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US plane monitored Tivoli operation

Published:Wednesday | December 7, 2011 | 12:00 AM
An aircraft believed to be the United States spy plane mentioned in the New Yorker article flies above Tivoli Gardens, West Kingston, on May 24 last year. - Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer

Mark Beckford, Online Content Coordinator

A United States (US) report is contradicting claims made last year by the Jamaican Government that it did not receive any foreign assistance during the Tivoli Gardens, West Kingston, operation to nab Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.

An investigative piece to be published in the American magazine, the New Yorker, has revealed that a US spy plane took surveillance imagery of Tivoli Gardens on May 24, 2010 during the incursion into that community.

According to the article which is to appear in the magazine on December 12, a Lockheed P-3 Orion, belonging to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was flying above Kingston on May 24 "in support of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Jamaican Government".

The revelation contradicts past statements by the Jamaican government which denied that there was a US spy plane despite evidence at the time.

During a press conference held on May 25 last year at Jamaica House, then Minister with responsibility for Information Daryl Vaz, responding to questions from journalists, denied that Jamaica received any outside help.

"From a Government standpoint I can indicate clearly that there was no outside assistance in this operation, that is for sure," Vaz had said.

Brigadier Rocky Meade (then a colonel), who was in charge of the operation in Tivoli Gardens, followed Vaz's stance when quizzed on whether there had been any foreign aircraft involved.

"I have no information that there were any drones here," Meade had said during the press conference.

Continuously recorded

According to the article, written by Mattathias Schwartz, a DHS incident report obtained through the Freedom of Information Act describes the surveillance.

"All scenes were continuously recorded," stated the document, titled Significant Incident Report (click here) and a copy of which The Gleaner has received.

The document states that during surveillance, the aircraft observed approximately 40 armed Jamaican soldiers/law enforcement officers dressed in camouflage raiding most of the surrounding buildings and houses. The aircraft also observed multiple vehicle fires and building fires throughout Tivoli Gardens and the surrounding area.

The aircraft also saw several groups of people running in and around buildings to avoid the military.

The New Yorker article states that the State Department and the DEA have also officially acknowledged that the aircraft assisted the Jamaican government during the Tivoli operation.

US officials also said in the article that the P-3 Orion passed information to "US law-enforcement officers stationed at the Embassy, who provided that information to Jamaican authorities".

No ground support

"The video material was not viewed in the Embassy," a US State Department spokesperson told the New Yorker. "It was viewed at a tactical-operations centre."

US officials also said in the article that US law enforcement officers had not made "operational decisions" during the incursion and emphasised Jamaican responsibility.

"We were absolutely not involved on the ground in any of the operations," a DEA spokesperson said.

The DHS document, however, stated that "surveillance support is needed to increase officer safety. The article went on to say that this referred to Jamaican officers.

Efforts to get a response from Minister of National Security Senator Dwight Nelson up to news time were unsuccessful.

Last night Minister with responsibility for Information Arthur Williams said he was not in a position to address the matter but that Nelson would be at today's post-Cabinet press briefing where he would be available to provide the necessary clarifications .

At the end of the Tivoli operation more than 70 people were killed, including a member of the Jamaica Defence Force.