Iran Air 744 flies bi-monthly from Tehran to Caracas, with some stops in Damascus and Beirut, and has been doing so since February 2007. The flight is exclusively reserved for Iranian agents, Hezbollah, and Iran's Revolutionary Guard. A real concern is that Iran is "schooling" the Venezuelan military. U.S. intelligence believes the flight is a secret pipeline of weapons and spies coming to America, and perhaps uranium heading back to Iran on the Boeing 747SP.
We are concerned about this flight, and how these agents might get into the U.S. from Caracas, Damascus and Beirut, or how staging sites may be established for attacks against us from Venezuela. Apparently we've watched this, and worried about it for 3-1/2 years.
Current and former U.S. intelligence official fear the flight is a shadowy way to move people and weapons to locations in Latin America that can be used as staging points for retaliatory attacks against the U.S. or its interests in the event Iranian nuclear sites are struck by U.S. or Israeli military forces.
"My understanding is that this flight not only goes from Caracas to Damascus to Tehran perhaps twice a month, but it also occasionally makes stops in Lebanon as well, and the passengers on that flight are not processed through normal Venezuelan immigrations or customs. They are processed separately when they come into the country," says Peter Brookes, senior fellow for National Security Affairs at the Heritage Foundation.
The 16-hour flight typically leaves Tehran and stops at Damascus International Airport (DAM), which is Syria's busiest. In 2009, almost 4.5 million passengers used the airport.
After a 90-minute layover, the flight continues the remaining 14 hours to Venezuela's Caracas Maiquetía International Airport (CCS). Upon arrival, the plane is met by special Venezuelan forces and sequestered from other arrivals.
"It says that something secretive or clandestine is going on that they don't want the international community to know about," says Brookes, a former deputy assistant defense secretary for Asian and Pacific Affairs and CIA employee.
"The fact that there is a flight is of course of interest, but the fact that not anybody can gain access to this flight or buy a ticket for that flight is of particular curiosity and should be of concern to the United States."
In addition to speculation about who is aboard, there are significant concerns that the Boeing 747SP airplane might be transporting uranium to Tehran on the return flight. The U.S. government has enacted strong sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear program and there are worries the flight might provide an opportunity to skirt the embargo against materials that might be used for the program.