Trump denies US involvement in Venezuela’s botched ‘coup’ operation

Plot began with boat landing over weekend with two former US Green Berets aboard

U.S. President Donald Trump wears protective glasses as he tours a Honeywell facility manufacturing protective face masks for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., May 5, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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The Trump administration has denied any links to an operation involving two US citizens who were apprehended in Venezuela after a failed attempt to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro.

“I just got information. Nothing to do with our government,” US President Donald Trump said on Monday of the operation that took place at the weekend.

The US State Department accused Mr Maduro of spreading disinformation.

Earlier in the day, Mr Maduro called it a “failed invasion” in which the US administration was "fully and completely involved".

“They were playing Rambo, they were playing the hero,” he said.

The plot began when a boat with two American men, identified by Venezuelan security as Luke Denman, 34, and Airan Berry, 41, landed in Venezuela.

Both are former members of US Special Forces or the Green Berets, and sailed from Colombia to team up with locals and overthrow Mr Maduro, the government in Caracas said.

They are being held at a Navy base in La Guaira state near the capital. Mr Maduro called them “professional American mercenaries”.

The US considers the embattled Venezuelan president to be illegitimate and has put $15 million (Dh55.1m) bounty for his arrest.

Mr Maduro displayed photos, passports and footage of the operation and those involved.

At the heart of the botched coup attempt is the private US security company Silvercorp, based in Florida.

Its head, Jordan Goudreau, acknowledged the plot that he orchestrated from nearby Colombia, and said the two Americans were part of a larger force to complete the mission.

Mr Goudreau told The Washington Post that other members were killed or captured in "Operation Gideon" on Sunday.

The company was founded in 2018 and he said it had put together plans to overthrow Mr Maduro months ago.

Mr Goudreau had been working with a retired Venezuelan army general, who was facing US drugs, charges to train dozens of deserters from the country’s security forces at secret camps inside Colombia, AP reported on Friday.

Cliver Alcala, the retired general, turned himself in late in March over the narcotics charges.

The US State Department on Tuesday accused the Maduro regime of spreading false information.

"There is a major disinformation campaign under way by the Maduro regime, making it difficult to separate facts from propaganda," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

The department said the US government was "making efforts to learn more, including about the activities of two US citizens who are reportedly in the custody of the former regime, as well as Mr Goudreau".

The US is also looking into the role of the "very large Cuban intelligence apparatus in Venezuela".

It is unclear if the US government has had contact with the two prisoners since the arrest.

Intelligence expert Eliot Higgins called the event the “world’s dumbest coup".

And a former US official is questioning the level of American involvement.

Brett McGurk, the former US envoy against ISIS for Barack Obama and Mr Trump, laid out three possibilities.

Mr McGurk said they were: “Our intel is so bad that we had no idea former US military personnel organised an armed incursion; we knew about it but did nothing to discourage or stop it; Keystone Cops Bay of Pigs."

The Bay of Pigs was the 1961 US failed operation to push Fidel Castro out of power in Cuba.