Real Life Air America: CIA Exposed Running a Covert Drug Smuggling Airline

By Rachel Blevins

When you hear “Air America,” there is a good chance the 1990 movie starring Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. is the first thing that comes to mind. The plot revolves around two men who find themselves in the middle of the CIA’s private airline, which is used to deliver food, supplies, and even opium, to a small kingdom during the Vietnam War.

But what if it was more than just a movie plot?  

According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s own website, Air America is in fact described as “an airline secretly owned by the CIA,” which was used as “a vital component in the Agency’s operations” in the small Southeast Asian Kingdom of Laos, from 1955 to 1974.

The version presented on the CIA’s website is authored by William M. Leary, a former history professor at the University of Georgia. He attempted to dispel the rumors by blaming Air America’s poor public image on the fact that the blockbuster version featured “a cynical CIA officer who arranged for the airline to fly opium to the administrative capital of Vientiane for a corrupt Asian general—loosely modeled on Vang Pao, a military leader of the mountain-region-based Hmong ethnic group.”

“The film depicts the CIA man as having the opium processed into heroin in a factory just down the street from the favorite bar of Air America’s pilots. The Asian general, in return, supplied men to fight the war, plus a financial kickback to the CIA,” Leary wrote. “Ultimately, we learn that the Communist versus anti-Communist war in Laos was merely a facade for the real war, which was fought for control of the area’s opium fields.”

In an opinion piece for the New York Times in 1993, titled “The CIA Drug Connection is as Old as the Agency,” Larry Collins noted that the CIA has had its hand in the international drug trade since the Korean War in 1950, when they traded weapons and heroin, in exchange for intelligence.

The practice continued as the Vietnam War started in 1955, and Collins noted that the CIA appeared to have one interest in mind—the cultivation of the opium poppy.

“During the Vietnam War, operations in Laos were largely a CIA responsibility,” Collins wrote. “The agency’s surrogate there was a Laotian general, Vang Pao, who commanded Military Region 2 in northern Laos. He enlisted 30,000 Hmong tribesmen in the service of the CIA.”

The operation was discussed on an episode of PBS’ Frontline, titled “Guns, Drugs and the CIA,” which aired in 1988. The documentary looked at the Meo Tribe, whose members served as “the foot soldiers of a secret CIA army” in Laos, just across the border from North Vietnam.

Ron Rickenbach, former official at the U.S. Agency for International Development, served in Laos during the 1960s. He told Frontline that for the soldiers involved, they initially believed that what they were doing was “in the best interests of America,” even if it meant being involved “in some not so desirable aspects of the drug traffic.”

“These people were willing to take up arms. We needed to stop the Red threat and people believed that in that vein we made, you know, certain compromises or certain trade-offs for a larger good,” Rickenbach said. “Growing opium was a natural agricultural enterprise for these people and they had been doing it for many years before the Americans ever got there. When we got there they continued to do so.”

Fred Platt, a former pilot in Laos, told Frontline about the incentives the Meo tribesman had to take part in the trade.

“When a farmer raised a crop of opium, what he got for his year’s worth of work was the equivalent of 35 to 40 U.S. dollars,” Platt said. “That amount of opium, were it refined into morphine base, then into morphine, then into heroin and appeared on the streets of New York, that 35-dollar crop of opium would be worth 50, 60, a hundred thousand dollars in 1969—maybe a million dollars today.”

How does Air America come into play? According to PBS’ Frontline, the CIA’s secret airline played the role of both a transportation service for the Meo farmers’ cash crop, and the only lifeline between the tribespeople and the outside world—to the point where Meo children “came to believe that rice fell from the sky.”

While Air America reportedly only operated from 1950 to 1976, the CIA’s obsession with opium has continued to flourish over the years.

The CIA supported the Mujahideen rebels in Afghanistan—in the name of fighting the Soviet Army—in the 1980s. According to a 2009 report from the United States Institute of Peace, the CIA turned a blind eye to the group’s involvement in the opium trade.

The U.S. then encountered Afghanistan’s poppy-rich land again in 2001, when it invaded the country. In the years since the invasion, Afghanistan’s opium production, which is “an important source of funding for the Taliban,” has increased 35-fold.

As The Free Thought Project reported in April, the North Korean government is also a major opium producer, which provides some of the necessary context surrounding the U.S. government’s interest with, and the mainstream media’s obsessive and speculative coverage of every move made by the small nation.

When looking at the CIA’s history of fueling proxy wars to overthrow foreign governments, and using drugs like opium as a means of control, it makes Hollywood’s version of “Air America” sound much less like a fictional movie, and much more like a documentary.

Rachel Blevins is a Texas-based journalist who aspires to break the left/right paradigm in media and politics by pursuing truth and questioning existing narratives. This article first appeared here at The Free Thought Project.

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25 Comments on "Real Life Air America: CIA Exposed Running a Covert Drug Smuggling Airline"

  1. Does anyone remember Mena, Arkansas? I am sure that Governor Bill Clinton does. And yet no one was punished, convicted – nothing. The CIA funding its operations with drug smuggling is nothing new. Amazing.

  2. America 1st. | June 20, 2017 at 4:40 am | Reply

    The democrats created the CIA and it is a corrupt and evil entity which should be fully exposed. Liberals have used this entity for years to spread hate and discontent.

    • | June 25, 2017 at 5:36 pm | Reply

      Yeah, the CIA has always been a “liberal” institution. You asshole, do you think that we are stupid?

  3. Garry Compton | June 20, 2017 at 4:41 am | Reply

    I remember them from a runway we rebuilt in 70′ – just west of Saigon – on the border/ way to Phnom Penh. I believe the French were even flying then because I saw some nice Dornier planes pop in and out. Bought a couple of personal weapons from a couple of them – Never was shown or asked to buy any dope tho.

  4. every drug conviction in America should be overturned, all drug-related arrest records expunged and incinerated, payouts to the victims of the War On Drugs coming from the trillions stolen by the elites who have benefited from all this.

  5. Fast and furious comes to mind. Eric ‘guns for drugs’ Holder is not in the gray bar no-tell motell.

  6. Iran / Contra: 1980’s drugs for cash, cash for weapons, weapons to central america: North and Reagan were a part of it. And the sheeple think that Reagan was perfect.

    • Bush was a former CIA director and Reagan didn’t want him to run as his VP but after they had a little talk with him he conceded and had DaddyBush run with him. I guess they showed him his unfuture…..

    • Reagan ordered the brutal cold-blooded murder of over 300,000 innocent Central Americans…FACT

    • | June 25, 2017 at 5:39 pm | Reply

      I worked with two veterans at two different times and two different places. They were both SP’s, one in Florida and the other in California. They both told me that the CIA was running drugs through the Air Force bases.

  7. NJguy - Proudly Deplorable | June 20, 2017 at 10:25 am | Reply

    And this is why we just don’t napalm all the poppy fields and salt the earth as Rome did to Carthage.

  8. the reason why Green Berets / Special Operating Forces were the first (and only) forces to go into “Kurdistan” that part of Iraq that is closest to Turkey, which had control of and was known as “the opium triangle”, in 2003; but the majority of the poppy fields are not in Turkey, but it was easier to get anything out of there, until the US Military took Turkey’s control away, which is why Turkey is now trying to get control of Syria’s part of that “opium triangle” using ISIS, but the US will probably steal that away from them as well if they are ever successful in Syria.
    circles within circles within circles – it’s enough to make you dizzy

  9. Iran/Contra comes to mind. That’s exactly what I thought of while reading this. Then I considered the opium poppies of Afghanistan. I’ve heard their production has increased 10-fold in the last several years. Every recent war seems to involve this kind of secret CIA operation.
    Has anyone observed how the current explosion of heroin addiction has occurred right along with the rise of the Middle East conflict? And remember back in the 70’s, 80’s & 90’s it was Centrl/South America corresponding to the use of cocaine?
    Seems not to be a coincidence but a direct correlation. Americans, especially our children, are the collateral damage of these drug & oil wars as much as anyone. The drugs actually have to be sold on the streets to be profitable. Where else but the streets of America, the richest country in the world?

    • We suffer with kids ODing and money wasted on heroin while they get RICH RICH RICH off us and have our troops guard the poppy fields. The red poppies handed out on Veterans Day is actually symbolic….a symbol of what our troops died for….I refuse to buy another poppy EVER…..

  10. Just WHO do you think was behind the Clintoons and the Mena, Ak airport drop off for drugs? The CIA!!! They made the Clintoons into the multimillionaires they are today……and made hill into a Billionaire!!

  11. Evergreen International Airlines

  12. | June 25, 2017 at 5:35 pm | Reply

    When you have a government made up of petty thugs, gangsters, murderers, pedophiles, faggots and all their inbred idiotic relatives, you get a government like the one you have. I’m the fuck out of here.

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