BRADENTON, Fla. -- Phillip H. Morse, a minority partner of the Boston Red Sox, confirmed yesterday that his private jet has been chartered to the CIA and said he was aware that it had been flown to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where more than 500 terrorism suspects are held, as well as other overseas destinations.
''It's chartered a lot," Morse said by phone from his winter home in Jupiter, Fla. ''It just so happens one of our customers is the CIA.
''I was glad to have the business, actually. I hope it was all for a real good purpose."
Morse, vice chairman of the Red Sox, has twice lent his plane to the team -- in 2003 to fly an injured Johnny Damon from Oakland, Calif., to Boston, and last spring to fly manager Terry Francona to his son's high school graduation.
But Morse said he was ''stunned" by a published report suggesting that the plane might have been used for special renditions, the controversial practice in which terrorism suspects arrested abroad have been forcibly returned to their native countries for interrogation, sometimes with methods that are barred by US law.
Between June 2002 and January of this year, the plane has flown to Afghanistan, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Italy, Japan, Switzerland, Azerbaijan, and the Czech Republic, and made 82 visits to Dulles International Airport outside Washington, according to the Chicago Tribune, which cited records from the Federal Aviation Administration.
''I don't know how you would confirm it," Morse said. ''To me, it's stunning that they would link that stuff together. I called [Red Sox CEO] Larry [Lucchino] to let him know. I didn't want him to get broadsided. I'm a little bit embarrassed the Red Sox are linked to this, for no reason whatsoever."
Morse, who made a fortune developing cardiac catheters, is the owner of a Gulfstream IV jet, which he said he purchased from El Paso Gas and Electric. The plane is owned by Assembly Pointe Aviation Inc., according to records from the FAA. Morse is the sole officer of Assembly Pointe Aviation.
The plane's charter agent is Richmor Aviation in Hudson, N.Y. Mahlon Richards, a co-owner of Richmor Aviation, said he believes Morse's plane was used to transport only federal workers and said his company had no information that it was ever used to US transport detainees.
The Gulfstream, which is based in Schenectady, N.Y., rents for $5,365 an hour, which works out to $128,760 for a 24-hour day or a little more than $900,000 a week.
The jet sometimes has a small Red Sox logo on the fuselage near the door. The jet's registration number, N85VM, was changed to N227SV, but Morse said there was ''nothing devious or clandestine" about the change. He said the original number was not changed when he bought the plane from El Paso Gas and Electric.
''When it's chartered, it never has the logo of the Red Sox on it," Morse said. ''They cover it up."
The Chicago Tribune, citing FAA records, reported that the jet was in Cairo on Feb. 18, 2003, shortly after an Islamic cleric disappeared from his home in Milan in a case Italian prosecutors are investigating as a kidnapping.
Morse said yesterday that Richmor has been leasing his plane to the CIA for more than three years.
''They're not dealing directly with the CIA but with an intermediary government agency, more like a travel agency for government business," he said.
Morse recalled occasions when his own plane was not available to him because it was being used by the government, one being while he was playing golf in Scotland. Richmor is charter agent for more than 100 private jets, he said. Morse recently returned from the Cayman Islands on a private jet owned by Fred Wilpon, owner of the New York Mets.
After yesterday's reports in the Globe and Tribune, the Red Sox released a statement saying the team was ''unaware of and uninvolved in any activities undertaken by any of the club's limited partners in relation to the leasing of their private airplanes."
The New York Times reported last month that days after Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush authorized the CIA to transfer terrorist suspects to other countries through special renditions, without obtaining separate presidential approval in each instance.
Morse said his office gets monthly reports from Richmor on who has leased his jet and where it has gone. He said he does not closely monitor the reports, but said he knew of its overseas destinations, specifically mentioning Guantanamo.
''Oh, sure, I'm going to try to make some inquiries," he said when asked if he intended to look into the possibility his plane had been used in renditions.
''I'll give the company [Richmor] a call. I'm one who believes in the good of most things. I assumed what they were doing was in the best interests of national security. I hope what they're doing is valuable and necessary."
Asked if he would stop allowing the CIA to use his plane if he determines it has been involved in renditions, Morse said: ''Sure, sure, but . . . I don't know how you go about checking that."
Morse, who grew up in Danvers, was one of the early investors in the John Henry-Tom Werner-Larry Lucchino ownership group and was named vice chairman of the Red Sox last year. A graduate of the University of Maine in 1964, Morse took a position with Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. after graduation. In 1969, he founded North American Instrument Corp., which developed the first transparent fluid delivery system for coronary angiography, the Morse manifold.
According to his biography in the Sox media guide, the Morse manifold continues to be used in more than 70 percent of all cardiac catheterization procedures. By 1994, the firm had grown into NAMIC USA Corp. After retiring from NAMIC in 1995, he founded Heritage Creations Inc., which provides services and products to golf clubs and resorts worldwide.
The Morses have a winter home in Jupiter and also spend time in Boston and Lake George, N.Y.
Three years ago, Morse met George H.W. Bush and has had him on his plane a few times, once to take him to baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. But Morse stressed that the CIA already was leasing his plane to the government before he met Bush, a former CIA director.
Morse said Bush had no knowledge of the CIA charter arrangements.
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