I-Team: CIA's Area 51 Roadrunners Hold Reunion in Las Vegas - 8 News NOW

George Knapp, Chief Investigative Reporter

I-Team: CIA's Area 51 Roadrunners Hold Reunion in Las Vegas

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The Central Intelligence Agency just celebrated its 60th anniversary and many of those who attended ceremonies in Washington last week were Las Vegas Thursday.

They're known as the Roadrunners, former CIA employees who worked on top secret spy planes out at the Area 51 military base. Unlike past years, the Roadrunners are now able to speak openly about the work they did to protect our country.

It might look like just another merchandise table at a convention, but a closer look reveals the logo of the CIA on everything from t-shirts to key chains. The women taking orders are both CIA employees and this marks the first time the CIA has allowed its official merchandise to be sold outside of its headquarters in Virginia.

T.D. Barnes, Roadrunners president, said, "Oh yes, we've got quite a number of CIA here."

T.D. Barnes should know. He worked for the CIA himself for several years, as did most of the other attendees at this year's convention of Roadrunners Internationale, whose members all had a role in the development and testing of the greatest spy planes ever built, including the U-2, SR-71, A-12, and YF-12A, each of which was nurtured at Nevada's Groom Lake facility, better known as Area 51. Even though the attendees are all friends and former colleagues, they still carry secrets from back in the day.

T.D. Barnes said, "A bunch of us will get together, we'll all be talking and one guy will go, I never heard that before, because we just didn't talk about it back then."

They didn't tell co-workers, they didn't tell their spouses what they were doing, but there have been fundamental changes over the past few years. The CIA still won't sell anything that mentions Groom Lake or Area 51, but it has released reams of documents as well as photos of the base.

If someone had left a flight manual from the A-12 sitting on a table 40 years ago, that person would have gone to prison. Not anymore. In fact, CIA is interested in recording the oral histories of these intelligence veterans before more of them take their final flight. UNLV researchers are doing the same.

Roadrunner Harry Martin attended the CIA's anniversary ceremony back east several days ago and was proud to see the agency unveil an A-12 spy plane at headquarters. He was at Groom Lake for the very first flight of an A-12.

Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp: "It wasn't supposed to be a test flight?"

Harry Martin, V.P. of Roadrunners Internationale:  "No. It was supposed to be a high speed taxi, but it took off and flew for about a mile and a half or so. Then we got it back down."

The walls of the Roadrunner gathering are plastered with photos that once would have made the KGB drool, and although the gathering isn't open to the public, a lot of the information is now in the public domain, demonstrating that the work done by these men and women -- in total secrecy -- helped to keep our country safe for much of the Cold War and beyond.

Later this month, the Roadrunners will be honored in Carson City as part of Nevada Day celebrations. The theme of this year's parade is Area 51.

If you'd like to check out the photos and documents that have now been declassified, visit Roadrunners Internationale online.

E-mail your comments to Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp.

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