The 9/11 Social Network
What does Mohamed Atta have in common with Carlos Salinas?
The tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches. New books, new documentaries, saturated airwaves. Filled with sound, filled with fury, signifying—most of them—more or less nothing.
What have we learned?
A decade into the 21st Century. No rocket cars, no hovercraft, no trips to Mars. A world without Robocops. And the keen new insight is one we’d forgotten…
The social network. The innovation for which the decade will be remembered is Facebook.
What do drug traffickers, stolen car exporters, accountants, and terrorist hijackers have in common? Criminals have social networks too.
Interlocking social networks.
The basis for organized crime—relationships—is always the same, across time, space, and culture…
Social notes from all over
I spend a week shepherding a film crew from French ARTE-TV doing a 2-hour documentary for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attack around Venice Florida.
I thought they were looking for the story the mainstream media “overlooked.”
I was misinformed.
It is paint-by-numbers time. “Here we are where Mohamed Atta learned to fly. Here we are with one of his flight instructors. Is it true they weren’t well-liked?”
It is all a misunderstanding. A Gallic misconception.
Earlier I spent a month in Venice with a well-known writer from Ireland. He is doing a major book about 9/11. It is coming this fall.
After the 9/11 attack Secretary of State Colin Powell promises a government “white paper” that will be a “summary of evidence.” It is another empty promise. It is left to British Prime Minister Tony Blair to make the case against Osama Bin Laden.
Blair says, “Al Qaeda is a terrorist organization with ties to a global network."
A global network assisted the terrorist cadre. Shadowy, undefined. But global. Active everywhere from Venice, Florida to Dublin, Ireland…
The global network I think he had in mind.
South of the border
Carlos and Raul Salinas grow up on the Mexican border, opposite Laredo Texas. Their father is in charge of Mexican Customs along the border. In a country notorious for smuggling, the post soon makes him one of Mexico’s richest men.
On December 18, 1951, major Mexico City dailies reported that two children, Raul, 5, and Carlos, 3, and an 8-year old playmate found a .22 rifle in the closet, and played a ‘game’ with the 12-year old maid, an Indian named Manuela. She knelt down. They executed her.
The three year old, Carlos, is quoted saying, “I killed her with one shot. I am a hero.”
When Carlos grows up to be president his biography will be purged of this inconvenient fact.
Every newspaper account of the incident disappears from libraries across Mexico. His official biography states the 8-year old companion did the killing.
It is all just a misunderstanding.
They are making the truth disappear.
Friends in the Tower
A flight school with a blue-awning training terrorists to fly in the summer of 2000…
A DC9 busted in the Yucatan with 5.5 tons of cocaine in April of 2006…
If you believe the government, there is no connection.
The pre-existing criminal network in Venice is not a factor in the story of the 9/11 attack; the fact that Venice Florida is home base for Mohamed Atta’s terrorist cadre is nothing but mere happenstance.
Frederic Geffon in St. Petersburg Florida owns 5.5 tons of cocaine. At least, he owns Royal Sons Inc., and through some sleight-of-hand the bankruptcy trustee calls illegal, he’s also got a plane, a DC9 (N900SA).
Airport officials at St. Petersburg-Clearwater Intl Airport are instructed not to let the plane take off. But Geffon has friends in the tower, friends in high places. The plane takes off anyway, and leaves the country. So far so good!
Five days later his plane gets busted. 5.5 tons of cocaine just happens to be on his plane. Oops!
Geffen’s company is located at 224 E Airport Ave in Venice, the hangar where Huffman Aviation, right next door, parks its planes. Huffman Aviation’s owner, of course, is Wally Hilliard, a retired insurance executive from Green Bay Wisconsin.
Out out damed spot-of-bother
Three weeks after Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi begin training at Wally Hilliard’s flight school, Wally faces a “spot of bother.”
His Learjet is confiscated by DEA agents at Orlando Executive Airport. They find 43 lbs. of heroin onboard. Oops! After that, they won’t give Wally back his plane.
A federal judge won’t either. The judge rules that Wally is not an “innocent owner.”
But things have not gone completely dark for Wally Hilliard…
He doesn’t go to prison!
How many guys whose plane gets busted with 43 lbs. of heroin can say that?
For that matter, Frederic Geffon doesn’t go to prison either.
How many guys with a plane busted with 5.5 tons of cocaine can say that?
If Wally 'friends' Fred, will Fred 'friend' him back?
Are Wally Hilliard and Frederic Geffon in the same “social network?”
f Wally “friends” Fred on Facebook, will Fred “friend” him right back?
Maybe the government just finds it difficult to explain things like this to people who, you know, aren’t cleared for that kind of information.
People like you and me.
Maybe the government thinks its like what the Jack Nicholson character says in "A Few Good Men:" “You can’t handle the truth!”
Like that. That sort of thing. You think?
The documented and decades-long criminal activity in Venice is completely unrelated to the terrorist’s presence there, if you believe the government.
Just a coincidence that, probably, doesn't even rise to the level of a misunderstanding.
The Richest Man in Mexico & The Lord of the Skies
Hank Gonzalez is the richest man in Mexico.
He uses his post in the federal government to amass a fortune steering state money to his trucking firm. He is the essence of power in Mexico: wealth based on graft, on pillaging the national treasury.
The rumor for decades has been that he is the link between the drug business and the government.
The President of Mexico between 1988 and 1994 is Carlos Salinas. During that time forty-six reporters are murdered in Mexico.
A major drug figure, Juan Espattagozo, alias “El Azul” goes to work for Carlos Hank Gonzalez’s family’s trucking and shipping company, TMM, in 1992.
Mexico’s biggest drug baron at that time was Amado Carrillo. He will die during botched plastic surgery. But while he is alive, he is the Lord of the Skies His-Ownself.
Along with Carlos Hank Gonzalez, Amado is a major investor in Grupo TMM, according to U.S. intelligence.
A truck from Grupo TMM enters California with 4.5 tons of cocaine. Another is caught in Jalisco with 2 tons. According to the DEA, a TMM boat in 1998 offloads a ton of cocaine in the Florida Keys.
The two men also have a big stake in Mexico's biggest airline.
Operation White Tiger
Hank Gonzalez’s son is Carlos Hank Rhon. The thing to remember about him is: Hank loves wildlife.
After a sojourn in Asia he lands in Mexico City with twelve suitcases filled with jewels, ocelot pelts, and ivory tusks. He keeps a rare white Siberian tiger as a pet.
When a Tijuana gossip columnist makes fun of him in print, Jorge’s bodyguards cut him down with Uzis.
They go to prison. Not Hank.
A DEA investigation of the Hanks called Operation White Tiger accuses the family of having illicit business partnerships with some of the world's most infamous drug smugglers. The report accuses the Hank family of being narco-kingpins who launder money through Laredo National Bank.
The Washington Post, quoting parts of the report, says the Hank family "poses a significant criminal threat to the United States."
In 1993 a Cardinal is murdered in his car at the airport in Guadalajara. Afterwards the killers of Cardinal Jose Ocampo saunter over to board a Mexicana flight.
It is being held at the gate for their arrival. Onboard is Hank Rhon. The men fly back to Tijuana together. When the killers are caught, Hank is not charged.
An aquatic interlude during which the crew abandons ship
It is Jan. 5, 1992, and a U.S. Coast Guard cutter is slicing through the Windward Passage, the sweep of warm blue Caribbean Sea separating Cuba from Haiti.
The Coast Guard cutter, the Campbell, is looking for the MV Harbour, a Chilean freighter steaming for Baltimore under a Panamanian flag carrying a cargo of zinc. Drug agents think a shipment of cocaine may be aboard.
It is close to midnight when the Harbour heaves into view. The Coast Guard cutter radios for permission to board. The Harbour douses its lights, and radios back, “We’re on fire and sinking.”
The crew is abandoning ship. They have been trying to scuttle the Harbour.
Coast Guard crewmen scramble aboard and put out the fire. Someone started it in the engine room. The Coast Guard finds three feet of water below decks. Another few minutes and the ship will go down. They stop the flooding in time, and begin to dig through the zinc.
They find 5 tons of cocaine. It is at the time the Coast Guard's third-largest cocaine seizure in history.
When the Harbour sailed to Chile from Peru, it was known as the Golden Hill, the Coast Guard learns. Then it was re-registered and renamed The Harbour by a Chilean company, headed by a Chilean shipping magnate named Manuel Losada.
A Black Eye, a Florida Company & a Creative Solution
Fast forward to 2006. The company that really owned the DC9 busted with 5.5 tons of cocaine is Skyway Communications. According to Skyway’s bankruptcy trustee, Fred Geffon, a Skyway principal, was, illegally, just “borrowing” the plane.
Skyway’s chief shareholder is Argyll Equities LLC, a private investment bank in tiny Boerne, Texas (pop. 7,500).
Argyll is in the business of providing “creative financial solutions globally.”
An example of Argyll’s creative financial solutions, according to documents filed with the SEC, is arranging for Mexican businessman Jose Serrano Segovia, who now "owns" the shipping line Grupo TMM, to get a $17 million “loan.”
According to The Santiago Times, an English language newspaper in Chile, Serrano turns around and provides a “creative financial solution” of his own, to “Chilean narcotics trafficker Manuel Losada, who is linked to both the Cali and Juarez Cartel.”
When Losada is arrested in the Chilean capital of Santiago, the paper reports, “He is linked to a shipment of five tons of cocaine, which U.S. drug enforcement officials in Miami intercepted on the vessel Harbour, as it headed toward Guantanamo Bay.”
“Mexican newspaper El Universal de Mexico connected Losada to the Juarez Cartel of Mexico, referring to him as the Chilean narcotics trafficker, in September 1997,” said the Santiago Times.
Both Losada and Jose Serrano deny any connection to the Juarez Cartel.
But Argyll Equities LLC owns nearly 21 million shares of SkyWay stock that is totally and utterly worthless.
Investment-wise, this could be considered something of a black eye… unless there are other considerations involved.
Why Henry Kissinger can't spell "turpitude"
Carlos Salinas is President of Mexico until 1994. As he approaches the end of his six-year term, Carlos Salinas’ future looks rosy. He is a top candidate to head the new World Trade Organization. He has been appointed to the Board of Directors of Dow Jones.
Henry Kissinger salutes him for having “quelled corruption and brought a gifted group of highly skilled technocrats into office.”
“Mr. Salinas has a claim to be hailed as one of the great men of the 20th Century,” gushes The Economist in London.
Then shortly before leaving office, Jose Ruiz Massieu, a long-time partner of the Salinas family, is murdered in Mexico City. The shooter trips and drops his gun while fleeing from the scene, and is caught.
The shooter says he was hired to kill Massieu by Raul Salinas, the President’s brother.
Raul is arrested for corruption, for murder, for all-around turpitude. The next day Citibank in New York files a criminal referral.
They accuse Raul of having $200,000 of suspicious funds in his bank account, but neglect to mention the hundreds of million just transferred to Switzerland from Salinas account.
Nobody get charged with anything, understand. Nobody does time.
It is just a trifle, a misunderstanding.
A charge of "Inexplicable Enrichment"
In a savvy move, Carlos appoints the murdered man’s brother to investigate the murder.
Mario Ruiz Massieu had joined the Salinas Administration’s War on Drugs just a month ago, but when he is stopped in the airport in Newark, New Jersey for failing to declare a suitcase full of money, more than $9 million is found in his U.S. bank account. It was deposited during Mario's month as one of Mexico’s drug fighters. Some month.
During his six years as President, press reports suggest Salinas may have salted away as much as $5 billion in ill-gotten gains.
Henry Kissinger is not waxing eloquent about Carlos' gifted group of technocrats much. Maybe he is concentrating his efforts in other directions.
Raul Salinas goes to prison. Carlos flees Mexico.
In the next few years disgraced former president Salinas is spotted in Boston, in Montreal, Costa Rica, the Caymans, and Cuba. He goes to Canada. Then he vanishes, and re-surfaces finally in an unlikely spot: Ireland.
Ireland has no extradition treaty with Mexico. But that’s not why he came.
He settles in Dublin, a city bathed in damp, cold mist. He came to Ireland for the weather.
He was misinformed.
Straight talk about a blacker reality
Swiss investigators become interested in Raul Salinas’ huge Swiss bank accounts in 1995.
They interview a former accountant for the Cali cartel living in hiding in the U.S., and learn that after American agents working with Mexican cops busted a five-ton shipment of Cali cartel cocaine in Acapulco, Raul Salinas intervened and got the cartel their cocaine back.
The Swiss bank investigators discover Raul Salinas was paid more than half a billion dollars to move cocaine through Mexico using railroad cars and trucks belonging to TMM.
The Swiss are puzzled by the U.S. government’s lack of interest in the matter.
An assistant to Mexico’s Attorney General secretly investigates Carlos Salinas. He escapes to the U.S. and writes a book about the Salinas family’s ties to narco-traffickers. “The U.S. public is very naïve about the drug business,” he says.
“They think Mexico has bad guys. Colombia has bad guys. They think the bad guys are all across the border. And U.S. law enforcement reinforces this ‘thinking.’ But the money from this illegal activity is in U.S. banks. So why aren’t U.S. banks the bad guys?"
"This is stupid.”
Canada’s ambassador to Mexico causes a stir with some equally blunt talk, telling a reporter that the U.S. War on Drugs is a bad joke.
“I think the pressure on Mexico from the U.S. is just a game that the American government plays for political reasons,” says Ambassador Marc Perron. “It hides a much blacker reality in that country (the U. S.)”
He didn't say the war on drugs is stupid. But he is forced to resign his position anyway, and step down.
"Man up" already on the $500 mil, dude.
Things die down. Several years later, Carlos Salinas returns to Mexico to flog his memoirs, which he has written to clear his name. While he is there a secret recording of a phone conversation from prison of his brother, Raul Salinas, to their sister surfaces.
In the recording Raul is telling his sister that Carlos needs to ‘man up’ about the hundreds of millions in Swiss bank accounts. The money belongs to Carlos, he tells his sister.
“Carlos shows enormous cowardice. The money is his. And then he says he doesn’t know anything about it.”
The tape is broadcast on every TV station in Mexico. Press reports say Carlos looks stunned.
He probably wants to say that it is all just a trifle, a misunderstanding.
But no one in Mexico is listening. Are they listening in Ireland, when Carlos returns?
When the big book on 9/11 by a famous author living in Ireland comes out on the 10th anniversary of the attack, what will it say?
While Mexican drug cartels make $30 billion transporting drugs to the U.S. drug market each year,a highly-placed source tells me, the American drug lords make $120 billion.
It is not a trifle. But it is a misunderstanding.