But details remained scarce as the two countries traded accusations but offered little new information about the mysterious mission.
The incident added to more than a year of growing tensions as the administration, accusing President Nicolás Maduro of human rights abuses, corruption and narcotics trafficking, has tried to force him from office with economic sanctions and criminal indictments.
Asked what the Trump administration was doing to free the two men, Pompeo said that “if in fact, these are Americans that are there … we’ll use every tool that we have available to try to get them back.”
Earlier, President Trump said the incident “has nothing to do with our government,” and the State Department cited privacy considerations in declining to comment on the reported arrests.
Venezuela’s foreign minister said Tuesday that the two men were “confessing without any reservations.” He did not describe what the men had told authorities about the operation, which Maduro described as an assassination plot.
“There is a major disinformation campaign underway by the Maduro regime, making it difficult to separate facts from propaganda,” the State Department responded in a statement.
A U.S. Army spokesman, Lt. Col. Emmanuel Ortiz, said service records confirm that the two captured Americans, Airan Berry and Luke Denman, are Special Forces veterans, as is Jordan Goudreau, the head of a Florida security services company who first announced the operation in a video Sunday morning.
Goudreau, in an interview with The Washington Post, said Berry and Denman were “supervisors” of a force he said numbered about 60 Venezuelans. Most, if not all of them, were believed to be military and police defectors living in camps in Colombia, near the Venezuelan border.
Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan legislator and opposition leader recognized as interim president by the United States and more than 50 other countries, lashed out Tuesday at Maduro for staging what he called a “massacre.”
“They knew about this and were waiting to massacre them,” Guaidó said in a virtual session of the opposition-controlled National Assembly. “Nicolás Maduro, you are responsible. The regime knew about that operation, you infiltrated it and waited to massacre them.”
The CIA declined to comment.
The State Department statement, which described the unfolding situation as a “melodrama,” said officials would be “looking closely into the role of the Maduro regime . . . and especially of the very large Cuban intelligence apparatus in Venezuela.”
“The record of falsehoods and manipulation by Maduro and his accomplices, as well as their highly questionable representation of the details, argues that nothing should be taken at face value when we see the distorting of facts,” the statement said.
“What is clear is that the former regime is using the event to justify an increased level of repression,” the statement said. Noting “the timing of these events,” the statement said that 46 prisoners were killed, and 74 injured, in a “massacre” by government forces at Los Llanos prison in Venezuela over the weekend.
Maduro’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, told The Post that the U.S. government had yet to make contact with the Venezuelan government after Maduro’s Monday evening announcement of the arrest of the two Americans.
“They have already had many hours to develop their ‘it wasn’t me’ strategy,” Arreaza said in a text-message exchange. He said the two were being questioned by Venezuelan authorities and were “confessing without any reservations.”
Jorge Rodríguez, Maduro’s communications chief, alleged at a news conference in Caracas that Goudreau and Trump are connected.
“How is it that the Secret Service of the United States hired Silvercorp to handle Trump’s security and that Silvercorp publishes that on its website?” he asked.
The alleged connection appeared to refer to a relationship between Goudreau — who operates a Florida company, Silvercorp, that says it offers paid strategic security services — and former Trump security chief Keith Schiller.
In his Sunday video, Goudreau and former Venezuelan National Guard officer Javier Nieto Quintero said what they called “Operation Gideon” was designed to capture senior members of Maduro’s government. They called on Venezuelan military forces to rise up and join the invaders.
Goudreau later told The Post he had known Berry and Denman for years. Goudreau and Denman deployed together in Iraq in 2010, said a former Special Forces soldier who served with all three of them. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Berry was a capable leader but dealt with personal family issues, said two men who served with him. Denman is an “artistic hipster” type, a former soldier said, with a lighter, carefree personality that was respected and rare in the community.
Goudreau, Denman and Berry deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan eight times combined, said Ortiz, the Army spokesman.
Goudreau, he said, left the service in February 2016 as a sergeant first class after serving first as an indirect fire infantryman and then a medical sergeant. Berry was a Special Forces engineer sergeant who served in the Army from 1996 until October 2013. Denman served on active duty as a Special Forces communications sergeant from October 2006 to December 2011 and in the Army Reserve through September 2014.
David Maxwell, a retired Army officer with 22 years of experience in Special Forces, said the Venezuela operation appeared to be poorly planned and executed.
Operators would typically favor sterile uniforms and forgo anything connected to their identities, Maxwell said. But Maduro waved Berry and Denman’s expired military IDs, Veterans Affairs cards and passports in a televised address Monday following their capture.
“I don’t know what their thinking was. It’s embarrassing for the regiment and the U.S.,” said Maxwell, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank in Washington. “Did they think it was going to be a ‘get out of jail free’ card?”
A core competency of Special Operations is working with indigenous forces to incite rebellion or overthrow a regime, Maxwell said, tasks that require a measured approach and long-standing ties.
“It doesn’t seem like this contractor did any of that,” he said of Goudreau.
A family member of Berry in Texas declined to comment Tuesday. Efforts to reach Denman’s family were unsuccessful.
Faiola reported from Miami. Ana Vanessa Herrero in Caracas and Dan Lamothe, Shawn Boburg and Dalton Bennett in Washington contributed to this report.