Did CIA rendition flights rely on bogus State Dep't letter?
This story was originally published by ProPublica.
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As the Washington Post and others reported Thursday, an obscure court case in New York state has led to the disclosure of new details on CIA's extraordinary rendition program, in which the United States captured dozens of alleged terrorists and sent them to secret prisons overseas.
About 1,700 pages of documents have been filed in the case, which involves a billing dispute between two charter companies who had been hired to carry out the secret flights. The records include flight itineraries for Khalid Sheik Mohammed and others. As the head of one of the companies testified, "We were transporting government personnel and their invitees."
But what really caught our eye are potentially forged State Department letters authorizing the flights. The letters were sent to each air crew before flights and were signed by a State Department official who may not exist.
The letters were all signed by "Terry A. Hogan." (Here is one of them.) But the Associated Press says there are indications that Hogan "was fictitious":
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.
As the New York Times has detailed back in 2005, the CIA program relied on a host of "front companies and shell corporations." Premier Executive Transport Services, Inc. was the owner of one plane used for rendition. But as the Washington Post noted, the company listed "directors and officers who appear to exist only on paper."
Asked about the letters, a State Department spokesman told the AP it has a policy of not commenting on "alleged intelligence activities." Lawrence Wilkerson, a top State Department official during the Bush administration, told the AP he wasn't familiar with the letters and knew of no direct involvement between the department and the rendition program. We've also put in a call to the State Department and have yet to hear back.