Senate Democrats


Employees of CIA missions would receive recognition, benefits

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A U.S. Senate committee has passed a bill authored by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) that honors veterans, including many Nevadans, of top-secret missions during the Cold War. The bill, sent to the Senate floor by the Intelligence Committee, would recognize several hundred American citizens for their role in a top secret operation conducted by the CIA and grant them credit for civil service retirement benefits.

The CIA created, owned and operated an airline known as Air America (AAM) to support government operations, mainly in East Asia, from 1950 through 1976. This included flying non-combat support missions in various countries such as China, Korea, Laos and Vietnam on behalf of the Department of Defense (DOD) and the CIA. The missions also included rescuing downed pilots. The company employed several hundred U.S. citizens, mainly flight crew members and was operated in strict secrecy. “Air America personnel performed heroic service to our nation, executing dangerous flight missions in communist China, during the Korean War and throughout the Vietnam War,” Senator Reid said. “The CIA could not reveal their true ownership of Air America at the time, so the employees — who were actually working for the U.S. government — were not eligible for federal retirement benefits. I think that’s wrong.”

During the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the government’s ownership of the company was never acknowledged. The vast majority of Air America employees themselves were not aware of the vital role they were playing in the Cold War conflict and are not eligible for federal benefits. Reid believes these American heroes deserve recognition and benefits for their work. “The last helicopters rescuing personnel from the rooftops of Saigon in 1975 were operated by these AAM pilots,” Reid said. “These are our American heroes, many of whom were killed in action while flying dangerous missions for the CIA. They deserve to be recognized as such and at a minimum receive the same benefits that other federal employees receive. It is simply not fair to forget about them.”

Employees of government corporations are federal employees and as such they are entitled to retirement benefits under the Civil Service Retirement System. This is true, as an example, for employees of such government corporations as the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Federal Land Bank. While AAM was in fact a government corporation, employees were hired under contracts which did not reveal true ownership of the company. In the early 1980s some AAM employees sought civil service retirement benefit through the courts, but were turned down because AAM was not listed as a government corporation. Reid’s legislation would reclassify Air America as officially owned by the U.S. government, giving employees the same benefits provided to employees of all other government owned corporations. The legislation that would provide former employees with civil service retirement benefits based upon the time they were employed with AAM. Sen. Reid estimates there are between 400 and 500 former Air America employees and as many as 30 living in Nevada.