U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada is expressing his pleasure at the Senate passage of a measure that includes language providing retirement benefits to some former Air America employees. Air America was a Southeast Asia airline owned by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
The airline has often been suspected of running drugs for the CIA. In 1988 when PBS’s Frontline program was doing a report on Air America, former general Richard Second told them, “You can question any number of people who were there, who actually were there, not people who claim that they had some knowledge of rumors, you can question any number of people and I venture to say they will all support what I’m saying, and that is that there was no commercial trade in opium going on.” The program responded with two interviews—one of a former Air America pilot, the other with a U.S. Aid and International Development official—both saying they personally witnessed opium bricks being loaded on Air America planes.
Some have expressed concern about contract workers being given pensions because it might encourage others to seek the same. In 2001, CIA contract employees were found to be aboard a surveillance plane when a flight carrying U.S. missionaries was shot down by Peruvian forces. The U.S. emphasized the contract nature of their status.
Sen. Reid’s interest in the measure is explained by the Las Vegas residence of some former Air America pilots.