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Monday, December 27, 2004

Next stop, Cairo

Torture Airlines

Jet Is an Open Secret in Terror War

By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 27, 2004; Page A01

The airplane is a Gulfstream V turbojet, the sort favored by CEOs and celebrities. But since 2001 it has been seen at military airports from Pakistan to Indonesia to Jordan, sometimes being boarded by hooded and handcuffed passengers.

The plane's owner of record, Premier Executive Transport Services Inc., lists directors and officers who appear to exist only on paper. And each one of those directors and officers has a recently issued Social Security number and an address consisting only of a post office box, according to an extensive search of state, federal and commercial records.

This Gulfstream V turbojet is believed to be used to transport suspected terrorists to other countries for interrogation -- a practice called rendition. (Special To The Washington Post)

Bryan P. Dyess, Steven E. Kent, Timothy R. Sperling and Audrey M. Tailor are names without residential, work, telephone or corporate histories -- just the kind of "sterile identities," said current and former intelligence officials, that the CIA uses to conceal involvement in clandestine operations. In this case, the agency is flying captured terrorist suspects from one country to another for detention and interrogation.

The CIA calls this activity "rendition." Premier Executive's Gulfstream helps make it possible. According to civilian aircraft landing permits, the jet has permission to use U.S. military airfields worldwide.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, secret renditions have become a principal weapon in the CIA's arsenal against suspected al Qaeda terrorists, according to congressional testimony by CIA officials. But as the practice has grown, the agency has had significantly more difficulty keeping it secret.

According to airport officials, public documents and hobbyist plane spotters, the Gulfstream V, with tail number N379P, has been used to whisk detainees into or out of Jakarta, Indonesia; Pakistan; Egypt; and Sweden, usually at night, and has landed at well-known U.S. government refueling stops.

As the outlines of the rendition system have been revealed, criticism of the practice has grown. Human rights groups are working on legal challenges to renditions, said Morton Sklar, executive director of the World Organization for Human Rights USA, because one of their purposes is to transfer captives to countries that use harsh interrogation methods outlawed in the United States. That, he said, is prohibited by the U.N. Convention on Torture.

The CIA has the authority to carry out renditions under a presidential directive dating to the Clinton administration, which the Bush administration has reviewed and renewed. The CIA declined to comment for this article.

"Our policymakers would never confront the issue," said Michael Scheuer, a former CIA counterterrorism officer who has been involved with renditions and supports the practice. "We would say, 'Where do you want us to take these people?' The mind-set of the bureaucracy was, 'Let someone else do the dirty work.' "

The story of the Gulfstream V offers a rare glimpse into the CIA's secret operations, a world that current and former CIA officers said should not have been so easy to document.

Not only have the plane's movements been tracked around the world, but the on-paper officers of Premier Executive Transport Services are also connected to a larger roster of false identities.

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.

The CIA has a long history of cut out airlines

The History of CAT/Air America

Civil Air Transport (CAT) was a unique airline formed after World War II in China by General Claire L. Chennault and Whiting Willauer. The history of CAT is marked by adventure and international intrigue. Using surplus aircraft from the war, in 1946 CAT began to airlift supplies and food into war-ravaged China. During the Chinese Civil War, under contract with the Chinese Nationalist government and later the Central Intelligence Agency, CAT flew supplies and ammunition into China to assist the Chinese Nationalist forces on the Chinese mainland. With the defeat of the Nationalists in 1949, CAT helped to evacuate thousands of Chinese by air to the island of Taiwan.

In 1950 the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) bought the airline to use in clandestine missions to fight communism in Asia. CAT continued to fly scheduled passenger flights while simultaneously using other aircraft in its fleet to fly covert missions. During the Korean War, CAT airlifted thousands of tons of war materials to supply United States military operations. In 1954 CAT aircrews airdropped supplies to the French at Dien Bien Phu in Indochina. Throughout the 1950s CAT flew this fascinating combination of scheduled commercial flights and clandestine missions.

With the spread of communism throughout Southeast Asia, CAT’s mission changed. In 1959 CAT was renamed Air America. Under the new corporate name, (though CAT continued to fly scheduled passenger flights out of Taiwan), Air America flew all other type of air operations in Laos and South Vietnam. Operating in mountainous terrain, Air America crews flew with skill and courage in supplying the anti-commuinst forces in Southeast Asia. Air America flew a variety of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters because of the region’s unforgiving topography. Missions included airdropping thousands of tons of food, evacuating civilians, rescuing downed U.S. aircrews, and emergency medical evacuations. In 1975, Air America helicopter crews helped to evacuate Americans and South Vietnamese from South Vietnam during the fall of the country. In 1976, Air America’s twenty-six year tenure as the CIA’s airline came to a close. The CAT/Air America experience is unparalleled in commercial aviation history. More than two hundred and forty civilian CAT and Air America employees gave their lives in Asia from 1946 to 1975.

CAT/Air America was the most famous, but hardly their only airline

Undercover Air

Is the CIA back in business at Rickenbacker International?

by Bob Fitrakis

Are we a big ol’ lucky dog of a city, or what? I couldn’t be more excited about Saturday’s Business section front-page story in the Dispatch. The lead told us: “Rickenbacker International Airport will begin receiving cargo shipments from Malaysia as a result of service added by Evergreen International Airlines.”

Thank God we finally got somebody to replace the former Southern Air Transport (SAT) after the company went bankrupt amidst allegations that its pilots and planes were used in CIA drug-running operations.

Evergreen began racing “time-sensitive cargo” from Kuala Lumpur to Rickenbacker on Sunday. They’re aiding some of our best corporate citizens “…such as The Limited and Eddie Bauer,” according to the Dispatch, where no doubt garments are made in state-of-the-art cheery facilities by well-paid Third World employees. I was so excited I took a few minutes to research Evergreen’s history.

Evergreen, originally based in McMinnville, Oregon, expanded from a small helicopter in the 1960s “to a major international airline with secret government contracts” according to the Portland, Oregon Free Press. The Oregonian reported that “Evergreen Airline Company, Evergreen International Airlines, Inc., was built on remnants of two older airlines—one a wholly owned CIA proprietary, or front company, and the other a virtual branch of the U.S. Forest Service that for years secretly had helped the CIA recruit paramilitary personnel.”

In 1975, after a series of embarrassing revelations during Senator Frank Church’s investigation of the CIA, the “company” liquidated Intermountain Aviation Inc. of Marana, Arizona near Tucson. Intermountain’s assets were purchased by two Oregon companies that the CIA selected: Evergreen and Rosenbalm Aviation Inc. But Evergreen was the big winner. One of the CIA’s top aviation officers, the legendary covert ops expert George Doole worked for Evergreen as a director. Prior to this, Doole managed all of the CIA’s proprietary airlines. The CIA selected Evergreen to take over the agency’s airbase at Marana. An investigation by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Oregonian documented that “The CIA offered Intermountain’s substantial Arizona assets only to Evergreen.”

What followed was a decade of privileged treatment and government contracts to the airline. Evergreen purchased the CIA’s Arizona assets at a fraction of their real worth. An Arthur Andersen and Co. financial statement indicates that Evergreen’s assets nearly doubled from $25 million to more than $45 million one year after the deal. Evergreen’s revenues rose from $8-10 million range in 1975 to $77.9 million by 1979, according to U.S. Civil Aeronautics Board documents.

The Washington Post reported on Evergreen’s CIA connection in 1980 after it was chosen to fly the former Shah of Iran from Panama to Cairo.

In 1984, CBS News reported that the CIA was using a “network of private companies” to fly military weapons to Central America to support the Contra rebels trying to overthrow the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. CBS named both Southern Air and Evergreen Air as involved in the arms shipments. The day after the broadcast, the Washington Post reported that “Private airlines, including Evergreen, were owned by the CIA during the Vietnam War, but the agency has said that the airline has since been sold.”

The New York Times jumped in a day later with the following lead: “The Central Intelligence Agency is using small private airlines to fly guns and other military supplies to United States-backed forces in Central America, and false flight plans are sometimes filed to cover up the shipments….” The Times mentioned Evergreen Air by name.

So using aircraft for CIA missions is nothing new. However, your very own torture ferrying service is a bit much.

posted by Steve @ 1:14:00 PM

1:14:00 PM

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