The Vegas shooter, general aviation, & CIA planespotting

 

It is a circumstance unparalleled in American history.

Two weeks after a gunman started pouring down fire from a 32nd floor window in Las Vegas on people at a country music festival,  police and the FBI remain in the dark over why he did it—and why he stopped.

 

Something hinky this way comes

The tragedy hit with no warning and took fifty-nine of our number. And despite  being recorded in real time on thousands of cellphones,  there is still no explanation for it.

The motivation of the shooter (or shooters’) remains a mystery.  Hopefully it was more than petulance.

But we don’t know.

Given the circumstances, you don’t need to be a “conspiracy theorist” to sense something  hinky about the official investigation into the Las Vegas Massacre.

In the absence of any sort of  coherent narrative, both concerned citizens and ‘conspiracy theorists’—and good luck telling them apart—are attempting to augment the official FBI investigation, such as it is, by crowd-sourcing clues with friends on the internet.

Admittedly, it isn’t much. But, at the moment, it’s all we’ve got.

 

The mind reels, boggles, then reaches for the remote

The disclosure that the Vegas shooter was a pilot who had owned multiple airplanes raised red flags with many observers. Coupled with the revelation that Paddock’s last proven employment had been some thirty years ago — and with a major U.S. defense contractor to boot—well, eyebrows were raised.   Even in today’s tawdry times, there are limits.

 

Say hello to “Paddock’s People.

A brief summary of the steps needed to trace previous owners of suspect aircraft ‘might could’ prove useful to the boys skulking behind baggage trains with their eyes peeled.

A sort of “How to Spot and Track CIA planes for Dummies.’   Abridged, with pictures and video, for modern attention spans that can be measured only with a finely-calibrated stopwatch.

The field of general aviation has been deliberately designed by the FAA to make little sense.  It’s a slog through mist and rising fog across a swamp bigger than Florida.

But it’s the fundamental course that must be assimilated by anyone with the ambition to get anywhere near good at spotting CIA planes.

Start with a two-week old headline: Las Vegas Shooter Was A Pilot, Aircraft Owner.

The report states that Stephen Paddock, going back to at least 2003, had been a private pilot with an instrument rating.  It went on:

“Multiple Twitter users are indicating that he owned at least two airplanes over the past several years.” 

Rampant speculation ensued, leading to a run on creative interpretation on the internet.  The FAA’s murky world of general aviation got lit up with klieg lights. It’s receiving intense scrutiny from everyone who wants to be the first to spot Paddock’s handlers.  Everyone looking for a clump of people. trying to  identify a ‘group.’ Call them what you will. Me, I’m dubbing them  “Paddock’s People.”  

As it happens, general aviation is”my” area. It’s  where the criminal activity investigated on this website—state-sponsored drug trafficking—mostly takes place.

So who knows? Maybe I can shed a little light. Stranger things happen all the time.

 

Spooks don’t fly Southwest.

General aviation includes both scheduled air charters and non-scheduled air transport operations, from gliders to powered parachutes to luxury jets. The ‘non-scheduled’ part of the industry, by far the most interesting, is peopled by everyone from Mobsters to covert operators from the CIA. All of them learned long ago that the best way to be shady is in a plane.

Not, however, in a commercial, plane.  Spooks don’t fly Southwest.

Gulfstreams and Learjets are the preferred ride of choice.

After the advent of “extraordinary renditions” in the early 2000’s, the phenomenon of “planespotting” came along hard behind. “Plane-spotters” began feverishly jotting down the “N numbers” of  ‘planes of interest’ taking off and landing at select airports around the world.

Shannon Ireland was hot. So was every international airport in Texas. There were, in fact, three CIA-connected FBO’s  located in Houston alone.

Planespotters quickly grew adept at unmasking the true owners of the planes they traced. They traced the ‘N’ numbers of a surprising number of  suspicious planes back to U.S. intelligence, and exposed CIA aviation assets that needed to be exposed for ferrying passengers between the CIA’s far-flung torture centers for a fee.

Planespotting was an important step for Americans wanting to know what their government gets up to on the average day.  It  did not, however, inspire universal glee.

 

Swallow hard first

The Associated Press reported that Paddock owned multiple planes. But only one of them—Paddock’s single-engine Cirrus—has been identified so far.

The Cirrus SR20 is a popular low-wing five-seat composite plane, best known for including an airframe parachute that can float the plane and its passengers down for a controlled landing on the ground as part of its safety pitch. Only introduced in 1999,  Cirrus Design was soon selling more four-seat piston-powered airplanes than anyone but Cessna.

This isn’t easy, but it must be said: Professional conservative Ann Coulter deserves credit for being the first to deride explanations describing Stephen Paddock as a successful full-time gambler, which she  found too ludicrous for words. On that we agree, probably for the first and last time. She’s onto something. It’s as if the New York Times never heard of using casinos for money laundering.

“Sure looks like he was laundering money. It is statistically impossible to be a consistent net winner at video poker. Like every game in Vegas, the odds are fixed for the house. If someone knows how you can beat the house at video poker, let us in on it. “

What that “something” is remains unknown. Or at least, it remains unknown to me. 

Investigating previous (and subsequent) owners  of single and twin-engine planes and luxury jets is an excellent tool for uncovering circles of associates and acquaintances  surrounding an airplane owner of interest, like Stephen Paddock.

Until one looks a little closer, Paddock seems like an ‘ordinary’ guy from Florida who inexplicably went nuts one day. That is, until you saw his arsenal, and wondered if he’d seen similar arsenals at other locations. Owning multiple airplanes isn’t sinister. But it is  just slightly out of the ordinary.  Ditto the oodles of still-unexplained cash.  Add to that a resume leaning heavily towards federal government work.  After working between 1985 and 1988 as an auditor at defense contractor Morton Thiokol— the O-rings that failed on the Space Shuttle Challenger—he apparently never held another real job.

Other than a few forays into rental real estate, little is known about how Paddock got rich, or spent his time.

 

Also tagging along: lawyers, guns, and money

The CIA loves general aviation because, worldwide, it’s the crucial component to successful covert operations. That’s because covert ops almost always involve surreptitiously inserting or extracting  someone or something— people, money, passports, guns, diamonds, drugs—into and then out from both friendly and unfriendly countries without being detected.

General aviation is a lot like the old Wild West. It’s also a lot like Wall Street. Many recall questions arising over how Wall Street got away with stripping $2 trillion from the American economy in 2008. The correct answer: “They were doing exactly what they were supposed to do.”

Because of the market’s importance to the well-being of untold millions in the U.S. and countless billions worldwide, before the 2008 depression most would have guessed that the Treasury Dept’s Security and Exchange Commission, the “powerful” SEC, rules securities markets like a line judge looking for a return man’s foot stepping out of bounds on a 110-yard return.

Guess what?  They don’t. The world financial crisis of 2008, from which no country has fully recovered, proves it.

Are you ready for a little more bad news? There’s no comparison between the SEC and the Agency administering America’s skies.  The FAA is worse.

After learning that Paddock in 2006 bought a 2-year-old Cirrus SR20 (N5343M), the push was on to discover more  about the plane.

Paddock had his Cirrus for almost four years. He sold it in 2010.

And this is the point where things go slightly off the rails.

 

“The real damn skinny. I shit you not.”

As promised, here’s the skinny about why some became confused over the FAA’s strange and arcane way of identifying aircraft.

Here’s what I know:

There is no airplane carrying the ‘N’ number which identified Paddock’s Cirrus, no N5343M today.   However there is a plane that used to be N5343M. that has left  citizens and “conspiracy theorists” alike scratching their heads.

It carried the same ‘N’ number as Paddock’s plane. But it is most decidedly not the same plane. Paddock owned a Cirrus SR20.  This plane is a Cessna 150.

The planes come from two different manufacturers.  They share nothing but the ability to fly.

They had just one thing in common: the confusing fact that they at one time had both been assigned the same ‘N’ number.

That’s not their fault, but that of the FAA, the lousiest, lamest and most corrupt Agency in the history of government in the known Universe.

The Cessna has since been deregistered.   Who knows? Maybe it was sold for spare parts at some mobbed-up Indian airline’s chop shop outside  Mumbai.

The Cirrus that used to be Stephen Paddock’s is still flying.  It is currently registered to a Dr John Rogers in Roanoke Virginia.  We can rest assured that Dr. Roger’s Cirrus and Stephen Paddock’s Cirrus are indeed the same plane,  because both planes have the same serial number, 1402.

But there’s something else that’s more confusing yet.   After buying what used to be Stephen Paddock’s plane (one unrelated owner came between them)  Dr. John Rogers had the temerity to change the ‘N’ number  on his new plane.

It went from being N5343M  to N145AW in the blink of an eye.

They can do that in general aviation.  The FAA can create doubt about the provenance of any American-registered airplane that catches their eye.

It’s all just one big goddamn masked ball.

Here’s one last detail for just the right funhouse mirror effect:  The Cirrus bought by Dr. John Rogers is  not the only American-registered airplane out there today  carrying ‘N’ number N145AW.

An airliner, a Boeing 737 which flies for America West,  is also registered with the FAA using the same ‘N’ number.

Hey. Don’t look at me.

 

“Volant.”  Like “Volare” but with less joie de vivre. 

Last week’s hot conspiracy theory was that Stephen Paddock somehow transferred his plane to a U.S. defense firm in Virginia that nobody had ever heard about, so it must be super-secret. If true, it would have been a revealing–maybe even a suspicious– move. It would make a good story.

But it never happened.

It’s an unfortunate coincidence, certainly for Rogers,  that he uses the corporate name, “Volant,”  which in a variant is also used by an obscure U.S. defense contractor in Virginia.  There are two different “Volants”  in Virginia.  Who knows, maybe even more. They’re not the same company.

Dr John Rogers presumably knows little about defense contracting because he’s an oncologist. He’s fighting cancer, a  career that doesn’t encourage a lot of moonlighting.

Virginia incorporation documents show Dr John Rogers’ Volant LLC shares the same address in Roanoke Virginia that Dr Roger himself uses. That’s because he lives there. It’s his home address. And Dr. Roger’s airplane, the Cirrus SR 20 that used to belong to presumed mass murderer Stephen Paddock, is registered to this address as well.

His address is being redacted here  because the good doctor has probably already suffered enough indignity for having bought the former plane of a man who murdered 59 innocent people for no discernible reason. But you can probably find it at 4Chan.

Is everybody buying this? Hell, no. One irate 4Chan-ready soul wrote:

“Volant is nothing but a Department of Defense contractor. Meaning Paddock’s plane has been in the hands of the United States government for the past three years!”

 

“Isn’t it pretty to think so”

Since then posters on the internet have been frantically waving their arms through the air like kids making angel wings in the snow.

Probably it felt good for irate 4Chan guy to get things off his chest.   After all, assuming  a plane’s ‘N’ number follows it around like a lifetime shadow is a logical assumption.

It’s an honest mistake, and not half as bad as the poses of studied indifference being struck by America’s top journos, especially in lieu of real investigation into Stephen Paddock’s patchwork past.

America’s celebrity journalists seem faintly embarrassed at the lack of any motive even being offered for public consumption. 

They should be. Maybe that’s why they seem so desperately eager to “move on.”

But the Las Vegas massacre hurt.  It won’t go away quickly. Knowing why it happened would help, but…fat chance of that.

Hunter Thompson once said something very nearly like:

“The nation’s press is a gang of cruel opportunists, fuck-offs and misfits. Journalism is a false doorway into the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole just deep enough for a wino to comfortably curl up and masturbate in,  like a chimp at the zoo.”

Let me make two things perfectly clear… One: Stephen Paddock’s real motive for mass murder is well-known in “certain quarters” (you know who you are). It may even be an open secret there. Those he intended to touch with his action can be assumed to have noticed.

Second thing:  Our vaunted Western free press may be a mile wide.  But its only an inch deep.

Stay tuned.

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Daniel Hopsicker

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

3 Responses

  1. Kent Bain says:

    Excellent article!

  2. Leon Delveaux says:

    Wally Hilliard has to be involved somewhere, planes, planes, planes…

  3. John says:

    One writer claims that “…Dr. Rogers is a military surgeon and a Lieutenant Colonel in the USAF Reserves… [and] his Volant LLC has offices in six other towns…”, including Naples, Florida. If this is true, it would be incorrect to “presume” that he’s just an ordinary doctor.