A mysterious missionary support organization flying weekly "relief flights” to Haiti from the Airport in Venice, FL. may be providing "cover" for CIA covert operations in the Caribbean, the MadCowMorningNews has learned.
Run by an ordained Southern Baptist minister, Agape Flights is a fundamentalist Christian operation which has been involved in some highly un-Christian activities, like flying shipments of food and “religious supplies” on a regular basis to a man accused of plotting a coup in Haiti after being caught importing an M-16, a Beretta, and a camouflage uniform emblazoned with the words "God's Army."
Coming on the heels of revelations of a million dollar unpaid loan to recently-deceased televangelist Jerry Falwell from Wally Hilliard, owner of terror flight school Huffman Aviation, the news marks the second time fundamentalist Christian groups have surfaced recently in unexplained operations at the Venice Airport.
An agenda other than that of the Almighty?
What is there that suggests U.S. covert intelligence involvement in Agape Flights?
Absent a CIA parking pass on the dashboard of one of the SUV's in Agape's parking lot, a web of connections offers clues that Agape may be serving agendas other than that of the Almighty:
- The group's links to the controversial Summer Institute of Linguistics, accused in the Latin American press of being funded by American intelligence to export a virulent brand of Christian fundamentalism to undermine the social cohesion of aboriginal communities and eliminate obstacles to natural resource exploitation.
- Suspected involvement in the aforementioned CIA-backed coup in Haiti, explored more fully in our next story.
- U. S. Treasury Dept. permission for Agape to fly regularly to Cuba. (Michael Moore, take note.)
- Oddly, Mohamed Atta's flight instructor at Huffman Aviation, Mark Mikarts, flies for Agape. Even more oddly, Mikarts used to be someone else.
Spies often use aliases, don't they?
Tangled webs, well-woven
A close look at a recent dramatic event involving the group illuminates some connections…
Tropical Storm Alberto was the first tropical storm of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season. It lashed Florida's west coast with rain and wind while bearing down on Tampa, Florida. As the storm reached peak intensity, on June 12, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center predicted Alberto would soon attain hurricane status.
It was raining so hard that Cynthia Tate, a Tampa homeowner, was watching the Doppler radar on TV to see how bad things might get.
Then she heard a strange sound. “It sounded like a missile,” she told the Tampa Tribune.
Into the teeth of a hurricane…
“It was gone for a split second, and then it was twice as loud. All of a sudden, in my window, in my view, was the airplane. It was coming right at me.”
As she watched in horror through her living room window, a small plane, later identified as a twin-engine Beechcraft King Air 90, headed straight for her, crashing into her yellow wood-frame house between the sunroom and a bedroom and then exploding in a blast of fire.
“You could smell and taste the fuel,” Tate said.
The pilot, Steve Huisman, who also worked for Agape Flights, died instantly.
“This has been a pretty overwhelming time," Agape’s Charlie Gardner said, adding that staff members at Agape Flights were visiting with Huisman's wife Sonja and his four children, all younger than the age of 10.”
Spraying for Med-flies… in a hurricane?
The men had been flying a mission from Sarasota, newspapers reported, to release sterilized Mediterranean fruit flies.
But because there was no flight plan filed for the flight, investigators said it wasn't clear where they'd flown before the crash.
The explanation for why the plane was flying in the first place sound a little thin. We could, if given time, come up with reasons to take off into near-hurricane conditions…
But spraying for Med flies isn’t one of them. Nor were we alone in our suspicions…
“Many people are asking why a small plane that crashed while attempting an emergency landing near Tampa was flying on a day when a hurricane churned in the gulf,” reported the Tampa Tribune.
“Witness Bill Povey told police he heard the plane just before the crash, and thought it was flying low, and wondered: "Who is flying in this weather?
Sharing Christian faith in Afghanistan
At the time of the crash Huisman was flying for a company called Dynamic Aviation, while still flying for Agape.
If we are correct in our hypothesis, both companies work for THE Company, making them virtually interchangeable.
Huisman was “a tall, straight-shooting, family man with four kids, a hearty appetite and a faith that literally motivated him to fly,” with an "infectious smile and a life-long desire to share his Christian faith.”
“Huisman, 41, grew up in Papua New Guinea, the son of missionary Wycliffe Bible Translators. He trained to become a missionary pilot at Moody Bible Institute… He had moved to Florida five years ago to work for Agape Flights in Sarasota, where his work brought him to Haiti and the Dominican Republic.”
“Part of what attracted Huisman to Dynamic was the opportunity to fly to Afghanistan for the company,” the Tampa Tribune reported.
“On those flights, he carried supplies as well as passengers. And while the Middle East trips did not have a religious function, friends said Huisman always found ways to minister to those around him.”
Secret History Weather-Watch
"Call me paranoid, but I think someone or something is staring back at me from the last window."
Huisman's trips to Afghanistan would be something of a red flag, CIA-wise. Then, at Dynamic Aviation's company website we found their rather grandiloquent and very Homeland Security-ish motto:
Does Pilot Huisman’s involvement with Dynamic Aviation, of Bridgewater, VA help penetrate the façade to the real secret history?
Another intriguing tidbit about Dynamic Aviation is that in 1996, the company purchased the U.S. Army's fleet of 124 non-pressurized BE-90s, enabling the company to significantly broaden its scope of operations, to include fire management and airborne data acquisition.
The Pentagon had out-sourced its airline of small planes to Dynamic Aviation.
White Man's Burden, 2007
Husiman’s biography also offers clues to what's being hidden.
“Huisman, 41, grew up in Papua New Guinea, the son of missionary Wycliffe Bible Translators.”
Sounds innocuous enough.
But “Wycliffe Bible Translators” is the polite name for a notorious organization known as the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) which has been accused in numerous articles in the Latin American press of being funded by American intelligence.
SIL is, according to the book “Thy Will be Done,” “the vanguard of the destruction of both the rainforests and their native inhabitants…in military fashion, a scouting party that surveyed the Amazonian hinterlands for potential sources of opposition to natural resource exploitation (read cattle ranching, clear-cutting and strip mining.)
A sweetheart of a sweetheart deal
Another significant sign that something is being concealed from view is the fact that Agape has had its path smoothed regularly by the government.
According to aviation observers quoted in local newspapers, for example, Agape got a real sweetheart deal at the Venice Airport, paying significantly less than the fair market rate.
From the Sarasota Herald Tribune:
“When the City Council agreed in December to lease Agape Flights a hangar and office space at the Venice airport for $2,114 per month, the humanitarian relief organization heaped on the praise.
"Venice is really the right place for us," said Charlie Gardner, Agape's executive director. "The community is very supportive."
“Supportive may be an understatement. Under the approved deal, the city allowed Agape to sublease some of its office space to two other companies, who pay a total of $5,000 per month. Before the doors are unlocked on the first of each month, Agape has already netted a profit of $2,886.
Though practically unheard of at other general aviation airports in the state, deals such as these aren't unusual at Venice Municipal Airport.”
Praise the Lord. And gimme a Cuba Libre.
Ask yourself: When was the last time the government offered you a deal that cleared you $3000 a month for doing nothing?
At their former home base at the Sarasota Airport, Agape had also been the grateful beneficiary of unexplained largesse, this time from the Florida State University Foundation, from whom they subleased land for a song.
And at the same time Wally Hilliard was passing out Presidential Rolexes to Fidel’s top lieutenants, Agape received special permission from the U.S. Treasury Department to fly regular flights to Fidel Castro’s Cuba in 1999,
Agape Flights moved to Venice from nearby Sarasota two years ago, where, after being involved in a number of controversies, the group had apparently worn out its welcome.
Shortly thereafter, we began to hear rumblings from aviation observers at the Venice Airport that things weren't quite right about the group.
Their operation didn’t make sense.
Dept of 'Things That Don't Make Sense'
We heard the sentiment expressed several times, including by an 86-year old pilot who’d kept a plane at the airport for more than 30 years.
“I’ve been planning to call those folks at Agape with a real cost-saving idea,” he told us.
“They’ve got a million dollar hangar, a million dollar plane, three pilots on staff, and a dozen SUV’s sitting in the parking lot every day,” said the wizened veteran with a shrug.
“They could save millions just by shipping their stuff UPS. So… why don’t they?”
“I wouldn’t want even want to venture a guess as to what they might be doing,” said another pilot in Venice. “But I can tell you this: I wish I’d figured out a ‘hustle’ like that.”
“Pilots are always looking for places to fly their planes to," the aviation executive continued. “Look at Angel Flights. They’ve got pilots standing in line to volunteer their planes."
"If you just pay for gas, pilots are happy to fly to South America for free... But these guys keep a million dollar Cessna Grand Caravan, and three pilots on the payroll."
"Something doesn’t make sense.”
Covert ops 101
We were in familiar territory. Terror flight school Huffman Aviation hadn't made sense, either. It wasn’t in the flight school business, for example.
Already losing $40,000 a month at their Naples FL flight school, Huffman Aviation principals Rudi Dekkers and Wally Hilliard had blithely decided to buy a second flight school in Venice, paying twice what it was worth…
In cash. Their actions made no business sense.
A former Huffman Aviation executive told us darkly, “Sometimes when things don’t make business sense, its because they do make sense…just in some other way.”
Agape Flights may present a similar situation.
Coy Jacob, owner of a Mooney airplane distributorship at the Venice Airport, shared a hangar with Agape when they first moved to the Venice Airport.
Secretive nonprofit: a contradiction in terms?
Asked about the experience, Jacob shakes his head…
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Its obviously a very well-funded operation, but the stuff they’re flying down to Haiti is junk,” he told us bluntly.
“Stuff that didn’t sell at garage sales. Used silverware and plates, used bedding. Every so often we’d see a new coffeepot, or a portable generator. But it was mostly all junk.”
“With the price of aviation gasoline today, it costs them between $6000 and $8000 just to fly down and back to Haiti. And for what? A couple hundred bucks worth of toasters?”
Jacob made the mistake of questioning Agape honcho Charlie Gardner about it. “I guess I was a little too nosy,” he told us. “I said 'What are you doing flying junk to Haiti?’”
Gardner became visibly uncomfortable, Jacob recalled, with the notion that someone could see what was going on.
“What was really strange—especially since its supposed to be a Christian missionary organization—was how secretive they were,” Coy Jacob stated.
“For example, they insisted on always keeping the hanger doors down. Just imagine how hot that gets in Florida.”
Like another company in Lynchburg VA
This was reminiscent of what we had heard about Britannia Aviation, a CIA front which used to be housed inside the Huffman Aviation hanger at the Venice Airport which inexplicably won a large government contract which raised eyebrows at the Lynchburg Airport.
Consternation in Lynchburg had not diminished in the months after Britannia moved in, we had learned from Lynchburg aviation executive Jim Lampman. Instead, suspicion grew, because of the “secretive nature” of the operations going on at the facility.
“No one knows anything about this group,” Virginia Aviation’s Lampman told us. “They took over a sizeable maintenance facility and all they’re doing is working on a few old, broken-down Jetstreams."
"But they keep their hangar doors down and closed. They stay strictly to themselves and keep their shades pulled down. Their activity consists of one plane coming in and one plane going out every few weeks.”
Agape is as agape does
Agape Flights’ secretive nature has caused considerable comment at the Venice Airport. There is widespread suspicion about what the missionary group is trying to hide.
“We refurbished an airplane for a woman who was a director of a major Fortune 500 company,” Mooney Mart owner Coy Jacob told us.
“When she came to pick up her plane, which was parked on the apron in front of the hangar, Gardner refused to let her walk across the hangar to get to her plane. It was unreal.”
Agape is Greek for spiritual, selfless love. But try telling that to Agnes Imregh, who said she’d been incredulous at Gardner’s actions.
“I was having the inside of my plane re-done,” she explained. “When the work was finished I came to pick up the plane, which was parked in front of the hangar.”
“When I walked into the hangar, this officious man came up and demanded to know who I was in an accusatory tone, and if I had a security pass.
“I told him I was merely there to pick up my plane, so he could stop acting like the Grand Inquisitor.”
“He said, ‘Can you prove its your plane?’”
No Agape going on at all
"I told him yes, I showed him my I.D., which matched the registration in the cockpit.
"But the guy would not let me cross the floor of the hangar to get to my plane. I couldn’t believe it! He was being totally heavy-handed and trying to intimidate me to keep me out of his area.”
"So I walked down the road 100 yards to the FBO (Fixed Base of Operations), through their door and out onto the field, and then walked back to where my plane was parked.”
“And the asshole was standing there waiting for me next to the cockpit! I told him if he tried to keep me from accessing my property I would call the police. And I also told him that despite the name of his supposed Christian charity, he didn’t seem to me to have much “agape” going on at all.”
When her plane needed a tow to jump-start the battery, one of Agape’s personnel came out to help, she said, and apologized for what he called his boss’ irrational behavior.
Monica Goodling, faith-based hire
In the aftermath of last week's testimony by the shockingly-unqualified “faith-based hire” Monica Goodling, the role played by fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. Government has become the subject of some controversy.
Former Justice Department official Goodling was one of some 156 Bush Administration appointees who are graduates of Pat Robertson’s Regent Law School, rated in the bottom 10% of law schools in America.
The Big Question:
“Islamic fundamentalist” Osama bin laden reportedly cloaked covert activities under the cover of religious charities.
Where do you think he learned to do that?
NEXT: How many missionary groups does it take to pull off a coup?