Category Archive '“Feathered Cocaine” (2010)'

11 May 2010

Osama, Falconry, and the Iran Refuge Theory, Part 2

, , , , , , ,

Alan Parrot with falcon in Maine

The theory that bin Ladin is being sheltered by Iran is not impossible to believe, and stories of nefarious meetings between Middle Eastern sheikhs and terrorist leaders occurring in the desert at falconry camps has considerable romantic appeal.

The sole informant behind all of this however, is “one of the world’s foremost falconers:” a fellow named Alan Parrot (pronounced “Per -oh”), the son of a leading Bangor, Maine physician and Middlesex preppie, who ran off to the Middle East instead of attending college, where he learned Arabic, allegedly “served as the royal falconer for various Arab leaders for two decades,” and became a Sikh.

Despite his intimacy with various Middle Eastern ruling families, his chauffer-driven Mercedes, and the honor of having been admitted the inner circles of Arabic falconry, Parrot broke with his sponsors and employers to found a conservation organization devoted to a) enforcing international trade restrictions on the traffic in raptors, and b) banning captive breeding and use of captive bred falcons.

If falconers are to be permitted neither to purchase or use wild-caught birds or domestically-bred birds, it seems to me that this is bound to have a serious negative impact on falconry.

By 2006, despite describing himself as having been treated like a son by the president of the United Arab Emirates, Parrot was offering the same storyline about clandestine meetings between al Qaeda and Arab financiers of terrorism at falconry hunting camps with the UAE, instead of Iran, at the center of the story. This was back at the time when Dubai Port World, a UAE company, was attempting to purchase port management businesses in six US ports.

February 24, 2006 Big Story with John Gibson interview with Alan Parrot 4:43 video

Stephen Colbert (ashes from Ash Wednesday Roman Catholic ceremonies on his forehead) mocks John Gibson’s interview with Alan Parrot video

Front Page, May, 18, 2006 article on Parrot accusations focused on UAE.

The most prominent falconers I know seem to be skeptical of Parrot’s claims to rank among the world’s foremost practitioners of the sport. With good reason, he has written no book on falconry that I’m aware of.

Press coverage of “Feathered Cocaine” provoked an indignant outburst from some unclear combination of Matt Mullenix and Steve Bodio.

They know all about Parrot, and mention that in US falconry circles he is commonly referred to jocularly as “Hari Ha Ha,” in a take off of his adopted Sikh name: Hari Har Singh Khalsa (Note comments).

Bodio/Mullenix have big problems with the kinds of figures for falcon purchases being thrown around.

$5000 is HIGH these days (except possibly– the story goes–for four or five individual unusual–for reasons more superstitious than scientific– smuggled birds a year that seem to go to certain Arabian families again and again). And six figures would be an unlikely high figure for even these.

From his reputation in falconry circles and his extravagant personal claims, it seems only too evident that Mr. Parrot (or Mr. Khalsa) is not a very credible source.

In press accounts, for instance, he is described as a resident of Iran and of Kuwait, while this profile says he has lived in Hancock, Maine since 1991.

Last year, we learned on Huffington Post, that the ever intrepid Parrot was still hot on Osama’s trail:

Encouraged by president-elect Barack Obama’s statement on January 14, in an interview with CBS News anchor Katie Couric, that his “preference obviously would be to capture or kill him [Bin Laden]”, Parrot sent a letter to the Rewards for Justice program at the State Department detailing his efforts to track Bin Laden and providing information of bin Laden’s whereabouts. Parrot also noted that he had discussed the matter with Iranian officials and that “a negotiated and political (i.e. not-military) solution is available” with the Iranian leadership. The letter was sent on January 20, but Parrot has yet to hear from Washington.

Parrot claims that he has negotiated with Iranian officials the transfer of bin Laden from Iran “to the custody of the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Saud al Faisal, whom I know personally,” he said.

Extravagant, messianic claims on the part of a drop-out claiming a personal mission to protect charismatic wildlife, over which he unilaterally asserts personal responsibility, while operating his own private “conservation organization” and soliciting contributions from concerned animal lovers, sound familiar? What we have here is essentially the Timothy Treadwell of falconry.

11 May 2010

Osama, Falconry, and the Iran Refuge Theory, Part 1

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Not Osama

Falconing is a favorite sport in the Islamic world, and the most prized game of Middle Eastern falconers is the Houbara Bustard, Chlamydotis undulata, a large type of landfowl of the bustard family, which confusingly shares features with gallinacious birds (pheasants, partridges, chickens, turkeys), wading birds (plovers), and struthious birds (cassowaries and ostriches). The Houbara has a special claim to the affection of Arab hunters because its meat is believed to have aphrodisaical properties.

Houbara Hawking in connection with Islamic terrorist plots was the central theme of Charles McCarry’s sensational 2004 spy thriller (presumably wrapping up his Paul Christopher series) Old Boys.

A 2010 documentary, Feathered Cocaine, by Icelandic directors: Thorkell Hardarson and Örn Marino Arnarson recently opened at the Tribeca Film Festival and other venues in New York.

New York Times Artsbeat coverage

Feathered Cocaine website


The documentary prompted this story by Fox News:

[Osama bin Ladin] wakes each morning in a comfortable bed inside a guarded compound north of Tehran. He is surrounded by his wife and a few children. He keeps a low profile, is allowed limited travel and, in exchange for silence, is given a comfortable life under the protection of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The idea that Bin Laden is in Iran got a strong boost recently with the premiere of a documentary called “Feathered Cocaine.” In it, Alan Parrot, the film’s subject and one of the world’s foremost falconers, makes a case that Bin Laden, an avid falcon hunter, has been living comfortably in Iran since at least 2003 and continues to pursue the sport relatively freely. He is relaxed, healthy and, according to the film, very comfortable.

To make his case, Parrot, president of the Union for the Conservation of Raptors, took two Icelandic filmmakers, Om Marino Arnarson and Thorkell S. Hardarson, into the secretive world of falconers. It’s a world in which some birds can sell for over $1 million, and in which the elite of the Middle East conduct business in luxurious desert camps where money, politics and terror intermingle.

Parrot, who was once the chief falconer for the Shah of Iran and who has worked for the royal families of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, still has extensive contacts in Iran and the falcon world. One of those contacts, described as a warlord from the north of Iran and disguised in a balaclava, reveals in the film that he has met Bin Laden six times on hunting trips inside Iran since March 2003. He says the Al Qaeda leader is relaxed and healthy and so comfortable that “he travels with only four bodyguards.”

Their last confirmed meeting was in 2008, Parrot says. “There may have been more since then, but I haven’t talked to my source since we left Iran,” he said.

Parrot told FOX that the extraordinary disclosure by the warlord, who supplies the falcon camps Bin Laden visits on hunting forays, was not done out of altruism. “One of my men saved his life and this was the repayment,” he said. “He was asked to talk. He wasn’t happy about it.”

To prove his case, Parrot said he managed to get the telemetry setting for the falcons Bin Laden was flying, and he provided them to the U.S. Government. “They could locate him to a one-square-mile area using those unique signals”’ he said. He says the government never contacted him to follow up.

Maj. Sean Turner, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. Military would not comment on the whereabouts of Bin Laden.

Parrot’s story is supported in the documentary by former CIA agent Robert Baer, an outspoken critic of U.S. policy in the Middle East and of how the CIA is managed. Baer, the onetime Middle East operative on whom the movie Syriana is based, explains that while he was in the CIA, he used satellites to watch the camps and they proved to be one of the key ways Al Qaeda was funded. He underscored how important falconry is to the vastly wealthy, and how Parrot’s position gave him a unique lens on that world.

Parrot’s disclosures add another piece to a jigsaw puzzle that for years has fed suspicion that Bin Laden is living in Iran. Among the other clues are:

Iran accepted 35 Al Qaeda leaders after the fall of the Taliban, despite the schism between Al Qaeda’s Sunni roots and the Shiite regime in Iran.

In February 2009 the U.S. Treasury placed sanctions on several high-ranking Al Qaeda operatives working out of Iran and helping run the terror network.

In 2004 author Richard Miniter, in his book “Shadow War,” wrote that two former Iranian Intelligence agents told him they had seen Bin Laden in Iran in 2003.

In June 2003 the respected Italian newspaper Corre de la Sierra,quoting intelligence reports, reported that Bin Laden was in Iran and preparing new terror attacks.

Some analysts believe the reason Bin Laden switched from video to audiocassettes for his announcements was that he couldn’t find a place in Iran that matched the terrain of northern Pakistan.

In December 2009 it was widely reported that one of Bin Laden’s wives, six of his children and 11 grandchildren were living in a compound in Tehran. The living situation was made public after one of the daughters escaped the compound and sought asylum in the Saudi Embassy. It is in this compound, Parrot says, that Bin Laden has found sanctuary.

Parrot said Bin Laden was renowned as an avid falconer who captured most of the falcons around Kandahar to raise funds to support his terror efforts. Each spring wealthy Arabs from the Gulf would fill military cargo planes full of specially equipped Toyota Land Cruisers and other equipment and fly to the falcon camps in Afghanistan. “Usama would arrive and presented the falcons as gifts,” Parrot said. “In return, the wealthy princes would leave the cars and equipment with him when they left, giving Al Qaeda a considerable material advantage over others, including the Taliban.”

Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism expert at the White House through two administrations, has admitted in interviews and before the 9/11 Commission that on one of the three occasions the United States was able to place Bin Laden, he was in a falcon camp set up by falcon hunters from Dubai. The CIA requested a cruise missile strike against Bin Laden. Clarke said he stopped the government from firing at the camp because “it didn’t look like an Al Qaeda camp.”


Intriguing, isn’t it? But very knowledgeable falconers are skeptical, see my next posting.

2:08 video of Gyrfalcon on Houbara Bustard

Your are browsing
the Archives of Never Yet Melted in the '“Feathered Cocaine” (2010)' Category.

Entries (RSS)
Comments (RSS)
Feed Shark