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DeSantis stunt boosts shady military contractors
The planes that carried migrants to Massachusetts tied to CIA torture programs
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Police in Texas have opened a probe into whether Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis broke the law during a scheme to fly 50 Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, some of whom said they were deceived. DeSantis using migrants as political pawns backfired, but on the business side, at least one private military company came out as a winner.
Vertol Systems Company, a mysterious military aviation contractor won a $615,000 contract for its role in the stunt – officially described as part of the state’s "relocation program of unauthorized aliens.”
Vertol Systems began business in 1996 and moved offices from Oregon to Destin, Florida in 2021. Before helping ferry migrants for DeSantis, the company provided “worldwide coverage” for servicing Russian-made helicopters such as the Mi-24D Hind gunship and Mi-8 Hip among other aircraft, and training pilots on how to fly them.
Their contracts included instructing Afghan pilots who flew such helicopters, and providing “aggressor” aircraft for U.S. military war games, one of the company’s specialities. “Aggressor” training involves the use of simulated enemies in air-to-air training which the company provides through its “Integrated War Fighter Support Detachment.”
“VSC understands the nature and critical importance on the Global War on Terror,” the company’s website, now offline but available on web archives, stated. “The aim of VSC's Integrated War Fighter Support Detachment is to provide the most realistic and effective combat training to the aircrews of the U.S. military.”
Helicopters with Russian origins are in widespread use around the world, and so was Vertol Systems. During the days before the Taliban’s capture of Kabul, aircraft linked to the company scrambled back and forth between the city’s international airport, Kabul’s embassy row, and several bases including an isolated and heavily-guarded CIA facility known as Detention Centre Cobalt, colloquially known as the “Salt Pit.” The CIA had used this specific site, a “black site,” for interrogations including torture, and at least one detainee, Gul Rahman, died of hypothermia.
One other use for foreign aircraft: transporting U.S. troops and clandestine Special Operations units to theaters where the military and spy agencies do not want people to know they are fighting.
LinkedIn profiles show Vertol employing a specialized workforce with connections to foreign governments, including one non-commissioned officer with the Colombian Air Force (FAC). The FAC operates Super King Air transport planes – a favorite of Special Operations forces – and Bell UH-1 Huey helicopters, aircraft which Vertol also counts in its inventory. The firm’s project manager, meanwhile, served as an aerial gunner in the U.S. Air Force for 15 years and in “special operations,” according to his bio.
The company’s director of global programs, Joseph Burke, is also the former president and CEO of Pegasus Technologies, an aviation firm identified alongside Vertol Systems in 2005 as a shell corporation either “controlled by or tied to” the CIA – one of many companies crucial to the agency’s extraordinary rendition program. That is the program by which the CIA abducted, transported, and tortured detainees inside a global network of secret prisons.
The network of business-military relationships involved in the migrant-trafficking scheme extended all the way to Texas.
One Venezuelan migrant told the San Antonio Report that a woman named “Perla” approached him and paid $200 from an “anonymous benefactor” to recruit people outside San Antonio’s migrant center, and offered them jobs and assistance if they boarded the flight to Martha’s Vineyard. They were then flown on two flights from Kelly Field – which is owned and operated by the Pentagon but usable by private citizens – to a layover at Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview, Florida; 25 miles north of Destin in the Florida Panhandle.
That airport is owned by Okaloosa County, Florida and is a base for Tepper Aviation, another company with longstanding ties to the CIA, and lists Vertex Systems as one of its tenants. In 2016, Vertex CEO James Montgomerie, donated $2,700 to U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, Okaloosa’s congressional representative, and Vertex gifted $10,000 to the Republican Party of Florida in 2019 – which when compared to the $615,000 migrant-funneling contract adds up to a 274% annualized return on investment in Florida politicians.
In the end, the scheme is a perfect microcosm for DeSantis’ entire political project: a far right stuntman on the surface with deep West Point and Yale ties to the official power structure that never really trusted Donald Trump. If the Martha’s Vineyard gambit is any indication, they have a lot more profit to come as he continues his rise.
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