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Catch me a spy: Secret Snowden rendition plot revealed?

Published time: June 15, 2014 11:19
Edward Snowden (AFP Photo / Wikileaks)

Edward Snowden (AFP Photo / Wikileaks)

A US government jet used in CIA ‘rendition’ flights flew into Europe on the same day NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden arrived in Moscow from Hong Kong, the UK Register reports. The plane was one component in a concerted US effort to nab the rogue leaker.

Amateur plane watchers first caught a glimpse of an unmarked Gulfstream V business jet flying above Scotland at 45,000 feet on the morning of June 25, 2013. The tail number – N977GA – has been associated with previous CIA rendition flights. While the aircraft was allegedly not reporting its progress to air-traffic controllers and had not filed a flight plan, the enthusiasts were able to track the plane’s radar transponder signal using a technique called multilateration.

"The plane showed up on our system at 05:20 on 25 June," a member of an internet aircraft-tracking network run by enthusiasts in the UK told the Register. "We knew the reputation of this aircraft and what it had done in the past."

According to online tracking information collected by the enthusiasts, the plane never made it to Moscow, but instead landed at Copenhagen Airport, where it stayed put.

Snowden, incidentally, arrived in Moscow on the evening of June 24 from Hong Kong, where he had intended to catch a connecting flight to Cuba. His passport was voided, leaving him effectively stranded in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. In August, Russia granted him asylum for one year.

The N977GA has a checkered past, with Dave Willis writing in 2008 for Air Forces Monthly that the plane has been used in the “CIA's program of extraordinary rendition against terrorist subjects.”

On October 5, 2012, together with a privately owned Dassault Falcon 900 the two planes reportedly carried terror suspects Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad, Syed Ahsan, Khaled Al-Fawwaz and Adel Abdul Bary to the United States to face trial after losing an extradition battle in the UK.

A television screens the image of former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden during a news bulletin at a cafe at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport June 26, 2013. (Reuters / Sergei Karpukhin)

Meanwhile, the FBI, the CIA, the State Department and other government agencies were meeting on a near daily basis to determine a way to apprehend Snowden, according to a recent report in the Washington Post.

The meetings, convened by White House homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco, included among its participants the CIA’s head of counterintelligence, FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce, and former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who often took part by videoconference in meetings which often began well after midnight in Moscow.

But despite their best efforts, they often ran into a brick wall, namely Russia.

"Snowden has not committed any crimes on Russian territory," an official told Interfax at the time. “In addition, Russian law-enforcement agencies have received no instructions through Interpol to detain him. So we have no grounds to detain this transit passenger."

That sentiment was later reflected by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said Russia was not “protecting Edward Snowden,” but had no legal basis to extradite him.

“We can’t say for sure whether or not Mr. Snowden committed a crime in the US, it’s impossible for us to ascertain. But as a sovereign country that has no extradition treaty with the US, Russia has no other choice but to permit him to live here,” Putin said.

In lieu of a Russian handover, US officials hoped Snowden would attempt to flee to a third country, with the hopes of nabbing him in route.

“The best play for us is him landing in a third country,” Monaco said, according to an official who met with her at the White House.“We were hoping he was going to be stupid enough to get on some kind of airplane, and then have an ally say, ‘You’re in our airspace. Land,’” the official added.

An Aeroflot passenger plane due to depart to Cuba stands parked at a terminal of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, June 24, 2013. (Reuters / Tatyana Makeyeva)

It was this hope which led to a serious diplomatic breach of etiquette, when the presidential plane of Bolivian leader Evo Morales was forced to make a sudden stop in Vienna, after Spain, France, Portugal and Italy abruptly blocked their airspace to him. Austrian authorities searched Morales’ plane, which had departed from Moscow, hoping to find Snowden on board.

Morales accused Washington at the time of masterminding the plot, saying the incident reflected a “neo-colonial” attitude to his entire continent.

Just days after Snowden had arrived in Moscow and nearly a week before Morales’ plane was grounded, US President Barack Obama struck a dismissive attitude towards the whistleblower, saying he was “not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.”

Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, later clarified Obama’s remarks to the Post, saying the US would not use military assets to capture Snowden, who has been charged with two counts of violating the Espionage Act and theft of government property for leaking documents that have revealed the scope and nature of sweeping US surveillance programs.

Comments (55)


Paul Hatgil 16.06.2014 15:58

Who would leave important documents around for someone to steal? This wasn't the only time theft occurred by a government employee and sent tons of it to another government. The tons of secret documents from the Naval Department were copied and some stolen by one Jonathan Pollard. He sent most to Israel. The Israelis to this day never returned them. Many of them were sent to Russia in return for allowing Jews to be able to migrate to Israel. Presidents during the last three terms have been pressured by Israel and many of our best-paid congress people to grant him a pardon.


malachi 16.06.2014 15:21

suppose you do not want to spend hours and hours sitting in your garden on the off chance that you may sight a blackbird eating, you can instead ask people to report in to you their sightings/observatio ns over time. Such a record, if properly conducted and assessed, is also equally valid and one can make a scientific statement based on that.


malachi 16.06.2014 15:08

empirical evidence= suppose you want to scientifically determine if black birds are worm eaters or fruit eaters, you set up an experiment to record sightings of blackbirds. You determine the number of observations you wish to carry out, the times, the days, etc. Your record of sightings showed that 60% of the times blackbirds were observed eating worms + 40% of the times, fruit. Based on your record, you can make a scientific statement & this would be valid. We can apply this type of empirical evidence to the question of the evidence for God. Repeated observations are evidence and the samples countless regarding God.

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