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Extraordinary Rendition
Book Excerpt from Ghost Plane by Stephen Grey
Ghost Plane, by Stephen Grey

Excerpt from Ghost Plane:
The True Story of the CIA Rendition and Torture Program


By Stephen Grey

Covert Action:
Unmasking the New Air America

Flightlog:
Registration: N6161Q;
Type:Dehavilland Twin Otter;
Operator: Aviation Specialties Inc, Maryland;
Date: 4 November 2001.

Flight plan:
Glasgow, Scotland - Frankfurt Rhein AFB
Frankfurt Rhein AFB– Dushanbe, Tajikistan
Dushanbe, Tajikistan – Sherkat, Afghanistan

GULBOHAR, AFGHANISTAN, SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 2001
Seven days before the fall of the northern city of Mazar al Sharif, and nine days before the fall of the Kabul, B52 bombers were pounding the front lines of the Taliban facing the Northern Alliance in the Shimali plain north of the Afghan capital. For a month engineers had been leveling a dirt airstrip on uncultivated flood land close to the village of Gulbohar and its cotton factory, about fifty miles north of Kabul and at the point where the Panjshir Valley drops down out of the Hindu Kush. It was close to the headquarters of the Northern Alliance and controlled by militia loyal to Burhanuddin Rabbani, the self-proclaimed Afghan president. The British first used the same plain as an airstrip in 1919. That morning a small white twin-prop aircraft appeared from the clouds. It circled, turned abruptly, and then dropped down onto the strip. Out stepped what appeared to be U.S. agents, wearing clean slacks and baseball caps. Others also arrived in what appeared to be Soviet-made Mi-17 helicopters. “They looked like us, except without all the dirt on their clothes,” recalled a witness.1

The plane was a Canadian-built Twin Otter aircraft, and its passengers provided one of the first open glimpses of members of the CIA’s special operations group, its paramilitary arm. This was the same team whose members included Mike Spann, who would become the first U.S. casualty in the war on terror, when he was killed at the prison in Mazar on November 28. The group deployed to Sherkat were part of a CIA team operating under the code name Jawbreaker.2 At the time, no one harbored more than suspicions of who these men were. And the incident was soon forgotten. There was just one small reference in a British military magazine that identified the registration of the plane as N6161Q. It reported that the plane was owned by a Washington, D.C.–based company called Aviation Specialties Inc. According to the magazine, the plane had flown to Afghanistan from the United States via Glasgow Airport in Scotland, the U.S. Rhein-Main air force base in Frankfurt, Germany, and Dushanbe, in Tajikistan.3

Nearly four years later I would take this work onward, tracing how this same plane, a Twin Otter, belonged in Johnston County in North Carolina—home to the CIA’s aviation fleet and the Gulfstream jet used in rendition flights. I would trace the same plane to a remote military airstrip in Virginia called Camp Peary.4 This was a restricted base known to the CIA as “the Farm”; it used to have the code name Isolation, and was the agency’s main training base. I realize that this plane’s appearance in Afghanistan was not just the first sight of the CIA in Afghanistan, but was the first glimpse in public of one of America’s most secret assets—the CIA’s fleet of private airplanes. It was the discovery of this fleet that helped unlock another chapter in America’s torture scandal.

All this was to come later. For now, the mystery had yet to be uncovered, and this visit to the Panjshir was just a clue left waiting for detection. Because, time and again, when America turned to clandestine action, it was the public discovery of secret airplanes that exposed those operations. As this chapter describes, my aim as a journalist was not to expose a well-justified covert action, such as the delivery of the Jawbreaker team into Afghanistan, but to expose a questionable one—the agency’s new practice of outsourcing torture. As a freelance journalist, my resources were meager. I was investigating an agency with a budget of many billions.5 But, as a technique of investigation, there was no better place to start looking than at its airplanes.

EVER since the CIA turned to clandestine warfare, it has needed a discreet aviation wing. Planes could drop and pick up agents behind enemy lines. They could survey difficult targets, drop supplies, and transport prisoners away. But planes are also quite difficult to hide.

When the United States fought Communists in Southeast Asia, the CIA made use of Air America, a group of private companies that it secretly owned. It was a thin secret, though, mainly because of the sheer scale of its operations. In the early seventies, Air America was reputed to have become the biggest commercial airline in the world.6 Its motto was “Anything, Anywhere, Anytime—Professionally.” Air America’s operations were focused on Laos. According to an authorized account of the war by Professor William Leary of the University of Georgia, published on the CIA’s Web site: “The largest paramilitary operations ever undertaken by the CIA took place in the small Southeast Asian Kingdom of Laos. For more than 13 years, the Agency directed native forces that fought major North Vietnamese units to a standstill.” In remote Laos, this airline was used for the secret supply of an anti-Communist rebel army of Meo tribesmen. Yet the flow of airplanes and helicopters to the Meo bases exposed this operation. Leary gave a sense of the scale of the operations: “Air America, an airline secretly owned by the CIA, was a vital component in the Agency’s operations in Laos,” he wrote.

By the summer of 1970, the airline had some two dozen twin-engine transports, another two dozen short-takeoff-and-landing (STOL) aircraft, and some 30 helicopters dedicated to operations in Laos. There were more than 300 pilots, copilots, flight mechanics, and air-freight specialists flying out of Laos and Thailand. During 1970, Air America airdropped or landed 46 million pounds of foodstuffs—mainly rice— in Laos. Helicopter flight time reached more than 4,000 hours a month in the same year. Air America crews transported tens of thousands of troops and refugees, flew emergency medevac missions and rescued downed airmen throughout Laos, inserted and extracted road-watch teams, flew nighttime airdrop missions over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, monitored sensors along infiltration routes, conducted a highly successful photo-reconnaissance program, and engaged in numerous clandestine missions using night-vision glasses and state-of-the-art electronic equipment. Without Air America’s presence, the CIA’s effort in Laos could not have been sustained.7

But the Meo, it emerged, were not only fighting the Communists. They were also, from their bases within Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle, helping to corner the world supply of opium. The more well-known that Air America became, the less useful it became for the CIA, and the more the CIA’s reputation was tarnished by the rough connections of its allies.8 In the mid-1970s, when the United States withdrew from Vietnam, Air America was shut down. By then, many of the CIA’s activities were under investigation—most notoriously by a Senate committee headed by Senator Frank Church.9 Testifying to that committee in 1975, the CIA’s (unidentified) chief of cover and commercial staff said that if an operational requirement like the Southeast Asia conflict should again arise, “I would assume that the Agency would consider setting up a large-scale air proprietary with one proviso—that we have a chance of keeping it secret that it is CIA.”10

In the years that followed, the CIA had only mixed success in keeping its air operations secret. For all the protests and investigations of the 1960s and 1970s, the desire by successive presidents of the United States for an effective covert action capability had hardly gone away. Both the debacle of the failed military attempt to rescue hostages in revolutionary Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan underlined this need. So, very quietly, the agency got back into the airline business.

Sometimes the plane of choice was a charter, not agency owned. Brian Martin, an adventurous British pilot, showed me his log books, which described covert missions into Berlin, East Germany, in a jet chartered by the CIA to buy Soviet weapons from under the KGB’s nose.11 Ostensibly buying AK47s and ammunition to supply Soviet allies in Africa such as Angola, once out of Communist airspace the plane’s flight plan was altered, and it was redirected to Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport, just by the Potomac River. The weapons, he said, were unloaded there into military trucks and soon diverted to the CIA’s own allies—like the Mujehedin rebels in Afghanistan or Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

The CIA also created its own new airlines, some run by former pilots of the old Air America. In 1989, one such airline, Tepper Aviation of Florida, was caught using a Hercules plane to fly weapons to UNITA rebels in Angola in violation of United Nations sanctions. This news was first reported in February that year by a British journalist, Alan George, whose article recorded that Bud Peddy, the head of Tepper, “categorically denies that the Hercules has been in Zaire or Angola.”12 But on November 27 of that year the same plane crashed at the UNITA-held Jamba airfield.  Among those killed were two West Germans, a Briton, and several Americans . . . including the same Bud Peddy.13

Other planes were used for the CIA’s support for the Contra rebels against the socialist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Among the CIA operations was one to place mines inside Nicaraguan harbors.14 Again, it was the crash of a CIA-chartered plane that helped expose a scandal—the secret diversion of aid intended for the Contras to purchase arms for Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages in Lebanon. This so-called Iran-Contra affair began unraveling on October 5, 1986, with the shooting down by the Sandinistas of a C123 cargo plane. Among the crew was an American, Eugene Hasenfus, who told reporters he worked for the CIA. With the cover of the aid network now blown, the trail to Iran-Contra led from there.15

LONDON, ENGLAND, JULY 2003—I wish I could say that when I began my journey I had a clear idea of the path ahead, of how I and others could possibly get any proof at all of the CIA’s rendition program. For the previous two years I had been at the helm of the London Sunday Times’s Insight team, its investigation unit. But now I was turning freelance. I was determined to spend more time on my own projects, and in particular to try to run down reports of a story that I had never had time to tackle properly. This was the story that I had heard from sources: Guantánamo was just the tip of the iceberg. There was a whole network of prison camps across the world. As I left, I spoke to Bob Tyrer, one of the paper’s senior editors, and alternately my harshest critic and best ally, and told him of my objective. He wished me good luck. “You don’t exactly pick the easy ones,” he said. “How the hell are you going to find this out?” As I left the building, I thought to myself: “I wish I knew.”

I had been covering the war on terror as a journalist pretty much since George Bush had declared it. In the days after 9/11, I arrived in New York on one of the first flights across the Atlantic. Ground Zero was still smoldering. My concentration was on the counterterrorist fight back—the struggle to hunt down the perpetrators of 9/11 and the ringleaders of Al Qaeda. What intrigued me most was what I knew the least about—the undercover war. I knew it had had successes and failures. And, from the hints I had received, I knew it might involve methods about which America could be acutely embarrassed. I knew that exposing the facts of those methods was a worthwhile journalistic endeavor. But how should I probe beneath the surface?

Many journalists, of course, claimed frequently to know and write the truth about the CIA’s secrets, and some got pretty close.16 Some have written a plethora of “inside accounts.” There were detailed narratives such as Bob Woodward’s Bush at War that described covert operations in great detail. But accounts like these often provided only the illusion of access. The very references in these accounts to “secret” and “classified” documents often betrayed the fact that they had been fed certain choice tidbits of information that, whether officially or not, were cleared for release. How could I tell this story as a Washington outsider, how could I find out about such secret operations, without being manipulated or being used for a hidden agenda?

In reporting on the secret world of intelligence, the most important thing is to find out some hard facts. Rumors and conspiracy theories are easy to find. So are stories based on anonymous sources. And however wild the latest report may be, they rarely force a secret service like the CIA to respond to the charges; they simply add to the agency’s mystique. The key thing for a covert operation is to maintain “deniability”: the ability of the government to deny all knowledge of the involvement of the United States. When a covert operation is ordered, there is a fair chance that its existence will eventually become public knowledge. But the key thing is to be able to distance the United States, and particularly the president, from whatever has occurred. Extraordinary rendition, with its unsavory whiff of cruel torture, was exactly such a covert policy. It is okay for it to be public that a terrorist was sent from Albania to Egypt, and even that he was tortured. It is okay for anonymous sources to allege that the United States had arranged the whole thing. But it was definitively not okay for the CIA to have a proven role, and for the president to be implicated. This then was the challenge: to find a firm link between the rendition operations and the U.S. government. Only then could the agency and its masters begin to be held accountable.

To discover the truth of rendition, what I needed was the testimony of a real credible witness or some undeniable piece of physical evidence. As in all good detective stories, the clues were all out there. At this stage, I just hadn’t quite spotted them.

One of those clues was a story published in The News International, a paper in Karachi, Pakistan, on October 26, 2001. The reporter, Masood Anwar, wrote a story headlined “Mystery Man Handed Over to U.S. Troops in Karachi.”17 It said that a “suspected foreigner,” possibly a Yemeni student at the city’s university named Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammad, had been picked up by a “Falcon aircraft [sic] owned by the US Air Force” that had been parked “in a remote, dark and isolated area at the old terminal.” Anwar’s source told him that the entire operation had been so secretive that people involved, including the U.S. troops, were wearing masks. One U.S. operative also made a video of the entire operation. The plane had arrived from Amman, Jordan, at 1:00 A.M., and it took off to return to Jordan less than two hours later.18

Anwar’s story was describing a classic rendition operation. Qasim, an Al Qaeda suspect, was not being deported to his country of origin, nor to a country where he was wanted for some particular crime. He was being rendered to Jordan for interrogation. Yet the most important thing in An-war’s scoop was in the second paragraph. The aircraft, he wrote, had the “registration numbers N-379 P.” Here was the classic investigative fingerprint. He had found a clue that could have allowed someone to track the CIA’s most secret operations for at least the next three years. But although published on the Internet, there were few who spotted his story. If I had known about the registration number I could have learned everything, almost from when it started.

Five months later, in March 2002, a more prominent article appeared, with more clues, this time on the front page of The Washington Post and with a dateline from Jakarta, Indonesia.19 Like the article in Pakistan’s The News, the Post quoted only anonymous sources, but it spoke of a much wider system of rendition by the United States of terrorist suspects. Among those was an alleged Al Qaeda operative named Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni, who had been transferred from Jakarta on January 11, and sent to Cairo. The CIA had told Indonesian intelligence that Madni was an associate of the “shoe bomber,” Richard Reid. And then a formal request came from Egypt to transfer Madni—a Pakistani citizen—to Cairo, on unspecified charges. Under pressure to do more to fight terrorism, Indonesia had reacted fast. On January 9, Iqbal was arrested. The article reported that two days later, without a court hearing or a lawyer, “he was hustled aboard an unmarked, U.S.-registered Gulfstream V” and flown to Egypt.

In many ways this newspaper article had it all. The reporters, Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Peter Finn, in describing a series of transfers, provided one of the first potted histories of rendition. They also pointed to its dilemmas.

The suspects have been taken to countries, including Egypt and Jordan, whose intelligence services have close ties to the CIA and where they can be subjected to interrogation tactics—including torture and threats to families—that are illegal in the United States, the sources said. In some cases, U.S. intelligence agents remain closely involved in the interrogation, the sources said.

Yet, the article was, in a way, mistimed. Less than half a year since 9/11, America’s mood was still raw and angry, and there was little interest in what the consequences of a policy of rendition might be. The article, with its anonymous sources, also contained little proof. I heard later that the Post’s reporters had, like Anwar, also learned the registration number of the Gulfstream that took Iqbal from Indonesia—the same Gulfstream V, with the registration N379P. For the moment, after this stunning reporting, The Washington Post dropped the ball, and it never seemed to inquire further into this mysterious jet plane.20 Others would soon pick up that story.

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN, FEBRUARY 17, 2004—The phone rang at the home of a reporter from Sweden’s Channel 4 Television. He lifted the receiver.

CALLER: Hello, my name is Mikael Lundstrom. I work with the security police. I call because you have been in contact with U.S. authorities concerning a certain person.

REPORTER: Okay.

CALLER: My question is, then, do you work for a government authority?

REPORTER: Why do you ask?

CALLER: If I put it like this, we have been contacted by our U.S. cooperation partners in this matter. 21

Fifteen minutes earlier the reporter had been talking to someone at a telephone number in Virginia, a woman called Mary Ellen McGuiness. She had had the mistaken impression that he was a Swedish official who was trying to charter the Gulfstream jet with the registration number N379P. “That was our aircraft. You have come to the right office,” said McGuiness. The jet was owned by a private company, but it was not available, it seemed, for private hire. Was it necessary to go through the U.S. government? asked the reporter. “We only lease through the U.S. government; we are on a long-term lease with them. Let me see if I can find someone to call you back,” she said. That was just before Lundstrom from Sweden’s internal security police, SAPO, had come on the phone.22

The reporter from TV4 was trying to get on the trail of the ghost plane, the Gulfstream V. Now, at last, they had confirmation of who really controlled it. It was none other than the United States government.

The story of the Swedish investigation began some three months earlier. Three journalists from TV4—Fredrik Laurin, Joachim Dyfvermark, and Sven Bergman—worked together in an investigation team. Around Christmas of 2003 they were looking for a new subject to investigate, and they turned their attention to the stories of the two Egyptians, Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed al-Zery, who had been expelled from Sweden in December 2001 and sent to Cairo, as described in Chapter 1. Both men’s lawyers were now complaining that their clients had been tortured. Assurances of good treatment given to Sweden by Cairo were now the subject of a fierce controversy. But was there more to the story? “I’ll be honest, initially I wasn’t so keen on it. It seemed like just another human rights story with not much new to find out,” recalled Dyfvermark.23For now, no hint had appeared anywhere that the American government had been involved in the transfer. As they planned their inquiries, it was looking like another domestic story. Maybe they might get some evidence about how those men had really been treated. Eventually, however, they got word from their sources that a private plane had been involved that night. An official at the country’s aviation authority provided its registration number, N379P. The N at the start of the number meant it was American. But what was this plane? Who did it belong to? Was it simply a charter plane that had been hired by the Swedish government?

A search on the Internet revealed the article by Masood Anwar, and the fact that a plane with this number had been used in a prisoner transfer before. Suspicions grew. A check with the Web site of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, and with their officials, showed the plane’s owner was Premier Executive Transport Services, a company based on Washington Street, Dedham, Massachusetts. The address turned out to be the office of an attorney, Dean Plakias, but who did he represent?

The TV4 team decided to launch an undercover investigation. They had to be careful. Under Swedish law it was an offense to impersonate a government officer. “We just said we were a different agency in Sweden that wanted to hire the same plane for a different mission,” said Dyfvermark. “We didn’t spell out that our ‘agency’ was a TV company.” A reporter placed a call to Plakias, who gave them a number for McGuiness in Virginia, saying she was the plane’s operator. Now, with the call back from the Swedish security police confirming that McGuiness represented “U.S. authorities,” the circle was complete: The plane had been on official business.

The Swedish journalists went on to probe what had happened with Agiza and al-Zery. They discovered how the U.S. agents had arrived in masks, and how they had stripped and bound the two Egyptians in a waiting room at the Stockholm airport; and they heard evidence of how the men were tortured in Cairo. The first part of their program—entitled “The Broken Promise”—was broadcast on May 17, 2004. That week, my first piece on rendition had been filed from a hotel in Basra, Iraq, and was published in the New Statesman magazine on exactly the same day as the broadcast. I had written of a whole network of terrorist prisoners. Some of the prisoners had gone to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, but “hundreds more have been transferred from one Middle Eastern or Asian country to an-other—countries where the prisoners can be more easily interrogated.” I had written of how the CIA made use of a “fleet of luxury planes,” including Gulfstreams, that together with military transports had moved prisoners around the world since September 11.24 But Laurin and the team had gone one better, and established the plane’s registration.

LONDON, JULY 2004—Back from Iraq, at home in London, I was fired up by the news of the Swedish discovery. I called up Laurin in Stockholm: If we teamed up to track his plane across the world, perhaps we could trace the whole pattern of renditions. Proving U.S. involvement in the transfer of prisoners would destroy Washington’s deniability about renditions. But I feared time was running short. After the Swedish report the CIA would be covering their tracks. Data would be erased or altered. Cover identities might be changed. Aviation officials and allies would be told to keep quiet. There was no time at all to be lost. What I desperately needed was a source, my own “Deep Throat,” who might have access to the movements of the planes. But in the meantime, I discovered there were many means to track an airplane. It was clear the security of the CIA’s covert jets was compromised in one way or another.

The most obvious source of data was plane enthusiasts. Across Europe there were spotters who spent every bit of their spare time sitting in the cold at the fence outside airports and keeping note of every movement of every plane. And they would also take pictures of each new plane and publish them on the Internet. In some countries this might be called spying. But across the European continent it was widely tolerated as a legitimate hobby, even outside military bases. The result was a series of sightings and snatched pictures of the CIA Gulfstream V.

Some Internet Web sites published by plane spotters seemed to be remarkably well informed. They gave details of the plane’s airport of origin, and where it was flying to next. How could they obtain such information? Did they have inside sources at the airports? I had a suspicion they might be a little more devious. Then, as I paged through an aviation magazine, I noted the advertisements for scanning devices that intercepted something called “ACARS,” which stands for aircraft communication addressing and reporting system, a digital signal given out by modern planes as they travel through the air. The information sent through this means includes the height of the airplane, its exact positions, messages to the airport and to the plane’s owners, and, routinely, its flight plan. And all of this could be intercepted, perhaps illegally, by an amateur enthusiast with a handheld scanner and laptop computer.25 The movements of any civilian airplane were thereby liable to be intercepted and tracked. In this way, I suspected, highly confidential data was ending up on the Internet. And it was all useful to me.

Another open door to aviation security came from the United States. Because of the Freedom of Information Act, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provides a live feed of electronic data to aviation databases that operate Web sites with titles like Flight Explorer. These Web sites provide a live picture of the exact location and intentions of almost every civilian aircraft in the United States. Based on the electronic flight plans and position reports filed automatically by an aircraft, these databases can even give advance notification of the arrival at a particular airport of the plane you were seeking to track. And this data is accessible from anywhere. Osama bin Laden in his Afghan cave (if equipped with an Internet connection) could have watched the four flights of September 11 as they veered off their normal course and began heading toward the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. For my purposes, many of these Web sites also have a facility that enabled me to search an archive of all previous flights, in one case back to November 2001. So it was possible to get a history of a particular plane’s movements. There was one security feature. The owner of a plane could ask, for the sake of privacy, for its movements to be blocked. Under a voluntary code, none of the aviation Web sites would then publish its data. Curiously, in the case of CIA planes, the agency appeared remarkably slow in using this feature. Time and again, they seemed to ignore the most obvious ways of keeping their operations secure.

These three loopholes—the information from plane spotters, the flight plans published on the Internet, and the American flight-tracking software— all were to provide a breach of security that helped track the CIA’s Gulf-stream V, my original ghost plane, and later many other CIA planes. Yet this data collected had its limits. The data from plane spotters was patchy and limited in the main to arrivals at European airports. And the data from the FAA provided by those American Web sites only showed flight plans of journeys that ended or began within U.S. airspace. To solve the mystery, I needed to go much further and to see flights of the CIA planes around the Middle East and within Europe. Only then could I see evidence of the actual rendition flights.

Then I found my Deep Throat. There was a man in the aviation industry I’d known all along. I wish I could tell you more about him, but for reasons that will become obvious, he prefers to remain in the shadows. He said that the answer to my search would be at the offices of air traffic control centers. “They know everything. They track these planes everywhere,” he said. “Could you get this data?” I asked. “Well, of course,” he said. “Which plane do you want to track?” This man was to be a key to unlocking proof of the whole CIA rendition program.

In early September, he came on the phone. “I’ve got your data,” he said. “What’s your fax number?” I gave him an unlisted number. And then from the whirring machine came a list of code words, such as:

9/1/02 KIAD—HECA

30/7/03 OAKB—UTTT

3/12/03 GMME—MUGM

And so it continued. I quickly searched on the Internet for what these codes meant. They were codes for airports designated by the International Civilian Aviation Organization (ICAO). I began decoding the list. This source, I realized, had a key to the goldmine. And this information I was looking at was gold dust. One by one, the key destinations became clear:

KIAD—Washington D.C.—the main base

MUGM—Guantánamo, Cuba

HECA—Cairo, the destination for many renditions

UTTT—Tashkent, Uzbekistan, one of President Bush’s most controversial allies and the United States’ main base to the north of the Afghan war zone

GMME—Rabat-Sale, another destination for renditions

OAKB—Kabul, Afghanistan, where prisoners were sent both to and from

It was almost an atlas of the war on terror, and this plane was clearly a key asset in that war. But could I prove the plane’s involvement in renditions, and hence U.S. complicity in those transfers? The journeys themselves seemed to match what we had heard of renditions:

Kabul to Cairo

Kabul to Jordan

Pakistan to Cairo

Kabul to Tashkent

So far, of course, it was difficult to match those flights to particular cases; most renditions had occurred in great secret. Apart from Maher Arar in Canada, almost no terror suspect who had been rendered had emerged from captivity to give their story and to provide exact dates for their transfers. I could, however, see a flight out from Washington, D.C., to Cairo on January 9, 2002; that appeared to coincide with the case of Muhammad Iqbal—the suspect who as we’ve heard, was flown from Jakarta to Cairo on January 11 “aboard an unmarked, U.S.-registered Gulf-stream jet.” The flightlogs also showed that the plane returned from Cairo to Washington on January 15.26

There was one flight that stood out as odd. On December 8, the plane flew from Washington, D.C., to Banjul, the capital of Gambia in West Africa. Three British residents, including a British citizen, had been arrested as Al Qaeda suspects when they arrived on Gambian soil. Two had been flown on to Afghanistan, and then to Guantánamo. The time of their departure from the Gambia matched the arrival of the Gulf-stream on my flightlogs. I later confirmed the flight carried onward to Kabul via Baghdad.27

SWEDEN, STOCKHOLM ARCHIPELAGO, SEPTEMBER 13, 2004—I was on an island near Stockholm surrounded by lapping water. We’d arrived by a chugging motorboat from the parking lot nearby. The boat was tied up by Laurin’s young children, dressed in orange life jackets and perfectly competent at handling the boat. In a couple of months they would be skating to reach the parking lot. The school bus, provided by the government, was a little hovercraft. In a tall wooden house he and his wife had built themselves, we sat down to a dinner of smoked fish and blini. Present were the entire Swedish TV4 team, as well as Kjell Jönsson, the lawyer for Mohammed al-Zery.

I’d agreed to share my flight data with them, to pool our resources. By now they’d found a witness who would go on camera and describe the night at Stockholm airport when the Gulfstream V had visited. It was the policeman, Paul Forell, who, as described in Chapter 1, had seen the men in masks who had emerged. We sat down and watched the latest broadcast of their investigations.

The next morning, Laurin took me to meet the team again at their office in central Stockholm, and we shared some of the data that we had collected. Detailed documents obtained by them from the FAA showed more of the corporate history of the Gulfstream jet, which had now switched its registration number from N379P to N8068V. The jet had been purchased in November 1999. Most of its maintenance appeared to be handled not by Premier Executive, its official owners, but by a company in North Carolina called Aero Contractors. This company was based at Johnston County Airport, a small regional base largely used by amateur pilots. Flight data from the plane showed that after finishing its missions, the jet appeared to return regularly to this airport. Was Aero Contractors the real owner of the plane?

Back in London, I phoned Aero Contractors to ask them directly. I knew now from Laurin that there was also another company involved, Stevens Express Leasing of Tennessee. Both appeared to operate the Gulf-stream jet and its sister plane, a Boeing 737, also owned by Premier Executive. But which of the companies was carrying out the rendition flights? Answering the telephone at Aero Contractors was the friendly voice of its general manager, Jack M. He was friendly but dismissive, and said his company was just “one of several companies that lease those airplanes as needed.” Yes, he did missions for the U.S. government, but there were many private companies who had such contracts. Most of his work was based on straightforward contracts with the military, he said, adding: “There is no branch of government that we don’t contract with. ...We just fly them and crew them when we have them on lease.” And no, none of their work had involved the transport of prisoners, he claimed. “We just have the misfortune of using planes that other people use for other things,” he said, elliptically.28

It was time to publish what I knew. Under the headline “US Accused of ‘Torture Flights,’ ” I revealed the existence of the flightlogs and their links to a series of renditions. The article ran in the Sunday Times of London— on page 24—but it made headlines around the world.29 Soon other publications got in touch, trying to get hold of copies of these flightlogs I had obtained. For now, though, I didn’t want to publish the full details. Was it right to reveal to anyone—including potential terrorists—the exact movements of the CIA’s jets? I wanted to investigate more before deciding. Moreover, if I published the exact details, would prisoners concoct accounts of their transfers in these jets? It was far better for now to obtain their accounts first and then compare them to the data that I had. I also for now made no mention of Aero Contractors; I still was not sure of its role. Was it a government contractor, or really an agency of the government? Curiously, within days of my article, the two planes were sold by Premier Executive to two different companies.30 Were they trying to escape attention? There was another interesting development: among the calls was one from a prosecutor in Italy, Armando Spataro, who was investigating a possible CIA kidnapping in Milan. It was an investigation that was to lead to criminal charges against twenty-two alleged operatives. More of that later.

Meanwhile, I was curious to find out more about the other jet owned—until my article was published—by Premier Executive. This was the Boeing 737 Business Jet that had come into service in January 2002, three months after 9/11.31 Had this one been involved in rendition cases too? Was this one also hired by the CIA? In January 2005, the fax machine started whirring again. Again my source had come up trumps, with more than 150 flights of this jet.32

Once again it was astonishing to see how little effort the CIA had made to protect its cover. Internet flight-track services (such as fboweb.com) could still freely track the movements of this jet around the United States. And then on February 5, I had an advance alert that the plane was coming to Britain, and was about to take off from Washington, D.C., at 11:40 P.M. GMT. By now I was working with CBS’s 60 Minutes program on a story about renditions.33 So I got on the phone to Graham Messick, the report’s producer, in New York. “You won’t believe this,” I told him. “There’s a plane heading right here.” Messick scrambled into action and dispatched a cameraman to await the plane’s arrival at Glasgow. He could have been a terrorist and scrambled a SAM 7 missile. But at any rate, we obtained the first TV footage of a CIA plane in action.

The most exciting things in the new flightlogs of the Boeing 737 were details of a January 2004 flight from Macedonia to Afghanistan. A few weeks earlier, as described, the German citizen Khaled el-Masri had described his kidnapping from Skopje and his transfer to a CIA-controlled Afghan jail.34 Here, for the first time, was some proof of his account. Anxious to get some wider coverage, I had passed the flightlogs on to Newsweek investigative reporters Mark Hosenball and John Barry. Both were past reporters for the Sunday Times of London. Their piece “Aboard Air CIA,” which contained many new details, was published on February 28.35Journalists from ZDF television in Germany also independently confirmed details of this flight.

By now it seemed crystal clear that all these planes were being used almost exclusively by the CIA. But even so, the evidence was circumstantial. I had no direct documentary proof that these were CIA planes. And was this just a couple of planes, or, as my sources were telling me, a whole fleet? As I worked away, the stakes were getting higher and higher. By now, as I describe in the next chapter, I had found sources from the CIA who, for the first time, were confirming details of the rendition program on the record. The deniability was fading fast, and the CIA itself was now on its heels: They were passing the buck by telling reporters that all of its operations were clearly ordered and authorized from the White House. Yet the president was announcing that no prisoners were being sent to countries that practiced torture.  36 Yes, they all acknowledged, there had been some mistakes. But reports that the CIA was systematically outsourcing torture were wildly exaggerated. It was clear I needed to find a lot more evidence.

CAMBERWELL, SOUTH LONDON, MARCH 2005—Glued to my chair in my attic office, and fueled by coffee and cigarettes, I was surrounded by pieces of paper and numbers. I’d now spent more than one hundred hours staring at the computer screen, and my eyes were getting sore. Confronted with this need to obtain more evidence, I had been vacuuming up huge amounts of data. I was looking now not just at the flight-logs of two executive jets, but at the global movements of hundreds of jets. More than twelve thousand flight plans were now stored in my computer. I was trying to narrow things down, to find the pattern that lurked beneath all this data, and to identify the CIA planes that might be involved in rendition. When I started my investigation, I had almost no information, but now I was almost swamped. I turned to a piece of computer software called Analyst’s Notebook, a tool normally used by the police or intelligence organizations to solve complex inimical crimes, or even murders. Its job is to find connections within exactly such a mass of data.

The first task I set the computer was to wrestle with the question of Maher Agar’s deportation from JFK to Canada. I’d last seen Maher in a café in Ottawa on a snowy day in January, when I had told him about the flightlogs I had obtained on the CIA’s main rendition jet, the Gulf-stream V. Maher was feeling slightly down. He was naturally disappointed that I had no evidence of his flight into captivity. Finding details of his journey would corroborate his account of his bizarre deportation by luxury jet to Jordan, from where he was driven across the border to a prison cell in Damascus. So I did an exercise by computer to see if I could find the exact plane that had taken him from New York on October 8, 2002. Maher had alleged that he was taken from an airport near New York City that he believed, from a glance at the freeway signposts, was probably in New Jersey. He said he was then taken to Dulles, in Washington, D.C., and then onward to Amman via refueling stops in Portland, Maine, and Rome, Italy. He said he could follow the flight’s progress because there was a screen in the jet that showed the aircraft’s position, the same as on most commercial flights. Using the link analysis software, I obtained the logs of all U.S. flights with a destination to both main Rome airports, Leonardo Da Vinci and the smaller military-civilian Ciampino Airport. I also looked at all flights into and out of Portland, Maine. And I looked at flights to Dulles from Teterboro, the New York business aviation airport, twelve miles from midtown Manhattan in New Jersey, from where Maher’s Gulfstream had most likely taken off.

These were all the flights listed from Teterboro (TEB) to Dulles (IAD):

image1

Just two planes, N199BA and a Gulfstream III, N829MG had left Teterboro in those early hours. And only one of those could be seen as arriving later in Rome. These were the American-registered flights into Rome Ciampino (LIRA):

 image2

There was no match with any plane into Rome from Portland, Maine, but this plane, N829MG, had come in from Bangor, Maine. It seemed Arar had made a simple mistake. Sure, enough, when I looked at all the flights into Bangor (BGR) that morning, here was its journey from Washington-Dulles (IAD). The last connection was established:

 image3

In other words, no other plane recorded in the public database had traveled on more than one of the three legs: Teterboro to Dulles, Dulles to Portland or Bangor, and finally Portland/Bangor to Rome. Furthermore, the departure times of the flights also provided strong evidence that this plane was indeed Maher’s plane, as they matched the times provided by Maher Arar himself.37

The mystery of Maher Arar’s flight to captivity was solved. I found a picture of the plane, a Gulfstream III, on the Web site of its operator, Presidential Aviation. It showed an interior of brush-brown leather seats, just as Maher had described. After I sent him the photograph of the plane and described its flight path, Maher was elated. He told me by telephone: “I think that’s it. I think you’ve found the plane that took me.” He added: “Finding this plane is really going to help me. It does remind me of this trip, which is painful, but it should make people understand that this is for real, and everything happened the way I said. I hope people will now stop for a moment and think about the morality of this.”38

So far I had looked at particular renditions, and at two particular suspect planes. But I wanted now to cast the net much wider. Using the information I had so far, could I go back to first principles and attempt to identify the CIA’s entire fleet of planes? Again, I turned to my detective software—and to a police technique used to narrow a wide field of criminal suspects. Imagine the CIA plane was like an individual, I thought. If I had a crime, I would create what the police would call a “profile,” or “frame,” a bit like a description on a “wanted” poster. It’s what they would call the duck principle—“If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck . . . then it is a duck.” You can’t look in a phone book under “bank robber,” so you start looking for bank robbers by looking at people who do the type of things that bank robbers do, like buying face masks or handguns. My crime to investigate was rendition and torture, and the suspect in the investigation was a CIA plane. How would that CIA plane quack? I drew up the following profile:

It would have permission to land at U.S. military bases across the world. 39

It would visit key destinations in the war on terror, like Guantánamo, Kabul, and Baghdad.

It would visit “allied” countries where the CIA sends prisoners—like Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Uzbekistan, and Syria.

It would visit the CIA’s own bases, like Camp Peary, the CIA’s training base in Virginia.

It would visit Special Forces military bases and come to Washington, D.C.

It might meet with other planes that were known CIA planes, or were owned or operated by the same people.

Of course, making the computer understand this profile was easier said than done—and hours and hours passed by. But eventually, from the thousands of flights and hundreds of planes in my database, the software drew up a short list of “suspects” that matched at least four or five of these characteristics. Some planes—like the original Gulfstream V and Boeing 737—matched every one of my factors. But there was another group of twenty or so suspect planes that matched almost every one.

Leaping from this list of suspects, for example, was, amazingly, a plane that appeared to be in regular use by the Boston Red Sox baseball team. It carried the team’s logo on its tail. I noticed the plane, registration N85VM, was in Cairo, Egypt, on exactly the night, February 18, 2003, when a rendition had allegedly taken place. Bingo! This was the kidnapping of the cleric Abu Omar from Milan, Italy—the same story that Armando Spataro, the Milan prosecutor, had phoned me about the previous October.40 Later, Phillip H. Morse, the owner of the plane and a minority owner of the Red Sox, confirmed that his plane was indeed regularly hired out to the CIA. “It’s chartered a lot,” Morse told the Boston Globe from his winter home in Jupiter, Florida. “It just so happens one of our customers is the CIA. ...I was glad to have the business, actually. I hope it was all for a real good purpose.”41

By its transparent ownership, the Boston Red Sox jet had all the characteristics of a genuinely private-owned jet—simply chartered on occasion by the government. But there were others with much more opaque ownership; they might be wholly government-owned jets, operating under civilian guise. From my list of suspects, some particular company names stood out, among them: Rapid Air Transport, Stevens Express, Devon Holding and Leasing, Aviation Specialties, and the Path Corporation.

By now I was working with the New York Times and their investigation team. Their formidable reporter Margot Williams had just joined the paper from the Washington Post, where, in an article on December 27, 2005, she and her then colleague Julie Tate had used corporate records to establish that the directors of Premier Executive were most probably using fake names.

Each of the officers of Premier Executive is linked in public records to one of five post office box numbers in Arlington, Oakton, Chevy Chase, and the District. A total of 325 names are registered to the five post office boxes. An extensive database search of a sample of 44 of those names turned up none of the information that usually emerges in such a search: no previous addresses, no past or current telephone numbers, no business or corporate records. In addition, although most names were attached to dates of birth in the 1940s, ’50s or ’60s, all were given Social Security numbers between 1998 and 2003.42

Looking at our new suspect companies, Margot discovered a similar pattern of corporate officers who were using names like “Philip Quincannon” and “Erin Marie Cobb” that were probably fake, and had social security numbers registered as recently as the 1990s—implying a freshly created identity. Examining the corporate records of the aviation empire, we were stunned to see just how badly they were put together. Fundamentally, the CIA had left behind a paper trail for us to follow. Each company was connected to another. So, Premier Executive, which owned our original ghost plane, the Gulfstream V, shared Quincannon as a company officer with Crowell Aviation and Stevens Express. Devon Holding had the same registered agent as Stevens. Cobb was an officer for both Devon and Stevens. The result was a web of connections that showed that all of the companies were part of the same group. It was all one fleet, and it owned a total of twenty-six planes in all. The fleet included C130 Hercules cargo planes, small propeller-driven short take-off and landing planes like the Twin Otter N6161Q that, as we’ve heard, had been seen in Afghanistan. Those were useful for landing at covert strips. The flagships of the fleet were clearly the Gulfstream V and the Boeing 737 Business Jet. The 737 was too large to land at Johnston County Airport itself, so it was housed in nearby Kinston. In sum, we had identified the new Air America.

As I showed the results to one former CIA officer, he just laughed. The whole point, he said, of using these civilian companies was to have a “cutout”—a trail that would lead an investigator to a brass plate by a lawyer’s office entrance, but no farther. Yet here the cutout was not cutting out at all but leading us on, helping us connect the web of companies together. Meanwhile, Scott Shane, a New York Times reporter based in Washington, had tracked down some former pilots from Aero Contractors. It turned out they had gotten their jobs responding to advertisements for CIA pilots, and they had had their interviews down in Langley, Virginia. “We are the bus drivers in the war on terror. I didn’t used to check who was in the back,” one former Aero Contractors pilot recalled. 43It was final proof that Aero Contractors and its allied companies were not just working for the CIA. They were the CIA.

HERE then was the story that emerged: Back in the late 1970s, after the disbandment of the old Air America, a former chief pilot of the deceased CIA proprietary airline, Jim Rhyne, was asked to found a new one. The hub of the new operation was a company they called Aero Contractors, based at the Johnston County Airport. University of Georgia’s Professor Leary remembered Rhyne as “one of the great untold stories of heroic work for the U.S. government.”44 Former colleagues recalled how Rhyne had had to get an artificial limb after losing a leg from anti-aircraft fire in Laos, as he kicked out supplies from an open cargo door. When President Carter prepared to order his ill-fated Iran hostage rescue attempt in 1979, it was Rhyne who was sent off in advance to test out the secret landing strip. He was killed one cloudless evening, April 2, 2001, while trying out a friend’s Sky-bolt aerobatic biplane, at Johnston County Airport. Rhyne had just recently been fitted for a new artificial leg. The accident report showed Rhyne had logged 25,000 hours as a pilot, nearly three whole years in the air.

One former pilot said Rhyne had chosen the rural airfield because it was close to Fort Bragg and many Special Forces veterans. There was also no control tower that could be used to spy on the company’s operations.

Aero Contractors Limited pilots flew King Hussein, the late ruler of Jordan, on shopping trips around the United States. They flew both declared and undeclared missions for the drug war in Colombia, helped supply the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, and had taken weapons and food to the UNITA rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi, in Angola. On some of these missions, a pilot told me, they would “fly the crease.” That meant that to avoid being compromised if their plane was captured, instead of following a marked route, they would simply follow a fold in their charts. They often flew with night-vision goggles, and when spotted by enemy planes would have to “get down among the reeds”—dive down to a low altitudes. Some of their planes had glass bottoms through which surveillance photographs could be taken. During the Afghan war, Aero pilots helped supply the Mujehedin rebels with the shoulder-launched Stinger missiles they used against Soviet helicopters and planes. “We flew out to Afghanistan to take in the missiles. Then, when the war was over, we flew out again to try and buy the missiles back up again,” said one pilot.

As other former pilots told me, covert operations made for the best kind of exciting flying—coming down without electronic landing aids under the cover of darkness, on the smallest of air strips, and being prepared to take incoming fire. The launch of the rendition program in the mid1990s saw the airline’s growth. Since 1990, Aero had acquired a Gulfstream III jet, and it became a workhorse for, among other things, the transfer of prisoners. Adopting the cover of a VIP jet, the aircrew had donned a fake uniform—a pair of blue trousers and a blue jacket. There were no neckties, however—Rhyne hated formality. While abroad, the aircrew would claim to represent an aviation company called Stevens Express. It was the cover operator, designed to have no links back to Johnston County. The pilots never used the term rendition. “We just called them ‘snatches.’ You would just notice someone not too happy was in the back, but we didn’t ask too many questions. The deal was that if the ‘client’ came forward to talk to us, fine, but otherwise we would shut the cockpit door and stayed out of it.”

Was Aero a company that worked for the CIA, or was it actually a branch of the CIA? “Put it this way,” replied a pilot, “I joined after replying to a CIA job advertisement, after having my background checked out by the CIA, going on the ‘box’ [the polygraph] at a hotel near the CIA headquarters at Langley, and then by going to the CIA headquarters to pick up my alias.” As he signed for Aero, the pilot said he did, however, sign a form that declared “I was not working for the CIA and would never claim to be a CIA operative.” The CIA kept all copies of the forms. But it was all a fiction. “We all knew who we were working for. How else could I walk into a state driving license office, and they would usher you upstairs, and say, here, you are Mr. X, and here is your new license; or get a credit card in this new name; or get a brand new pilot’s license in a fake name.” 45

After 9/11 Aero’s operations expanded rapidly—almost overnight—as it became the linchpin of rendition operations. Aero’s staff grew to seventy-nine from forty-eight between 2001 and 2004, according to Dun and Bradstreet,46 and federal records showed that ten new planes were purchased in the same period. The Gulfstream III was already sold off, and the company had bought a top-of-the range Gulfstream V, followed in 2002 by the Boeing 737 Business Jet. “All change is good,” said one pilot. “We got to fly something new.”47 This rapid expansion did not go without hitches; in the electronic age, it was more difficult for a covert airline to cover its tracks. In 2003, one of the CIA’s new planes, a Hercules C130 operated by Tepper Aviation, the same airline that had supplied UNITA forces, was intercepted over Austrian airspace by fighter jets after filing a suspicious “civilian” flight plan from the Frankfurt U.S. air base to Azerbaijan. The U.S. Embassy assured the Austrian authorities that the plane had no connection with the U.S. government, even though corporate records now showed us that the plane was owned by the CIA.48

I had discovered too that the cover for the CIA’s front companies was extremely weak, and I was able to obtain thousand more flightlogs showing the details of the CIA’s flights around the world. The flightlogs had not been obtained from any super secret or classified sources. They were widely available in the airline industry, and the CIA had made little effort to cover its tracks. “Whatever you can find out as journalists, be assured there are other more hostile governments who have found it out already,” one former CIA officer told me.49 The data exposed secret operations by the CIA across the world—even the presence of planes previously used by the CIA in Venezuela at the same time as activists there were alleging that the CIA was plotting a coup.50 Most important it made visible some of the secret side of the war on terror. Concealed behind the movement of innocent-looking civilian jets, the flight data showed the agency was working with some of the most repressive countries of the world. But were disclosures justified? Was it right to reveal such secrets?

When we first revealed the existence of this new Air America, many argued that we were shamefully revealing national secrets, thereby putting the lives of undercover agents in danger. “Let’s Dare Call it Treason,” said Phil Brennan, a former staffer on the House Republican Policy Committee, headlining an article critical of us on NewsMax.com.51 Another critic, Frederick Turner, a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, said that our article had significantly increased the risk to the life of a friend of his who was being dispatched abroad on a mission for a U.S. intelligence agency. Writing for Tech Central Station, he said: “They should know that, if a certain civilian plane comes down over an unnamed Middle Eastern country, and all the US personnel aboard are killed, there is one compatriot who will regard them as murderers.”52 Another blog asked simply: “Shane, Grey and Williams: Are They Human?”53

The reaction was understandable, if overblown. Contacted by the New York Times beforehand, the CIA had raised no objection to the publication of our article.54As one former CIA operative told me afterward: “This wasn’t really some grand secret, hardly a great journalistic coup; you can’t really hide a fleet of airplanes.” But, for us, it had only been by uncovering the tentacles of the CIA’s air operations that we had been able to prove the involvement of the U.S. government in the otherwise secret operations—and prove that rendition had become a key part of the war on terror. In essence the CIA’s air fleet had provided the link connecting all the different nodes of this new global prison network. As we saw in the cases of Maher Arar and Khaled el-Masri, it was the confirmed presence of one of the CIA jet planes from North Carolina and other bases that proved a key element of what otherwise might have seemed the untrustworthy allegations of an alleged terrorist. The same was true of claims by Binyam Mohamed of his rendition and torture in Morocco and Afghanistan. In his statement at Guantánamo, Binyam had given some precise details that matched the flight data I had collected. This confirmed what he claimed: He was flown from Pakistan to Morocco by the CIA on July 21, 2002, and that precisely eighteen months later, January 21, 2004, he was flown on again to a CIA prison in Afghanistan.55

In the next year, more and more cases emerged, and I matched more than fifteen different flightlogs to the accounts of rendition flights given by prisoners. With the flight data and personal testimony, the systematic rendition of prisoners by the United States to destinations around the world was increasingly case proven. What remained was to prove the real purpose of these transfers. Who had ordered the program, and why? And how could this potentially damaging outsourcing of intelligence gathering really serve any useful purpose? These were the questions I turned my attention to next.

ENDNOTES:

1. Interviews by phone (May 2005) with journalists who were in the Panjshir in November 2001, including Stefan Smith (AFP, now in Teheran), Elizabeth Rubin (New Republic/New York Times Magazine), Tim Lambon (ITN cameraman), Chris Stephens (freelance British journalist, now in Moscow), and Peter Jouvenal (veteran BBC cameraman). The arrival of the plane was reported most notably in Agence France Press, November 4, 2001, “New Opposition Airstrip Opens Up Anti-Taliban Supply Link,” by Stefan Smith, from Gulbohar, Afghanistan; and “US Warms to Rebels, Slowly,” by Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, Bagram Front, November 4, 2001. References to use of airstrip in 1919 from Bob Woodward, Bush at War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002), pp. 190–91.

2. Bush at War, by Bob Woodward, pp. 190–91, pp. 293–95; Gary Schroen describes the Jawbreaker mission in detail in First In (New York: Presidio Press, 2005) as does Gary Berntsen (with Ralph Peggullo) in Jawbreaker(Crown: New York, 2005)

3. Air Forces Monthly ( January 2002), Afghanistan Diary, “Day 29—Sunday 4th November,” (p. 75). The registration was misread by the journalists in the Panjshir as N6160, leading them on a false trail.

4. Flightlogs on N6161Q.

5. The actual budget is classified. In the most recent disclosure, the director of central intelligence revealed that the total intelligence budget for 1998 was $26.7 billion. Mary Margaret Graham, the deputy director of National Intelligence for Collection, revealed an overall post-9/11 figure of $44 billion in a speech given in November 2005. “Official Reveals Budget for U.S. Intelligence,” by Scott Shane, New York Times, November 8, 2005.

6. This is claim is made by Christopher Robbins, Air America (1979), as cited above.

7. “CIA Air Operations in Laos, 1955–1974,” by William M. Leary.

8. The involvement of the Meo in the opium trade was well documented by correspondents in Laos at the time, and most notably in Alfred McCoy’s The Politics of Heroin in South East Asia (New York: Harper and Row, 1972). But although the Meo were at the center of the opium trade, and the CIA knew this, no concrete evidence emerged that the CIA was deliberately involved in trafficking. One former pilot, Jim Parrish, was quoted by Robbins as saying: “We knew we hauled a lot of dope, although we didn’t haul it intentionally.” The Senate’s Church committee later endorsed the conclusion that “the CIA air proprietaries did not participate in illicit drug trafficking.” But as a later CIA inspector general’s report noted, “Opium was as much part of the agricultural infrastructure of this area as rice.” More significantly, Robbins found that by supplying villagers with a regular supply of food, the CIA effectively freed them to use their fields to grow opium instead. As he summarized: “While the Meo fought the war for the CIA, the Agency turned a blind eye to their generals’ profitable sideline in opium” (Air America, pp. 226, 233, 237).

9. The United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, a.k.a the Church Committee, delivered its final report to Congress on April 26, 1976.

10. Ibid.

11. Interview with Brian Martin, May 26, 2005. For example, his flight on October1, 1982, went from Basle to Berlin (Schonfeld Airport) to Lisbon, Portugal. The final destination was then switched from Angola to Washington, D.C.

12. “Airline ‘Carrying CIA Guns to Unita,’ ” by Alan George, Independent, February 18, 1989.

13. “Angolan CIA Hercules Air Crash Killed Tepper Aviation Chief,” Flight International, December 13, 1989.

14. The CIA’s direct role in the mining operation was first disclosed in the Wall Street Journal in “U.S. Role in Mining Nicaraguan Harbors Reportedly is Larger Than First Thought,” by Dana Rogers, April 6, 1984, and disclosed in Congress in remarks by Senator Barry Goldwater (R-Arizona) the same month.

15. For how the trail developed, see for example, Miami Herald, June 13, 2004, “Iran Contra Scandal Marred Presidency” by Alfonso Chardy. Hasenfus’s operation was traced back to Colonel Oliver North, who was running the Iran-Contra program from the National Security Council. Shortly after the crash a weekly magazine in Lebanon reported the Iran connection, disclosing a trip by Colonel North to Teheran in May 1986.

16. Journalists such as Dana Priest of the Washington Post and Jane Mayer of The New Yorker exposed stunning details of the rendition program. For example: “CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons,” by Dana Priest, Washington Post, November 2, 2005; and “Outsourcing Torture,” by Jane Mayer, New Yorker, February 14, 2005. Mayer’s articles are largely based on on-the-record interviews. The most notable early references to the rendition program were by Anthony Shadid in “US, Egypt Raids Caught Militants,” Boston Globe, October 7, 2001; the Wall Street Journal investigation into a case involving Albania (“Cloak and Dagger: A CIA-Backed Team Used Brutal Means to Crack Terror Cell,” by Andrew Higgins and Christopher Cooper, Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2001); and the Washington Post investigation into the road to 9/11 published in December 2001 (e.g., “Broad Effort Launched After ’98 Attacks,” by Gellman, December 19, 2001).

17. “Mystery Man Handed Over to U.S. Troops in Karachi,” by Masood Anwar, The News International, October 26, 2001.

18. The suspect was reportedly from Tai’z, Yemen. His location remains unknown to me.

19. “U.S. Behind Secret Transfer of Terror Suspects,” by Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Peter Finn, Washington Post, March 11, 2002.

20. Sources at Washington Post.

21. Transcript from Kalla Fakta, “The Broken Promise: Part 1” which aired on Swedish TV May 17, 2004.

22. Ibid.

23. Telephone interview with Joachim Dyfvermark, April 17, 2006.

24. “America’s Gulag,” by Stephen Grey, New Statesman, May 14, 2004.

25. See for example www.acarsonline.co.uk. I have not used such a system.

26. Flightlogs of plane N379P; the date of the rendition is from Chandrasekaran- Finn, March 11, 2002.

27. Flightlogs of plane P379P; also see “MI5 enabled UK pair’s rendition”, author’s report for BBC Newsnight, March 27, 2006.

28. Telephone interview with Jack M., Aero Contractors, October 2004.

29. “US Accused of ‘Torture Flights,’” by Stephen Grey, Sunday Times of London, November 14, 2004.

30. The Gulfstream V (registration N379P, then N8068V) was sold to Bayard Foreign Marketing in Portland, Oregon; the Boeing 737 (registration N313P, then N4476S) was sold to Keeler and Tate Management in Reno, Nevada.

31. I have records of this plane’s movements from November 22, 2002, with a flight from Andrews Air Force Base to Frankfurt, Germany.

32. Flightlogs of plane N313P, later renumbered N4476S.

33. “CIA Flying Suspects to Torture?” reported by Scott Pelley, 60 Minutes, CBS, March 6, 2005.

34. First reported in “German’s Claim of Kidnapping Brings Investigation of U.S. Link,” by Don Van Natta, Jr., and Souad Mekhennet, New York Times, January 9, 2005.

35. “Aboard Air CIA,” by Michael Hirsh, Mark Hosenball, and John Barry; with Stephen Grey in London and Stefan Theil in Berlin, Newsweek, February 28, 2005.

36. Interview with The New York Times, January 2005 (“Bush says Iraqis will want G.I.s to stay to help,” by Elizabeth Bumiller, David E. Sanger, and Richard E. Stevenson, January 27, 2005); he later changed this to countries that “say they won’t torture” (emphasis added). President George W. Bush, White House press conference, March 17, 2005. See also Chapter 10.

37. I later obtained further flightlogs that confirmed the plane’s leg onward to Amman, Jordan, and then its return flight via Athens, Greece.

38. Interview by telephone with Maher Arar, March 25, 2005.

39. An official U.S. government Web site listed the names of aviation companies that had permits to land at U.S. air bases.

40. I was beaten to publication on this one by the Chicago Tribune (“Italy Probes Possible CIA Role in Abduction,” by John Crewdson, February 25, 2005).

41. “CIA Uses Jet, Red Sox Partner Confirms,” by Gordon Edes, Boston Globe, March 21, 2005.

42. “Jet Is an Open Secret in Terror War,” by Dana Priest with Margot Williams, Julie Tate, Washington Post, December 27, 2004.

43. “CIA Expanding Terror Battle Under Guise of Charter Flights,” by Scott Shane, Stephen Grey, and Margot Williams, New York Times, May 31, 2005.

44. Ibid.

45. Interviews with former CIA pilots, 2005–2006.

46. Dun and Bradstreet Business Information database, accessed May, 2005.

47. Interview with former CIA pilot, 2005–2006.

48. E-mail from U.S. embassy in Austria, May 4, 2005, from an embassy spokesperson.

49. Interview with a former senior officer, CIA directorate of operations.

50. I tracked many trips of planes to Venezuela: November 9, 2004 (N259SK); March 13, 2002 (N368CE); March 4, 2002; December 6, 2003; January 3, 2004 (N829MG); September 3, 2003; September 4, 2003 (N970SJ); November 19, 2002 (N982RK). These were all private charter jets, not planes we had identified as 100 percent used by the U.S. government, so it was not definitive proof of a CIA operation. The first appearance of the planes was on March 4, 2002. On March 5, 2002, opposition leader Carlos Ortega signed a pact to remove (peacefully) controversial president Chavez. Another plane came in March 13, to take whoever back to JFK.

51. “Let’s Dare Call it Treason,” by Phil Brennan, NewsMax.com, June 1, 2005.

52. “Why Would the Times Publish This Story?” by Frederick Turner, Tech Central Station, June 6, 2005.

53. “Shane, Grey and Williams: Are They Human?” Anticipatory Retaliation, posted by anonymous author “Demosophist” on June 7, 2005.

54. See “The Public Editor: The Thinking Behind a Close Look at a CIA Operation,” by Byron Calame, New York Times, June 19, 2005.

55. Flightlogs of N379P and N313P.

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