As the three former Colombian hostages quietly returned to their Florida hometowns Saturday, sources in Colombia revealed that the U.S. military was much more involved in their daring rescue than previously reported.
Former hostages Keith Stansell, Thomas Howes and Marc Gonsalves returned to their Florida homes as sources in Colombia revealed that special U.S. advisers were “invited” to embed themselves in every aspect of the last stages of planning Operation Checkmate, the Colombian intelligence scheme that rescued the Americans and 12 other hostages, including former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas.
The ploy to lure rebels to hand over the hostages to undercover security agents was conceived and hatched by Colombian military intelligence, which kept the United States out of the loop until about a week before the mission was launched July 2, according to a high-level official, who spoke on the condition that his name not be used.
Colombian officials have publicly denied any direct U.S. involvement in the design of the operation but have acknowledged some material support for the rescue operation that has been hailed as a brilliant intelligence coup.
Colombian officials said the United States provided an emergency signal for the helicopter and installed a sophisticated beaconing system. A U.S. drone also circled high above.
But the source said that Americans were involved in fine-tuning the plan. The Americans helped the Colombians “make sure everything was thought through.”