Rendition Flight Lawsuit Gives Lie to Government’s Jeppesen State Secrets Claim

When they screw our tortured clients, they assert “National Security”, but when it is a matter of money, they don’t. — Reprieve’s Clive Smith

The British human rights organization Reprieve figured out that a NY state court case–a billing dispute between two aviation companies–pertained to rendition flights going back to 2002; it tipped off the press. The Guardian (which offers a separate story with links to some of the documents) lays out how the flight patterns tie to known renditions.

Gulfstream N85VM has already been identified as the aircraft that rendered Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Egyptian cleric known as Abu Omar, after CIA agents kidnapped him in broad daylight in Milan in February 2003 and took him to Cairo. Through close examination of the invoices it is possible to identify other rendition flights in which a number of high-profile al-Qaida suspects may have been rendered.

In August 2003, for example, Richmor submitted an invoice for $301,113 for eight flights over three days that took the Gulfstream to Bangkok, via Alaska and Japan, on to Kabul via Sri Lanka, and then home again via Dubai and Shannon (pdf). This operation appears to have been the rendition of Encep Nuraman, the leader of the Indonesian terrorist organisation Jemaah Islamiyah, better known as Hambali. He had been captured in Thailand shortly before the aircraft set off.

The court heard that in October 2004 the aircraft’s tail number was changed to N227SV after the US government discovered that its movements were being tracked. The following March the aircraft was publicly linked to the Abu Omar rendition. Phillip Morse, the aircraft’s ultimate owner, said he was stunned to discover how his plane was being used.

And it describes how the owners came to fear flying their own plane because it had been publicly linked to renditions.

By October 2006, Richards was writing to Moss to complain that his company was suffering negative publicity (pdf), losing business and receiving hate mail. The Gulfstream’s crews were afraid to leave the country. “In the future, whenever the name ‘Richmor’ is googled this will come up. N227SV will always be linked to renditions. No tail number change will ever erase that and our requests for government assistance in this matter have been ignored.”

The AP provides details on how the government provided bogus diplomatic notes

Every time the Gulfstream and other planes in Richmor’s fleet took to the air, they carried one-page transit documents on State Department letterhead. The notices, known as “letters of public convenience” were addressed “to whom it may concern,” stating that the jets should be treated as official flights and that “accompanying personnel are under contract with the U.S. government.”

In trial testimony, Moss said the documents were provided from the government to DynCorp, which furnished them to Richmor. Richards said the letters were given to flight crews before they left on each flight, but declined to explain their use.

The notes, signed by a State Department administrative assistant, Terry A. Hogan, described the planes’ travels as “global support for U.S. embassies worldwide.”

The AP could not locate Hogan. No official with that name is currently listed in State’s department-wide directory. A comprehensive 2004 State Department telephone directory contains no reference to Hogan, or variations of that name — despite records of four separate transit letters signed by Terry A. Hogan in January, March and April 2004. Several of the signatures on the diplomatic letters under Hogan’s name were noticeably different.

(Reprieve gave the story to the WaPo too, which did a thoroughly perfunctory job with it.)

All three stories note that the litigants expected the government to intervene–as they did in the Jeppesen suit–but did not.

Which, as Smith notes, sort of proves the lie behind the Jeppesen state secrets invocation. The government let all the details behind the KSM flights appear in unsealed court dockets. The only thing that separates what would have appeared in the Binyam Mohamed suit against Jeppesen and this suit is the explicit demand for compensation for a torture victim.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

15 replies
  1. rugger9 says:

    Pretty good, MadDog. Anyhow, the lack of consistency in the defense of the state secrets will unravel the defense. In that respect the Bu$hco regime policy of fighting everything did make sense. Allowing this out means that depending upon the parsing, the risk is there for the whole thing to be ripped into the open [where it needs to be anyway, we’re America, not a third world tinpot dictatorship]. How long until the Wurlitzer starts blaming Obama for torture?

  2. marc says:

    Not surprised everyone evolved is sweating this out, they should be. Seventy years on we’re still dragging Nazis into court with their wheel chairs, walkers, oxygen bottles, etc. In a few years when the Chinese become the dominate world super power war criminals will have even more to fear. The Chinese love capital punishment even more than Americans do.

  3. MadDog says:

    OT – Kimberly Dozier of the AP has a piece up interviewing John “Bigmouth” Brennan:

    US counterterror chief: Al-Qaida now on the ropes

    On a steady slide. On the ropes. Taking shots to the body and head.

    That’s how White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan described al-Qaida on Wednesday as he offered the first on-record confirmation that al-Qaida’s latest second-in-command was killed last week in Pakistan – roughly four months after Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden there.

    In an Associated Press interview, Brennan said the death of Atiyah Abd al-Rahman in Pakistan’s tribal areas last week was a “huge blow” to the group, damaging the network and keeping al-Qaida’s leadership too busy trying to hide to plot new attacks. Al-Rahman reportedly was hit by a CIA drone strike.

    In a wide-ranging interview, Brennan credited aggressive U.S. action against militants across the region as the main reason U.S. intelligence has detected no active terror plots before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks…”

    Bigmouth had better hope nothing happens for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

  4. Jim White says:

    Looks like the CIA studied mortgage fraud and decided pushing out multiple signatures for the same name would be fun.

  5. joberly says:

    Fascinating, if complicated story. If I understand this right, CIA contracted to DynCorp to handle the renditions. DynCorp sub-contracted to SportFlight, which then hired Richmor to do the actual transport. CIA paid its bills to DynCorp. Dyncorp paid its bills to SportFlight. SportFlight didn’t pay some of its bills to Richmor. By the way, Cerberus Capital bought DynCorp Intl in 2010–I wonder if at the time of the buyout that J. Danforth Quayle and the other Cerberus private equity execs knew of the Richmor lawsuit against SportFlight?

  6. Jeff Kaye says:

    Spooks who don’t pay their bills. This has caught them up before. As you note at end of your article, they care more about money than the lives of those they tortured.

    A big bravo to Reprieve for tracking this down. A link to the Reprieve webpage on this:

  7. JohnT says:


    Kinda like that scene in A Few Good Men?

    Lt. Weinberg: “I strenuously object?” Is that how it works? Hm? “Objection.” “Overruled.” “Oh, no, no, no. No, I STRENUOUSLY object.” “Oh. Well, if you strenuously object then I should take some time to reconsider.”

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