We are learning more about the mysterious CIA-linked Gulfstream II which went down near Cancun with over three tons of cocaine aboard.
To recap: On the day the plane flew off on its mission, it was purchased for two million dollars by the flamboyant pilot/air charter company owner Clyde O'Connor. O'Connor purchased the jet under the name of an on-paper company he called Mellon Investments. Why that
name? I don't really know, although certain obvious possibilities suggest themselves.
Strangely, O'Connor remained free for a couple of weeks after the crash. On the day a Palm Beach newspaper did a story about him, he flew his Cessna off to Canada, and from there to the Azores.
Daniel Hopsicker -- or rather, one of his acquaintances within Florida aviation circles -- managed to get hold of Greg Smith, the pilot who "co-purchased" (if that really is the correct word) the aircraft with O'Connor. Smith is still in Florida.
The jet cost $2 million. Where did the money come from? O'Connor did not strike most onlookers as being that
affluent. As for Smith...
“Smith’s a good pilot, and dependable, and I never thought twice about hiring him to fly a charter for me,” one aviation business manager at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport told us.
“Except I had to be sure to always front him money for expenses, or I’d get phone calls from the backside of nowhere telling me they didn’t have enough money to gas up the plane to fly home.”
So who really
put up the dough? “It was Don’s money that bought the plane,”
Hopsicker's source quotes Smith.
According to Hopsicker, "Don" refers to Don Whittington, a man who owned a firm called World Jet International, previously reported as a service which supplied jets to the CIA.
Don Whittington (born January 23, 1946) is a former American racing driver from Lubbock, Texas. Like the Mob's front man in Vegas, Allen Glick, he and his brothers raced sports cars in the United States and Europe in the ’70s and ’80s, winning the 24-hour Le Mans in France and coming in sixth in one Indianapolis 500.
Authorities said they financed their racing operation with drug profits.
A previous jet owned by Whittington was used for drug runs by the notorious Barry Seal. Hopsicker says that the true
owner was the CIA's Paul Helliwell, the paymaster for the Bay of Pigs invasion. (If you're up for some fun, try tracing the links joining Helliwell to Frank Nugan, and Nugan to our old friend Rupert Murdoch. Start here
As we've seen, many of aircraft used in the rendition program -- including the Gulfstream II at the heart of this story -- have a similar history. These planes tend to be "owned" (on paper) by well-heeled businessmen, yet the jets are controlled on a day-to-day basis by CIA-linked air charter services.
So far, no-one has asked New York hotel owner William Achenbaum about his now-notorious Gulfstream II. Achenbaum was the owner of record when the jet made flights from DC and Connecticut to Gitmo.
Oh, and there's one more thing you ought to know about Don Whittington: His firm, World Jet, sold a Lear jet to the controversial flight school owner Wally Hilliard, best known for his association with Mohammed Atta. In July of 2000, authorities found 43 pounds of heroin aboard that very aircraft. Hilliard did not go to jail.
Neither, methinks, will Clyde O'Connor.Meanwhile...
I've spoken to another reporter working on this story. While I cannot divulge all that I heard (I was rather sleepy, and he definitely took me to school), perhaps I can speak to the allegation that the cocaine aboard the downed craft belonged to Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. El Chapo has become such a legendary crime figure in Mexico that he tends to get blamed for nearly everything
going on down there.
The El Chapo assertion came from the McClatchy journalists covering the case. They learned it from Mexican sources, who learned it from the alleged pilot of the Gulfstream II, Eric Muñoz Sánchez, who may or may not have bribed his way out of custody. (News accounts become suspiciously hazy at this juncture.) The important point is this: Just because the pilot claimed that the coke belonged to El Chapo doesn't mean it actually did
A mythic crime boss makes for a convenient fall guy. It's not as though he's likely to sue McClatchy for libel.Finally...
You may also recall that the jet was owned, ever-so-briefly, by a shadowy Brazilian lawyer named Joao Luiz Malago, who set up yet another fake company -- Donna Blue Airlines, or DBA (get it?) -- just for this transaction. I've been wondering about Malago's motive. He does seem to have made a modest profit from the quick purchase-and-sale. But, capitalism being the gamble that it is, he had no guarantee
of a profit. So why did he go to the trouble and expense of setting up a company in a foreign country just for those two transactions?
The more I think about that situation, the odder it seems.