Arrival in Colombia and Transport to Quarters
The foreign phase of the operation officially began with the departure of Southern Air Transport aircraft N13SN, leaving Langley and bound ultimately for a rural airstrip in Colombia. Two stopovers for refueling were planned, in Texas and El Salvador.
Wire to Case Agent Jesus Tomayo, from Langley
Conversation aboard the plane was not recorded, but interviews with staff and military personnel on board indicate that the four civilian code-talkers spoke little. Gordon Doe was agitated, as Agent Virgule reported he usually was during air travel, but he remained still, and, for the most part, quiet, during the flight. He slept little. Ed Fluegel conversed some with Hope Hearst and Bruce Springsteen about how Austin, Texas had changed over the years, but the interviewees recall little conversation of importance. For almost the entire first half of the flight, the four civilian code-talkers slept.
Ed Fluegel and Bruce Springsteen did interact casually with the soldiers for several hours during the latter half of the flight. They practiced their beginning Spanish with Corporal Jorge Ignacio Ramirez (a bilingual Mexican-American) and Private First Class Charles "Chuck" Auster. Ramirez was patient and helpful. The three others, who had only beginning instruction in Spanish, laughed with him at some of their own locutions. Hope Hearst, who was fluent in Spanish, awakened from a nap during this practice session and patiently recited a Pablo Neruda poem, allowing the beginning Spanish speakers an opportunity to translate it line-by-line. She was quite delighted by their efforts and was reported to have smiled for the first time since Day 1. Gordon Doe was quiet during this time and did not participate in the practice session, although Spanish is one of the approximately 25 languages in which he was fluent at that time.
The jetliner landed at Kingsville Naval Air Station in South Texas for refueling at 06:15 on Day 4 of the time period under consideration. This was carried out promptly, although due to loadmaster error the fuel used was not properly treated with Prist to prevent the growth of algae in the fuel tank in tropical conditions. The plane was taxied into a large maintenance hangar which contained similar aircraft. Via a secure 256-bit encrypted SATCOM connection, the commander of Operation Shift Lock, Gus Fortan, contacted NRO and requested real-time satellite data masking to occlude the plane's image in U.S. reconnaissance records. This would allow deniability of the operation at later times. When the masking was activated the plane, invisible to U.S. satellites, was taxied out of the hanger and cleared for takeoff.
Over international waters the aircraft's GNS 500s were employed to diminish contact with ground controllers. After overflying the international waters of the Gulf of Mexico the plane slowed to enter Mexican air space over the Tehuantepec Isthmus. The co-pilot deployed a burst of focused high-energy radio frequency impulses to blind Mexican ATC radar in the region, while the plane descended below radar level. All indications were that the plane was undetected.
The pilot installed ADFs to prepare the plane for Latin American transit. The flight, no longer being tracked by radar, exited Mexican airspace and overflew the Pacific Ocean to Ilopongo, El Salvador. It landed there and was refueled (this time with properly treated fuel) by the Salvadoran Air Force. El Salvador ATC treated the flight as "special," requiring no flight plan to be filed. Before departing, the co-pilot and pilot covered the plane's tail with a mylar mask bearing a different tail number.
At 18:12 the plane landed safely at a rural air force base in Colombia. The crew, CIA staff members, soldiers, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Ancilla, and the four civilian code-talkers deplaned and were taken to a hotel-like facility (the quarters for visiting Colombian officers) on the air force base. There they were provided dinner and had private rooms in which to sleep.
As documented by a hidden surveillance apparatus, civilian code-talker Ed Fluegel was overjoyed at the discovery of a private Jacuzzi and an improperly secured wet bar. Without notifying CIA staff, he invited the other code-talkers over for a "party." Hope Hearst stopped by but left after about ten minutes, saying that she was going to sleep. Bruce Springsteen and Gordon Doe visited Ed Fluegel and stayed in his quarter for about an hour. Because a hidden microphone was destroyed by an errant gin and tonic, only a video of their interaction remained, although it could be seen clearly that they were in frequent conversation. Ed Fluegel alone availed himself of the hot tub. Bruce Springsteen played guitar nearby. An analysis of the videorecording of his lip movements and chord patterns indicates that he may have been playing "I'll Follow the Sun" by the Beatles. Gordon Doe spent much of the time watching an illegally de-scrambled pay-per-view movie on the suite's television unit.
In the morning, on Day 5 of the time period under consideration, the code-talkers were transported by truck to the headquarters at Southern Biodiversity Applications (SBA) [Mirror], a limited liability corporation and CIA proprietary research facility. SBA investigated commercial uses for various endangered species found in South American rainforests and in other terrains threatened by economic development. The business, now defunct, functioned as a cover for operations throughout many countries in Latin America. An unwise attempted expansion into areas of Africa where desertification was progressing had severely crippled the finances of SBA and led to its closure in June 1999.
The code-talkers found the conditions in the SBA compound to be quite a contrast to those in the officers' quarters.