[Note: Today is the last in a series of excerpts I’m posting from my new ebook, “The Taking of MH370.” There’s a lot more in there, but I want to get some of the major findings out behind a paywell in order to further the public discussion.]
If the hijacking of MH370 was a Russian plot, and MH370 flew to Kazakhstan, then the pieces of debris collected in the western Indian Ocean must have been planted by the Russians in an effort to support the misleading southern narrative. Blaine Alan Gibson had demonstrated an uncanny knack for locating and publicizing this debris. Was Gibson somehow connected to Russia?
Ever since he’d first crossed my radar screen, half a year before he found “No Step,” I’d struggled to understand this eccentric character. In the media, he consciously styled himself after Indiana Jones, with a brown fedora and a brown leather jacket. He portrayed himself as an inveterate adventurer and world traveler who before MH370 had pursued any number of quixotic international quests, including an attempt to find the lost ark of the covenant (more shades of Indiana Jones) and an expedition to the site of the Tunguska explosion in Siberia. His was a wonderfully appealing persona. After I wrote about him in New York magazine, TV producers started getting in touch with me, hoping I could hook them up with him to pitch reality shows about his life.
I wondered how, exactly, he was able to support such an exotic lifestyle. He described himself as a retired lawyer, based in Seattle, who inherited the money to fund his search after his mother passed away. He said that he’d started watching the MH370 coverage on CNN and gotten obsessed with the case while packing up her belongings. The inheritance must have been a tidy sum for a 60-year-old man, with decades of expenses ahead of him, to have the financial freedom to travel the world full-time. Yet his background did not suggest lavish wealth.
Gibson was born in San Francisco on April 21, 1957. His 69-year-old father, Phil Gibson, had retired after serving as the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court from 1940 to 1969. The job was well-paying but not extravagently so; the position today pays $256,059 per year. Blaine grew up an only child. When he was 12, his mother, Victoria, took him on a long overseas trip that sparked a lifelong love of travel.
Gibson finished high school in Carmel and enrolled at the University of Oregon. While working toward a degree in political science he made his first visit to the Soviet Union in 1976, at the age of 19, “just to understand what it was like.” After graduating in 1979, he earned a master’s degree at The School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He then worked briefly at a bank before spending three years on the staff of Washington State Senator Ray Moore, who like Gibson’s father was a staunch progressive.
Starting in September, 1986, Gibson took a job with the U.S. State Department. He was stationed in Rio de Janeiro and resigned after one year. He was in Red Square when the Soviet Union ended. According to a profile in Seattle Met magazine, “he could see that the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse and decided to capitalize on it. For 10 years he lived off and on in the newly capitalist Russia, serving as a consultant to new business owners and fattening a bank account that would later fund his globe-trotting.”
When I interviewed him for New York magazine, he told me that 20 years before, “when I was living and working in Russia, I was the second American to ever go to the epicenter of the Tunguska meteorite.” He explained that “I speak Russian fluently, I have access to Russian scientists, drinking vodka with them, they tell me what they really thought.”
Russian is not a language that one picks up on a whim. It is considered one of the most difficult languages for native English speakers to learn. Friends who served in the Peace Corps in Moldova tell me that according to U.S. State Department guidelines it takes three years to become proficient in Romanian but five years to become proficient in Russian.
In 1992, Gibson established a company called Siberia-Pacific Co, domiciled in his Seattle condo, with two co-founders from the Kemerovo Oblast, a coal-mining region of central Russia. Gibson also registered a company called Russian-American Pen-Pal Service. Gibson dissolved Siberia-Pacific in 2018, after I started making inquiries. (It’s interesting to note that Brodsky, Deineka, Chustrak, and Gibson all made their fortunes by founding companies in the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s, a time when public assets were being snatched up by organized crime bosses and corrupt officials.)
In 1993 Gibson wrote a bill for the Washington State Senate that would establish a trade office in the Russian Far East. In 2002, he took part in a conference held in the western Russian city of Obninsk called “Successes and Difficulties of Small Innovative Firms in Russian Nuclear Cities: Proceedings of a Russian-American Workshop.” Gibson gave a talk about navigating the ambiguities between privately and publicly held companies in cities that are home to nuclear power plants, which at that time foreigners were still restricted from visiting. This suggests a deep level of knowledge on Gibson’s part about the workings of Russian business.
Glenn Schweitzer, who organized the conference, told me that it was hard to find Americans who had experience doing business in nuclear cities, and so was grateful that he found Gibson. Schweitzer said he couldn’t recollect much about Gibson except that he had traveled all over Russia, even to small, obscure places that few Americans ever got to: “I found him to be an interesting guy, because he wasn’t like most of the Americans there.”
In 2004 Gibson took part in a Department of Commerce conference under the auspices of Siberia-Pacific. The conference was on the subject of “International Travel to the U.S.” This time he did not give a talk, however, so it’s not clear what his interest in the event was. He was involved in a Tajikistan tourism company between 2005 and 2008, and the company seems to have been active until at least 2013.
Gibson’s ties to Russia are more than professional. Several profiles quote Vladimir A. Gololobov, described in an AP article as a “friend” who “met Gibson nearly two decades ago while the American was in Siberia on business trips.”
Gololobov was born in 1977 and grew up in Novokuznetsk, a city in Kemerov Oblast. He earned a master’s degree in English and German Languages from Russia’s Kemerovo State University in 1999, when he was 22 years and Gibson was 42. After he met Gibson, Gololobov moved to the US to pursue a master’s degree in International Trade Policy Studies/Commercial Diplomacy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California. During that time his listed address was the Gibson family’s home in Carmel. In 2002 Gololobov moved to Washington, DC and started working at the Coalition of Service Industries, a lobbying firm, on issues involving Russian trade. That same year Gibson bought a condo in DC that became Gololobov’s residence. In 2013 Gibson sold the condo to Gololobov for about $100,000 less than its market value.
When I called Golobov he at first denied that he knew Gibson. “I don’t know the person you’re talking about,” he said, adding: “I haven’t talked to the person you’re talking about.”
Incredulous, I asked: “You’re saying that you don’t know anything about Blaine Alan Gibson?”
Gololobov hedged. “I haven’t talked to him in a long time.”
I asked if he’d tell me about how he knew Gibson.
He answered, “No.”
I reached out to Gibson in hopes he could address the issues I’ve raised here, but he did not respond to my email.
So: Did Russia plant the MH370 debris found in the western Indian Ocean?
We don’t know.
Does the man who found most of the debris have significant ties to Russia?