry department (and author of the study refuting the U.S. government's claim of possessing reliable evidence that the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan was producing nerve gas), also finds DynCorp's explanation curious. "Maybe there is something in motor oil that might cross-react, but I would be surprised to find that true," says Tullius. "This is like the al-Shifa thing -- people aren't telling you precise methods U.S.ed or numbers found."

And according to Adam Isacson, senior associate and Latin America specialist at the Center for International Policy, DynCorp and State's handling of the situation doesn't exactly inspire confidence. "It sounds like they have no idea what the outcome of this case was, and it doesn't look like they have much of a burning desire to find out what happened," observes Isacson. "They have an interest in sweeping this under the rug. They don't want anything to derail Plan Colombia, and key to that is the willingness to let contractors operate in almost complete secrecy. Anything that raises questions is to be avoided like the plague -- they don't want people to think about DynCorp, because then people might actually look at the whole policy."

Which is what critics of Plan Colombia are hoping will happen over the next few weeks. On June 27, the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee began crafting next year's overseas budget package, which includes funding for the Andean Counterdrug Initiative, a measure that essentially expands Plan Colombia to neighboring Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil and Panama. While the Bush Administration has requested more money for development assistance, the bulk of the money still goes to military assistance (71 percent, in Colombia's case), and there is continued financing for the fumigation and manual eradication of coca and poppy crops that DynCorp carries out under contract for State.

A number of amendments have been offered to the appropriations bill that would do everything from imposing a moratorium on fumigation to reining in U.S. military spending in the Andes, and activists are hopeful that some of these amendments may actually pass. While the Republican ranks are full of proud drug warriors, even some conservatives -- such as House Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton -- are growing increasingly leery of DynCorp's operations; Burton is reportedly so irked by what he sees as lack of the contractor accountability that he's considering taking legislative action himself. Democratic Representative Jan Schakowsky, meanwhile, is championing a bill that would impose a ban on the use of private military contractors like DynCorp, citing everything from State's intransigence in answering Congressional queries to the possibility of the U.S.'s getting more involved in a foreign war that is conducted largely out of the public eye.

"All these concerns reinforce my views that the U.S. should immediately terminate its contract with DynCorp and all other private companies conducting sensitive, military-like operations in the Andean Region,"says Schakowsky."Reports that DynCorp employees have been implicated in drug trafficking, the very thing they are paid to help prevent, only strengthens my conviction that outsourcing is the wrong policy. It's frustrating for reporters, but outrageous for members of Congress not to have access to information about U.S. involvement in the Andean region and how taxpayer dollars are being spent -- most of the information we have is from investigative news reports that raise more questions than answers."

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