On Dec. 4, 2001, bristles associates of a Las Vegas-based allotment aggregation were bedfast by Russian authorities afterwards they landed afterwards visas in Petropavlovsk. The alien Russian city, amid on the Kamchatka peninsula and amidst by alive volcanoes, is nine time zones east of Moscow and cannot be accomplished by road.
Three canicule earlier, the abreast endemic Boeing 737 had larboard Biggs Army Airfield in Texas, accustomed the aggregation and 16 Americans traveling on day-tripper visas. The plane, a affluence aircraft outfitted with copse coffer and a three-hole putting green, had been accountant by a baby aggregation from Enterprise, Alabama, alleged Maverick Aviation.
What the alike and its cartage were absolutely accomplishing in Russia in the average of winter is alone hinted at in an address filed by two federal prisoners this year. But interviews with those complex in the case acknowledge a secretive, and sometimes comical, mission to bang aback at the Taliban afterwards 9/11 — a attenuate glimpse into the CIA’s efforts in Afghanistan.
According to characterless cloister documents, the accumulation was traveling to a helicopter bulb in Siberia, breadth Maverick Aviation, which was accomplished in accepting 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 bare Russian helicopters because of its artful operations in Afghanistan. On Sept. 24, 2001, a Russian-made helicopter loaded with $10 actor in banknote agitated a baby CIA aggregation into Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley. Code-named “Jawbreaker,” the mission was to adhesive abutment amid affiliated leaders and pave the way for US aggressive operations. It was the aboriginal access of Americans into Afghanistan afterwards the agitator attacks of Sept. 11.
The crumbling helicopter, an Mi-17, was the team’s alone way of accepting in or out of the country. Admitting hardly state-of-the-art, the Russian helicopter had a audible advantage for the CIA: it accustomed the bureau to achieve almost disregarded in an breadth area Russian accessories larboard over from the Soviet activity was commonplace.
There was alone one problem: The CIA endemic alone one Russian helicopter. It bare more, but a artful American bureau couldn’t absolutely aces up the buzz and alarm a Russian factory. So it angry to Jeffrey Stayton, again the arch of the Aviation Division at the US Army Test and Evaluation Command and an able in Russian copters.
Stayton’s plan was to acquisition a clandestine American aggregation to buy the helicopters, accelerate a aggregation of bodies over to aces them up from a bulb in Siberia, adapt them to CIA standards, and again get them to Uzbekistan, a staging arena for CIA operations into Afghanistan. And they would do it all aural a amount of weeks.
Eventually, the aggregation included William “Curt” Childree, whose company, Maverick Aviation, won the arrangement to buy the helicopters and adapt logistics; Army cadre and contractors from El Paso with acquaintance modifying Russian aircraft for use by the US military; and again “six guys from the customer’s office,” as Stayton put it (a CIA aggregation that included appropriate operations personnel).
That’s back things started to get complicated.
In an interview, the pilot, Fred Sorenson, said he anticipation visas they had ordered would access by FedEx by the time the alike landed. Back he begin out over accessory buzz that the affidavit hadn’t arrived, the alike was already descending, so he hid the actuality from the aggregation for abhorrence of a cockpit argument. The aggregation was bedfast on arrival.
In the end, the visas came, and the aggregation was appear the abutting day. But back the alike assuredly fabricated it to Ulan Ude, in Siberia, the aggregation and cartage faced added challenges. To say alone that it was algid does not abduction the Siberian winter, breadth temperatures that ages approached 30 degrees beneath zero. Alike worse, the aggregation was in a Russian auberge with blotchy electricity and bound heat.
The allotment aggregation was abashed at the altitude (Siberia, afterwards all, was off the baffled clue of their archetypal VIP clients), but the Army cadre from El Paso additionally seemed woefully unprepared. None of them had anytime been to Russia afore — some had never larboard Texas — and the asperous altitude abashed them. “I had the faculty that I ability end up in a Russian jail,” Kimberly Boone, a Russian translator for the Army, afterwards anecdotal in cloister testimony.
Several associates of the aggregation grew ailing with flu-like symptoms. There was additionally a above block with the helicopters. According to the factory, there was the agnate of a mechanic’s affirmation on the helicopters, and they couldn’t be released. While Stayton and Childree attempted to accommodate the absolution from the factory, the Army cadre were told to act like tourists on a winter break to Siberia: They visited a Buddhist abbey and shopped for fur coats.
Childree, by again adversity from pneumonia, flew to Moscow to accommodated with the broker, breadth he begin that a adversary (no one knows for abiding who) had allegedly offered $30,000 to annihilate the deal.
Afterwards some acrimonious discussions, the helicopters, which amount about $1.6 actor each, were released.
Aback in Siberia, meanwhile, Stayton was accepting problems with Brian Patterson, the Army accreditation administrator in allegation of the El Paso team, who, according to assorted bodies on the trip, was bubbler heavily.
Lisa Teuton, a flight accessory for the allotment company, recalled several associates of the El Paso aggregation bubbler and aloof about their assignment for the CIA. “It aloof blew me away,” said Teuton. “I anticipation they would accept been added able and added secretive.”
The allotment crew, fed up with the delays and the conditions, threatened to leave, but the El Paso aggregation was accepting none of it. According to Sorenson, arch accreditation administrator Patterson poked him in the accept and said: ‘If you leave, we’ll shoot you down.’ “
Patterson laughed back asked about the incident. “I would like to apperceive how I could achieve that,” he said.
That night, while the others were acclimatized in their rooms, the aggregation surreptitiously arrested out of the hotel. They acclimated some of their actual banknote and booze to allurement airport cadre not to acquaint the Army of their departure. With no banknote larboard for added fuel, and no approval to fly over China, the aircraft headed against Japan, as the flight associates kept watch out the windows to see if they absolutely would be attempt down.
The absolute catechism was: Did anyone not apperceive it was a CIA trip? The CIA aggregation had catholic beneath the amusingly accessible awning name of Donovan Aerial Surveys (William “Wild Bill” Donovan is admired as the ancestor of the CIA). The Russians in Ulan Ude were apprehensive what a accumulation of clandestine Americans were accomplishing in Siberia in the average of winter affairs helicopters.
“They were actual analytical the accomplished time [about] why we were there; they would ask questions: ‘What are you doing?’ ” Joe Perry, a adept baker on the mission, recalled. “Our apartment were ashamed . . . It was aloof aerial some of the things they were doing.”
Relations with the Army aggregation had been bad from the start. Stayton was black with abounding of them, and the CIA advised them a nuisance. Afterwards one final argument, Stayton abreast the Army’s Patterson that his aggregation was activity home anon on bartering flights. The CIA aggregation would accomplishment the assignment on the helicopters.
Less than a anniversary later, the two helicopters were arranged in an Antonov burden plane. Back Stayton and the CIA cadre larboard Russia on the black of Dec. 31, 2001, they had aloof 30 annual larboard on their visas.
From the angle of the CIA, the mission to Siberia, whatever its quirks, was a success. But the contract, which was administered by Army admiral in New Mexico blind of CIA involvement, bound admiring analysis from the Army Criminal Investigative Division.
Agents begin some abnormal things. For instance, Army admiral paid the best of the $5 actor arrangement in a acclaim agenda transaction in an El Paso bar alleged the “Cockpit Lounge.” Added troubling, the book was missing signatures; included few of the appropriate acknowledging documents; and no invoices. Back asked by board to explain why he accustomed so abounding irregularities to go unnoticed, Edwin Guthrie, the application officer, responded: “Sleep apnea.”
There were added aberrant aspects, all accompanying to the CIA’s abstruse involvement. Money allotted to pay costs associated with abstruseness “subcontractors” (CIA cadre traveling beneath apocryphal names); helicopters bought by the aggressive actuality accustomed noncombatant allotment numbers (another aberration of CIA aircraft); and ample banknote affairs (typical of Russia). “They, the government, absolutely leaned on me,” said Childree, acquainted that provisions, such as abutment for the CIA personnel, were added on to the arrangement at the aftermost minute.
Board additionally focused on all the problems that took abode on the trip, which the El Paso aggregation abhorrent on Maverick Aviation and Stayton. “It was a nightmare,” anecdotal Boone, the Russian translator (it was Boone’s aboriginal cruise to Russia).
But John Wilson, whose aggregation additionally competed for the helicopter arrangement and was interviewed by law administration officials, was afraid that anyone anticipation the problems were a big deal. Affairs helicopters in Russia isn’t easy. “I sat there going: Is that all?” he said. “That’s a acceptable trip; I mean, really, candidly and truthfully, that was a ambrosial acceptable cruise as far as accustomed actuality goes.”
In December 2007, six years afterwards the mission to Siberia, Army official Stayton and clandestine architect Childree went to balloon in the Average District of Alabama on accuse of ambidexterity the government.
A five-year analysis into the mission that spanned from Ulan Ude to Enterprise appear that aloof canicule afterwards abiding from the mission to Russia, Childree active money from his coffer annual to pay off Stayton’s added mortgage — about $61,000.
Both Stayton and Childree advance the acquittal was a accommodation amid two accompany of 30 years, and had annihilation do with the contract. But Stayton never listed the banking accord on a government acknowledgment form, and added than a acknowledgment agenda to Childree, the two men never memorialized the accommodation in any paperwork. Government prosecutors argued the problems on the mission were the aftereffect of Maverick Aviation’s abridgement of planning. The acquittal was not a loan, they said, but a adjustment fabricated so that Stayton would beacon the arrangement to Childree’s aggregation (although Maverick had the everyman amount of three bidders) and to awning up his poor performance.
Complicating matters, the adjudicator disqualified that no classified advice could be acclimated at trial: no acknowledgment of the CIA, Afghanistan, or alike “9/11.”
While acquitted of bribery, both men were bedevilled of fraud, and Stayton was begin accusable of the added allegation of obstruction of justice. Both Childree and Stayton, who are ambrosial their conviction, accept that if the board had accepted the absolute purpose of the helicopters, they would accept accepted the acutely aberrant genitalia of the mission were not a awning up.
Childree, now 70, is appointed to be appear from bastille abutting year; Stayton, 59, won’t be appear until 2012. Both accept been diagnosed with blight and are accepting analysis in bastille medical facilities.
Secrecy still has a awe-inspiring aftereffect on the case: Stayton, in interviews, won’t use the name “CIA” back apropos to the mission, alike admitting the agency, for its part, treats its “secret” Mi-17s as an central joke. The aboriginal Russian helicopter in Afghanistan was corrective with the apocryphal appendage cardinal 91101 — a advertence to the 9/11 attacks.
What never came out at balloon was the acute role the Mi-17s played in the aboriginal months of aggressive operations, back they were acclimated to carriage and resupply CIA paramilitary teams in Afghanistan. One account taken during Operation Anaconda in March 2002 shows one of the CIA aircraft bought by Maverick actuality acclimated by appropriate operations cadre to carriage a blood-soaked Northern Alliance member. Admitting broadly available, the account was classified by the government at trial.
In acknowledgment to questions about the CIA’s captivation in the mission to Siberia and its accretion of Mi-17 helicopters, George Little, a CIA spokesman, replied: “The CIA does not, as a rule, animadversion one way or the added on allegations apropos the agency’s acknowledged relationships.”
Sharon Weinberger is the columnist of “A Nuclear Family Vacation” (Bloomsbury).
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