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Highlights

In the 1990s, the United States operated a program in Colombia and Peru called Air Bridge Denial (ABD). The ABD program targeted drug traffickers that transport illicit drugs through the air by forcing down suspicious aircraft, using lethal force if necessary. The program was suspended in April 2001 when a legitimate civilian aircraft was shot down in Peru and two U.S. citizens were killed. The program was restarted in Colombia in August 2003 after additional safeguards were established. To date, the United States has provided about $68 million in support and plans to provide about $26 million in fiscal year 2006. We examined whether the ABD program's new safeguards were being implemented and its progress in attaining U.S. and Colombian objectives.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of State 1. To help in assessing whether the ABD program is making progress toward meeting its overall goal of reducing illegal drug trafficking in Colombia's airspace, the Secretary of State should work with Colombia to define performance measures with benchmarks and timeframes. These performance measures, as well as results, should be included in the annual report to the Congress regarding the ABD program.
Closed - Implemented
In September 2005, we recommended (Drug Control: Air Bridge Denial Program in Colombia Has Implemented New Safeguards, but Its Effect on Drug Trafficking Is Not Clear, GAO-05-970) that the Secretary of State (1) establish performance measures for the Air Bridge Denial (ABD) program that include benchmarks and timeframes. We also recommended that the Secretary of State encourage Colombia to (2) seek ways to more actively involve the police in Air Bridge Denial (ABD) missions and (3) establish ABD air bases closer to the areas with the most suspicious tracks. State found the report to be an accurate assessment of the program, and stated that it is developing benchmarks and timeframes for its performance measures. Since the recommendation was made, State is (1) working with Colombia to develop timeframes and benchmarks for nationalization of the ABD program. Transition of the Air Bridge Denial program is underway, with a December 2007 signed letter of agreement and aircraft titles transferred to the Colombians. The next step will be a two-year transition of maintenance responsibilities to the Colombians. State (2) took the lead in facilitating regular meetings between the Colombian military and police. State officials told us in January 2008 that the Colombian police and military coordinate much more closely than in the past. State (3) encouraged the Colombian government to establish bases in areas near the most suspicious tracks. As of January 2008, the most recent trends show that traffickers are increasingly making short hops from the Colombian side of the border into Venezuela. The Colombians have now stationed interceptor aircraft at Marandau, close to the Venezuelan border.
Department of State 2. Because the police are seldom involved in ABD missions, the Secretary of State should encourage Colombia to seek ways to more actively involve the National Police.
Closed - Implemented
In September 2005, we recommended (Drug Control: Air Bridge Denial Program in Colombia Has Implemented New Safeguards, but Its Effect on Drug Trafficking Is Not Clear, GAO-05-970) that the Secretary of State (1) establish performance measures for the Air Bridge Denial (ABD) program that include benchmarks and timeframes. We also recommended that the Secretary of State encourage Colombia to (2) seek ways to more actively involve the police in Air Bridge Denial (ABD) missions and (3) establish ABD air bases closer to the areas with the most suspicious tracks. State found the report to be an accurate assessment of the program, and stated that it is developing benchmarks and timeframes for its performance measures. Since the recommendation was made, State is (1) working with Colombia to develop timeframes and benchmarks for nationalization of the ABD program. Transition of the Air Bridge Denial program is underway, with a December 2007 signed letter of agreement and aircraft titles transferred to the Colombians. The next step will be a two-year transition of maintenance responsibilities to the Colombians. State (2) took the lead in facilitating regular meetings between the Colombian military and police. State officials told us in January 2008 that the Colombian police and military coordinate much more closely than in the past. State (3) encouraged the Colombian government to establish bases in areas near the most suspicious tracks. As of January 2008, the most recent trends show that traffickers are increasingly making short hops from the Colombian side of the border into Venezuela. The Colombians have now stationed interceptor aircraft at Marandau, close to the Venezuelan border.
Department of State 3. Because many of the suspicious aircraft tracks are difficult for Colombia to locate and interdict given the current location of its ABD air bases, the Secretary of State should encourage Colombia to establish ABD air bases closer to the current activity of suspicious aircraft tracks.
Closed - Implemented
In September 2005, we recommended (Drug Control: Air Bridge Denial Program in Colombia Has Implemented New Safeguards, but Its Effect on Drug Trafficking Is Not Clear, GAO-05-970) that the Secretary of State (1) establish performance measures for the Air Bridge Denial (ABD) program that include benchmarks and timeframes. We also recommended that the Secretary of State encourage Colombia to (2) seek ways to more actively involve the police in Air Bridge Denial (ABD) missions and (3) establish ABD air bases closer to the areas with the most suspicious tracks. State found the report to be an accurate assessment of the program, and stated that it is developing benchmarks and timeframes for its performance measures. Since the recommendation was made, State is (1) working with Colombia to develop timeframes and benchmarks for nationalization of the ABD program. Transition of the Air Bridge Denial program is underway, with a December 2007 signed letter of agreement and aircraft titles transferred to the Colombians. The next step will be a two-year transition of maintenance responsibilities to the Colombians. State (2) took the lead in facilitating regular meetings between the Colombian military and police. State officials told us in January 2008 that the Colombian police and military coordinate much more closely than in the past. State (3) encouraged the Colombian government to establish bases in areas near the most suspicious tracks. As of January 2008, the most recent trends show that traffickers are increasingly making short hops from the Colombian side of the border into Venezuela. The Colombians have now stationed interceptor aircraft at Marandau, close to the Venezuelan border.

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