The Gulfstream IV’s itinerary, as well as the $339,228.05 price tag for the journey, are among the details of shadowy CIA flights that have emerged in a small Upstate New York courthouse in a billing dispute between contractors. The court documents offer a rare glimpse of the costs and operations of the controversial rendition program.
For all the secrecy that once surrounded the CIA program, a significant part of its operation was entrusted to very small aviation companies whose previous experience involved flying sports teams across the country.
The August 2003 flights — and dozens of others to locations such as Bucharest, Romania; Baku, Azerbaijan; Cairo; Djibouti; Islamabad, Pakistan; and Tripoli, Libya — were organized by Sportsflight, a one-man aircraft brokerage business on Long Island. It secured a plane from Richmor Aviation, based near the Columbia County Airport in Hudson, N.Y. Richmor eventually sued Sportsflight for breach of contract. In the process, the costs and itineraries of numerous CIA flights became part of the court record.
In other cases, the government has invoked the “state secrets” privilege to shut down litigation over the CIA program, but the case in Columbia County proceeded uninterrupted in an almost empty courtroom. There were only two witnesses at the bench trial: Richmor President Mahlon Richards and Sportsflight owner Donald Moss.
In a 2009 judgment, largely upheld on appeal this year, Judge Paul Czajka awarded Richmor more than $1 million.
“I kept waiting for [the government] to contact me. I kept thinking, ‘Isn’t someone going to come up here and talk to me?’ ” said William F. Ryan, the attorney for Richmor, which manages and books charter flights for aircraft owned by others, and operates from a handful of small airports in New York, Connecticut and D.C. “No one ever did.”
Moss’s attorney, Jeffrey Heller, also said he was never contacted by any government official.
The more than 1,500 pages from the trial and appeals court files appear to include sensitive material, such as logs of air-to-ground phone calls made from the plane. These logs show multiple calls to CIA headquarters; to the cell- and home phones of a senior CIA official involved in the rendition program; and to a government contractor, Falls Church-based DynCorp, that worked for the CIA.
Attorneys for a London-based legal charity, Reprieve, which has been investigating the CIA program, discovered the Columbia County case and brought the court records to the attention of The Washington Post, the Associated Press and a British newspaper, the Guardian.