US-Sponsored Drug-Plane Operation Had Global Reach
Aircraft Linked to “Mayan Jaguar” Flew Tons of Cocaine Into Africa — Gateway to the European Market
US government intelligence agencies, in particular, the CIA, often have been accused of complicity in the drug trade, but public officials and the mainstream media just as quickly dismiss the allegations as whacky conspiracy theories — often with just cause.
Still, some cases defy explanations that rely on putting the blame on a few “bad apples.” In those cases, if it is not official US government complicity in the drug trade at work, then there seems to be at least some very deep-seated corruption and agency dysfunction in play.
The ongoing investigation into the Gulfstream II jet that crashed in Mexico in the fall of 2007 with a cargo of 3.7 tons of cocaine onboard appears to be an example of a case that points to a deeper corruption problem within the US bureaucracy.
That jet was part of a long-running US covert operation, called Mayan Jaguar, that involved the sale of dozens of aircraft to Latin American narco-trafficking organizations, court records recently revealed.
It now appears, based on a Narco News investigation, that a number of the jets sold through Mayan Jaguar or related parties may have been used to move tons of cocaine into the European market, via Africa, despite the fact that some of these aircraft were supposedly being monitored and tracked by the US law enforcers and/or intelligence agents overseeing Mayan Jaguar.
Media reports as well European investigators have connected the Gulfstream II jet, via its tail number, N987SA, to past use by the CIA, including alleged flights from 2001 to 2005 between the United States, Europe and Guantanamo Bay, home to the infamous prison camp for targets of the so-called War on Terror.
The Gulfstream II jet was sold twice between Aug. 31, 2007, and Sept. 24, 2007 — the date of its crash landing in Mexico’ s Yucatan Peninsula with a payload of cocaine.
Two Florida companies involved in those sales have been called out in federal court pleadings that allege the Gulfstream jet was part of a bizarre Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) undercover operation carried out in Latin America (Mayan Jaguar) — which netted no arrests or indictments in the US over the four years or so that it was reportedly officially in motion. The plug was pulled on the operation, US prosecutors now claim, with the crash of the Gulfstream II in Mexico.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General allegedly is investigating two ICE agents who were part of Mayan Jaguar, federal court pleadings filed in Florida indicate. The investigation is focused on suspected unlawful activity related to the Mayan Jaguar operation.
However, multiple law-enforcement sources who spoke with Narco News say an operation like Mayan Jaguar would have required a number of high-level approvals and ongoing oversight, not only from ICE and Department of Homeland Security officials, but also from officials at the Department of Justice and the State Department — including the US ambassadors in the affected nations.
Mayan Jaguar’s lack of law-enforcement success over four years, despite all of that oversight, led those same law enforcers to conclude that the true purpose of Mayan Jaguar was not to gather evidence to make arrests or pursue indictments. Instead, they suggest that ICE’s Mayan Jaguar could well have been a CIA cover operation utilizing multiple front companies to penetrate narco-trafficking organizations with the goal of gathering intelligence and recruiting assets — all aimed at advancing US interests deemed vital to the intelligence community.
That’s a serious charge, but not one that is out of the realm of possibility, stresses one long-time federal drug agent, who spoke with Narco News on background:
Remember, it's all about the intel. Morality, legality and even good sense are suspended in favor of gathering intel.
American's intel agencies want to know where the drugs go, to whom and then where they are distributed. The result is a great trafficking-pattern wall chart. They use the intel to generate more intel upon which they likewise do not act.
The intel agencies sometimes approach those who are profiting [from the drug trade], remind them that they (the intel agencies) set up the opportunity for them to make the big money and then ask them for a payback in the form of more intel.
Breaking It Down
The strategy employed in Mayan Jaguar, according to the court pleadings revealing its existence, was to place transponders on aircraft sold to Latin American drug smuggling organizations via an ICE front company — also identified in the court filings as Donna Blue Aircraft Inc. of Boca Raton, Fla.
Along with Donna Blue, two other Florida companies have popped up in federal court filings accused of brokering aircraft sales for individuals in Latin America that US prosecutors now allege are connected to narco-trafficking groups. And these three companies, all based in Florida, are connected to each other through various business and personal threads that are exposed in court filings and other public records.
Let’s break it down: A company called World Jet Inc. of Fort Lauderdale brokered the sale of the Gulfstream II jet in late August 2007 to the ICE front company Donna Blue, owned by an ICE informant named Joao Malago, who is a longtime business associate of Larry Peters, owner of Skyway Aircraft Inc. of St. Petersburg.
“Mr. Malago and Mr. Peters were both involved together in a transaction that resulted in their — Mr. Malago being stopped by ICE in 2004. He was carrying an excessive amount of money that could not be explained or justified at the time. It didn’t have — it ended up being seized and Mr. Malago became a CI [confidential informant] for ICE back in 2004,” states federal prosecutor Andrea Hoffman in a criminal case now pending in US District Court in Florida.
Donna Blue, a few weeks after acquiring the Gulfstream II via a World Jet-brokered sale, turned around and sold it to a Florida duo that included a pilot named Gregory Smith, whom, court records reveal, also works for World Jet as a contract pilot and who has done past work for US government agencies (possibly even the CIA) as a contract pilot.
In fact, in the late 1990s, Smith’s Fort Lauderdale-based company at the time, Aero Group Jets Inc., leased a Hawker jet to a longtime CIA asset named Baruch Vega. That jet was used for a joint DEA/FBI/CIA operation targeting Colombian narco-trafficking groups [link here, see pages 3 and 16]. That same Hawker jet, FAA records show, was later purchased by Clyde O’Connor — Smith’s partner in the 2007 Gulfstream II purchase.
Within days of Smith and his partner, O’Connor, acquiring the Gulfstream II from the ICE front company Donna Blue as part of Mayan Jaguar, it crash lands (on Sept. 24, 2007) in Mexico with nearly four tons of cocaine onboard.
Mayan Jaguar, over a four-year period, facilitated dozens of aircraft sales similar to the Gulfstream II deal, with the planes being sold to suspected Latin American drug smugglers, yet no arrests or indictments were made in the US, prosecutors claim, and the planes sold to alleged narco-traffickers as part of the operation are, for the most part, still unaccounted for — other than those which, like the Gulfstream II, happened to crash or were otherwise apprehended in countries outside the US.
And many of these so-called “cocaine planes” that were sold via Mayan Jaguar, according to court pleadings, were being tracked through transponders placed on the aircraft, which means US officials involved with Mayan Jaguar presumably knew where the aircraft were at any given time after they were sold to the narco-trafficking organizations.
Catching the Jaguar
The key to unraveling the true purpose of Mayan Jaguar, then, involves finding out where the planes sold through the operation ultimately landed. The available information from court pleadings involving Skyway Aircraft, Donna Blue and World Jet — all three arguably touched by Mayan Jaguar — helps to paint a bit of that picture.
Federal court pleadings filed in separate cases in Colorado and Florida allege that the owners of World Jet as well as Malago, owner of Donna Blue, engaged in a narco-trafficking and money-laundering conspiracy by selling planes to suspected drug smugglers. World Jet officials and the now-former ICE informant Malago contend those charges have no merit — with Malago asserting that he was either acting within the law or with the approval of the US government as an ICE informant.
Peters, Skyway Aircraft’s owner, has not been charged or accused of a crime in relation to the aircraft sales, but court records indicate that he has “cooperated extensively with the United States government.”
The court pleadings and Federal Aviation Administration records show that most of the jets sold by the three Florida aviation companies went to buyers in Latin America — a high number of them to purchasers in Venezuela. From there, several of the aircraft have surfaced elsewhere in Latin America.
First, there is the Gulfstream II cocaine jet that crashed in Mexico in 2007 — sold to World Jet/US government contract pilot Smith by the ICE front company Donna Blue. Although it doesn’t have a known Venezuelan connection, as mentioned previously, its tail number, N987SA, is linked to past CIA use.
Yet another cocaine plane, this one sold by Larry Peters’ Skyway Aircraft to a Venezuelan buyer, was apprehended in Nicaragua in 2004. It too has a CIA connection.
Skyway Aircraft sold the Beech 200 aircraft in October 2004, about a month before it was found in a Nicaraguan cotton field linked to a payload of some 1,100 kilos of cocaine. The Beech 200 was discovered in Nicaragua with a false tail number (N168D), which FAA records show is registered to a North Carolina company called Devon Holding and Leasing Inc.
According to press reports and an investigation conducted by the European Parliament into the CIA’s terrorist rendition program, Devon Holding is a CIA shell company and N168D is a tail number to a CIA aircraft.
In yet another case, federal court pleadings in Colorado claim that World Jet was involved in brokering the sale of a Hawker 700 jet in 2013 that was allegedly going to be used by Colombian narco-traffickers to transport a load of cocaine from Venezuela to Honduras. The Venezuelan government seized the jet before the cocaine could be transported, however.
So it appears Venezuela has been a hotbed of activity in terms of planes being sold to suspected drug smugglers via the three Florida aviation companies as well as ICE’s Mayan Jaguar. In fact, between October 2003 and January 2008, a total of nine aircraft were registered to Skyway Aircraft Inc. just prior to being exported to Venezuelan purchasers, FAA records show.
Former CIA asset Vega says countries that are deemed hostile to US interests, like Venezuela or Cuba, provide the perfect cover for a US government covert operation if the sponsors are seeking to conceal its US roots from the targets.
“If you go through those countries [not deemed friendly to the US], then the corrupt politicians and traffickers you’re dealing with are less likely to assume it’s a US operation,” Vega explains.
That could explain why so many of the jets linked to ICE’s Mayan Jaguar were first sold to Venezuelan buyers, since such a tactic would help to cloak the US agencies behind the operation — whether it was ICE or CIA, or both.
Attorney Mark Conrad, a former high-level supervisory U.S. Customs agent who has an extensive background in the intelligence world, offered the following insight into the cocaine planes saga in a prior interview with Narco News:
Even though it looks as if you are unraveling odd connections, you may be only seeing a small part of what is going on — or you may be seeing what you are expected to see, missing something else.
My guess — and that is all that it is — is that this has something to do with operations in Venezuela — either to finance ops, or to divert attention from Agency [CIA] ops in Venezuela to destabilize Chávez [who was president of that nation when Mayan Jaguar was underway].
Conrad’s “misdirection” theory seems to explain the other major destination for planes brokered by Skyway, World Jet and Donna Blue.
A total of at least six aircraft sold by those three companies either were likely destined for or later made their way to Africa, court pleadings reveal. Skyway was involved in brokering the sale of two of those aircraft alone in 2006 and 2007, and a third in 2007 in conjunction with Malago’s Donna Blue, court pleadings, FAA records and media reports indicate. Two of those aircraft were later seized — one in Africa and one in Venezuela bound for Africa — with a total of nearly 3 tons of cocaine onboard, court pleadings allege.
In addition, World Jet is accused of selling three aircraft in 2012 to yet anther Florida company, Congo Mining and Services, which is owned by an individual that “is a current target in a DEA investigation of laundering narcotics and illegal weapons trafficking funds from Africa into the United States,” a DEA search-warrant affidavit reveals.
Given the realities of the post 9/11 world, it seems that if Mayan Jaguar was, in fact, an intelligence operation — as several law enforcers and intelligence operatives who spoke with Narco News suggest — then Africa and its criminal underworld would be of prime interest to the CIA.
From a 2010 Congressional Research Service report for the US Congress:
In recent years, analysts and U.S. policymakers have noted Africa's growing strategic importance to U.S. interests. Among those interests are the increasing importance of Africa's natural resources, particularly energy resources, and mounting concern over violent extremist activities and other potential threats posed by uncontrolled spaces, such as piracy and illicit trafficking.
Another reality with respect to Africa is that the western region of the continent is a major transshipment point for the flow of illegal narcotics originating in Latin America and bound for Europe — particularly cocaine shipments. As a result, Mayan Jaguar may well be responsible for helping to dump tons of cocaine into Europe via the sale of “transponder-monitored” aircraft to Latin American narco-trafficking groups.
The Africa Economic Development Institute estimates that as much as two-thirds of the cocaine destined for Europe “passes through West African countries.”
A veteran US law enforcer, the now-retired former deep undercover DEA agent Mike Levine, is quick to point out, though, that whatever happened in Mayan Jaguar, it’s not likely the result of some grand conspiracy orchestrated by the CIA.
Levine contends that the CIA simply isn’t competent enough to operate at that level. Instead, he says it is far more likely that the CIA was being sucker punched by its own “assets.”
Levine offers his take:
… The only conspiracy that exists is the one intended to hide how CIA informants/assets, who are in fact international drug traffickers, use the CIA like condoms. What you have is a case of the assets taking advantage of the naiveté and lack of "street-wiseness" of individual CIA bosses, station chiefs etc., for "freedom" to operate as drug traffickers in return for bullshit information that only looks good on paper.
… CIA has been so long allowed to function in their very lame and, at times, individually corrupt manner — usually lame — that when I examine a case like yours [Mayan Jaguar], the overwhelming historical evidence points to the same phenomenon: CIA asset criminals relying on a very lame CIA for logistic support, in return for bullshit.
Levine points to CIA’s so-called “Operation Agent Scrub” in which the agency in the mid-1990s dropped, or scrubbed, nearly one-third of its assets/informants from the payroll because they were not productive or were involved in criminal activity.
Ask yourself why this [Operation Agent Scrub] was only covered by a single MSM [mainstream media] news program?
How was this critically important to US security report kept from MSM? A third of CIA assets found to be lying crime-committing con men.
Anyway, that is my take on the story you're doing [about Mayan Jaguar] — 90% ineptitude and 10% corruption based on an entirely inept chain--of-command, kept from mainstream media by a 100% effective PIO [public information/media relations office].
For past Narco News coverage of this story, check out the links below: