Introduction: This program sets forth some of the “deep history” of the Venice Airport, which has long been a hotbed of intelligence activity. (It was through this airport that Mohammed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers infiltrated the U.S. Heroic investigative reporter Daniel Hopsicker has long followed the web of intrigue that has enveloped the Venice Airport and the closely related Huffman Aviation.)
After a review of some of the background to the OSS-connected drug traffic that was rampant in the China theater during World War II (from AFA #11) , the broadcast sets forth the deep political history of the Venice Airport. The drug trafficking that was inextricably linked with the Kuomintang national security apparatus  under Chiang Kai Shek  became a staple of OSS veterans of the China theater, later transferring to the fledgling CIA . (OSS was America’s wartime intelligence agency.)
Among the elements that coalesced  into the post-World War II intelligence-connected drug traffic was the American Volunteer Group, the name for General Claire Chennault’s “Flying Tiger” fighter squadron . Chennault’s group trained at the Venice Airport–home to Huffman Aviation, through which Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers infiltrated the United States!
Further updating the goings on at the Venice Airport, Daniel notes the operations of a powerful, drug-smuggling intelligence network called “The Company”–a common nickname for the CIA. Available evidence strongly suggests that the network overlapped the agency. (The Company is discussed in AFA #26. ) “The Company”–following in the footsteps of Clair Chennault’s operation–also held forth at Venice Airport!
In his latest article, Daniel ties in a “Company” operative named Frank Guzman with the JFK assassination, as well as activities manifested on behalf of “The Company .” Owner  of a high performance jet manufactured by Temco , Guzman appears to have been an alias  for a Cuban associate of Jack Ruby . Guzman/Villamia was murdered in a gangland style slaying  in 1979. He had been running a business  that operated through the Venice Airport. Born in Cuba, Guzman/Villamia fled the Island when Castro came to power and appears to have worked for the CIA proper after that.
In the context of “The Company” and the evidentiary tributaries leading to the Kennedy assassination resonate with the activities of Stephen Ruth , another intelligence-connected drug smuggler whose activities overlapped the Venice airport.
Program Highlights Include: Review of the death of John Birch, intelligence officer for Claire Chennault and the namesake of the John Birch Society; review of the use by the U.S. of 90,000 Japanese troops in Manchuria as late as 1947!; review of Stephen Ruth’s links to the JFK assassination; review of “The Company’s” links to the JFK assassination; the use of Venice Airport to smuggle surplus WWII munitions to would-be coupsters in Latin America.
1. After a review of some of the background to the OSS-connected drug traffic that was rampant in the China theater during World War II (from AFA #11) , the broadcast sets forth the deep political history of the Venice Airport. The drug trafficking that was inextricably linked with the Kuomintang national security apparatus  under Chiang Kai Shek  became a staple of OSS veterans of the China theater, later transferring to the fledgling CIA . (OSS was America’s wartime intelligence agency.)
Among the elements that coalesced  into the post-World War II intelligence-connected drug traffic was the American Volunteer Group, the name for General Claire Chennault’s “Flying Tiger” fighter squadron .
Chennault’s group trained at the Venice Airport–home to Huffman Aviation, through which Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers infiltrated the United States!
An investigation into suspicious circumstances surrounding the sale of the former Huffman Aviation has unearthed an explosive secret at the heart of an otherwise unremarkable aviation facility.
Almost since its inception, the specter of heroin trafficking has hung over the airfield which would later become the Venice Municipal Airport.
During World War II, when it was known as the Venice Army Air Field, it was home to the Stateside operations of a man widely and credibly accused of using proceeds from international heroin trafficking to prop up the war machine of a corrupt Chinese warlord whose army, even after its defeat, hung on to a lion’s share of Southeast Asian real estate which became known as the Golden Triangle.
Contemporary newspaper clips from the time show that the Venice Airport has had an extraordinary six-decade long history, and been the scene of covert activities including gunrunning, international heroin and cocaine trafficking, and being used as a launch pad for coups in the Caribbean and Central America.
These activities required, available evidence will show, the regular and systematic corruption of officials in Venice and Sarasota County.
The recent infamous and still-painful history of the Venice Airport, home base for Mohamed Atta and his crew of terrorist hijackers, it turns out, is just the most recent in an extraordinary history of elite deviance, criminal mischief, and international intrigue.
In an ironic twist, without the FAA’s remarkable campaign of arm-twisting and bullying of hapless local officials to secure their approval of the new owners of what used to be Huffman Aviation, hand-picked by a federal receiver who a U. S. District Court Judge in Tampa had appointed to unravel the financial affairs of Art Nadel six days before Nadel had even turned himself in... we might never have sifted through decades of newspaper clippings, and the remarkable story of the Venice Municipal Airport, which is the very definition of America’s secret history, might never have come to light.
Since the early days of the Second World War, when it was still known as Venice Army Air Field, the pattern of covert activity at the Venice Airport has remained remarkably consistent over six decades.
Ironically, it was an attempt to continue to conceal the airport’s original mission, an elaborate cover-up in 1992 seemingly designed to prevent the airport’s clandestine role from ever becoming public knowledge, which first piqued our interest in the story of the man whose operations shaped the Venice Airport’s early history.
But the cover-up backfired, and became visible, where it remains to this day, in an unlikely location:
Directly across from the Venice Airport sits an historical plaque dedicated in a ceremony in 1992 to commemorate the airport’s beginnings as a U.S. Army Air Base during World War II.
The Venice Airport, states the plaque, has its origins in the early days of WW2, when it was known as the “337th Army Air Field Base.”
However there is no such entity: there is not, and never has been, anything called the 337th Army Air Field Base. At the inception of what became the Venice Airport, as is fairly widely known, it was known as the Venice Army Air Force Base.
So, what is going on?
The Venice Historical Archives explains:
“The plaque commemorates the 337th Army Air Field Base and was erected by the Venice Aviation Society Inc. in October 1992.”
The designation is meant as “a joke:”
“The plaque has numerous errors including referring to the Base as the 337th and the entire second sentence. The caricatured mosquito, symbolic of the striking power of the P‑51 and of the bloodthirsty pests of the area, was designed by Capt. James H. Archibald as the ”official” insignia of the ”337th AAF Base Unit”, the VAAF’s permanent ”Party” outfit. Both the insignia and unit designation were intended as a joke!”
We’ve never heard of an official historical plaque “intended as a joke,” and doubt anyone at the Venice Archives and Area Historical Collection has, either.
Moreover the point of the “joke,” and/or why it should be considered funny, remains unexplained.
But while there was no 337th Army Air Base, we have heard of the 337th, we seemed to remember dimly... There was a 337th Fighter Group.
At the Clearwater St. Petersburg International Airport, home of the infamous DC9 “Cocaine One” caught with 5.5 tons of cocaine aboard in Mexico’s Yucatan in 2007, we first saw a shrine to an aviation outfit from World War II which used to train there:
The famous Flying Tigers.
They were first known as the American Volunteer Group, states an informational wall of photos on the second floor of the nearly empty airport.
They were a “band of American pilots who literally built a fighting air force from scratch to stop the Japanese from gobbling up all of Asia.”
One of their units, the wall indicates, is the 337th Fighter Group.
Was the 337th Army Air Field plaque in Venice some kind of cryptic reference to the Flying Tigers?
Synonymous with the Flying Tigers is the name of General Claire Chennault. While he lived, Chennault was one of the most controversial American military figures in this nation’s history. He was widely disliked by his peers, though not, it must be said, by those who flew for him.
His military career, according to newspaper reports at the time, was sidetracked by his superiors, who may have heard hints of things ordinary Americans would begin to hear whispers about only many decades later.
General Claire Chennault’s Flying Tigers had a strong presence in Venice.
We found numerous references in local newspapers from the time indicating that the Venice Army Air Field training pilots for General Claire Chennault’s Flying Tigers and later for his 14th Air Force, which took over from the Flying Tigers when they were disbanded.
In fact, Venice seemed to specialize in Chinese flyers, even training an all-Chinese squadron for Chennault, supposedly at the express request of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek.
Moreover one of Chennault’s aces, Pappy Herb’s, left China to became the Deputy Base Commander at the Venice Army Air Field.
According to American was correspondent Clyde Farnsworth, Chennault even created a composite Chinese and American Air Wing in which Chinese and American aviators “live together, work together, and enter combat together.”
These aviators came together, received their training, and learned to fly at the Venice Airport. Chennault’s presence in Venice is well-established.
So why are there so few references to the role played by the Venice Army Air Field in the CBI (China-Burma-India) Theater?
Let’s take a look.
Claire Chennault, according to numerous reporters and credible news sources, was there at the start when the American military and intelligence services began their use of narcotics to fund their anti-communist endeavors.
Chennault helped Chinese warlord Chiang Kai-Shek fund his civil war against the Communist Red Army through heroin trafficking, both during, and after World War II.
According to Joseph Trento in “The Secret History of the CIA:
“General Claire Chennault organizer of the Flying Tigers during World War II, was put in charge of Civil Air Transport as well as Taiwan’s other air service while his wife Anna spent her time lobbying in Washington for more aid to help her husband’s effort against the Communist Chinese.”
“Chiang Kai-Shek’s men, funded by the CIA, became the foot soldiers of Asia’s drug armies... Hundreds of tons of opium and heroin... were carried on these CIA flights.”
From Douglas Valentines “Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America’s War on Drugs:”
“Despite the July 1949 seizure in Hong Kong reported by the New York Times of 22 pounds of heroin emanating from a CIA-supplied outpost in Kunming... the China Lobby launched a massive propaganda campaign based on the allegation by the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics that the Red Chinese were the source of all the illicit dope reaching Japan.”
“The China Lobby raised $5 million which the CIA used to purchase General Claire Chennault’s fleet of planes and convert them into the CIA’s first proprietary Air Force.”
From Modern China: An Encyclopedia, by Ke-Wen Wang:
“No one could have foreseen that one legacy of the Flying Tigers would become Air America. Claire Chennault and the Flying Tigers symbolize the... failure of American foreign policy in the region.”
From “Under the Influence” by Preston Peet:
“The practical effect of all of this was to turn Claire Chennault’s Flying Tigers into flying dope peddlers.
There are dozens of examples. A clear consensus of investigative reporters, authors, and scholars have reached the same conclusion...
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
But don’t tell that to the Sarasota Herald Tribune.
It was clear that the plaque at the Venice Airport had not just made a bad joke, or a simple mistake. It was intentionally misleading.
They have a word for the type of communication displayed on the historical plaque commemorating the Venice Army Air Field.
That word is disinformation.
Seventy years after elements of the U.S. military connected with the “China Lobby” began a long flirtation with heroin trafficking, it still serves that purpose.
Moreover, its source, the Venice Aviation Society, was a belligerent (supporting the “Dark Side of the Force) during the recent war for control of the Venice Airport waged between elected city officials and the FAA.
The story of Claire Chennault proves that U.S. Major Generals can be excused if they have a second job as an international drug kingpin... as long as they’re anti-communist.
What makes the story of General Claire Chennault at the Venice Airport germane to the present situation? As we reported several weeks ago, (and we’ll have more about it later), the new owners of the former Huffman Aviation are in business with a private military contractor in Georgia who was involved in extraordinary renditions for the CIA.
Curiously, former Huffman owner Wally Hilliard was in business with the same man.
But then, recent owners of Huffman Aviation share a lot in common.
Just like prior owner Wally Hilliard (but even more inexplicably, since at least Hilliard was a pilot, even if a narcoleptic one), Art Nadel, for example, used substantial portions of his ill-gotten gains to purchase dozens of airplanes and aviation facilities...
One of America’s groundbreaking muckrakers, author Upton Sinclair, once said “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
2. Updating the goings on at the Venice Airport, Daniel notes the operations of a powerful, drug-smuggling intelligence network called “The Company”–a common nickname for the CIA. Available evidence strongly suggests that the network overlapped the agency. (The Company is discussed in AFA #26. ) “The Company”–following in the footsteps (“tracks”?!) of Clair Chennault’s operation–also held forth at Venice Airport!
As noted in AFA #26, evidentiary tributaries run between “The Company” and the assassination of JFK. In his latest article, Daniel ties in a “Company” operative named Frank Guzman with the JFK assassination, as well as activities manifested on behalf of “The Company .” Owner  of a high performance jet manufactured by Temco , Guzman appears to have been an alias  for a Cuban associate of Jack Ruby . Guzman/Villamia was murdered in a gangland style slaying  in 1979. He had been running a business  that operated through the Venice Airport.
Born in Cuba, Guzman/Villamia fled the Island when Castro came to power and appears to have worked for the CIA proper after that.
In the context of “The Company,” the evidentiary tributaries leading to the Kennedy assassination resonate with the activities of Stephen Ruth , another intelligence-connected drug smuggler whose activities overlapped the Venice airport
“Venice was a kind of quiet Mena (Arkansas),” stated a former drug pilot for The Company. “Jackson Stephens built this huge headquarters next to the airport. And he was in charge. But I do remember seeing Porter Goss around the airport a lot.”
The airport where three of the four terrorist pilots in the 9/11 attack learned to fly was a hub of operations in the 1970’s and early ‘80’s for “The Company,” an international drug smuggling organization headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky and Mena, Arkansas.
Led by a mysterious Cuban exile, who used the alias “Frank Guzman,” The Company’s contingent at the Venice Airport numbered as many as a dozen pilots and associates. The Company began receiving national attention in the early 1980’s.
“The Company,” whose name is a commonly-used euphemism for the CIA, was profiled in Sally Denton’s best-selling book “The Blue-Grass Conspiracy,” which raised pointed questions about the involvement of the CIA with the group.
The 60-year secret history of covert CIA and military operations at the Venice Municipal Airport now coming to light goes well beyond anything previously known to have taken place there.
A report in the April 28, 1982 San Francisco Chronicle headlined “Story of Spies, Stolen Arms and Drugs,” stated The Company consisted of “about 300 members, many of them former military men or ex-police officers with nearly $30 million worth of assets, including planes, ships and real estate.”
Federal Agents testified that “The Company” smuggled billions of dollars worth of narcotics into the U.S. from Latin America, as well as being involved in gunrunning and mercenary operations.
At the Venice Airport, in addition to Frank Guzman their number included: Stephen Ruth, who we reported on earlier in Confessions of a Drug Smuggling CIA Hit Man,” Lee Crowell, Joseph Brea, Richard Curry, George Quarles, and several others, including a local attorney, who have been missing in action for more than 20 years.
Guzman first surfaced at the Venice Airport in 1974. He became an instant celebrity, as well as something of a novelty, because he was the owner of the first jet to ever be based at the Venice Airport.
A now-defunct Sarasota newspaper called the Sarasota Journal did a profile of him soon after he arrived under the headline “Venice Jet Flier Creates a Stir.”
It was a prototype Navy jet fighter called the Super Pinto, one of only 14 ever made, which could climb from the ground to 10,000 feet in just 55 seconds.
He ingratiated himself with the local political establishment by volunteering to fly it as a stunt plane in local air shows for charity.
Despite the reporter’s efforts, exactly how Guzman how come to possess a rare Navy jet fighter plane remained a little hazy. So, too, did Guzman’s former career. He was identified, without further explanation, as a “manufacturer.”
The story did reveal Guzman’s difficulty in obtaining spare parts for his jet, with necessitated trips to the planes’ manufacturer, Temco Co, in Dallas.
Strangely, Temco had a history in Venice which the reporter failed to note.
The founder of Temco (later LTV), was D.H. Byrd, who owned the Texas School Book Depository where President Kennedy was killed. And as we’ve seen in previous stories like Big Safari, the Kennedy Assassination, & the war for control of the Venice Airport, the airport was the site where Byrd’s Regulus missiles for the Air Force were tested.
For the next five years Guzman ran a business at the Venice Airport.
Then on May 3, 1979, disaster struck. “Former Venice Businessman, Pilot found shot to death” read next day’s headline in the Sarasota Herald Tribune.
“A former Venice businessman and pilot was found shot to death in an East coast motel room in what police there theorize was a drug-related execution,” the paper reported.
“The Dania FL Police Dept identified the 49-year old dead man as Frank Guzman, the former owner of Sunair Enterprises, a flying service based at the Venice Municipal Airport.”
Guzman had been found by a maid on the floor of his fifth floor room at the Howard Johnson’s across from the Fort Lauderdale Airport. Someone (the killer was never identified) had put a 32 against the back of Guzman’s head and pulled the trigger.
The motel would later achieve infamy during Iran contra as the site of meetings between Oliver North and mercenaries flying to Honduras to work with the contras.
An “associate” of Guzman’s in Venice and Fort Lauderdale, Joseph Brea, was missing and presumed dead, police said.
The story contained a great quote from a cop on the scene:
“Guzman was definitely into the big bucks,” said Lt. James Serpe of the Dania Police Dept. “This guy’s shoes cost more than my car.”
The slaying bore all the earmarks of a professional hit, a later story indicated, in which police speculated that Guzman may have been associated with the “Black Tuna” smuggling group.
The truth would come out almost a year later, in a story in the April 30 1980 Sarasota Herald Tribune.
“Testimony at a federal trial in Indianapolis has linked a murdered Venice businessman and a missing Sarasota aircraft dealer with an international drug trafficking ring.”
“On Monday witnesses testified that Frank Guzman, the former owner of SunAir Enterprises of Venice, and Lee Crowell, owner of Lemac Inc of Sarasota, were members of the drug ring known as The Company.”
We uncovered evidence indicating that Guzman’s real name was Mario Silverio Villamia in testimony to the Warren Commission investigating the assassination of JFK about the underworld ties of Jack Ruby, the slayer of Lee Harvey Oswald.
Ruby had approached Texas gunrunner Robert McKeown about selling jeeps to Castro.
McKeown had been convicted of the same offense in 1958, said a Commission exhibit dated April 17, 1964. “the company AND “the bluegrass conspiracy”
Also convicted with McKeown had been the former President of Cuba, Carlos Prio, and four other men, one of whom was one Mario Silverio Villamia, aged 34, also known as Frank Guzman.
We did the math.
The Warren Commission “Frank Guzman” had been 34 in 1964. Ten years later, in 1974, the Sarasota newspaper profile of “Frank Guzman” reported:
“For the 44-year old Guzman, the jet is a partial answer to the search for finding excitement in life.”
We received further confirmation after we tracked down a former drug pilot for The Company who spoke with us on condition of anonymity.
He had flown with Guzman, he said, “at least a hundred” flights to Colombia from the Venice Airport. We had no trouble believing him. His name and involvement with the group is well-chronicled in news reports from the time.
After a conviction for drug trafficking 30 years ago, his life has returned to normal, he said. Today he is a respected businessman in a city not far from Venice.
“Frank came from Cuba when Castro came to power,” he confirmed. “He had ties to a former Cuban President Carlos Prio. Along with other Cuban exiles he participated in the Bay of Pigs, then worked with the CIA during the 1960’s.”
“Venice was a kind of quiet Mena (Arkansas),” said our pilot informant.
“Jackson Stephens had built this huge headquarters next to the airport. And he was in charge. But I do remember seeing Porter Goss around the airport a lot.”
At that time, Goss was a CIA Agent assigned to Latin America. He later became a Florida Congressman from Charlotte County, where he eventually became head of the House Intelligence Committee. In 2002 he was named Director of the CIA under George W. Bush.
“Venice was a sweet deal. The Coast Guard had radar sites in Tampa and Key West, but nothing in between. So we’d fly in and out totally unnoticed.”
Throughout the decade of the 1980’s, while drug trafficking exploded, there were two completely different perceptions about its role at the Venice Airport.
Call them the minimalists and the maximalists...
“Only a few late night flights use the uncontrolled airfield in Venice,” Venice Police Sgt. Jim Hanks told local reporters. “We’ve only caught two or three smugglers. But there have been several who keep their planes here and have been caught in other areas.”
Local reporters, on the other hand, begged to disagree.
“In the past year the Venice Airport has been the scene of several drug raids,” the Herald Tribune reported on Sept 29, 1983. “In recent years the Venice Airport has been rocked by vandals thieves and drug smugglers.”
“The airport is attractive to drug dealers and thieve because it is uncontrolled,” the paper reported. “Thieves use the uncontrolled airport to drop stolen airplanes, including stolen private jets.”
The city’s response was to hire a private security guard to “protect the airport grounds during non- business hours.” Aviation executives at the Airport were unimpressed.
“We have planes come in here late at night, drop a load and leave,” said Harold Haggen, owner of the Venice Flying Service.
“And nobody knows they’ve ever been here.”
“Police protection?” asked Harold Haggen, rhetorically. “The police don’t hardly come around here.”
Even Sgt. Hanks was hedging his bet a little.
“Pointing to past drug smuggling incidents discovered at the airport, Hanks said unregulated plane usage there provides an opportunity for planes to come and go as they please, usually without scrutiny from anyone.”
Almost two decades later, when Mohamed Atta first cast his malevolent eye down the runway in Venice, not much had changed. For some people, that was just fine...
The official story of the 9/11 attack goes like this:
“The arrival of Atta’s terrorist cadre at the Venice Municipal Airport was happenstance, and the terrorist’s presence there an accident of history, unrelated to any pre-existing climate of crime or corruption.”
Once again, and emphatically: Nothing could be further from the truth.
3. Daniel also touched on events published in an article that he finished after the interview. Venice’s long involvement with intelligence-connected matters includes its use as a shipping point for WWII-era weapons to Latin America for the purpose of affecting coups.
The arrival en masse of Mohamed Atta’s terrorist cadre at the Venice Municipal Airport was happenstance, goes the official story, and the terrorist’s presence there an accident of history, unrelated to any pre-existing climate of crime or corruption.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
This was illustrated again recently when decades of old newspaper clippings became available online, revealing the full range of the extraordinary history of criminal mischief and international intrigue at the Venice Airport.
For example: our recent story headlined “60 year history of drug trafficking at Venice Airport” was off by fifteen years, according to a “Looking Back” feature from the Aug 28 1964 Sarasota Herald Tribune, which reveals that the oldest report of drug trafficking at what will become the Venice Airport occurred thirty years earlier.
On that date in 1934, “A dope-smuggling plane was captured by Federal Agents near Venice,” the paper reported.
In unbroken succession in the decades since, the Venice Municipal Airport— decade-in and decade-out—has played host to drug smuggling, gun running, the launching of coups in the Caribbean, mercenary training, even murder...
It is a remarkable history of international intrigue with a distinctly ‘spooky’ flavor. . . .