Writers discuss book on CIA secrets
Local writers discuss book about secret CIA program
November 1, 2007 2:39 PM
Ghouls, witches and zombies were no match for the horrific tales SF State alum Regina Woodard heard on Halloween night in Knuth Hall.
Woodard, along with journalism students from Jon Funabiki’s Cultural Diversity and New Media class, listened to stories of how two Bay Area writers, A.C. Thompson and Trevor Paglen, exposed the CIA’s involvement in using planes to haul terror suspects to secret prisons around the globe.
“It is the scariest thing I’ve done on Halloween in many years,” Woodard, a 1995 graduate, said.
The result of the writer’s investigations, was the 2006 book “Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA’s Rendition Flights.”
Thompson and Paglen, who first met in the East Bay’s punk music scene, began working on the project when Paglen approached Thompson in the Bay Guardian newsroom about some planes he thought were being used by the CIA. The two had read published reports in newspapers like the Washington Post indicating that the intelligence group secretly used some planes, but they wanted to uncover more.
“We began to reverse engineer this to figure out how the CIA makes this happen,” Thompson said. Using their different backgrounds, Thompson as an investigative reporter and Paglen as an artist and experimental geographer, they began tracking planes that had access to military bases around the country.
What they found was astonishing.
Examining the identifications of the CEOs of these companies uncovered that they might not actually be real people. Paglen told the crowd sometimes a CEO would have a birth date from the 1950s but was not given a Social Security Card until the 1990s. Many of them never owned cars, houses, and credit cards or took out loans.
“In other words you start to suspect these are not real people,” Paglen, a UC Berkeley graduate, said. “These are ghost in the business of making other people disappear.”
In one instance, the two visited Premier Executive Transport Services, Inc. one of the larger companies they suspected was a front for the CIA to run the rendition program. They traveled to the company’s headquarters in Dedham, Mass., and discovered the office for this large cooperation was on the second floor of a small brick building. What’s more, the address given was really the location of a law office.
“You can think of the relationship yourself between divorce law and rendition…,” Paglen said.
After the duo had pinpointed which companies they believed were secretly operated by the CIA, they began tracking those planes flight patterns and found destinations in Kabul, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay to name a few.
Their investigation broadened when they noticed many planes flying out of a small airport in North Carolina. The small airport turned out to be the headquarters for the CIA program and it was there they were able to talk with pilots, finding them through database programs, about working for the CIA. The duo has also spoken with suspects who survived the torture they endured in the secret prisons and their stories and descriptions helped Thompson and Paglen discover a secret base in Kabul.
Thompson said they discovered that “what we did was approved by the highest levels of government” and said he not sure why Americans haven’t voiced outrage of the allegations.
In the U.S., the writers said at the presentation, the book has done little to change policy or bring charges against the companies involved in flying the planes and allowing the CIA to use their addresses as fronts.
“Americans don’t care that their country is torturing people. Congress doesn’t care. Apparently it is OK. I hope what we did…at least gave information and ammunition to the people who are investigating this in Europe,” Thompson, who took classes at SF State in the early 1990s, said.
Thompson said that if Americans read the testimony of people who were tortured in the secret camps “you would feel like this should be a front page story everyday.”
Woodard, who knew Thompson before he wrote the book, said she is “fascinated with the idea that Americans are not interested in this.”
Andrew Altman, a junior journalism major who also heard Thompson speak in his investigative reporting class, ordered the book on Amazon.com before the presentation.
“I bought the book today,” he said after the event. “Four bucks, you can’t beat that. I felt bad buying it used.”
The aspiring journalist said listening to Thompson and Paglen has encouraged him to do a little digging himself. Altman has an uncle who both flies and owns planes, and he has recently been using information on the FAA Web site to look up his information and flight patterns.
“I just know he’s a pilot and it’s a simple thing to do,” he said.
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