In the years since September 11, 2001, amateur plane spotters around the world have tracked the movements of what started out as an unidentified flying object, a phantom jet. The plane, a Gulfstream V, the kind of small, sleek private aircraft favored by movie stars and business executives, was first spotted in October 2001 in a remote stretch of the Karachi airport. Eight weeks later it appeared at Stockholm's Bromma Airport, then at a military airfield in Jakarta. Last fall the London Times reported that the plane had flown to some fifty destinations outside the US, from Guantánamo Bay to Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Morocco, Afghanistan, Libya, and Uzbekistan.
In December the Washington Post revealed that the plane is registered to several persons who do not exist—fictitious names, post office boxes, and Social Security numbers. The plane is used, the Post explained, for "rendition"—the relatively new tactic employed by the CIA and the Bush administration to move detainees from one country to another for interrogation. The Gulfstream facilitates a kind of race to the bottom, whereby suspects are whisked out of countries that are reluctant to use torture as an interrogation technique, and into countries that have no such inhibitions (1).
The chance sightings of this mystery plane are an apt illustration of the occasional and fragmentary glimpses that civilians get of the vast realms of American military and intelligence activity that are secret. According to the Information S...