The Sunday Times & The Canadian Press – 2007-02-17 08:56:12
US Military Planes Criss-cross Europe
Using Bogus Call Sign
Jon Swain and Brian Johnson-Thomas / The Sunday Times
ROME (February 19, 2006) —The American military have been operating flights across Europe using a call sign assigned to a civilian airline that they have no legal right to use.
Not only is the call sign bogus — according to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) — so, it appears, are some of the aircraft details the Americans have filed with the air traffic control authorities.
In at least one case, a plane identified with the CIA practice of “extraordinary rendition” — transporting terrorist suspects — left a US air base just after the arrival of an aircraft using the bogus call sign.
The call sign Juliet Golf Oscar (JGO) followed by a flight number belongs, says the ICAO, to a now bankrupt Canadian low-cost airline called Jetsgo of Montreal.
But for several years and as recently as last December it has been used selectively by both the American air force and army to cover the flights of aircraft to and from the Balkans.
These range from Learjet 35 executive jets to C-130 transport planes and MC-130P Combat Shadows, which are specially adapted for clandestine missions in politically sensitive or hostile territory.
A Sunday Times analysis of flight plans and radio logs has placed these aircraft at locations including Tuzla in Bosnia, Pristina in Kosovo, Aviano, the site of a large joint US-Italian military air base in northern Italy, and Ramstein in Germany, the headquarters of the US Air Forces in Europe (USAFE).
A Secret Flight for Mr ‘xxxxxxx”
On December 11, 2004, USAFE in Ramstein filed a flight plan for a Learjet 35 to fly from Tuzla to Aviano. The flight plan was copied to 15 addressees including Tuzla airport, Aviano airport and a mysterious recipient labelled “xxxxxxxx”.
The aircraft’s identity was given as JGO 80, the flight was a Learjet 35 operated by the Department of Defence and the registration was 99999E.
The status of the flight was given as “humanitarian”. But it was also given as “state”, which means government, and as “protected”, which means diplomatic.
During the time the plane was in the air, USAFE changed some of the flight plan timings and at the same time the registration changed. The aircraft metamorphosed into 40112E but continued to be a Learjet 35 and was still JGO 80 and a humanitarian, government and diplomatic flight.
While the Learjet was on the ground at Tuzla, an Ilyushin 76 was loading a cargo of 45 tons of surplus weapons and ammunition sold off by the Bosnian military and destined for Rwanda in defiance of a UN embargo.
The Ilyushin left Tuzla, flew over Italy and headed south in the direction of Africa. The American Learjet took off 55 minutes later.
In a report exposing arms trafficking to war-torn central Africa, Amnesty International has suggested that “US security authorities were engaged in a covert operation to ferry arms to Rwanda in the face of political opposition from the European Union”.
Gun-Running and Kidnapping
Another interesting convergence of flights occurred in February 2004. On February 24, an MC-130P Combat Shadow using the call sign JGO 50 took off from Aviano for an unknown destination.
Two days later, on February 26, the aircraft left Pristina for Tuzla. A short while after that, a Gulfstream 5 executive jet, call sign JGO 47, flew from Tuzla to Aviano, arriving at 23.11 GMT. The next day, a Learjet 35 using the call sign SPAR 92 left Aviano for an unknown destination.
SPAR is short for Special Air Resources, an American military airlift service that transports senior military officers and civilian VIPs.
However, SPAR 92 has been identified as the aircraft which was used by the CIA secretly to transport a Muslim preacher who was kidnapped by CIA agents in Milan in 2003.
A USAFE spokesman last week said American aircraft using the JGO call sign were performing “Joint Guard Operations” for the Nato/European peacekeeping mission in the Balkans.
However, inquiries have shown that the military operation called “Joint Guard” ended in 1998. They also show that none of the US aircraft deployed in it match ones using the JGO call sign.
A spokesman for the ICAO said: “Our records indicate that the designator JGO is still assigned to Jetsgo and the ICAO does not assign the same code to two operators.”
Additional reporting: Peter Danssaert
Italian Judge Indicts 26 Americans, 5 Italians
In Alleged CIA Kidnapping
Colleen Barry / Canadian Press
MILAN, Italy (February 16, 2007) — An Italian judge indicted 25 suspected CIA agents and a US Air Force lieutenant colonel Friday in the alleged kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric who had been under investigation for recruiting Islamist fighters.
The indictment paves the way for Italy to put the Americans, along with five Italians, on trial in June in the first criminal case involving the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program.
The Americans have all left Italy, and it is unlikely that they would be turned over for prosecution, even if Italy requests their extradition — a move that would strain relations between Rome and Washington.
All but one of the Americans have been identified as CIA agents, including the former Milan station chief Robert Seldon Lady and former Rome station chief Jeffrey Castelli. The other is Air Force Lt.-Col. Joseph Romano, who was stationed at the time at Aviano.
Prosecutors believe that many of the American names in the indictment are aliases.
All the US agents have court-appointed lawyers, who say they have had no contact with their clients. In Italy, defendants can be tried in absentia.
Prosecutors allege that five Italian intelligence officials worked with the Americans to abduct Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr from a Milan street on Feb. 17, 2003.
Secret US Prison at Air Base near Venice
Nasr was allegedly taken to Aviano Air Base near Venice, Ramstein Air Base in southern Germany, and then to Egypt, where he was held for four years and, according to his lawyer, tortured. He was freed earlier this week by an Egyptian court that ruled his detention was “unfounded.”
State Department spokesman Tom Casey said “this is an issue that is before the judiciary in Italy” and declined further comment.
The CIA did not comment Friday on the case, which has put an uncomfortable spotlight on intelligence operations and increased US-European disagreement over combating terrorism.
The Swiss government this week approved prosecutors’ plans to investigate the flight that allegedly took Nasr over Swiss airspace from Italy to Germany. And a German prosecutor recently issued arrest warrants for 13 people in connection with the alleged CIA-orchestrated kidnapping of a German citizen.
A “Breach” of Italian Soverignty
Italian prosecutors say the alleged kidnapping operation was a breach of their country’s sovereignty that compromised Italy’s own anti-terrorism efforts.
Nasr, who had the status of political refugee in Italy, was under investigation for terrorism-related activities at the time of his abduction, and Milan prosecutors issued a warrant for his arrest more than two years after he disappeared from Milan, while he was in Egyptian custody.
British opposition Conservative legislator Andrew Tyrie, head of a parliamentary group investigating allegations into CIA flights, said he hoped the criminal trial would expose those involved in the “repugnant practice” of rendition, or moving terrorism suspects from country to country without public legal proceedings.
Subjects of rendition have said they were tortured in the countries to which they were transferred.
“If British and European governments do not want to face the embarrassing prospect of being shown to have kept the public in the dark about rendition, they had better come clean on what they know, and fast,” Tyrie said.
The Italian government this week asked the country’s Constitutional Court to rule on whether prosecutors overstepped their bounds by wiretapping phone conversations of Italian secret service agents.
The government has said it will wait for a ruling — which could suspend the trial even before it starts — to respond to prosecutors’ request to extradite the agents.
Among the Italians indicted by Judge Caterina Interlandi was the former chief of military intelligence, Nicolo Pollari, and his former deputy, Marco Mancini. Pollari has denied any involvement by Italian intelligence.
Alessia Sorgato and Guido Meroni, lawyers who represent some of the Americans charged, have argued that the evidence connecting their clients to Nasr’s disappearance was circumstantial, based on phone records and their presence in locations in Italy during the period before the abduction.
During the proceedings, an Italian police officer and another suspect struck plea bargains. Two other Italian intelligence agents also were indicted on lesser charges, as accessories.
© The Canadian Press, 2007
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