THE CIA, SIBERIA AND THE $5M BAR BILLComplicated, they say. With the CIA? Naw...
A FEDERAL COURT CASE REVEALS A BIZARRE TALE OF POST-9/11 OPERATIONS IN AFGHANISTAN
On Dec. 4, 2001, five members of a Las Vegas-based charter crew were detained by Russian authorities after they landed without visas in Petropavlovsk. The remote Russian city, located on the Kamchatka peninsula and surrounded by active volcanoes, is nine time zones east of Moscow and cannot be reached by road.
Three days earlier, the privately owned Boeing 737 had left Biggs Army Airfield in Texas, carrying the crew and 16 Americans traveling on tourist visas. The plane, a luxury aircraft outfitted with wood paneling and a three-hole putting green, had been chartered by a small company from Enterprise, Alabama, called Maverick Aviation.
What the plane and its passengers were really doing in Russia in the middle of winter is only hinted at in an appeal filed by two federal prisoners this year. But interviews with those involved in the case reveal a secretive, and sometimes comical, mission to strike back at the Taliban after 9/11 -- a rare glimpse into the CIA's efforts in Afghanistan.
According to unclassified court documents, the group was traveling to a helicopter plant in Siberia, where Maverick Aviation, which was experienced in acquiring Russian aircraft for the US military, was planning to buy two helicopters for a "customer."
Not mentioned: That "customer" was the Central Intelligence Agency.
The CIA needed Russian helicopters because of its clandestine operations in Afghanistan. On Sept. 24, 2001, a Russian-made helicopter loaded with $10 million in cash carried a small CIA team into Afghanistan's Panjshir Valley. Code-named "Jawbreaker," the mission was to cement support among tribal leaders and pave the way for US military operations. It was the first entry of Americans into Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
The aging helicopter, an Mi-17, was the team's only way of getting in or out of the country. Though hardly state-of-the-art, the Russian helicopter had a distinct advantage for the CIA: it allowed the agency to operate relatively unnoticed in an area where Russian equipment left over from the Soviet occupation was commonplace.
There was only one problem: The CIA owned only one Russian helicopter. It needed more, but a clandestine American agency couldn't exactly pick up the phone and call a Russian factory. So it turned to Jeffrey Stayton, then the chief of the Aviation Division at the US Army Test and Evaluation Command and an expert in Russian copters.
Stayton's plan was to find a private American company to buy the helicopters, send a team of people over to pick them up from a plant in Siberia, modify them to CIA standards, and then get them to Uzbekistan, a staging ground for CIA operations into Afghanistan. And they would do it all within a matter of weeks.
Eventually, the team included William "Curt" Childree, whose company, Maverick Aviation, won the contract to buy the helicopters and organize logistics; Army personnel and contractors from El Paso with experience modifying Russian aircraft for use by the US military; and then "six guys from the customer's office," as Stayton put it (a CIA team that included special operations personnel).
That's when things started to get complicated.
Read it all... Hilarious. Five CIA agents in Siberia in winter, buying Russian helicopters, and the master sergeant of the secret CIA mission complains,
"Our rooms were bugged . . . It was just unreal some of the things they were doing."Bugged! Unreal! Oh, the things those people do.