CIA Plane in Big Aussie-American Heroin Bust

Newly-obtained FAA registration records reveal that the American “mystery plane” busted this July with 35 kilos of heroin at an airport outside Sydney, Australia was a CIA plane. At least, it had been when it rolled off the assembly line 40 years earlier,  courtesy a CIA deal with the U.S. Forest Service. And the CIA never sells off its planes. smokey-dokeyThe American-registered ‘mystery plane’ in Australia was a Merlin III twin–engine turbo-prop ( tail number N224HR). 

FAA registration records show it was commissioned in the early 70’s by the U.S. Forest Service from aircraft manufacturer Swearingen in San Antonio, part of an operation to “sheep-dip” CIA planes through the U.S. Forest Service.

“Sheep-dip” is  spook-speak for concealing the source or true ownership of something, or, at the very least, hiding it from Congress.  When the plane was ordered, the CIA was merely anticipating Congressional calls for reining in the CIA, through (tellingly) forcing the Agency to divest  its proprietary airlines.

By the time the plane was delivered two years later, the calls had grown much louder. In another two years, they’d become successful. More on this in a moment.

Hmm. A “sophisticated” drug network…

guns-drugsThe discovery of an American-registered plane delivering drugs at an Australian airport heralded, according to Australian law enforcement, a “sophisticated drug network” that had begun using the tiny Illawarra Regional Airport, 60 miles south of Sydney, to import guns and drugs.

The purchase in the U.S. of the Merlin III, and the plane’s subsequent two-month long saga on its journey “home” to Australia, an Australian law enforcement official told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, were actions undertaken at the behest of a “major international crime syndicate.”

Police were said to be “close-mouthed;”and “tight-lipped.” After revealing they had confiscated 35 kilos, they refused to identify the drug involved, which is heroin.

But Police prosecutor Sergeant Sean Thackray gave things away when he let slip, ‘‘We’re talking about the organization of a plane to import a large amount of a substance …. to the value of $9 million.’’

(Note: Price quotes per kilo for heroin in consuming countries vary widely, from a low of $100,000 to a high, in Australia, of all places, of $375,000.  If we take a figure in the middle, $250,000, 35 kilos is worth $8.7 million, very close to Sgt. Thackray’s quote of $9 million.)

“Really? A major international syndicate?”

Ritual-Life-in-Punta-GordaWith the announcement that a global cartel was moving planes like chess pieces across a chessboard the size of the Outback, hope surged (in some circles) that a few American Drug Lords might finally achieve the recognition they deserve.

The twin-engine Merlin III was picked up in Punta Gorda, at the Charlotte County Airport, which is to general aviation what the Black Hole of Calcutta is to after-school detention.

BernieWhy were two Australian pilots picking up the Merlin III in Punta Gorda, Florida? The owner of the plane was a dentist in Colombia, Missouri.

A smart cop might have figured that pressing the flesh in Punta Gorda with a few  American Drug Lords “might could” have provided folks living a little further off the beaten path some valuable networking opportunities. 

Alas, smart cops are always the first to be let go. So the first well-publicized arrest in the Big Aussie-American Heroin Bust was a 43-year old Australian sky-diving instructor, Bernhard Stevermuer, charged with being part of a criminal organization and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

bernie2When Stevermuer was arrested, police found $70,000 in cash suspected of being the proceeds of drug trafficking. Authorities said that just days earlier, while they had him under surveillance, he had tried to buy an aviation business at a local Australian airport, making a $300,000 down payment…in cash.

Even middle schoolers just selling a little weed to pay for their Little League uniform, or fresh rugby togs, or a new cricket bat know this is an absolutely boneheaded play. It was not the kind of money-laundering move one expects to see from any self-respecting drug kingpin.  So, just who—and where—are the cartel heavies?

Fire on the Mountain

Before the American public learned of the cozy deal to sheep-dip airplanes between the CIA and the Forest Service, 14 people had to burn to death in a forest fire in Colorado.











In August 1994,  14 firefighters burned to death in an out of control forest fire in Colorado. The inferno was sparked by lightning at the base of Storm King Mountain. Local firefighters, hotshots and smoke jumpers jumped in to fight it.

Winds whipped flames that grew to be 100 feet tall. The fire raged uphill, right at the firefighters. They fled. Fourteen were trapped and died.

Survivor Eric Hipke was forced to flee for his life…uphill.

Flames crackling mere millimeters behind him, Hipke clambered up the last steep stretch of a rugged mountainside engulfed in fire. Hipke screamed and hurled himself over the ridge.Investigators concluded later that he made it with five seconds to spare.”

South_Canyon_Fire_1630-1700The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration subsequently cited the Forest Service for “inadequate use of aviation resources. “Air support was inadequate for implementing strategies and tactics. Where were all the tankers?”

According to whistleblower, attorney and former CIA pilot Gary Eitel, they were out of the country. Forest Service aircraft were being used, illegally, in Europe and Latin America. Many of them were running drugs.

The Australian Connection

c130In the late 1970s, a number of military C-130’s were flown into the U.S. from the Australian Air Force, destined for use by private American air contractors. The company that brought them over was Southern Cross, owned by Multitrade International.

Multitrade International will later surface in the story of the SkyWay DC-9 carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine.

makled1rr0810The US Attorney in New York indicted a Venezuelan drug trafficker named Walid Makled for his role in the big drug move, and seized bank accounts of his in a Caribbean Bank accused of laundering millions of dollars of drug money for him.  Multitude International also had their bank accounts seized.

When whistleblower and former military and CIA pilot Gary Eitel learned the CIA was planning to move a number of the Australian C-130s under CIA control into the private sector and then transfer them to Bogota Colombia, he took action.

“They were to be used for drug smuggling,” said Eitel. 

Eitel described himself as a former CIA pilot when he testified before a congressional committee looking into the allegations. After military service, Eitel flew for the Forest Service, the Department of Defense, and private companies in Alaska. He is a decorated Vietnam combat pilot, and became a law enforcement officer and later an attorney in Texas.

Forest Service deception goes back to end of WWII

He told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that the Forest Service had an arrangement with the CIA dating from the early days of the Cold War to provide cover for certain covert operations.

aussiec-130The first Australian C-130 delivered into private hands by the Forest Service was flown into Hemet Valley by James Patrick Ross, a CIA pilot-mechanic who came to the U.S. at the time of the Australian C-130 transfer to service Barry Seal’s C-123.

At least one of the Australian C-130’s was used in the Mena, Arkansas, CIA gun-and-drug operation.  Another, tail number N69-P, was on contract for the U.S. military’s Nuclear Defense Agency.Later the plane was busted in Miami, Florida by the DEA while on a cocaine smuggling mission.

While Eitel was researching the Forest Service transfer at the Department of Justice, he was allowed to view classified materials relevant to the investigation.

“I saw a three-ring folder full of State Department Export certificates for C-130 and P-3 aircraft allowing them to leave the U.S. for foreign destinations,” he said.

“I logged 36 of the certificates and noted that at least one Forest Service aircraft was going to Panama to a company called Trans Latin Air, and another to a company named Aero Postale de Mexico.

“And what caught my attention was the certificates were signed by an attorney named John Ford, known to me as a CIA attorney in Australia who was involved in the C-130’s transferred from Australia to Bogota.”

herrera“I questioned DoJ about the drug links and was assured the transfers were above board and not drug related,” Eitel continued. “I accepted their explanation, but in 1996 I did a data base search on a major drug trafficker named Luis Carlos Herrera-Lizcano, who had been John Ford’s partner at the time of the original C-130 transfers out of Australia.”

“Herrera was the owner and CEO of Trans Latin Air, and in 1994 he was indicted by the U.S. Attorney in Chicago for using C-130’s to move billions of dollars of cocaine into the U.S.”

Was the CIA black-mailing Smokey the Bear?

dddIn October of 1973, the Forest Service officially took possession of the plane, when then bore tail number N199z. Sometime later that changed to N224HR. (But the plane’s aircraft serial number, 217, always stays the same.)

But airplanes weren’t the only thing the CIA was sheep-dipping through the Forest Service at this time.

A man who was working undercover at the U.S. Forest Service for the CIA when the Merlin III turbo-prop was delivered in 1973, will 30 years later become Chairman of a company whose DC-9 is involved in the biggest bust on an airplane, an astounding 5.5 tons of cocaine, in Mexican history.

GlennBrentRosieSignHis name is Glen Kovar. He was Chairman of SkyWay Communications in St Petersburg, Florida. In a profile, a business magazine touched on his resume:

“The senior Kovar worked for five U.S. presidents under the nebulous title of “director of special projects for the U.S. Forest Service.” Pressed for a more precise job description, he said: “I did a number of special projects. Let’s just leave it at that.” 

Dropping a dime on the Forest Service

CHURCHIn 1976 Senator Frank Church’s Committee grilled CIA General Counsel Lawrence Houston about the Agency’s questionable and illegal operation of proprietary airlines.  Church was clear that he wanted the CIA to divest itself of what had grown into the largest airline in the world.

The CIA has never been the kind of Agency to take the heat if there’s anyone else around to throw under the bus. Lawrence Houston offered that the CIA had routinely used the U.S. Forest Service to provide cover for its covert activities. And, he said…there was more.

The U.S. Forest Service had been successfully infiltrated by CIA, confessed Houston. The CIA even shared an address with the Forest Service’s Air Research and Development unit in Alexandria, VA. He allowed that perhaps a re-think was in order. Mostly of the Forest Service.

Back then, it was open season on the CIA. Over little nit-picky things like brainwashing, or drugging American citizens without their knowledge, or assassination.

23bug.xlarge1But the Agency had anticipated a move to clip its wings.  It had quickly given away its clandestinely-owned air carriers, folding them into one of its lesser-known proprietary airlines, Evergreen International. Then it very publicly freed Evergreen from its state of indentured servitude, and set it up at Marana Air Base in Arizona, which the CIA owned.

It had already sheep-dipped a new fleet of planes through the U.S. Forest Service.  One of those planes— 40 years later—has just been seized at an airport in Australia.

Something about 35 kilos of heroin.

HBSC? Did they admit to laundering drug money, again?

David-BaddamsMBEEven from a distance of more than 9,000 miles, it seems abundantly clear that Bernard Stevermeur may be a  walking billboard for the hideous hypocrisy that lies at the heart of the phony drug war.

He has two or three kids, with another on the way, trying to make ends meet as a skydiving instructor. Not a big upside there.

So what? Mistakes were made. Things went wrong. Somebody’s gotta go down.

While Stevermuer was traveling 10,000 miles from Australia to Punta Gorda to arrange to buy the Merlin, another pilot—with a far more impressive resume—had been with him every step of the way.

Jardine-Matheson-1832David Baddams owns Snow Goose International, a flight ferry service that shuttles planes around the world. Early on, he carefully distanced himself from the imbroglio. His contract was to deliver the plane in the Philippines. He did. Then he went home.

Baddam has a sterling resume. He was an ace Australian military pilot and Commander.  He’s a  Member of the British Empire. Thsbco anyone who recalls Britain’s glory days of drug trafficking, this is catnip. The Opium Concession, the Yankee Clippers, throwing the American cousins a bone, while rolling in what a later time will describe as “gratifying profitability.”

And who can forget Jardine-Matheson?

They’re a big bank now. Changed their name to HBSC.  The  guys who last year admitted to laundering some $700 billion of dirty money for drug cartels, then paid the biggest fine in the history of fine-paying, in order to not have to go to prison.

Questions answered, questions remain

oregonThe FAA registration documents for the Merlin III (N224HR) clear up one big question, at least. Who the hell is Oregonian Aero Club LLC,” the supposed “company” that bought the plane before it left for Australia?

It’s Bernie.Yup. Bernie Stevermuer. He signs for the Oregonian Aero Club on the FAA form. But wait, what’s this? His signature is dated March 12. Till now, its been assumed the paperwork was done in early April, when they arrived to pick up the plane.

What was the point of traveling 10,000 miles to buy a 42-year old plane? Was there something about the handling characteristics of a Merlin III that makes them such intense objects of desire?

1203351MThey are pretty fast, an aviation source told me, easily able to outrun the King Air’s fielded by narcotics agencies around the world. But they’re hard to handle, and otherwise not terribly special.

So the answer is no. The two Aussie pilot’s voyage to America must have had a different purpose, so far unknown.

And remember, the DEA asserts that there are no American Drug Lords. The fact that no Americans have so far been implicated in a case which police are calling the work of an international drug cartel is typical. There are two possible explanations.

U.S. elites and the more competent among America’s criminal element have been completely frozen out of the global drug trade,  often called the biggest business on the planet,  because U.S. prison sentences are draconian, and the DEA itself is too competent to make getting into the drug business an acceptable business risk.

Or the American Drug Lords receive “special treatment.” Think about it.

What’s the point of having an Empire if you can’t keep your people from going to jail?

Daniel Hopsicker

Daniel Hopsicker is an investigative journalist and the author of two books on transnational crime, Welcome to Terrorland and Barry & the Boys.

16 Responses

  1. Doug Fisher says:

    Is there an email where I can reach you to send a tip? Thanks in advance.

  2. antoine robert says:

    Nice story, but nothing new. Read up on Barry Seal. Read up on Lucien Conein- OSS + Corsican Brotherhood(french connection) affiliated during wwII. Became head of Dea in 1972. This has been going since 1950s’

  3. Brendon O'Connell says:


    Daniel, I’ve been a fan since 2002 when MAATVFC came out. I love the fact you drove down with a shaky handy cam and did what the FBI was unable to do – investigate 9-11.

    I met a guy – Tony Sami – who owned STT Travel out of New York. He is/was a protected witness being held in a Western Australian prison on trumped up fraud charges. He brought in the first WTC bombers in 1993 and then Att and his crew.

    He got $18 million dollars from the US State Department and relocated to WA. He refused to play informant for the AFP here so they threw him in jail on fraud charges – $16,000 – the charge was utter rubbish and they dropped it eventually but not before torturing him for a year and he lost everything – except his precious $18 million. But wife and kids and business went.

    You can contact me on this email server in Sweden –

    I also got to know William Roger Reaves well. Roger doesn’t like you 🙂 But thats ok, I like you and I like Roger. He’s down here in jail as well. I spent alot of time with him as I read his book which is coming out soon. He employed Barry Seal – Roger was his boss…Roger told me intimate details of Mena – heard first hand from Barry. Not thats its new information – just who was telling it.


    Brendon O’Connell

  4. Brendon O'Connell says:

    Oh great – un-moderated comments section.

    Thats my private email – I dont care about the rest of the info.

    Roger Reaves book coming out on Kindle soon!


    Email me – you all have it now – and I’ll let you know when its out.

  5. Brendon O'Connell says:

    Daniel, you might want to go back a bit to the late 70’s and early 80’s and look into former media magnate Kerry Packer and his relationship with Australian Jewish Mafia Don “Abe Saffron”. Watch the video towards the end where it goes into Saffron –

    My grandfather ran cattle stations and was a pilot who “mustered cattle” from the air. His best mate was Packers personal pilot. It was well known (much like Mena is well known) that Packer was bringing in heroin with Abe Saffron through his string of cattle stations in the north of the state. Packer went from $600 million to a couple of billion in a short period of time.

    Packer was “leaked” to the Press as a target of the National Crime Authority – his code name was “Goanna”. Involved in massive tax evasion, fraud, murder, gold laundering, money laundering and drug trafficking.

    Packers father was known to be blackmailed by Abe Saffron through his run of Brothels. Saffron was a Mossad Agent. Saffron had Premieres, police commissioners and major leaders of industry black mailed.

    Packer’s son now runs the highly lucrative CROWN CASINO conglomerate. They are all working for the Australian Federal Police and ASIO – Australia’s CIA equivalent.

    I met a woman who knew Packer well. He said he was loved by those closest to him. Very loyal to his employee’s. But an absolute arrogant arsehole to everyone else and some say quite intimidating and scary – physically large.

    Just saying Deniel, you might want to look into those connections.

    Also – the Christmas Island casno that ran in the mid 1990’s. It made the headlines here for a very short while. Run by the Australian Federal Police. Billions were run through that casino. It was set up for the express purpose of laundering drug money and IMF money meant for the Indonesian people but sucked off by Suharto AND the Australian Government!

    Indonesians dressed in black with the same rolex watch would bring suit cases of money in and deliberately lose it.

    Segments of the Indonesian military is intimately involved in the drug trade. They run Meth labs all over the island archipelago. When Australian Forces went into East Timor they found large Meth labs and PILES of syringes at the army barracks and officers mansions. This explains the violent, barbaric behavior of the local militia towards innocent men, women and children. They were off their heads on Meth.

  6. Brendon O'Connell says:

    Now it says comments are awaiting moderation? What gives?

  7. Trey says:

    Where is this plane now based & does it still have the same rego?

  8. Chris Keough says:

    Saw the aircraft this morning.
    Hangered at Wollongong airport in the HARS hanger.
    Can send a photo if interested.

  9. Chris Keough says:

    In the HARS hanger at Wollongong Airport, and yes, still has its N number.

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