The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) owns 26 planes that it operates through many shell companies to carry out several of its operations, The New York Times reported.
From transporting suspected members of the Al-Qaeda from one country to another to dropping CIA operatives in different territories, these planes are used for many purposes to which the US government cannot officially lend its name.
The paper said it carried out an analysis of thousands of flight records, aircraft registrations and corporate documents, as well as interviews with former CIA officers and pilots, which showed the agency owns at least 26 planes, 10 of them purchased since 2001.
The Times report identified one of the shell companies, fronting for the CIA, as Aero Contractors Ltd, whose planes often take off from Johnston County Airport Smithfield, North Carolina.
“Nothing about the sleepy southern setting hints of foreign intrigue. Nothing gives away the fact that Aero’s pilots are the discreet bus drivers of the battle against terrorism, routinely sent on secret missions to Baghdad, Cairo, Tashkent and Kabul,” the paper said.
The report said Aero Contractors’ planes dropped CIA paramilitary officers into Afghanistan in 2001; carried an American team to Karachi, Pakistan, right after the US consulate there was bombed in 2002; and flew from Libya to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the day before an American-held prisoner said he was questioned by Libyan intelligence agents last year.
“While posing as a private charter outfit – ‘aircraft rental with pilot’ is the listing in Dun and Bradstreet – Aero Contractors is in fact a major domestic hub of the CIA’s secret air service. The company was founded in 1979 by a legendary CIA officer and chief pilot for Air America, the agency’s Vietnam-era air company, and it appears to be controlled by the agency, according to former employees,” it said.
“The civilian planes can go places American military craft would not be welcome. They sometimes allow the agency to circumvent reporting requirements most countries impose on flights operated by other governments. But the cover can fail, as when two Austrian fighter jets were scrambled on January 21, 2003, to intercept a CIA Hercules transport plane, equipped with military communications, on its way from Germany to Azerbaijan,” the paper said.
“Some of the CIA planes have been used for carrying out renditions, the legal term for the agency’s practice of seizing terrorism suspects in one foreign country and delivering them to be detained in another, including countries that routinely engage in torture. The resulting controversy has breached the secrecy of the agency’s flights in the last two years, as plane-spotting hobbyists, activists and journalists in a dozen countries have tracked the mysterious planes’ movements,” it said.
Indo-Asian News Service