Logical Deductions From Clearly Established Facts

Remote Polish Airstrip

Holds Clues to Secret

CIA Flights

SZYMANY, Poland – At the end of a narrow lane that slices deep into the pine forests of northern Poland, a sign in four languages improbably announces that you have arrived at an international airport.

The 6,500-foot runway – long enough to land a Boeing 777 – lies under a blanket of snow. No planes have landed here in months, and the front gate is locked.

But in late 2002 and 2003, there was a flurry of unusual activity at Mazury-Szczytno International Airport, a former military facility that happens to be near a Polish intelligence training complex where European investigators suspect the CIA maintained a secret interrogation and detention facility.

Planes began arriving from Afghanistan, all of them registered to American companies. Most of the planes were Gulfstreams, twin-engine jets popular with corporate executives. One was a Boeing 737.

These jets would park at the far end of the runway, where they would be met by government vehicles. The planes would stay no more than an hour or two before taking off. Their onward destinations were also unusual: Morocco, Uzbekistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“Everything was unusual, from beginning to end,” said Mariola Przewlocka, who was the airport’s manager from 2003 until 2005, when her job was eliminated. “I was told to accept these flights even when the airport was closed.”

Przewlocka said she assumed the flights had something to do with the intelligence complex at Stare Kiejkuty, about 12 miles away.

Her suspicions seemed to be confirmed in November 2005 when Poland and Romania were accused by Human Rights Watch of allowing the CIA to operate secret interrogation and detention centers on their territory.

The 46-member Council of Europe ordered an investigation and named Swiss parliamentarian Dick Marty to head it.

Although Marty had no subpoena powers, his team of investigators used public records, satellite imaging, news accounts and interviews with officials to lay out a strong circumstantial case for what he described as a “spider’s web” of clandestine CIA flights and secret detention centers.

While acknowledging that “there is no formal evidence at this stage of the existence of CIA detention centers in Poland and Romania,” he said his belief that such facilities did exist was “based on a careful balance of probabilities, as well as logical deductions from clearly established facts.”

A parallel report adopted two weeks ago by a special committee of the European Parliament drew similar conclusions. It accused Poland and 10 other EU countries of being complicit in the CIA’s practice of “rendition” and other operations in which terrorism suspects were taken to countries where they likely would face torture.

At the insistence of parliamentary conservatives in Brussels, the language in the report was softened to acknowledge that there was no hard evidence of CIA detention facilities in Poland. But it went on to “deplore” the Polish government’s lack of cooperation with the investigation.

It noted the Poles’ “contradictory statements and confusion about flight logs … which were first said not to have been retained, then said to have been faxed and destroyed, and finally said to have been saved in an unspecified place.”

Despite official stonewalling, available records and witness testimonies gathered by the committee offer strong evidence of Polish government complicity.

Whenever one of the suspected flights was scheduled to land at Szymany, “orders were given directly by the regional border guards … emphasizing that the airport authorities should not approach the aircraft and that military staff and services alone were to handle those aircraft and only to complete the technical arrangements after the landing,” the report said.

The head of Poland’s military intelligence agency at the time of the flights, Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, acknowledged in December that CIA flights landed at Szymany, and also was quoted by the Polish Press Agency as saying the CIA had “a special zone” inside Stare Kiejkuty.

But he adamantly denied that any detainees were taken to the intelligence center or that there were secret prisons anywhere on Polish soil.

CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield declined to comment on the Szymany case, or the Chicago Tribune’s findings when it visited the airport.

Przewlocka, the former airport manager, said she was one of the witnesses who gave evidence in Brussels. In an interview with the Tribune, Przewlocka, who now works as a loan consultant, said the landing fees for the mystery flights were paid in cash, often at double or even quadruple the going rate.

“The money was brought by a man, a Pole, and it was always cash,” she said. “The receipts were made out to an American company.” She said she did not remember the company’s name.

She said the customs formalities were carried out in secret aboard the plane, a breach of normal procedure for international flights. And she said the landing notification and ground service requirements for the planes also raised suspicions.

“First, the notification that such a plane would be coming to Szymany was unusual. Normally, when a plane is coming we receive a fax. But in the case of the Gulfstreams, the notification came from military sources or from the border control and customs authorities in Warsaw,” she said.

“And I was told not to organize full ground service. They said to send everyone home and keep only one technical service worker,” she said.

Jaroslaw Jurczenko, the airport’s director, denied that flight records had ever been lost for the mysterious landings and provided the Tribune with documentation for seven of the flights in question.

When matched with Federal Aviation Administration records, each of the seven landings at Szymany corresponds exactly with an unexplained blank in the aircraft’s official flight log.

For example, one of the planes in question, a Gulfstream V with tail number N379P, took off from Washington’s Dulles International Airport on July 27, 2003, and flew to Frankfurt, Germany. FAA records next show the plane taking off from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on July 31, bound for Glasgow, Scotland, and then back to Dulles.

How did the Gulfstream get from Frankfurt to Tashkent, and where did it stop during the four days in between?

The partial answer is Szymany, where Polish aviation records indicate it landed at 2:58 a.m. on July 30 after a flight from Afghanistan.

A more complete flight record is available for a Boeing 737 with tail number N313P. It flew from Tashkent to Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 21, 2003, and then to Szymany on Sept. 22, landing at 9 p.m. It stayed on the ground for 57 minutes before taking off for Baneasa Airport in Bucharest, Romania, an airport that, according to the Marty report, “bears all the characteristics of a detainee transfer or drop-off point.”

It then continued on to Rabat, Morocco, and Guantanamo Bay, the report said.

The registered owners of both planes appear to be CIA front companies. Previous attempts by the Tribune to contact the owners produced a trail of non-existent people at unlikely addresses, or law firms that did not want to discuss the nature of their interest in aviation. Both planes have been involved in rendition cases documented by the Tribune, other media and EU investigators.

Another Gulfstream, this one registered to an upstate New York charter company called International Group LLC, flew on Dec. 3, 2002, from Dulles to Anchorage; the next day it flew from Anchorage to Kansai, Japan, according to FAA logs. The log for the following day, Dec. 5, is blank. But on Dec. 6, the plane flew from London’s Luton Airport back to Dulles.

Records provided by Jurczenko indicate that the Gulfstream was in Szymany on Dec. 5.

International Group LLC is an established charter company, charging customers $5,600 an hour to fly them to such places as Las Vegas, Hawaii and Bora-Bora in the South Pacific.

“We’ve moved some pretty high-profile people, including some former U.S. presidents,” said Steve Marchionda, International Group’s owner.

Marchionda acknowledged that his company’s plane landed at Szymany but said the probable reason was to take on fuel. He said the plane had no passengers on board when it arrived at Szymany or when it left.

He also said the plane was never in Afghanistan but rather somewhere “well south of there.” He said the company’s privacy policy prevented him from saying who had chartered the plane during that time but insisted it wasn’t the CIA.

The CIA sometimes uses front companies to charter aircraft from commercial or private owners. A Gulfstream registered to Phillip Morse, a partner in the Boston Red Sox, was used in one rendition that has resulted in the indictment of 25 current and former CIA operatives by an Italian prosecutor.

Przewlocka, the former airport manager, said that when the mystery planes would land at Szymany, they usually were greeted by two military vans with shaded windows. She said the vehicles had government license plates that local people associated with the intelligence base at Stare Kiejkuty.

She recalled that on one occasion, an ambulance came with the vans.

On another occasion, a landing was attended by “a lady who said she represented the American Embassy,” said Przewlocka.

“She stood in front of the building and stared at the aircraft. When the two vans went past her on the way out, she turned aside. It was like she didn’t want to see them,” she said.

By Tom Hundley

Chicago Tribune

(MCT)

http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/world/16632476.htm

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~ by r7fel on February 7, 2007.

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