CIA ghost flights over Canada
Star" -- -- When the 40-seat turboprop landed in
St. John's one recent Friday evening, there was no reason to believe
ghosts were involved in the procedure.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration recorded everything anyone
would need to know, it seemed, about the fixed-wing, multi-engine
plane, registration number N196D, built in 2003 and registered as a
The corporation is identified as Devon Holding and Leasing Inc.,
headquartered at a downtown address in Lexington, N.C.
And that is when the ghosts appear.
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.
Such covert flights, known as "extraordinary renditions," became
infamous in Canada in the case of Maher Arar, the Ottawa man who was
tortured in Syria after being whisked away from New York's John F.
Kennedy Airport as a suspected terrorist.
The United States denies it tortures suspects.
There have been five occasions in which suspected CIA-linked
aircraft flew over Canada, or landed in Newfoundland or Nunavut,
over the past six months.
And the flights are raising the same kind of questions that are
being asked in capitals around the world.
Did official Ottawa know of the flights and who might have been on
Did the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) co-operate
in allowing the U.S. overflights and landings?
If so, they were breaking international law.
Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada spokesperson Zuwena
Robidas has commented on two of the Newfoundland landings, saying
they "were in accordance with normal operating procedure for private
flights. The government of Canada has no information to substantiate
allegations about links between those flights and the CIA."
Overflights and landings have been reported in Sweden, Iceland,
Denmark, Italy, Spain, Austria, Germany, Cyprus, Macedonia, Malta
and Greece among other countries.
Iceland alone is said to be able to document 67 such landings on its
In addition to the rendition flights, the U.S. State Department now
has to deal with European countries determined to get answers about
secret CIA prisons, so-called "black sites" on their continent.
When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives in Germany tomorrow
for the first stop in a four-country tour, she'll have to deal with
questions about potential human rights abuses carried out on
"The United States realizes that these are topics that are
generating interest among European publics as well as parliaments,
and that these questions need to be responded to," said State
Department spokesperson Sean McCormack.
"We're going to do our best to answer these questions in as complete
and forthright a manner as we possible can."
A spokesperson for new German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she
would wait patiently for the answers sought by the European Union
and eight of its member states.
Back in the United States, Margaret Satterthwaite, a New York
University law professor, says things are coming to a head in the
covert war on terror.
"Governments are now on notice," she says. "Specific planes with
specific tail numbers have been identified and these governments
cannot now put their heads back in the sand.
"Western European countries and Canada have strong commitments to
"If these governments stopped co-operating — even passive
co-operation by allowing refuelling and overflights — the CIA would
have no ability to do this."
In a new study titled "Torture by Proxy: International Law
Applicable to Extraordinary Renditions," the New York-based Center
for Human Rights concludes that any nation which knowingly
facilitates torture is complicit under international law.
Any country that has allowed the CIA ghost planes on its soil or in
its airspace could be guilty, the brief says, "if it could be shown
that a plane carrying rendered persons would not be able to make it
to a destination where the person will be subject to torture unless
it was able to refuel in a particular state."
The Bush administration seems taken aback by Europe's reaction to
the so-called "black sites," first reported on last month by The
The continent's leading human rights watchdog, the Council of
Europe, is investigating the Post report and probing flights by 31
aircraft it suspects of being used by the CIA to secretly transfer
prisoners across European borders.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch says it knows the United
States is holding at least 26 "ghost detainees" at undisclosed sites
around the world.
Many of the suspected rendition flights have been flagged by
recreational "tail-spotters" who have turned their hobby of
identifying aircraft tail numbers into a valuable Internet data
"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."
Pike notes that the CIA has been given a big boost to its budget and
has spent most of it on the "human intelligence" the 9/11 commission
concluded it so sorely lacked.
"By that, do people think we're going to hire a bunch of James Bonds
and send them to Monte Carlo to the baccarat table?
"No, we're going to kidnap people and subject them to physical
duress and psychological duress and they're going to tell us where
the bad guys are and we're going to go get them."
What the CIA is doing is nothing new.
During the Vietnam era, it operated Air America, a covert air force
created to fight the Cold War and often involved in combat service.
Some 87 Air America agents were killed between 1946 and 1976.
The New York Times reported last spring that the CIA owns at least
26 planes, 10 of them purchased since 2001.
The newspaper said the CIA has tried to conceal its ownership by
setting up seven shell corporations that have no employees but are
registered owners of the aircraft.
Many of the flights, the Times said, fly out of a tiny airstrip in
Johnston County, N.C., sometimes stopping at Washington's Dulles
Airport to pick up CIA agents.
The Times tracked 11 flights to landings at Camp Peavy, a Virginia
base used by the CIA. Other flights went to Guantanamo Bay.
Spanish investigators have identified at least two planes they
believe were rendition flights that landed on the island of Mallorca
as belonging to Stevens Express Leasing Inc.
Like the silent law partners in Lexington, Stevens was traced to the
law office of Douglas R. Beaty in a suburb of Memphis, Tenn.
"All I do is real estate," Beaty told the Associated Press.
Spanish authorities now say they believe the U.S. aircraft alleged
to be transporting suspected terrorists this year and in 2004 broke
It was a case in Italy that first blew the CIA cover.
Italian judges issued arrest warrants for 22 purported CIA
operatives who allegedly snatched a Muslim cleric from Milan in 2003
and flew him to Cairo aboard a Gulfstream IV registered to Richmor
That jet belongs to Phillip H. Morse, a part-owner of the Boston Red
Sox, who told The Boston Globe that the team's logo was covered when
the CIA leased the plane.
A German prosecutor has also launched a probe to see if the CIA
landed on German soil to refuel the plane in that case.
Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr was taken off the streets of Milan on
Feb. 17, 2003, then flown to Ramstein Air Base in Germany —
considered U.S. territory — and from there to Egypt where he was
A similar case involving Saad Iqbal Madni, 24, is also well
documented. He was plucked from a Jakarta rooming house by
Indonesian officials on Jan. 9, 2002, then loaded on a Gulfstream
executive jet and flown to Cairo, with stops in Scotland to refuel,
After being held two years, he arrived at Guantanamo Bay, claiming
he had been tortured by having electrodes placed on his knees.
The most likely outcome of Rice's meetings with European officials?
A denial will come from all concerned, Pike says, because the
European Union is not going to take action based on newspaper
articles. He notes that the case is built on "unsubstantiated"
prisons whose existence can't be proven.
"Why do you think they call it covert?"
The true nature of the St. John's flights might also never come to
Planes landing in Newfoundland must file a flight plan, Pike agrees.
"But they are certainly not required to inform the government that
they are hauling evil-doers to unacknowledged detention centres."
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