The public relies upon the media to shed light upon the shadowy inner-workings of the War on Terror, playing its watchdog role in a vibrant democracy. The Washington Post and The New York Times have taken the lead in breaking major stories, prompting public debate on the use of torture, secret prisons, the role of the Geneva Convention, etc. Always playing catch-up, the LA Times yesterday brought us an exclusive investigation into CIA rendition flight of Kahled Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent. We already know from previous reports that the rendition teams have stayed at the Gran Melia Victoria hotel, a luxury hotel in Majorca, that they have made phone calls on personal cell phones, that they ordered bottles of red wine to celebrate the successful rendition and that they gave the hotel their personal frequent flier numbers, even though they were traveling under non-official cover. We also knew that the company running the flight was Aero Contractors LTD., which flies or rather flew out of that unusual rural hub of CIA activity Johnston County, North Carolina.
Relying upon documents filed by German prosecutors as well as an on-site investigation in North Carolina, the home-base of the flight crew and aircraft used in the 2003 kidnapping of Kahled Masri, The LA Times has discovered these new insightful details:
- The flight crew spent an extra night in the hotel because of a forecast of snowstorms along their intended route;
- The chief pilot stayed in room 552;
- The chief pilot called home at 2:28 in the afternoon, although we don't know if this is the time in Majorca or North Carolina;
- In addition to the 3 bottles of celebratory Spanish wine they ordered, they splurged with 17 shrimp cocktails;
- The chief pilot drives a Toyota Previa minivan;
- The third pilot drives a Ford Explorer and has a 17-foot aluminum fishing boat;
- The chief pilot "keeps a collection of model trains in a glass display case near a large bubbling aquarium in his living room;"
- The third pilot "keeps plastic models of his favorite planes mounted by the fireplace in his living room in a house that backs onto a private golf course;"
And here comes the real eye-opener:
- The copilot who is 35 lives with his father and two dogs.
I could be wrong, but I'm sensing a Pulitzer here.
One thing the story doesn't tell us is whether Aero Contractors Ltd, was a shell of a private contractor or whether it was a devised facility of the CIA. Since other reports have told us that the company dates back to 1979, well before the recent explosion of CIA outsourcing, it be an increasingly rare example of the CIA still doing things in-house. The LAT also didn't seem to check with the FAA database which would also have told them that there are no longer aircraft registered to this company. The shell game continues...
To regular readers, thanks for your patience while I've been both on the road and feeling like roadkill thanks to a plethora of projects coming due at once. Normal, more serious posting is resuming this week.