By Jeremy R. Hammond
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Sep 15, 2008, 00:24
A private jet that crashed last year in eastern Mexico and was found to be carrying more than 3 tons of cocaine was also used by the Central Intelligence Agency for clandestine operations, the Mexican daily El Universal reported September 3.
The newspaper cited documents from the United States and the European Parliament which “show that that plane flew several times to Guantanamo, Cuba, presumably to transfer terrorism suspects.” It said the European Parliament was investigating the jet for its possible use in “extraordinary rendition” flights, whereby prisoners are covertly transferred by the U.S. to a third country.
In June 2006, the British Department for Transport website published flight data on US aircraft into or out of the UK. According to the site, “This data had previously been released by Eurocontrol to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to assist with its enquiry into allegations of ‘extraordinary rendition’ flights operating in Europe.” The jet that crashed in Mexico, with registration number N987SA, is listed in the data report.
According to El Universal, FAA records show that the jet flew to Guantanamo on May 30, 2003. From June 23 to July 14, the jet flew from New York to Iceland, France, Italy, and Ireland. From July 16 to 20, it flew from the U.S. to Canada, the UK, Ireland, the UK, Canada, and back to the U.S. again. From April 7 to 12, 2004, it went from New York to Canada, the UK, Canada, and again to the U.S. The jet then flew to Guantanamo again. On April 21, it flew from the U.S. to Canada, France, the UK, Canada, and back to the U.S. It left the U.S. for Guantanamo once more on January 21, 2005.
The jet crashed on September 24, 2007. According to an Aviation Safety Network description of the accident, the Gulfstream Aerospace G-1159 Gulfstream II jet with registration N987SA crashed near Tixkokob in the northern part of the Yucatan Peninsula. ASN describes it as an “Illegal Flight” and reports that “When being chased by Mexican military helicopters, the crew carried out a crash-landing. No bodies were found in the wreckage, but soldiers found 132 bags containing about 3.6 tons (3.3. metric tons) of cocaine.”
An initial Reuters report on the crash noted, “Drug planes packed with South American cocaine — often with passenger seats ripped out to make space — frequently fly through Mexico and Central America en route for the United States. Some unload their cargo at clandestine airstrips south of the border where traffickers send it on by road or sea.”
El Universal, in its initial report on the crash in 2007, stated that the cocaine was in 132 bags and noted the registration number of the wrecked plane.
McClatchy Newspapers observed a few days after the crash that “news reports have linked the plane to the transport of terrorist suspects to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but those reports cite logs that indicate only that the plane flew twice between Washington, D.C., and Guantanamo and once between Oxford, Conn., and Guantanamo.”
In November of last year, reporters from the Tampa Tribune followed up on the international investigation that resulted after the Gulfstream II crash. An expert on the drug trade from the University of Miami told the reporters that cocaine is being moved by air through Florida more frequently, as an alternative to being brought into the U.S. in the southwest.
The Gulfstream II jet was one of two planes being used by the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel, also known as the Pacific Cartel, to carry cocaine. The other jet, a DC-9, had been seized and was found to be carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine. Both aircraft were purchased by the cartel from St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.
The DC-9 with tail number N00SA, was seized on April 11, 2006, carrying an amount of cocaine valued at an estimated $82.5 million, according to Airport-Dat.com. Reportedly sold in March, the jet was scheduled to depart for Simon Bolivar International airport in Venezuela on April 5. FAA records show that at the time of the seizure, it was still registered to Royal Sons Inc., which operates out of St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport. It was deregistered two days after the seizure and listed as exported to Venezuela.
At the time of the crash, the Gulfstream II was registered to Donna Blue Aircraft Inc., owned by Joao Luiz Malago and Eduardo Dias Guimaraes, who had reportedly purchased the jet in July and then sold it to two Florida men on September 16, 2007. Two days later, the jet left Fort Lauderdale for Cancun. Then, according to Mexican authorities, it flew to Columbia to pick up the cocaine and was en route to deliver the drugs when it came to the attention of the military and crashed in the resulting chase.
Some have speculated that Donna Blue Aircraft may have been a front company. The Florida Department of State Division of Corporations lists the “Date Filed” for the company as March 29, 2007. And from June 1, it was listed at an address in Coconut Creek, Florida. Then, on June 18, 2008, the company name was changed to North Atlantic Aircraft Services, Corp., listed at the same address, but with Malago as the sole owner.
Journalist Daniel Hopsicker visited the Coconut Creek location and found no sign that such a business existed there. Hopsicker wrote, “Moreover the brief description of Donna Blue on its Internet page, apparently designed to ‘flesh out the ghost a little,’ is such a clumsy half-hearted effort that it defeats the purpose of helping aid the construction of a plausible ‘legend,’ or cover, and ends up doing more harm than good . . . For example, the website features a quote from a satisfied Donna Blue Aircraft customer. Unfortunately his name is ‘John Doe.’ And the listed phone number is right out of the movies: 415.555-5555.”
The company’s website (now offline) stated only, “we are in this business over 20 years, attending South, North and Central america, with outstanding service, we are today most trusted company in this market. our customer loyality make us different” [sic]. According to Whois, the site was created on August 20, 2007, a month after the Gulfstream II was reportedly bought by the company and less than a month before it crashed carrying the cocaine. Once uploaded, the site was apparently never updated and seems to have gone offline sometime after February 2008. According to the site description still available on Alexa, the company opened in 1995 despite the fact, as noted above, that the date the company was filed with the Florida Department of State was in March 2007.
Malago sold the jet to Clyde O’Connor. The name of Gregory D. Smith also appeared as a co-signer on the bill of sale.
A reporter from the Broward-Palm Beach New Times contacted Gregory D. Smith of Global Jet Solutions. When asked about the plane crash, Smith replied, “I’m not allowed to discuss that — I’m sorry,” and hung up. Contacted a second time, he said, “I’m not going to divulge anything.”
O’Connor had once written a letter to the editor in response to an article on the death of a police officer saying that “one less cop is not a bad thing.” He was convicted in 2001 for criminal air safety violations. In October 2007, he was detained by Canadian officials after they searched a Cessna 210 he had flown to Nova Scotia and found two Derringer pistols he had failed to report.
Reporters from McClatchy Newspapers attempted to reach O’Connor at one of his companies, Execstar Aviation in Fort Lauderdale, but the number had been disconnected. “Adding to the plane’s mystery,” their article noted, “are allegations that it made trips in 2003, 2004 and 2005 between the United States and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the U.S. detention center for suspected terrorists is located.”
Baruch Vega, a Columbian who has worked with the FBI, DEA, and CIA in law enforcement operations told Narco News that one of the main pilots used in operations for flights between Florida and South America was named Greg Smith.
Vega said, “Well originally . . . I met Greg Smith . . . we needed a pilot, a very trustful pilot, someone we could trust to bring in the [Colombian] drug traffickers to surrender. Then the members of the FBI recommended to get in contact with this guy [Smith] because he was very close to them. Ever since we flew only with him. Everything was with him. . . . I never asked anything [about Smith’s background]. But he [Smith] brought a couple of pilots because we always have two pilots in the plane. He occasionally brought pilots from the US Customs. I tell you one thing. We flew with Greg Smith easily 25 to 30 times. All [the] operations [were] between the end of 1997 to 2000.”
He added that there were “DEA agents in the plane and of course drug traffickers who were coming to surrender with attorneys.” He also said the name of the company from which the aircraft were chartered was Aero Group Jets. A court document confirms one instance in which the CIA had worked with the DEA to bring a fugitive Colombian drug trafficker, one Mr. Cristancho, to Florida by means of an aircraft rented from Aero Group Jets.
According to Narco News, “A check of the public records available through Florida’s Department of State lists the registered agent/officer of that now inactive company as Gregory D. Smith.”
When contacted by Narco News, the Gregory Smith identified in the Broward-Palm Beach New Times story denied that he was the same Greg Smith as the one whose signature appeared as co-signer on the bill of sale of the Gulfstream II. He said his middle initial is “J’ and that he had been wrongly identified.
Narco News obtained a copy of a 2007 document with the signature of Gregory Smith from Global Jet Solutions and compared it with the signature Gregory D. Smith in a 1998 annual report from Aero Group Jets filed with the state of Florida. The signatures “appear to be different,” Narco News concluded. They do indeed appear to be different signatures, but the fact that the two samples are nine years apart also must be taken into consideration, as a person’s signature may evolve over time.
In a follow up report, Narco News tracked down Malago, who denied that he operated a front company. “Some people told on Internet,” he said, “that my company is a CIA cover office and that bring me a lot of problems. First this is not true and you can imagine if this people came to talk with me. I have family and don’t want any more problems there.”
Malago also agreed to share a copy of the bill of sale of the Gulfstream II jet with Narco News, which reported, “In comparing the two signatures, there are some differences, such as one is signed as Gregory D. while the other is signed simply as Greg, with no middle initial. However there are some striking similarities as well, including the fact that some of the letters appear to be penned in precisely the same way.”
Mike Levine, a former undercover DEA agent who has worked as an expert witness in court cases, told Narco News, “I did much of this handwriting comparison work, without using an expert, but my opinion was accepted before grand juries as having a significant amount of work experience in comparing handwritings (IRS, BATF, Customs and DEA). I would say the samples you sent me are definitely the same handwriting.”
Although inconclusive, there is compelling evidence that the Gregory Smith who cosigned with O’Connor for the purchase of the Gulfstream II from Malago was indeed the same Gregory Smith who was involved in piloting flights for CIA and DEA operations out of Florida.
The recent article from El Universal noted that the Gulfstream II jet had also been previously owned by AGI Holdings Corp., which sold it to S/A Holdings LLC, a company for which, the paper says, there is virtually no information.
The use of front companies by the CIA to provide cover for its operations is well known and documented.
In December 2005, the Toronto Star ran a story on CIA “ghost flights.” It noted that a plane with registration N196D was registered with the FAA under Devon Holding and Leasing, Inc. — but that no such company existed.
“There is no Devon Holding and Leasing Inc. at 129 W. Center St. in Lexington, N.C. There is no phone listing. The city offices have never heard of it; neither has the Chamber of Commerce. The law offices of James A. Gleason are at 129 W. Center St., but five days of inquiries there failed to yield an answer to this simple question: Does anyone in this office know of a company called Devon Holding and Leasing? It is almost certainly a CIA shell company, existing on paper only, and the turboprop was likely carrying a ‘ghost’ prisoner to a country where torture is used during interrogations.”
Devon Holding and Leasing was being investigated by the European Parliament for its possible role in the CIA’s rendition program, and was named by investigators as a CIA “shell company.”
In one documented case of extraordinary rendition, the Toronto Star story continues, the CIA flew Maher Arar, who is from Ottawa, from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport to Syria, where he was tortured as a suspected terrorist. In another case, Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr was abducted from the streets of Milan and taken to Egypt, where he was tortured. Saad iqbal Madni was similarly taken from Jakarta and flown to Cairo, where he was held for two years before being delivered to Guantanamo Bay. He claims he was tortured in Egypt.
On the use of front companies by the CIA: “It’s careless tradecraft,” says John Pike, an expert on U.S. intelligence matters at GlobalSecurity.org. “They [the CIA] have allowed the tail-spotters into the game and they have not come to grips with the advent of the Internet, and not come to grips with the massive parallel processing which is underway with all those tail-spotters.” The planes are supposed to be registered with legitimate companies, so they just blend in and can’t be traced to the CIA, Pike says. “These are not real companies. They should be using good-looking companies which arouse no suspicion at all.”
The New York Times ran a story in 2005 stating that Aero Contractors Ltd. was a CIA front company. “When the Central Intelligence Agency wants to grab a suspected member of Al Qaeda overseas and deliver him to interrogators in another country,” the Times report said, “an Aero Contractors plane often does the job. If agency experts need to fly overseas in a hurry after the capture of a prized prisoner, a plane will depart Johnston County and stop at Dulles Airport outside Washington to pick up the C.I.A. team on the way.”
The Times also stated, “The company was founded in 1979 by a legendary C.I.A. officer and chief pilot for Air America, the agency’s Vietnam-era air company” and that “Aero appears to be the direct descendant of Air America.”
The article in the Times declined to note, however, the CIA’s well-documented role in heroin trafficking through Air America in Southeast Asia during the war in Vietnam.
Adding to the intrigue, in December 2007, Narco News reported that according to DEA officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the crashed Gulfstream II jet “was part of an operation being carried out by a Department of Homeland Security agency” codenamed “Mayan Express.” The effort was “spearheaded by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the sources claim.”
The report continues: “The operation also appears to be badly flawed, the sources say, because it is being carried out unilaterally, (Rambo-style), by ICE and without the knowledge of the Mexican government — at least it was up until the point of the coke-packed Gulfstream jet’s abrupt impact with the Earth.
“’This is a case of ICE running amok,’ one DEA source told Narco News. ‘If this [operation] was being run by the book, they would not be doing it unilaterally,’ — without the participation of the DEA — ‘and without the knowledge of the Mexican government.’”
The DEA confirmed to Narco News that it was handling the investigation into the crash. The pilots were apprehended after their initial escape from the crash site and apparently “spilled the beans on the ICE operation during their interrogation by Mexican authorities, DEA sources tell Narco News.”
“One proposition that all of the law enforcers who spoke with Narco News agreed on with respect to the Mayan Express is that even if DEA was precluded from participating in the effort, the CIA almost certainly was involved on some level.”
Narco News also noted that a report from a British government agency listed the Gulfstream II jet as one “European investigators were interested in obtaining more information about in relation to a probe into CIA rendition flights” and added that other sources also suggested that “Mayan Express” might have been a CIA operation using ICE for cover.
Narco News reported again in 2008 on yet another plane that was apparently involved in a drug trafficking operation. On November 26, 2004, a twin-prop Beechcraft King Air 200 landed and was abandoned on a makeshift runway in a cotton field in Nicaragua. Traces of cocaine were found in the plane. The cocaine had apparently been loaded onto a truck. Several days after the plane was abandoned, law enforcement officials arrested the occupants of a truck carrying 1,100 kilos of cocaine.
The abandoned aircraft’s tail number was N168D, registered to none other than Devon Holding and Leasing Inc., the same company used as a front by the CIA for its extraordinary renditions operations, as noted previously.
Then the story of that plane gets even more convoluted, as FAA records show that the plane registered under Devon Holding and Leasing Inc. with tail number N168D actually belongs to a different kind of plane, model CN-235-300. The Beech 200’s actual tail number is N391SA, registered with the FAA under Sky Way Aircraft Inc.
Sky Way Aircraft Inc. can also be linked to Royal Sons Inc., which, as noted above, was still the registered owner of the DC-9 that was seized carrying more than 5 tons of cocaine. The parent company of Sky Way Aircraft was Skyway Communications Holding Corp., which had originally arranged to purchase the DC-9 that was ultimately registered with Royal Sons Inc. The president of Royal Sons, Frederick J. Geffon, was also a shareholder in Skyway Communications. In addition, the two companies had at one time jointly filed for a loan to purchase another DC-9, tail number N120NE. The CEO of Skyway Communications, James Kent, had also served under contract with the Department of Defense, the National Security Agency, and the Department of the Navy.
Like the DC-9, the Beech 200 was sold to a buyer in Venezuela in October 2004, about one month before it was abandoned in the cotton field and linked by authorities to cocaine trafficking.
The Beech 200 may have been a part of the Mayan Express operation. According to Narco News, “Mark Conrad, a former supervisory special agent with U.S. Customs, ICE’s predecessor agency, speculates that the Mayan Express operation is not controlled by ICE at all, but is, in fact, a CIA-run operation using ICE as a cover. He adds that the CIA has agents operating inside many federal law enforcement agencies utilizing what is known as an ‘official cover.’”
A former ICE agent also told Narco News he suspected the CIA was behind the drug plane operations.
There is no shortage of precedents for alleged CIA involvement in drug trafficking.
Alfred W. McCoy’s The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, first published in 1972, documented CIA complicity in drug trafficking such as its involvement in the opium and heroin trade in southeast Asia.
Journalist Gary Webb’s Dark Alliance series is a well known investigation into allegations of the CIA’s involvement in the Los Angeles crack epidemic in the 1980s to help finance the Contras in the terrorist war to overthrow the elected government of Nicaragua.
Michael Ruppert, former narcotics officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, famously confronted CIA director John Deutch at a televised conference with information on specific CIA operations, which he cited by name and said he had documentation on, and said the CIA had been dealing drugs in L.A. for a long time.
And there is evidence that the CIA flew drugs into Mena, Arkansas during Bill Clinton’s governorship, in its operations to finance the Contras.
In 1993, CBS 60 Minutes broadcast The CIA’s Cocaine. The former head of the DEA, Judge Robert Bonner, told correspondent Mike Wallace that the CIA had an unauthorized operation to bring drugs into the U.S. “If this has not been approved by DEA or an appropriate law-enforcement authority in the United States,” Bonner said, “then it’s illegal. It’s called drug trafficking.”
Bonner, asked to rationalize the operation, suggested that it might “lead to some valuable drug intelligence about the Colombian cartels.”
A DEA agent interviewed for the show said that she had been told by the CIA officer in charge of the CIA station in Caracas, Venezuela, that they had to keep the cartel happy by delivering their cocaine to their dealers in the U.S. “The CIA and the Guardia Nacional,” she explained, “wanted to let cocaine go on into the traffic without doing anything. They wanted to let it come up to the United States, no surveillance, no nothing.”
The CIA had gone to the DEA with its proposal, which was rejected. “They made this proposal,” said Bonner, “and we said, ‘No, no way. We will not permit this. It should not go forward.’ And then, apparently, it went forward anyway.”
Senator Dennis DeConcini of the Senate Intellience Committee also told Wallace, “It was an operation that I don’t think they should’ve been involved in. . . . I don’t doubt that the drugs got in here.” He called the operation “a mistake.”
Morley Safer closed the piece by saying, “And what happened to the tens of millions that were paid for the CIA’s cocaine? Well, General Guillen insists he didn’t get any of it. But Judge Bonner says one thing is certain, the Colombian cartel did. They got their money once the dope made it to our streets.”
Senator and 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry told NBC’s Dateline that the CIA was complicit in the flow of drugs into the U.S. His Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Narcotics, Terrorism, and International Operations found that “it is clear that individuals who provided support for the Contras were involved in drug trafficking” and that this activity did not go unnoticed by the government agencies.
Kerry also headed up a Senate investigation into the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) that documented the CIA’s involvement in the bank, which was a criminal front for money launderers, drug traffickers, arms dealers, and even nuclear proliferators.
The government went into damage control. In 1997, the Department of Justice issued a report addressing the allegations of CIA involvement in drug trafficking, and the CIA released its own report the following year.
The full story behind the crashed Gulfstream II jet and the other planes that were found to have been involved in drug trafficking is far from known. But the facts that have surfaced to date strongly indicate CIA involvement of one kind or another. The agency’s fingerprints, one might reasonably say, are all over this one.
Jeremy R. Hammond is an independent researcher and writer whose articles have appeared on numerous alternative news websites. He maintains a website, www.yirmeyahureview.com, dedicated to critical analysis of U.S. foreign policy, particularly with regard to the U.S. “war on terrorism” and the Middle East. He currently resides with his wife in Taiwan. You may contact him at email@example.com.