This is what a real outing looks like

Posted: Feb 23, 2007 12:07 AM
This is what a real outing looks like

There has been an incredible amount of media attention paid to the “outing” of Valerie Plame. In spite of extensive interviews granted by her camera-loving husband, Joe Wilson, asserting the current administration intentionally outed a covert CIA agent, there have yet to be any charges filed against anyone for outing Plame. This weekend, readers of the L.A. Times (in a special report by Bob Drogin and John Goetz) were able to get a look at a real outing in my neck of the woods -- eastern North Carolina.

Unlike Valerie Plame, who was removed from covert duty years earlier, the subjects of the L.A. Times story, three North Carolina pilots, were recently involved in extremely sensitive covert actions flying CIA rendition flights. The three pilots have, along with ten others, been indicted in a German court, for their involvement in the “extraordinary rendition” of Khaled Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent.

“Flight records show that Aero Contractors, based in Smithfield, N.C., operated the plane that carried Masri from Macedonia to Afghanistan. The charter aircraft company has flown scores of sensitive missions for the CIA and has played a key support role in counter-terrorism operations since the Sept. 11 attacks, according to former agency officials.”

The pilots’ real names were not disclosed in the L.A. Times, but some pretty specific information was. The report included information that all three pilots live “within a 30-minute drive of the guarded Aero hangar and offices at the rural Johnston County airport.” Also reported was the type of car driven by two of the men and some details about what else might be found in their driveways, as well as some information about their homes.

"In real life, the chief pilot is 52, drives a Toyota Previa minivan and keeps a collection of model trains in a glass display case near a large bubbling aquarium in his living room. Federal aviation records show he is rated to fly seven kinds of aircraft as long as he wears his glasses…

His copilot, who used the alias Fain, is a bearded man of 35 who lives with his father and two dogs in a separate subdivision…

The third pilot, who used the alias Bird, is 46, drives a Ford Explorer and has a 17-foot aluminum fishing boat. Certified as a flight instructor, he keeps plastic models of his favorite planes mounted by the fireplace in his living room in a house that backs onto a private golf course here."

These men were using aliases for a reason. The L.A. Times did not provide names or Google Maps to their homes, but they provided enough information to give anyone wanting to find them a pretty good start. The L.A.Times reporters are not the only ones to have visited the pilots’ homes.

“An associate of the Institute for Southern Studies has also visited the homes of the pilots. Although the suspects quickly closed their doors and declined to comment when confronted about the rendition flights, we can corroborate the Times' story that these men match photographs of pilots based in Johnston County, NC, where the CIA had been conducting renditions through Aero Contractors.”

I have yet to see a report indicating that any of the pilots or their family members granted interviews. According to the L.A. Times report, “None of the pilots responded to repeated requests for comment left with family members and on their home telephones.” One comment included was from the wife of one pilot who was called at her office. She said her husband had done no wrong and that “he’s just a pilot.”

That is in sharp contrast to the case of Valerie Plame, whose husband’s reaction to her name being mentioned in a Bob Novak column was to book dozens of interviews and grant a Vanity Fair magazine spread featuring pictures of both Plame and him.

Clarice Feldman, who has been covering the perjury trial of Scooter Libby, sums up the Plame "outing" from her observations of the trial and the case in general. “In the Libby case there is not a scintilla of proof that Plame was an undercover CIA agent, that any harm to national security occurred by the disclosure of her identity, and the person responsible on the record for having disclosed it--Dick Armitage--was never charged with anything….”

The “outing” of Valerie Plame received an incredible amount of media attention with the thrust of most reports being that a great wrong had been committed and serious damage done to national security. There has already been some publicity surrounding Aero Contractors’ role in the CIA missions, but previously none providing information indicating the specific location of the individuals involved.

Fourteen demonstrators were arrested for protesting at the Aero offices last fall, prior to this recent L.A. Times story. By all accounts, that protest was peaceful, but now with the information provided in the Times’ story, it would not be difficult for anyone to locate the homes of the pilots and their families.

Don’t expect the same type treatment the Plame case received to be applied to this story. The L.A.Times story ends with this quote about one of the rendition missions, “On the flight back to Washington, after the snow had cleared, the rendition team celebrated by ordering 17 shrimp cocktails and three bottles of fine Spanish wine, according to catering invoices obtained by the prosecutors. “ I don’t remember seeing much attention paid to Joe and Valerie Wilson’s cocktails, but I guess that is because their story was about how they were victims of an outing.

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