Monday, November 9, 2009

Jet connected to CIA torture program has ties to Great Falls

N478GS 2 with pilot

As I reported in the dead tree edition of the Tribune this morning, a private Gulfstream IV jet tied to the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program is owned by a Great Falls company—an apparent shell company for L-3 Communications, the nation’s sixth-largest defense contractor.

I thought I’d expand on the article a bit here with some hyperlinks to some interesting components of the story.

The Great Falls company, called L-3 IS (the IS stands for Integrated Systems), appears to only exist on paper. According to the Secretary of State’s Office, L-3 IS incorporated in May of 2006, but the company doesn’t appear to have a physical address, and it’s only known employee is Great Falls attorney Gary Bjelland. Bjelland, listed as the registered agent for the company, referred all questions about the company to an attorney in Alexandria, Va., who did not respond to calls seeking comment. It appears to exist only to register the Gulfstream IV, tail number N478GS.

I first heard about this jet back in 2006 when I was working at the Missoula Independent. A reader pointed us to a story in the Chicago Tribune that described how the elusive jet crash landed at an airport in Bucharest in 2004 with seven passengers—one carrying a gun—on board, triggering an inquiry by the European Parliament into the aircraft’s possible connection to the CIA’s rendition program.

From the 2006 Chicago Tribune article (the links and emphases are mine):

At the time of the accident, FAA records show, the plane was owned by Braxton Management Services of Great Falls, Mont. Commercial databases give the company’s business address as that of the Great Falls attorney who filed Braxton’s Montana corporate registration–in short, a paper company with no officers or directors.

The lawyer did not respond to repeated inquiries by the Tribune over several months, including why an airplane owned by a Montana management company was based in Fayetteville, N.C., where the airport serves Ft. Bragg,home of the Army’s Special Operations Command.

A secretary at the law firm said Tuesday that the reason for the non-response was that “We don’t know anything about Braxton” and the firm’s only function has been to keep its Montana registration current.

Since the Bucharest accident, Braxton has been replaced as the Gulfstream’s owner by what appears to be another paper company, whose business address is a different law office in Great Falls [L-3?]. The lawyer in that office [Bjelland?] who serves as the successor company’s registered agent referred all inquiries to a lawyer in Alexandria, Va., who did not respond to the Tribune’s calls and e-mails.

The Chicago Tribune piece contains another very interesting piece of this rather large and convoluted puzzle:

According to FAA flight data records, Gulfstream N478GS re-entered service on June 13 of this year (2006) with a flight from Savannah, Ga., to Fayetteville. But what happened to the airplane between the accident and then remains a mystery.

According to the Romanian transport ministry, the damaged plane’s owners arranged to have the Gulfstream loaded aboard a giant Ukrainian-built Antonov cargo aircraft, larger than anything in the U.S. military inventory, and flown out of Romania for repairs at an estimated cost of $250,000.

Only a handful of private companies throughout the world offer Antonov-class aircraft for rent. All the companies told the Tribune they were not involved in removing the Gulfstream from Romania.

An industry source who asked not to be identified said that the only other Antonovs of sufficient size to carry a Gulfstream were operated by the air forces of Russia, Libya and Abu Dhabi. After checking with others in the industry, the source concluded that those three countries had not been involved either.

The most significant aspect of this story, in my mind, is that the owner of this plane—whoever that may be—doesn’t want people to know what it is used for. They have gone to great lengths to conceal it’s ownership and it’s flight logs. L-3 IS’s only known employee refuses to explain what the company is, or does, in Great Falls, or why their jet keeps showing up in the international press connected to the CIA’s program of kidnapping suspected terrorists and flying them by private jet to prisons in countries that turn a blind eye toward torture.

For those of you who are interested in reading more, here are some interesting links related to L-3 IS’s mysterious Gulfstream IV.

  • Here’s a link to a story from the Fayetteville Observer about the CIA’s use of private charter jets for extraordinary rendition missions. It mentions N478GS.
  • Shannonwatch is an Irish human rights group that tracks flights in and out of Shannon Airport, which is believed to be a refueling spot for CIA rendition flights. They have lots of information on the CIA’s use of Shannon airport, including logs documents N478GS stopvers.
  • This 2005 New York Times article does a great job of explaining how the CIA uses private charter flights to hide their rendition activities.
  • Here’s a lengthy Q&A on rendition from Amnesty International.
  • Here’s a .pdf link to the European Parliament’s working document investigating the CIA’s use of European airports and airspace for rendition missions.

If any readers out there have any more information on this jet, or L-3 IS of Great Falls, I’d love to hear about it. Send info to jadams (at)