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SEASPRAY was a clandestine U.S. Army special operations unit. Its existence within the U.S. Department of Defense was held secret insofar as it testifies to the close links between the United States Army and the Central Intelligence Agency.
Established on 2 March 1981, SEASPRAY was charged with the clandestine transport of elements of special operations units in the course of their operations. The management of the unit was entrusted to a joint CIA/U.S. Army command. SEASPRAY may have been established in response to President Carter's 1978 Executive Order 12036, which generally prohibited the use of the United States Armed Forces in "special activities."
On one hand, the CIA became the only branch to run clandestine operations abroad, but lacked the resources to do so; on the other hand, the Army had the equipment but not the authority to carry out clandestine operations. A joint unit was created to bring these assets together. SEASPRAY operated many air assets, including various Cessna and Beechcraft light fixed-wing airplanes, and modified FLIR-equipped Hughes 500MD rotary-wing aircraft equipped to transport up to nine operators.
At first, the unit had 10 pilots, the best flyboys out of the Army's 4,000. Hundreds were evaluated by the CIA, and the best of the best were chosen. Finally, a commercial cover was devised, so that the unit could engage in covert operations, and not be identified as a part of the military. The cover was a CIA company, Aviation Tech Services, which let the helicopters appear as they were privately owned. The unit itself was headquartered at Fort Eustis, Virginia, and was named the First Rotary Wing Test Activity. Another secret headquarters for Seaspray was located in Tampa Bay at MacDill Air Force Base, to support operations in Central America.
Seaspray would be involved in countless covert operations, most of which the public will never know of. They conducted intelligence missions, transported foreign leaders, and participated in counter-terrorist exercises and missions with Delta Force and other CT units. A few times, Seaspray helicopters were loaned to the Drug Enforcement Administration to combat drug smuggling. In one particular incident, a Seaspray pilot observed as a tanker off the Florida coast, unloaded "cargo" to high speed boats. Eventually, the Seaspray force grew to nine fixed-wing aircraft and five helicopters. Seaspray could get things done quickly, and they were generally well-liked in the special operations community. When Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) needed a Boeing 737 airplane for a counter-terrorist exercise, the U.S. Air Force told them it would take three months to get one. Seaspray delivered the 737 in 3 days.
- Steven Emerson, Secret Warriors: Inside the Covert Military Operations of the Reagan Era, G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1988. ISBN 0-399-13360-7
- Michael Smith, Killer Elite: The Inside Story of America's Most Secret Special Operations Team, Cassell, London, 2006. ISBN 0-304-36727-3