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Bob Bytes Back Archive: 08/09/2001 Undercover Air

Undercover Air
Is the CIA back in business at Rickenbacker International?
by Bob Fitrakis

Are we a big ol’ lucky dog of a city, or what? I couldn’t be more excited about Saturday’s Business section front-page story in the Dispatch. The lead told us: “Rickenbacker International Airport will begin receiving cargo shipments from Malaysia as a result of service added by Evergreen International Airlines.”

Thank God we finally got somebody to replace the former Southern Air Transport (SAT) after the company went bankrupt amidst allegations that its pilots and planes were used in CIA drug-running operations.

Evergreen began racing “time-sensitive cargo” from Kuala Lumpur to Rickenbacker on Sunday. They’re aiding some of our best corporate citizens “…such as The Limited and Eddie Bauer,” according to the Dispatch, where no doubt garments are made in state-of-the-art cheery facilities by well-paid Third World employees. I was so excited I took a few minutes to research Evergreen’s history.

Evergreen, originally based in McMinnville, Oregon, expanded from a small helicopter in the 1960s “to a major international airline with secret government contracts” according to the Portland, Oregon Free Press. The Oregonian reported that “Evergreen Airline Company, Evergreen International Airlines, Inc., was built on remnants of two older airlines—one a wholly owned CIA proprietary, or front company, and the other a virtual branch of the U.S. Forest Service that for years secretly had helped the CIA recruit paramilitary personnel.”

In 1975, after a series of embarrassing revelations during Senator Frank Church’s investigation of the CIA, the “company” liquidated Intermountain Aviation Inc. of Marana, Arizona near Tucson. Intermountain’s assets were purchased by two Oregon companies that the CIA selected: Evergreen and Rosenbalm Aviation Inc. But Evergreen was the big winner. One of the CIA’s top aviation officers, the legendary covert ops expert George Doole worked for Evergreen as a director. Prior to this, Doole managed all of the CIA’s proprietary airlines. The CIA selected Evergreen to take over the agency’s airbase at Marana. An investigation by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Oregonian documented that “The CIA offered Intermountain’s substantial Arizona assets only to Evergreen.”

What followed was a decade of privileged treatment and government contracts to the airline. Evergreen purchased the CIA’s Arizona assets at a fraction of their real worth. An Arthur Andersen and Co. financial statement indicates that Evergreen’s assets nearly doubled from $25 million to more than $45 million one year after the deal. Evergreen’s revenues rose from $8-10 million range in 1975 to $77.9 million by 1979, according to U.S. Civil Aeronautics Board documents.

The Washington Post reported on Evergreen’s CIA connection in 1980 after it was chosen to fly the former Shah of Iran from Panama to Cairo.

In 1984, CBS News reported that the CIA was using a “network of private companies” to fly military weapons to Central America to support the Contra rebels trying to overthrow the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. CBS named both Southern Air and Evergreen Air as involved in the arms shipments. The day after the broadcast, the Washington Post reported that “Private airlines, including Evergreen, were owned by the CIA during the Vietnam War, but the agency has said that the airline has since been sold.”

The New York Times jumped in a day later with the following lead: “The Central Intelligence Agency is using small private airlines to fly guns and other military supplies to United States-backed forces in Central America, and false flight plans are sometimes filed to cover up the shipments….” The Times mentioned Evergreen Air by name.

When Doole died on March 9, 1985, the Times reported that Evergreen International Aviation in Marana placed a bronze plaque on the wall acknowledging Doole’s more than 20-year service with the CIA. Like Rickenbacker, the huge airfield formerly operated by the CIA was now owned by the county government (Pinal County, AZ). The plaque noted that Doole was “founder, chief executive officer & board of directors of Air America, Inc., Air Asia Company Ltd., Civil Air Transport Company Ltd.” Air America’s planes were used, according to U.S. Intelligence documents, to facilitate the transportation of opium from Laos to U.S. military bases in the Philippines and Thailand during the Vietnam War. The airline’s nickname was “Opium Air.”

Following the incident when Sandinistas shot down a Southern Air Transport C-123K cargo plane that led to the Iran-Contra arms and drug-running scandal, the Washington Post reported that SAT President William G. Langton had been previously associated with Evergreen International Airlines. The Oregonian investigative report came out in 1988 revealing how well Evergreen Airlines was doing. But by 1994, the airline had defaulted on $125 million in junk bonds, according to the Portland Free Press.

In 1997, Evergreen was caught up in a huge scandal when scores of former military planes were diverted to covert CIA operations under the guise of “firefighting.” The Free Press reported that Evergreen International Airlines was involved in the covert activities. Gary Eitel, a decorated Vietnam combat pilot and law-enforcement officer, found employment at Evergreen and “observed that card-carrying CIA personnel were on Evergreen property acting as Evergreen employees.”

In last Saturday’s paper, the Dispatch’s last sentence stated that: “Still, Rickenbacker officials are hoping for even more cargo activity, and [Jeff] Clark said Evergreen is in the process of determining whether it will operate additional flights from Columbus to South America.”

Columbia may be a good place to start for those “time-sensitive” deliveries, eh?

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