Thursday, 18 December 2014

Come Fly The Friendly Skies: Night's Black Agents and Air America

If people remember Air America at all, it's usually because of the Mel Gibson/Robert Downey Jr film. which didn't do too well at the box office. While the movie's fun enough, no one film could really do justice to the CIA's wholly owned subsidiary transport company. The question before us right now is, what happened to Air America after the war, and what does that tell us about Night's Black Agents?

Air America started life in the 1950s as a passenger airline, intended by the CIA to help it gather intelligence in China. China at that time was just coming out of a battle for control of the country, which ended in 1949 when Mao formed the People's Republic. At that time Air America was Civil Air Transport(CAT), originally founded by Flying Tigers veteran Clair Lee Chennault, and had significant Chinese investment. It had bases in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, among other places, which in hindsight became perfect placement when America became embroiled in Vietnam.

It transported people, cargo, and allegedly narcotics on behalf of high placed Laotians. It also had a significant sideline in transporting livestock, often to help civilians, starving thanks to Agent Orange attacks which blighted their cropland. It lived up to the slogan Anything, Anywhere, Anytime, often in ways that would seem, to outsiders. less than creditable, and hired pretty much anyone, from ex-war aces to ex-Marines, with the helicopter pilots, generally younger , taking the prize for hell-raising and boozing.

'The men usually abandoned the [company] hat for a baseball cap, and some even wore Stetsons, and all wore the inevitable sunglasses. But most distinctive of all was what came to be known as A.A. jewelry. Some wore gold necklaces and rings, but almost without fail they sported a solid gold Rolex on one arm and a solid gold bracelet hand-engraved with their initials, sometimes in diamonds, and the Chinese four seasons design, on the other ... The bracelets were big and gaudy, and the biggest weighed half a kilo. The pilots claimed that the A.A. bracelets originated as something to barter their lives with if they were ever shot down and captured by the enemy. As the enemy would have cut their arms off to get the gold, it is more likely that the pilots' naive theory was created to allow them time to indulge themselves in a little ostentation.'

So why, when the war was over, did the CIA get rid of its airline, and what does this mean for Night's Black Agents?

It wasn't because the CIA never wanted to get in a plane again. It still had a use for an aviation section, but one of the big problems was the size of Air America. By the war's end the airline was too large, and its activities too well known, to be kept a secret. It didn't help that, as a business, it was an enormous drain on resources in terms of man hours spent keeping it going, often with very little reward in sight. After all, the CIA doesn't always need an airline, but if it wants to keep one then it always needs to find something for that airline to do. That's a huge pain in the neck, particularly if you lend your airline to another agency, just to justify that airline's existence on your balance sheet, only to have that other agency commit some heinous faux pas for which you, as owner of the airline, are now being blamed.

For those reasons, the CIA sold off its assets, including all its planes, and started working with cut-outs. Much easier, the spooks reasoned, to work on a contract basis with third parties, than to own the business yourself. By 1976, Air America was history.

What does all this mean for Night's Black Agents?

To begin with, it's entirely possible that the conspyramid worked hand-in-hand with AA at some point, if only because AA worked with pretty much everyone. If the vampires had an interest in infil or exfil of human (?) assets somewhere in Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia in the 1960s and 1970s, then it probably used AA to do it. After the dissolution of AA, the conspyramid might have picked up a few disgruntled human assets of its own; many of those pilots found themselves without a job after AA dissolved, and with limited compensation, except for a few entitled to disability benefits. Those on disability might have found vampire promises particularly enticing.

However the AA story points up a bigger truth, than the conspyracy will have to acknowledge: while there's a great deal of control in owning your own asset, ownership is a pain in the ass. You have all the troubles of running a business and few of the rewards, since your clandestine asset can't compete with commercial enterprises. After all, the commercial line can do whatever it takes to earn contracts, but the clandestine enterprise always has to be mindful of its master's wishes. Plus there's always the risk that, with larger and more complex assets, the truth will leak out. People talk. Accidents happen. From a game perspective, those assets are constantly generating Heat, attracting attention to themselves because they really can't explain their activities, except to admit to some kind of illegal enterprise.

This is why most of the assets in a conspyracy, particularly at its lowest levels, are going to be human; cut-out organizations, businesses and groups with little substantive link to the higher echelons. All the better for deniability, but it also means that those cut-outs might unintentionally commit an act that harms the conspyracy, just as AA did when it allegedly got mixed up in narcotic smuggling.

With all that in mind, consider the following:

Pet Flight, a bespoke animal air freight company incorporated and operating in the UK, has recently suffered financial troubles after a PR disaster, when a celebrity's favorite dog died in transit. The police got involved when rumors began to circulate that the dog died from a drug overdose, which happened when the animal stuck its snout in a massive quantity of cocaine. The police initially believed that the cocaine was being smuggled on the celebrity's behalf by Pet Flight - an extra service it allegedly provided some of its high profile clients - but when the CEO of Pet Flight, Patricia Brady, offered to turn informer, she was brutally murdered. The murder seems overkill for what would otherwise be a fairly straightforward smuggling charge; what else did Brady know about, that her clients preferred remain secret?

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