Mueller The Magnificence

Step right up. Ladies and gentlemen. We’ve reserved you a seat. We know you’re going to enjoy the show. Not quite the greatest show on earth but it could be. Greatness really does depend on what happens next. Guaranteed to bring the house down. Well, at least one house that I can think of.

How often can you say you, me and everyone alive in the year 2017, got  to play an important role in  the making of history? And you have. We have. Simply by being alive and an eyewitness. To what? You might ask? A cataclysm? A force of nature? A biblical event.? Here’s a hint. Not quite Sodom and Gomorrah  but you’re getting the idea. Certainly the creation of a major piece of American political history. Trust me they’ll be talking about, what we are now witnessing ,100 years from now.

Breaking news. Former National Security advisor to President Donald Trump, Mike Flynn, pleads guilty to lying to the FBI. Who would /could think that such a short sentence has such significance?  Of course like most matters of major significance the importance lies in what is NOT said. And what isn’t said in the indictment is the real story here. Was there Russian collusion in the election that resulted in Donald Trump becoming President? And did Donald Trump and key members of his campaign team aid and abet that collusion?

To truly understand what is going on with these latest developments you have to follow the bouncing ball.

If you read the Flynn indictment, the silent assassin in this drama, Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller charged Mike Flynn with the very least serious of a clutch of potentially serious offences. Similarly the lie Flynn told, is the smallest of lies he could have told in the big picture of this investigation.

Of course Flynn could still go to prison for what he did. But if he does, it won/t be for very long or he may avoid jail time all together. So. What’s going on?

There are two questions here: how has Flynn managed to get such an easy time from the Special Prosecutor ? And why? Why wouldn’t Mueller throw the book at him?

Flynn is a sitting duck for way more serious charges. Try these two for size just as an example. Acting as a foreign agent for Turkey without a license and being a key player in the plot to kidnap a Turkish Opposition politician ,who is living in exile in the United States, for the purpose of returning him to Turkey.

The reason for Mueller’s generosity,  is both intriguing and compelling. But in order to understand it you have to engage in some reasoned speculation. But it’s speculation based on pretty solid ground.

Flynn did a plea deal with the special prosecutor. And not just any old plea deal. For an explanation and understanding of the legal twists and turns of this, I’ve relied heavily on the opinions of Harvard Law teacher, Seth Abramson, who is also a former experienced public defender.

The way Abramson tells it, for Mueller to be so generous, Flynn had to give him everything. And I do mean everything.  Flynn, don’t forget, enjoyed a unique status and relationship with the Trumps so you could say with certainty he has plenty to give. Mueller would only be interested in a deal if Flynn could help with information about players further up the food chain. In Flynn’s case, that can only be the President and Vice President of the United States. Now you are beginning to see where this is all going. 

If you really want to appreciate how important Flynn is to this investigation, cast your mind back a few months ago when Donald Trump allegedly asked the then head of the FBI ,James Comey, to drop the investigation into Flynn’s Russian links. When Comey refused, Trump fired him. That’s how important Flynn is. The fact that Mueller managed to turn him into a co operative witness, is massive and catastrophic news for the White House. Not one word has been uttered by Trump or the WH about Flynn’s plea. What can they say?

So, what could Flynn have told Mueller? No one knows except Robert Mueller and his team of investigators.  What we do know, is that Flynn had extensive contact with the Russians. He, for example, could tell Mueller that Trump not only knew about those contacts and exchanges of information but he (Flynn) was acting on the express orders of Donald Trump. Flynn’s last contact with the President occurred in April of 2017 where Trump told him to ‘stay strong’. But prior to that ,the two men had more than a year and a half of contact which represents the bulk of Trump’s political career. Flynn had access to, and influence over ,Trump on national security issues for that entire time. What he can tell Mueller, could be hugely significant and that is an understatement.

Flynn worked closely with the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. And Kushner could well be the next shoe to drop to use the words of Republican Senator, John McCain.

Kushner, like Flynn, is a person of great interest to the Mueller investigation. This is not speculation. It is fact. It has been revealed that Kushner directly ordered Flynn to engage with the Russians during the dying days of the Obama Presidency.

And Mueller’s dealings with Kushner, is yet another example of how well Mueller plays his poker hand. Mueller clearly knows he has no chance of turning Jared Kushner in the same way he turned Mike Flynn As the husband of Trump’s high profile daughter Ivanka, Kushner will never rat on his in laws. So what does Mueller do? The next best thing. He lays a trap for Kushner. He contacts Kushner’s lawyer and tells him he wants to meet with his client. Kushner agrees and two weeks ago Mueller and Kushner  had that meeting.

Consider this: What if Mueller went into that meeting, armed with everything Flynn could have told him about Flynn’s dealings with Kushner especially when it came to the Putin Government? That would place Mueller in the box seat to know if Kushner lied to him at the meeting. We don’t know what was said between the two men so we have no way of knowing if Kushner fell for the trap and tried to lie his way out of trouble. I will leave open to speculation on which option Kushner took. Truth? Or lie? If he lied he committed a crime and he will surely go to prison.

But the question almost certainly terrifying the White House ,right at this moment, is how many  more individuals might be implicated by Mike Flynn in what he told Robert Mueller?

In a statement Flynn said his guilty plea ” and agreement to co operate with the Special Counsel’s office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and our country.”

Watergate was a huge political story that resulted in the resignation of a President. But this is much, much bigger than Watergate. It involves a lot more people. Unlike Watergate, this President will never voluntarily resign under any circumstances which means the only way of getting rid of him is to impeach him. And because Trump won’t go willingly he will literally tear the Republican Party apart.

Interestingly, in the last 24 hours, Former FBI head James Comes wrote two intriguing tweets.

The first was a passage from the scriptures: “ But justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”

The second is a quote from Winston Churchill: “ The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it. Ignorance may deride it. But in the end, there it is.”

Wow.

You Got An Armchair View Of History Being Made

I love the English language. I especially love the way it uses metaphors to describe important stuff. Over the past day I’ve been trying to think of a metaphor for US special prosecutor Robert Mueller.

The Quiet Achiever, the Silent Assassin. Whatever it is, the word ‘silent’, has to be part of the narrative. Mueller likes to do everything very, very quietly and in the background.

For months, he’s beavered away without so much as a peep. Not one leak of any kind which is extraordinary in itself. But his silence is the silence of the lambs.

And after months of silence Mueller finally spoke. Or should I say he let the justice system do the talking. Explosive, incendiary, ballistic. Call it what you will. Most importantly, the White House never saw it coming. We now know what Robert Mueller was doing for the past four months, gathering evidence against three former Trump advisors, enough evidence to lay criminal charges. And at least one is squealing already. The first to rollover, George Papadopoulos, one of President Trump’s former foreign policy advisors.

Apparently, and unbeknown to anyone, Papadopoulos was arrested in July of this year. And in the months following, negotiated a deal resulting in a rollover guilty plea. Cooperation in exchange for lenient treatment. He will probably still go to prison but for not as long as he might have. You can bet the farm on two certainties: Papadopoulos told Mueller everything he knew and secondly, at some point, he wore a wire to record conversations. What Papadopoulos knows or gave Mueller we can only speculate but it will be enough, at the very least, for Mueller to go further up the food chain.

Did the White House know about Papadopoulos’s arrest and subsequent guilty plea? Judging by the body language of Press Secretary Huckabee Sanders, at a post revelations press briefing, the WH had no idea until they read about it or watched it on television like everyone else.  Talk about uncomfortable. Huckabee Sanders squirmed noticeably every time the name Papadopoulos, Russia and collusion were mentioned in the same sentence. Mueller is the play maker and it’s playing perfectly so far.

In the past 24 hours, Mueller added another two formidable names to the ever-growing web of alleged criminality. Former Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort and his business partner Richard Gates. Both men very much in the Trump inner sanctum. Both men now facing very, very serious criminal charges including, in Manafort’s case, a charge of conspiring against the United States. Mueller again played it perfectly. Manafort is charged with, among other things, money laundering, failing to file a tax return on income earned. He is facing the prospect of many, many years spent in a Federal Prison if he’s found guilty. Manafort surrendered himself, pleaded not guilty and was released on US$10 million dollars bail and house arrest. Gates was granted US$5 million bail. That gives some idea of how serious this is. Now the fun will really start. Manafort and Gates will have lawyers representing them. And what do you think those lawyers are going to advise their clients? It can be summed up in one word: cooperate.

If you read the indictments, Mueller crossed every ‘t’ and dotted every ‘i’. It is a simple yet compelling and watertight case against Manafort in particular. Proving guilt is not going to be a big ask.

You can expect, no make that definitely expect, Manafort, or Gates, or both, to rollover and become Mueller’s snitching bitches.

It won’t be a question of if.

The Mueller indictment is also extremely clever. It only relates to what Manafort was doing in 2006 and makes no mention of the 2016 Presidential election campaign.

Of course, to the Twitter maniac and POTUS for now, this was a signal that he’s off the hook.  NO COLLUSION he thundered in capital letters on Twitter, as if that makes it more compelling.

Donald Trump is mistaken if he thinks it’s the end of the matter. Throwing Papadopoulos, Manafort and Gates metaphorically under a bus won’t help. The WH can try and distance itself from those men but it will be futile.

This is the beginning not the end.

Robert Mueller has thrown a lasso over the White House. At this point in time it is sitting relatively loosely and only managed to damage some low hanging fruit when it was first thrown. But expect that lasso to tighten in the coming days, weeks and months. Make no mistake Mueller’s ultimate target is Donald Trump but the Special Prosecutor knows to get a Republican, dominated Congress, to impeach the President, his case must be watertight and bullet proof. A lot more dominos will fall before reaching that point.

Over the years, that famous quote from film actress Betty Davis has been misquoted many times, and it’s about to be misquoted yet again by me: Fasten your seatbelts we’re in for a bumpy ride. Trump’s in trouble and he knows it and he also knows there’s nothing he can do about it. It’s too late to stop Robert Mueller. The genie is out of the bottle and we are all going to be lucky enough to get an armchair view of a very significant moment in history.

 

 

 

World’s Greatest Explorers? Guess What? They Are Not Even Human

Who is the greatest explorer in human history? Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, Captain James Cook?

You might be surprised to learn that the world’s greatest explorer is a machine built by NASA.

Make that two machines.

Mind you, not just any machines. A pair of machines that defied prediction, expectation and what was thought to be their own limitations.

Machines that can almost think for themselves, work tirelessly without sleep or rest. Going bravely where no one has ever gone. Time and space machines in the truest sense.

The Universe is a pretty big place. But two space probes, each of them the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, made it just that little bit smaller and all of us, small as well.

Voyager 1 and 2, launched in August of 1977, were tasked with taking colour photographs and measurements of Jupiter and Saturn. But these two spacecraft were never destined to be ordinary, whatever they might have achieved. Fifteen hundred engineers worked for five years to build them at a cost of $200 million. Of course if they managed to run rings around Saturn and Jupiter, pardon the pun,  they would be pressed onward into uncharted territory. Very uncharted territory.

In the beginning, after launch, both Voyagers performed flawlessly. But the budget for their mission was always tight. The Voyagers needed 200 engineers working full time to shepherd both craft to their destination. Instead, what they got was a kind of dumping ground for new University graduates who suddenly had the responsibility of controlling some of the most sophisticated state of the art electronics at that time.

According to Murphy’s law, anything that can go wrong, will. In April 1978, Voyager 1, not even half way to Jupiter, experienced a major meltdown. Its scan platform, for mounting all of its cameras and instruments, became jammed. While engineers tried to figure out what they could do to fix it, from more than 100 million miles away, someone forgot to send a weekly command to reset a timer on Voyager 2.

When they built the two Voyagers, engineers gave them attitude and some personality. When Voyager 2 didn’t hear from any human, it did what it was programmed to do. The spacecraft triggered its protection software, 600 lines of coded information that respond to malfunctions automatically.

In this instance, Voyager 2 assumed that its radio receiver was broken and switched to the backup. Meanwhile, back on earth, the engineers realised they made an error and tried to stop the fault protection routine. But the newly awakened backup receiver would not register their command. Their only hope was that the spacecraft would eventually reason its way back out of its predicament. To their astonishment, the main receiver did precisely that, only to suffer an electrical short out.

But like all well made pieces of ancient artificial intelligence, Voyager 2 refused to die. The engineers figured out that Voyager 2’s malfunctioning backup receiver ( the one that worked) still had an electrical pulse. But its problem was the tyranny of distance from earth. Voyager 2 struggled to recognise commands. So the engineers re-calibrated their signal, manually subtracting the Doppler effect on the passage of radio waves  and tried sending it to Voyager 2 who ( I like to think of the Voyagers as people)  completely understood and began functioning normally again. But to this day, that same complicated calculation must precede every command sent to Voyager 2.

At the present time, the two Voyagers, after conquering Saturn and Jupiter and sending back never seen before images from both planets. are 10 billion and 13 billion miles respectively from earth. The farthest that any man made object has travelled. This month is the 40th anniversary of the Voyagers launch. And still they fly on. To get a full appreciation of what that means, you need a brief lesson in astro physics. Space might appear to be vacant, but in fact it’s matter created by the explosion of ancient stars.

Within the neighbourhood of planet Earth, our bit of space has different particles from elsewhere because of the supersonic winds that blow from the surface of the Sun. The winds generate a bubble around our solar system, called a heliosphere. Five years ago, Voyager 1 reached the boundary of where the heliosphere gives way to interstellar space. It is a region as new to us as the Pacific was to the Europeans five hundred years ago.

And while they are poised on the very doorstep of a new frontier, the Voyagers gather data that continues to challenge fundamental physics and may provide clues to a couple of very big and important questions: Is the Sun only linked to the birth of life in our solar system? Where else are we most likely to find evidence that we are not alone?

The two Voyagers are true stellar explorers, who earned the title of making mankind’s greatest journey. Most of their flight crew, remained on the program almost from the beginning. Why would you leave? They’ve shared in the glory of being the world’s greatest living explorers. They are almost certainly the only people in the world who can still operate the Voyagers archaic onboard computers. To give some idea of what they are dealing with, these computers have 235 thousand times less memory and 175 thousand times less speed than a 16 gigabyte smartphone. And while the nine member flight crew, strictly speaking, haven’t gone anywhere themselves, their work is no less arduous than any 15th century European explorer. Magellan never had to steer his ship from the confines of a rented office nor did he stay at the helm long enough to qualify for a senior discount at the McDonald’s burger joint next door.

The flight crew’s fluency in grossly out of date computer language. becomes more and more crucial with the passage of time. As the Voyagers continue to keep on keeping on and harvest data, they are finally running out of fuel. Decaying plutonium is their power supply. By 2030 they will not have enough power to run a single experiment. We can only hope their flight crew, who are fast approaching retirement age, if they aren’t there already, live long enough to squeeze out every last available watt. We wouldn’t want to miss out on anything that might be discovered, and neither would they.

Trump Revelations Of Alleged Collusion

Sometimes the Trump story behind the story is the best story of all. Let me explain.

America is all agog, and rightly so, at the latest revelations of alleged collusion between the Trump Presidential campaign, and Russia’s Putin regime, to get Donald Trump elected President of the United States.

One of the fruit of the President’s loins, some cynics might describe him as spoiled and damaged fruit, Donald Trump Junior, just released a series of emails which suggest he was ready, willing and able to collude with the Russians to get Daddy into the White House.

Donald Junior may well have unleashed a firestorm that could burn down the White House but that is another story for another time. His father, the President, took a long time to come to junior’s defence, which is interesting in itself.

When he did, he took to Twitter, of course, his preferred form of communication. And it’s his preferred form of communication because no one can contradict him. If anyone does, or tries to, they’re banned.

The President praised Donald Junior’s “transparency” and “openness”, in releasing the email correspondence. The Trumps use the words transparency and modesty in the same way. Neither applies to them. For example, there was nothing transparent or open about Donald Junior releasing the emails. The New York Times newspaper already had them and was going to publish. Donald Junior got in first to try and steal the newspaper’s thunder.

While the President might be praising his son publicly, privately he would be calling him a jackass because he’s provided the FBI’s special prosecutor, appointed to investigate Russian collusion in the Presidential election campaign, part, if not all of the smoking gun he needs to prove the case.

Now I am not going to mine the nitty gritty of the emails and the whole Russian election thing. Plenty of others are doing that right now and doing it better than I ever could.

I’m more interested in the other intriguing questions that have come out of this. Such as, who leaked the emails to the New York Times? And what did they hope to achieve in doing so?

Leaked information is done with three goals in mind: the first is the explosive nature of the information being released publicly, the second is the hysterical publicity that almost always accompanies it, and the third is a higher purpose of some kind.

In other words it is always done, selectively, carefully and for a good reason. And the Donald Trump Junior emails leak is no exception.

So let’s start with the first question: Who might have leaked the emails to the New York Times?

The list of potential suspects would have to be small. The first, and most obvious, is that the leaker is someone close to Donald Junior who had access to his private computer. But it is a less likely scenario, I would have thought. Donald Junior could very easily narrow down and successfully identify a suspect and they would be made the scapegoat. Donald Junior would then be able to spin the narrative to be all about the betrayal rather than the contents of the emails. The fact that he hasn’t done so, would suggest the leaker isn’t someone close to him.

Could it have been someone in the intelligence service? Or the FBI? Who could remotely access Donald Junior’s computer? These days that seems perfectly achievable if the latest publicity concerning computer hacking and ransom demanded, is any kind of guide. So if the leaker was the FBI or someone connected to the Special Prosecutor’s office, the question is why would they do it?

That is a much tougher question to answer.

But one reason might be that whoever obtained the emails from Donald Junior’s computer, would have to, or be wanting to prove that Donald Junior wrote them. Just finding them on his computer is not enough and not proof beyond reasonable doubt. Someone else could have written the emails to try and discredit him. This would be especially so if Donald Junior denied being the author of the emails. Proving that he wrote them in the face of his denials would not be impossible but it would be difficult and time consuming. And we are talking about proving them to a legal and possibly criminal standard.

So why not roll the dice to see what Donald Junior does? Leak the emails to the New York Times and see if they can flush him out and get him to publicly say he was the author, which of course is what he did, almost on cue.

Donald Trump Junior is clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He has just opened a Pandora’s box worth of trouble for the President.

He has also placed a great deal of pressure on Congressional members of the Republican Party.

The Republicans hold the majority in the Congress and it is the Congress alone that can get rid of the President. Republican Senator John McCain made an interesting observation when he said that more shoes are going to drop before this has ended. Maybe he knows something we don’t.

In many ways President Trump is his own party’s worst nightmare. If they do decide to get rid of him by a Congressional majority he will hardly go quietly into the night. He will go kicking and screaming accusing everyone of a vendetta and a witch hunt. More disturbingly he has plenty of supporters, armed supporters, who believe him when he says it.

Consider this. What if the FBI knew in advance of Trump Junior’s meeting with the Russians and secretly recorded the conversation? Junior says the meeting was a dud and nothing of any substance in relation to the Presidential election was discussed. But… we only have his word for it. All I can say is watch this space.

I am reminded of the Chinese curse: May we live in interesting times. Except it’s not a curse anymore. We are.

Translating Nick Cummins

I wrote this a while ago but never got around to publishing, so here it is:

It’s funny, how the majority of us can be enthralled by people who throw, run, catch or kick a ball. Leather or pigskin, it doesn’t matter. We love it.

We marvel at the athleticism, the freakish skills, an ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and vice versa. We love it when it goes right and we love it just as much when it goes wrong because then we become that exalted oracle of all that is good and true, otherwise known as the armchair critic.

We love the on field entertainment. But every now and then an elite sports person comes along who can be as entertaining just by opening their mouth and saying a few words. One of those people is an Australian rugby player called Nick Cummins.

To know Nick Cummins is to love him. But the hard part is the getting to know him especially if you don’t come from Australia. Nick Cummins speaks English but not as you know it. To follow what he is saying requires an understanding of the peculiar, eccentricities of Australian English. If you don’t have a grasp then you won’t know what the hell he is talking about.

Let me just lay a couple of Nick Cummins-isms on you so you’ll get what I mean.

Nick Cummins has a nickname. He is known as the Honey Badger. He was being interviewed after a rugby match and was asked how he came by the nickname and this is what he said:

“One of the stories that inspires me is that it is documented that a honey badger killed a lion in a one-on-one. What happened was that he clawed the canastas off the big fella. He just went one-two on the ball bag and the big fella has walked around the corner and fell over… that to me is outstanding.”

If you read that paragraph two or three times you might get what he is eluding to. Sort of. Possibly. The Japanese don’t. Nick Cummins is currently playing as a professional in Tokyo and the Japanese called him the Honey Budger, which is kind of cute.

But really, Nick Cummins needs to be accompanied at all times by a professional translator. Lucky for you, I speak perfect Australian and I am happy to translate his best quotes and turn them into something resembling English.

Quote: “I just saw the line, pinned me ears back and ended up bagging a bit of meat in the corner which was tops.”

Translation: I caught sight of the try-line, accelerated to the very limit of my abilities and managed to score, which was pleasing.

Quote: “Yeah mate I bloody was like a rat up a drain pipe in one of them runs there.”

Translation: I ran particularly fast in one instance.

Quote: “He was huffin’ and puffin’ and, mate he did well, he always does, he’s a tough rooster.”

Translation: My teammate was breathing heavily but he persevered. He always does. He is very hardy.

Quote: “I’m gonna have a truckload of pudding and uh, old mum’s good on the cook too so, Dad’s got the tucker ready over there and mum and dad are gonna work together and form a massive feed and I’m going to come in and dominate it.”

Translation: I intend to eat a large volume of pudding. My Mother is more than competent at the culinary arts as well. My Father is getting the food ready over there. The two of them will combine their talents to create a meal of sufficiently large proportions. Then I intend to devour all of it.

Quote: “I was busier than a one-legged man in a bum kicking contest.”

Translation: I was under extraordinary pressure because of the workload I was given during the match.

Of course when people hear Nick Cummins come out with this stuff they are a bit shocked but in a good way. To borrow an Australianism, the Honey Badger is a fair dinkum character and sadly there are too few of them.

But it would be too easy and unfair to describe Nick Cummins as a one trick pony when it comes to producing actions that we can laugh at and admire both on and off the sports field.

He is also a very devoted and loving son to his parents and his brothers and sisters. As a rugby player, Nick Cummins is at the very top of his game. He plays test match rugby for Australia. But very recently he turned his back on the game in Australia to play professional rugby in Japan but not for the reasons that you might think.

Yes he did it for the money. But not for himself, it was for his family. Nick Cummins’ father has incurable prostate cancer which has made him unable to work and that has been a considerable drain on the family finances. Nick Cummins has seven siblings, two of whom have cystic fibrosis, an incurable lung disease. So Nick has stepped in and stepped up. He accepted a lucrative contract but it will go to help the family during some very tough times.

Cummins has 40 thousand followers on Instagram, 34 thousand on Twitter and his match videos have millions of views on YouTube.

He is one of the few people who can win over an entire host nation on an Australian rugby tour with a few choice words said in a post match television interview.

While he’s been in Japan he shot some television commercials. You should check them out. Just like the old spice guy but way more funnier IMO.

So he is gone but not forgotten. Hopefully, he will be back soon to entertain us again. The world needs guys like Nick Cummins and not just because we like to watch a skilled athlete. He makes us laugh and that, is the best kind of medicine there is.

 

Sneaky Kiwis Win America’s Cup Again

An extraordinary sporting event just happened in the last 24 hours. It’s not what you call mainstream sport. Not rugby, basketball, soccer, baseball or cricket but that doesn’t make what happened any the less extraordinary.

It was a yachting race. Although the yachts in this race are not like anything you’ve ever seen before. They fly like the wind or with the wind. They certainly fly across the water.

In case you missed it, New Zealand won the America’s Cup. In sailing terms it’s the equivalent of being the first to climb Mount Everest. Hang on a minute the Kiwis did that as well.

It’s the biggest sailing trophy there is. The Kiwis won it once before sailing in a more conventional looking sailboat. A lot has changed since then. These days the America’s Cup is sailed on super fast catamarans that spend more time on top of the water than actually in it.

So what? You might say. If you did say that you’d be making a big mistake. Many things make this victory extraordinary. For instance, there is the David and Goliath nature of the battle. New Zealand, a small country with limited budgets versus United States Team Oracle with a seemingly unlimited money chest. But to quote another life metaphor it’s not how big it is it’s how you use it.

The America’s Cup is all about technology. Really, really smart technology. And that’s another thing that makes this victory extraordinary. But to appreciate the technology you have to understand it. And understanding the technology in the New Zealand boat is a bit of a challenge. The best way to describe it, think high tech pedal powered boat. Let me explain.

If you look at the New Zealand and American boats they are both catamarans with an aircraft wing for a sail, which is balanced on the top of two canoes that are balanced on top of two or four vertical surfboards. The crews must trim the boat as it flies through the air. The wind provides lift and rudders and foils in the water allow it to manoeuvre. To win, the Kiwis had to be faster, stronger and more manoeuvrable. And that superiority was very evident, very early in the regatta.The New Zealand boat became the first to achieve 100 percent fly time. In other words it was able to complete a race without either of the two hulls touching the water at any time. Flying through the air literally and, depending on the wind, achieving speeds of up to 50 knots or 90 kilometers per hour.

The America’s Cup rules say all teams must sail boats of similar dimension and design, but that still leaves plenty of wriggle room for experimenting with the daggerboards and the hydraulic system for moving the foils and the sail.

And that is where those sneaky Kiwis had it all over Team Oracle. Normally the sails are trimmed by hand powered winches or grinders. It’s hard physical work and it needs to be done quickly to maintain boat speed. But New Zealand produced a stunning innovation. They switched from winch to pedal power. In others words they designed and installed bike like pedal bays in the boat. So spectators were treated to the spectacle of Team New Zealand crew members pedalling furiously to control the carbon fibre wing sail, rudders and the dagger boards. The genius of this innovation meant that unlike Oracle the crew could use their hands for fine-tuning. In a high stakes game like the America’s Cup every little bit counts and can be the difference between winning and losing. The Kiwis were smart enough to realise it was basic physics. Legs produce more power than arms and that power means the team can make necessary adjustments more quickly. And that is exactly what happened. The Americans were simply outsmarted by good old-fashioned Kiwi ingenuity.

Winning the America’s Cup again is huge for New Zealand. It will showcase their innovation and technology as well as their spectacular country and that, in turn, will attract investment. I was living in Auckland when New Zealand was defending the Cup so I know what a big deal it will be. The Auckland harbour will be transformed yet again.

So I take my hat off to New Zealand. The little country, with the very big ideas, that punches above its weight and does it so well. Only this time they delivered a stunning knockout blow and America’s Cup racing will never be the same.

Mystery Plane, Drugs, Cash And Maybe CIA 5

This is a fascinating mystery. And I’m a little bit obsessed. It’s the story of a ghost plane with confirmed links to the American CIA, which mysteriously turned up in Australia. It’s also a story about a significant quantity of illegal drugs and cash seized by New South Wales police, as well as a daring and dangerous under the radar flight operation into Australia.

As I have said more than once, it really is the story that keeps on giving. So many intriguing twists and turns. Here is part five. But first, some background to put the story in context.

At the heart of this tale, is a plane, a US-registered Swearingen Merlin 3 with twin turbo props, which arrived illegally in Australia. How it managed to end up parked at Wollongong airport, a tiny regional hub south of Sydney is a complete mystery.

The Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad, raided the eight-seater private plane in 2014 while it was parked on the tarmac. The day of the raid was a real old fashioned cops and robbers type operation. The plane was surrounded by about 20 armed police, even though no one was on board.

A 43-year-old Wollongong pilot, Bernard Stevermuer, who is listed as the owner of the plane, was arrested and charged with being part of a criminal organisation and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

The News South Wales Police case, is that a major international crime syndicate was using the airport to import guns and drugs, for distribution throughout southwest Sydney.

The syndicate was allegedly operated by two men who, police claim, have links to a number of New South Wales outlaw motorcycle gangs. What their precise connection might be to Stevermuer has not been revealed.

Police clearly had Stevermuer under surveillance. They also claim to have documents showing that the syndicate commissioned Stevermuer to buy the plane in the United States for $US400,000, with money provided by a mortgage company in Sydney. But as you will discover, the purchase was anything but straightforward and is full of intrigue.

Police also allege the documents show Stevermuer, had access to large reserves of cash and was prepared to pay $A1.5 million to buy two aviation businesses based at the same airport where the plane was raided.

Several aviation sources have confirmed that Stevermuer was in negotiation to buy a flight training company, NSW Air and another company, Aerial Patrol shark-spotting.

Police allege these two aviation companies were to act as legitimate fronts in order to hide criminal activity. But when Stevermuer offered a $300,000 cash deposit, the seller became suspicious and the sale fell through. When Police arrested the Wollongong pilot, they discovered 36 kg of an illegal drug, which they now are refusing to name, but believed to be heroin, with a street value of $A9 million.

But then the story gets even more intriguing.

If you do a search of US Federal Aviation Administration ( FAA) records, you will discover, that an organisation called the Oregonian Aero Club, with an address listed in Wilmington, Delaware in the United States, owns the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft.

But the fact that this club has its registered office in Delaware, might be an extremely significant development. Delaware is one of the strangest American states in terms of corporate law, especially if you happen to be in the business of asset management.

Companies, incorporated in Delaware, enjoy similar freedoms and secrecy  as do the clients of other highly secretive organisations, such as the Vatican Bank or financial institutions based in the Cayman Islands. Asset Management companies, which own aircraft and yachts, register them in Delaware as a way of minimising tax and personal liability and also because the assets are automatically registered as belonging to a trustee corporation rather than an individual, making it a great place to hide true ownership if that was your desire.

And according to FAA records, it turns out the person listed as a Director of the Oregonian Aero Club, which owns the mystery plane, is none other than Australian pilot Bernard Stevermuer, who was arrested by Australian police.

The papers list Stevermuer as the purchaser of the plane on behalf of Oregonian Aero Club.

Now you might ask, why would an Australian pilot and skydiving instructor, bother to travel across the world to buy a 42-year-old plane? There is nothing in the least exceptional about this model of aircraft apart from its age.

Even more unusual, Why would an Australian who doesn’t live in the United States, be listed as a Director of a fictitious American aviation club? None of this makes sense unless of course unless there was a darker purpose behind the deal.

The Oregonian Aero club has no headquarters, no web address, telephone numbers, aircraft (apart from this one 42 year old plane) or members. In fact none of the other aero clubs in the Oregon area have ever heard of it.

And, as it turns out, the plane at the centre of this intrigue, the Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop aircraft, could best be described as a ghost plane. By that I mean there is no record, whatsoever, of it ever arriving in Australia.

In fact, the last known official record concerning this aircraft reveals that it flew into the Philippines on May 5, 2014, after a two-month journey from the United States. But the Swearingen Merlin 3 was doing a lot of flying right up until the time it left for the Philippines. It flew for a couple of weeks from Punta Gorda in Florida via Missouri and Texas and then to California and finally Washington State.

Flight records indicate the plane left Seattle, Washington on the 30th of April 2014. It touched down at Cold Bay, Alaska, a village of 108 people, one shop, one hotel and an airport. The next day the aircraft flew to Honolulu and then the Marshall islands, a series of atolls in the Pacific Ocean. Next stop was the US airbase at Guam before arriving in the Philippines capital, Manila.

But what happened to the plane after that is a total mystery. It clearly entered Australia some way but what route it took and who was flying it is anyone’s guess. What is also apparent, whoever was flying this plane, took extraordinary steps to avoid detection. By that I mean entering Australia at one of its most remote and least habited geographic points, flying visually, without instruments, at low altitude, for long periods so it wouldn’t be detected by radar.

That would have taken the expertise and daring of an extremely skilled pilot.

The next official record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Albion Park airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

The next obvious question is who flew the plane illegally into Australia? At this point in time we don’t know the answer to that question. So let’s talk about what we do know. Sometimes fact can be way stranger than fiction.

The contract to ferry the Swearingen Merlin 3 from the United States to the Philippines was undertaken by an Australian company called Snow Goose International.

Snow Goose was engaged by the Oregonian Aero Club, which of course exists in name only. So it might be fair to assume that Snow Goose might know the principals behind Oregonian. If they do, they are not saying. In fact Snow Goose released a statement making the point that it was their job to ferry the plane to the Philippines, which they did, At all times the flights were planned and approved by the appropriate authorities. Communication was maintained at all times by High Frequency Radio in accordance with international requirements. Snow Goose had no knowledge of what happened to the plane after they ferried it to the Philippines nor does it have any knowledge of how it ended up illegally in Australia.

Snow Goose is a very interesting company. It’s Director and Chief Pilot is David Baddams, who was awarded an MBE, a Member Of The British Empire by the Queen of England. On the company website, he is listed as an ex-Navy fighter pilot with 40 years flying experience on many aircraft types including the Sea Harrier, BAE Hawk and the Douglas A4 Skyhawk. Since leaving the Navy in 1999, Baddams has remained closely involved in aviation as the business development manager of a military flying training school, a highly experienced flying instructor, an aircraft salesman and as the Chief Pilot and director of an airborne surveillance company.  He has many years and many hours experience on numerous aircraft.

I am certainly not inferring or suggesting that David Baddams had anything whatsoever to do with ferrying the Swearingen from the Philippines to Australia. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest or infer he was involved. Nor is there any evidence to suggest or infer that he was involved in anything illegal.

But there is also no denying that he had the flying expertise and the skill set to undertake the most perilous of flying journeys in a small plane, for example, from the United States to the Philippines. Snow Goose International regularly posted photographic updates of the Swearingen ferrying job to the Philippines on its company Facebook page. A photo posted by Snow Goose International on April 30 showed Baddams and a man seated beside him the cockpit of a plane, with the caption: “It’s Bernie!!! He is back!” The man sitting next to him is Bernie Stevermuer.

Another photo, posted on June 13, was captioned: “Here she comes! On the pan at Clark about to continue on her journey with the owner!” The caption is referring to the tarmac at Clark Air Force base in Manila.  You might want to ask yourself the question: How is it possible that a private plane obtained the necessary permission to land and take off from a highly restricted US airforce base in the Phillipines?

On the same date, Baddams commented: “Here she comes to Australia! It’s N224HR, the one we brought across the Pacific!”

The next record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Albion Park airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

But would this mystery be solved if we were able to trace the full ownership of this plane from the time in rolled off the assembly line?

As I already established in a past blog post, the U.S. Forest Service was the first owner of the Swearingen Merlin 3 in the early 1970s.

The Forest Service has a track record of an activity known in aviation circles as sheep dipping planes on behalf of the CIA. You sheep dip a plane when you conceal or disguise its true owner. Sheep dipping explains how some Forest Service owned aircraft were discovered in exotic locations like Colombia and Mexico being used by drug cartels instead of fighting forest fires.

Are there any significant clues such as who might have owned the plane, before it was sold to the Oregonian Aero Club? Again a search of U.S. FAA records reveals the previous owner was a company called Sterling Strategic Consulting LLC based in Salem Oregon. Nothing unusual in that you might think except that Sterling Strategic Consulting LLC is owned by a dentist based in Colombia, Missouri on the other side of the United States. He bought the Swearingen Merlin 3 in 2011 and sold it to the Oregonian Aero Club a few months later. There is no suggestion or implication that any of these transactions were illegal. But they were definitely unusual and as per usual we end up with more questions than answers.

There is another interesting element to this story that invites further scrutiny. The fact that this plane began its mysterious odyssey across the world, from Charlotte County Airport at Punta Gorda in Florida, could be an indication of its true origin and purpose.

Punta Gorda, would have to be one of the more unusual locations in the United States and it’s all to do with its history. Punta Gorda could easily and humorously be re-named Spooksville. The founding fathers of Punta Gorda happen to be a pair of CIA spooks, Bud Cole and Al Johns, who turned a vast tidal flat into upmarket home sites complete with canals. As a CIA agent, Al Johns, was fairly gung-ho if you’ll pardon the pun. The CIA posted him to the East China Sea in the 1950s where his job was to supply pirates for junks used to attack Communist Chinese shipping. In fact, Punta Gorda seems to act as a magnet for CIA agents past and present. Porter Goss, former CIA Director during the Presidency of George W. Bush, was a long time resident of Punta Gorda and served as a local Mayor.

With that kind of history of CIA connectivity, it’s little wonder that Punta Gorda’s Charlotte County Airport has been home to some interesting characters and even more interesting allegations. For example at least one Congressional committee heard allegations that the airport was used to transport arms to the Contras in Nicaragua and to smuggle drugs, principally cocaine. Of course the allegations were never proven and no one was ever prosecuted or served jail time.

And there’s the case of the 23 helicopters that mysteriously disappeared from Charlotte County Airport. One of the helicopters was later discovered in Chile of all places. No one can explain how they managed to disappear, how they managed to leave the United States or who was responsible but the local Sheriff has suggested publicly that he has a pretty good idea even if he’s not saying.

Maybe it isn’t so surprising that a ghost plane that flew out of a mysterious place like Punta Gorda would end up thousands of miles away in Australia, linked to drugs and organised crime and with no record of it ever entering Australia in the first place.

So what might have happened to Bernie Stervermuer? He allegedly purchased the plane on behalf of a drug syndicate, and was also allegedly buying two companies so that the syndicate could launder dirty money. It turns out that Stervermuer bought not one but three planes on behalf of the syndicate between 2012 and 2014. NSW police say from 2012 to mid-2014, Stevermuer bought tplanes, in the United States, Malaysia and Cambodia, using money supplied to him.

Investigations by police reveal a “highly suspicious” paper trail linked to the purchase of at least two of the planes.

In the case of the US plane, which was infamously raided at Albion Park airport last July, $450,000 was paid through six bank transfers from five Chinese accounts, none of which had legitimate links to Stevermuer.

The US Department of Homeland Security told NSW investigating officers at least one of the accounts was used suspiciously in the past to transfer large amounts of money from Asia to the United States.

Two hundred thousand dollars was transferred to pay for the plane purchased in Malaysia, again using suspicious accounts, allegedly linked to drug operations.

Investigators couldn’t find any evidence to show who paid for the Cambodia plane or how it was paid.

When police raided Stevermuer’s house on the same day they raided the Merlin plane at Albion Park, they discovered $70,000 in cash, which, they say, was payment to Stevermuer for his involvement in transporting the Merlin to Australia.

After his arrest, Stevermuer decided to plead guilty to charges of dealing with property suspected of being the proceeds of crime and knowingly participating in a criminal group. But here’s where it gets even more interesting.

At the time, Stevemuer’s lawyer, Mark Savic, described his client as a “gentle, devoted and trustworthy family man” whose inherent naivety had been his undoing.

‘‘His love of flying caused him to be blind to what others might see were obvious signs to what was going on around him,’’ Mr Savic said, telling the Magistrate, hearing the case, that his client was extremely remorseful.

‘‘He’s not shied away from the charges, he has deep remorse and shame for being before the court today.

‘‘There was no intention on my client’s part to be involved in breaking the law. He didn’t go out to seek people in the underworld, he was approached by people with an agenda.’’

The Magistrate was clearly unimpressed with the submissions on behalf of Stevermuer, sentencing him to 19 months imprisonment.

However, Stevermuer appealed to the District Court of New South Wales and surprise, surprise won his appeal. His prison sentence was suspended and he walked away from everything a free man who will never spend a solitary second inside a jail cell.

Like I said, this story remains a fascinating and intriguing mystery.