One of the more interesting duties I had as a Senior Customs Inspector was to "clear" Military ships and aircraft coming from foreign countries.
Unfortunately, because of various reasons, the Customs Service, and its "infinite wisdom", decided to train and have "Military Customs" to "check themselves". This is counter to what I've been taught since the Military protocol is very different from a civilian law enforcement service. If you happen to be a low ranking Military Customs official preparing to board or inspect a Military ship or aircraft, you are always "out ranked" by someone else. There seems to be a great conflict of interest when you are trying to inspect for contraband, but your being told that "certain" areas are "off limits" to you.
I have personally been told that a certain U.S. Navy Captain of a U.S. Destroyer Class Ship was not going to let "any regular U.S. Customs Service Inspectors/Agents aboard to inspect anything"! He was probably afraid I was going to seize it under the "zero tolerance" which was a special Customs program that would allow me to find a small amount of narcotics on board the ship or it's personnel and I could then seize it and embarrass everyone. Can you imagine what a great seizure that would be if I could find a cocaine load aboard a U.S. military Ship? There were those in Customs Management that knew I would do exactly that. That's what they were afraid of.
As it stood, I didn't release the ship until a Customs boarding party of about 5 Customs Inspectors were allowed to come aboard and inspect the ship and it's Customs declarations as required by law. Unfortunately, after I politely but firmly informed the Captain that I would not clear anyone for "shore leave" because of the Customs requirements, I was treated like a "recruit" in his first week of bootcamp.
Shortly thereafter, I was contacted by Customs Branch Chief Rudy Villegas of the Airport/Seaport Branch of Customs via radio. Supervisor Villegas proceeded to "order" me to "quickly" inspect the paperwork and release the ship "without inspection ASAP." This was regarding a military ship that was returning to San Diego, via N.A.S. Coronado, after approximately 3-6 months in Panama. (Another source country and home to Manuel Noriega)
As I received these orders, I remembered to try not to cause too much commotion because I was not well backed up by management on anything serious. I remembered several other incidents where Customs managers didn't want me to inspect "certain" aircraft or "yachts" owned by very important people. On one of these occasions, I was inspecting the Yacht that was out of the country for about 6 months around South America. There were no firearms declared when I specifically asked. However, when I pursued this further and the Captain of the yacht figured I was going to look, he finally told me about the six shotguns that he "forgot " to declare. I then asked for passports and identification to run the names in the TECS computer system and the serial numbers to the shotguns which were "overlooked" by the Captain and crew.
Shortly thereafter, I was notified by a journeyman Customs Inspector of "shiny bolts" near the engine compartment.(common place for hiding narcotics) As I was finishing up on the computer, I was interrupted by another one of the Customs Service's finest, "probationary Customs Supervisor" Nancy Parlato. She tersely inquired why I was running names and serial numbers and I informed her of the circumstances regarding the "undeclared" shotguns aboard this yacht. Supervisor 'angrily" ordered me to cease what I was doing and to give back the passports and information on the shotguns.
I further informed her of the "new" information regarding the shiny bolts at the engine compartment and I was again "ordered off" the inspection. I persisted and requested that we at least have the narcotics detector dogs called to do a cursory exam and this would prevent any further intrusion or physical exam of the ships compartments. I was refused this reasonable request and further ordered to the airport at Lindberg Field to clear incoming passengers arriving from Mexico aboard Aero Mexico.
I advised Supervisor Parlato that I was going to make a report of this incident and she quickly responded with verbal abuse and reprimands. I was further informed by Customs Supervisor Parlato that she didn't care if I went to Internal Affairs or not! She followed me to the airport and continued to yell and scream at me while I was patiently waiting for the arrival of the Aero Mexico flight which was now going to be approximately twenty minutes late. I noted the date and time and notified the Office of Internal Affairs without any response what so ever. Supervisor Nancy Parlato was very luck to be promoted as fast as she was. I remember training her while I was a Senior Customs Inspector. She even asked if she should apply for Senior Inspector even though she was "six months short" of required time within the previous position as a journeyman GS-9. Parlato applied for the position and was quickly promoted to GS-11 Senior Customs Inspector ahead of a lot of others who "had time in grade". Ms. Parlato had some very interesting "connections" in management. That's why she was subsequently promoted to a GS-12 Supervisory Customs Inspector ahead of everyone else. Apparently management saw her positive attributes versus her bad ones. She was "very close" to a few of the upper managers in more ways than one. Remember, when you get to GS-12 in Customs, you "walk on water". Not even Internal Affairs could touch you! Anyway, back to the "Military Ghost Planes". On more than one occasion, I was routinely assigned to inspect and clear military aircraft at the various military installations in San Diego County. On three occasions, I arrived at Former N.A.S.Miramar now M.C.A.S Miramar to clear military aircraft. However, after arriving at the terminal on the base at N.A.S. Miramar I was informed that the aircraft that I was assigned to had not yet arrived. I waited for over an hour and consistently inquired the status of the military C-2's or C-130's that I was to clear for Customs. Eventually, I was given a "negative" arrival and "no status" after over an hours wait. As is procedure, I cleared the location to be available for other Customs flights and duties elsewhere. On another occasion, I was required to clear another C2-A Greyhound flight at N.A.S. Coronado. The flight was originating out of Panama. (Sound familiar?) As I and another Customs Inspector waited patiently at the military terminal at N.A.S. Coronado, we started to approach two different planes that had landed at the same arrival time as the logged plane. However, the ground crew advised us that the plane had not arrived yet and we had to wait longer. It was now "overdue''. Under Customs laws and regulations, we were do depart after an hour of waiting time due to time constraints and budget. If the plane was too early there could be penalties involved, as with civilian aircraft. After about one hour, I decided to notify the chief terminal officer of our status and the status of the "alleged" aircraft that was to be arriving at a certain time. We were given no information as is required by law and we were not treated with the same respect that we deserved. Remember, we were both GS-11 Senior Customs Inspectors with badges and guns and all the "authority" we could handle. This was not the case. Eventually, two hours transpired and I called it a "no show". We departed the base and returned to the Customs Offices at the Airport/Seaport near the "B" street office. This and many other "no show" reports were filed with the Branch Chief named Rudy Villegas with negative results.
To this day, I never heard about whether those Military "scheduled arrivals" were ever found or accounted for. All these missing flights were arriving from foreign and some from Panama.(narcotics source countries) There were approximately six "missing" flights during my one year assignment at the airport/seaport as well as others reported to me by other Customs Inspectors. I think that these planes were only missing from a Customs point of view and not the military.
This reminds me of a case where a Marine Corps. Colonel named James Sabow was found with a shotgun shoved down his throat and was "fatally wounded" at his "military residence" after he was threatening to go "public" about Military planes being used for smuggling narcotics from Source Countries. The investigation was ruled a "suicide" by Military CID, but the coroner's reports were not released properly from the "military" coroners office. It must also be pointed out that it is physically impossible to "shove" a shotgun down your own throat and severely damaging the "uvula" and the pull the trigger. Prior to Sabow's death, his wife heard him on the phone asking "who was calling". She went shopping for about two hours.
I have also had military personnel tell me of "accidental deaths" regarding these "Military drug flights". This is where certain "questionable" military crew members are "thrown off " the aircraft while in flight and become missing during a "mission". I have also been informed of special U.S.C-130's being "escorted" by U.S.fighter jets to U.S. Military Bases upon arriving from foreign to refuel and proceed inland without Customs clearances!
Although I have no direct proof of this last particular case, I thought it was my duty to inform you. The Sabow incident is a documented case. I have also been personally responsible for the arrest and conviction of many military personnel while in the employment of the U.S. Government. I have also arrested military air traffic controllers, Marine Corps. Captains and special aircraft air and ground crews, and munitions specialists for possession and sales of narcotics and LSD to mention a few. I have also been directly responsible for the arrest and conviction of U.S. Naval personnel selling restricted narcotics at the Naval Dispensaries.
Now you know why some people refuse to discuss the "Ghost Planes".
More to Come!