Companies wholly owned by the Central Intelligence Agency are known as proprietaries, as opposed to the more usual “front company” or “Delawares,” referring to the state of their original incorporation. Not all the staff working for a proprietary may be aware of its covert ownership, which is usually concealed through a complicated web of deliberately obscure trusts, foundations, management consultancies, and proxies. In the case of Air America, a charter aircraft company active in Southeast Asia in the 1960s, it grew to be one of the largest airlines in the world, employing 6,000 pilots, ground staff, and administrators, and flew numerous routes in addition to the work undertaken on behalf of the CIA. Other identified proprietaries in the same field are Southern Air Transport, Intermountain, Continental Air Services, and Civil Air Transport. The CIA’s aircraft servicing branch in the Pacific, Air Asia, based in the Republic of China, employed some 2,000 staff prior to its sale in 1975.
Proprietaries are usually deniable, arm’s-length operations, and when John T. Downey and Richard G. Fecteau were shot down on an illegal flight over the People’s Republic of China in November 1952, they spent many years in prison, not being released until March 1973 and December 1971, respectively. Similarly, in May 1958 Allen Pope was captured by the Indonesians while on a clandestine flight to resupply rebels in Sumatra and was imprisoned for four years. In 1986 two Southern Air Transport crew members, William Cooper and Wallace Sawyer, were killed and their cargo-kicker, Eugene Hazenfus, was captured when their C-123 was shot down over Nicaragua during an air drop to the Contras. Between 1947 and 1975, a total of 242 clandestine employees died in operations conducted in Vietnam, China, Korea, and Laos.