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The Billionaire Brothers Behind America's Predator Drones -- And Their Very Strange Past

Linden Stanley and James Neal Blue's General Atomics has a massive stake in the drone industry. But that's just the start.

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In 1961, four years after making the cover of LIFE magazine, the Blue brothers again made national headlines--this time, in connection with Communist Cuba.

It was another bizarre story, but the gist of it is this: Linden Blue was on his way to Nicaragua when, for some inexplicable reason, he decided to fly his private prop plane straight over Fidel Castro's Havana. This happened at a time of escalating tensions. The U.S. had just closed down its embassy in Havana and severed diplomatic relations. Meanwhile, Castro had advanced knowledge that the CIA's was planning its Bay of Pigs invasion, which was just a month away. Not surprisingly, as Linden flew over Havana, he was intercepted by a Cuban fighter jet, forced to land, and thrown in jail along with his sole passenger, a buddy/business partner who worked as an executive for a baby food company.

Here's a clip from a 1961 story in the  Miami News published after their release 11 days later:

They had set out from Key West on March 24 In Blue's twin-engine private plane on a flight to Managua, Nicaragua, where Blue is partner in a banana plantation. [Donald] Swenson, executive for a baby food manufacturing firm, said he went along to see the plantation and possibly to enter into a business relationship with Blue. They were about 70 miles from Havana when Blue, piloting the plane, contacted the Havana airport by radio to ask permission to fly over the area on his way to Nicaragua. "About 20 miles from Havana, they ordered me to remain near the city at 8,000 feet,” Blue said. ”Shortly after that an American-made jet fighter appeared. He came very close once, apparently to check on our plane's identification marks." Next, Blue was ordered to land. I was in no position to argue about it," he said. Blue and Swenson were hustled away to a large house in the city. They soon learned that they were at the head-quarters of the Cuban secret police.

Linden Blue and his buddy Gerber were released on April 5. Less than two weeks later, the CIA launched the Bay of Pigs invasion--an operation in which Nicaragua's Somoza clan happened to play a crucial role, allowing the CIA to use Nicaragua as a base of operations. The Cuban exile "army” trained in Nicaragua, and part of their invasion was launched from there.

H'mmm, makes me wonder about that plantation business the Blue brothers were running in Nicaragua. Was it simply a cover for clandestine spook work? Or was it a legitimate business? Maybe it was both?

The Blue brothers are coy about their intelligence connections. In 2007, Neal told the  New York Times that he and his brother were "enthusiastic supporters” of the CIA-run Contra army in the 1980s, a brutal death squad that terrorized Nicaraguan peasants and sabotaged infrastructure in order to destabilize the Sandinistas' rule. That raised an obvious question about intelligence connections; but Neal Blue "declined to discuss if they have worked for the Central Intelligence Agency.”

Wink, wink. Nod, nod.

Then, in 1982, Linden Blue, was  appointed CEO of Beech Aircraft Corporation, which at the time had just been bought out by mega-military contractor Raytheon, the world's premier manufacturer of guided missiles.

Two years later, his brother Neal bought up most of the valley below Telluride and hatched plans to  subdivide and turn the small ski town into a massive McMansion subdivision. The plan ultimately failed, but Neal fought with local residents for 25 years to push it through, even lobbying the Colorado's legislature to pass a retroactive law that would allow him carry out his plans--a law that was later struck down by Colorado's Supreme Court.

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