How planespotters turned into the scourge of the CIA

Brian Randell Brian.Randell at
Sat Dec 10 05:43:22 PST 2005


I don't know how fully the story of the information-gathering role
played by plane spotters in the mounting controversy here in Europe
about the CIA and "rendition" has featured in the US media, but in
case it hasn't, you might want this for IP.




>From the (UK) Guardian newspaper:

How planespotters turned into the scourge of the CIA

Gerard Seenan and Giles Tremlett
Saturday December 10, 2005
The Guardian

Paul last saw the Gulfstream V about 18 months ago. He comes down to
Glasgow airport's planespotters' club most days. He had not seen the
plane before so he marked the serial number down in his book. At the
time, he did not think there was anything unusual about the
Gulfstream being ushered to a stand away from public view, one that
could not be seen from the airport terminal or the club's prime view.

But that flight this week was at the centre of a transatlantic row
that saw the prime minister being put on the spot on the floor of the
House of Commons and the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice,
forced on the defensive during a visit to Europe. The Gulfstream V
has been identified as having been used by the CIA for "extraordinary
renditions" - abducting terror suspects and taking them to secret
prisons around the world where they may be tortured.

The recording of flights by spotters like Paul from places as far
afield as Bournemouth and Karachi has unintentionally played a
significant role in helping journalists and human rights groups
expose the scale of the CIA's renditions system. But his impact on
such international intrigue largely passes Paul by. "It's not the CIA
bit that interests us. You don't even know who owns the plane when
you take down the serial number," he said, already distracted as
something comes in to land through the grey drizzle. "You keep
accurate logs, for your own records."
. . .

Despite the particular eccentricity of planespotting - and the
obvious capacity for fun-poking - it is not a pastime limited to
Britain. In Spain town planner Josep Manchado is part of a small
group who gather with their long lenses and foil-wrapped sandwiches
at Majorca's Son Sant Joan airport.

In January last year Mr Manchado saw a Boeing 737 on the airport
tarmac. He pressed his camera shutter button while speculating idly
that some US millionaire was in town. Then he put the picture of the
Boeing (tail fin number N313P) on, and forgot about it.

Within a few days Mr Manchado starting getting strange calls and
emails. They came from the US and from Sweden. "People were asking me
questions about the plane. They obviously weren't all planespotters
because they were asking questions that people who know about planes
don't ask," he said.

Activists and journalists had become interested in the rendition
flights. There were also, however, strange calls. "One man wanted to
buy up all the photos. He eventually sent me a form in which he asked
for everything, including my home address. I didn't give it to him
and I never heard from him again," he said.
. . .

For those prepared to sift through the endless information complied
by planespotters and posted on websites, there are many more clues to
the CIA's activities to be found. In Ireland peace campaigners have
turned themselves into planespotters.

At Shannon airport Tim Hourigan uses a scanner that allows him to see
what air traffic control sees, and he, and other activists,
religiously note down the numbers of landing planes. Then, using a
combination of Federal Airport Authority Records and planespotting
websites, they can track the movements of intelligence planes across
the world. "It is a tedious job looking through hundreds of pictures
of planes," says Mr Hourigan, who is not a planespotting enthusiast.
"But it allows you to confirm and expose the activities of the CIA
and our own government."
. . .

Full story at:
School of Computing Science, University of Newcastle, Newcastle upon
EMAIL = Brian.Randell at   PHONE = +44 191 222 7923
FAX = +44 191 222 8232  URL =

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