DRUGS & COVERT OPS: BRIEF HISTORY
christic christic.news 12:13 pm Oct 12, 1991
DRUGS AND COVERT OPS: A BRIEF HISTORY
By ALFRED McCOY
Convergence Magazine, Christic Institute, Fall 1991
[Covert operations rely on lliances with drug smugglers. In 1972,
Alfred McCoy documented this relationship in his groundbreaking
study, _The Politics of Heroin in Souheast Asia_. The C.I.A.
attempted to prevent its publication, and it has since disappeared
from most libraries. Now a professor of history at the University
of Wisconsin, Madison, McCoy has expanded his study to include
evidence from cover wars fought on almost every continent.
Published by Lawrence Hill Books, to which the Christic Intitute
is grateful for permission to reproduce the following excerpt, this
revision is titled, The Politics of Heroin: C.I.A. Complicity in
the Global Drug Trade. For details on how to order Prof. McCoy's
book and other resources on drugs and covert operations, please
contact the Institute at the address listed at th end of this
Few in official Washington are willing to discuss the imposition of
controls over C.I.A. covert operations to ensure that the United
States does not continue to protectdrug lords. Over the past 40
years American and allied intelligence agencies have played a sig-
nificant role in protecting and expanding the obal drug traffic.
C.I.A. covert operations in key drug-producing areas have repeat-
edly restrained or blocked D.E.A. efforts to deal with the problem.
[The D.E.A., or Drug Enforcement Administration, is the nation's
chief law enorcement agency in the war on drugs.]
The list of governments whose clandestine services have had close
relations with major narcotics traffickers is surprisingly long--
Nationalist China, Imperial Japan, Gaullist France, French
Indochina, the Kingdom of Thailand, Pakistan and the United States.
Instead of reducing or represing the drug supply most clandestine
agencies seem to regulate traffic by protecting favored dealers and
eliminating their rivals.
Indeed, if we review the hisory of postwar drug traffic, we can
see repeated coincidence between C.I.A. covert action assets and
major drug dealers. During the 1950s the C.I.A. worked with the
Corsican syndicates of Marseilles to restrain communist influence
on the city's docks, therebystrengthening the criminal milieu at
a time when it was becoming America's leading heroin supplier. Si-
multaneously, the C.I.A. installed Nationalist Chinese irregulars
in northern Burma and provided them with the logistic support that
they used to transform the country's Shan states into the world's
largest opium producer.
During the 1960s the C.I.A.'s seret war in Laos required alliances
with the Hmong tribe, the country's leading opium growers, and
various national political leaders who soon became major heroin
manufacturers. Although Burma's increased opium harvest of the
1950s supplied only regional markets, Laos' heroin production in
the late 1960s was directed at U.S. troops fighting in South Viet-
nam. Constrained by local political realities, the C.I.A. lent its
air logistics to opium transport and did little to slow Laotian
heroin shipments to South Vietnam.
When U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam in the early 1970s, South-
east Asian heroin followed the GIs home, capturing one-third of the
U.S. drug market in the mid-70s. Ater protracted complicity in the
marketing of opium and heroin, the C.I.A. emerged from Laos with an
entire generation of clandestine cadres experienced in using na
cotics to support covert operations.
During the 1980s, the C.I.A.'s two main covert action opeations
became interwoven with the global narcotics trade. The agncy's
support for Afghan guerrillas through Pakistan coincided wit the
emergence of southern Asia as the major heroin supplier for the Eu-
ropean and American markes. Although the United States maintained
a substantial force of D.E.A. agents in Islamabad dring the 1980s,
the unit was restrained by U.S. national security imperatives and
did almost nothing to slow Pakistan's booming heroin exports to
Similarly, C.I.A. support for the Nicaraguan contras has sparked
sustainedlegations, yet unconfirmed, of the agency's complicity
in the Caribbean cocaine trade. Significanty, many of the C.I.A.
covert warriors named in the contra operation had substantial ex-
perience in the Laotian secret war.
Surveying C.I.A. complicity in the narcotics trade over the past
four decades produces several conclusions. First, agency alliances
with Third World drug brokers have, at several key points, ampli-
fied the scle of he global drug traffic, linking new production
areas tothe world market. Protected by their C.I.A. allies, these
drug brokers have been allowed a de facto immunity from investiga-
tio during a critical period of vulnerability while they are forg-
ing new market linkages. Of equal importance, the apparent level of
C.I.A. complicity has increased, indicating a growing tolerance for
narcotics as an informal weapon in the arsenal of covert warfare.
Over the past 20years, the C.I.A. has moved from transport of raw
opium in the remote areas of Laos to apparent cmplicity in the
bulk transport of pure cocaine directly into the United States or
the mass manufacture of heroin for the U.S. market. Finally, Ame-
rica's drug epidemics have been fueled by narcotics supplied from
areas of major C.I.A. operations, while periods of reduced heroin
use coincide with the absence of C.I.A. activity.
In effect, American drug policy has been crippled by a contradic-
tion between D.E.A. attempts to arrest major traffickers and C.I.A.
protection for many of the world's drug lords. This contradicion
between covert operations and drug enforcement, seen most recently
during Pakistan's heroin boom of he 1980s, has recurred repeat-
edly. The C.I.A.'s protected covert action assets have included
eille's Corscan criminals, Nationalist Chinese opium warlords,
the Thai military's opium overlord, Laotian heroin merchants, Af-
ghan heroin manufacturers, and Pakistan's leading drug lords.
Although there are problems in many C.I.A. divisions, complicity
with the drug lords seems limited to the agency's covert operation
units. In broad terms, the C.I.A. engages in two types of clan-
destine work: espionage, the collection of information about pres-
ent and future events; and covert action, the attempt to use
extralegal means--assassination, destabilization or secret war-
fare--to somehow influence the outcome of tose events. In the cold
war crisis of 1947, the national security ac that established the
C.I.A. contained a single clause allowing the new agency to perform
``other functions and duties'' that thepresident might direct--in
effect, creating the legal authority for the C.I.A.'s covert oper-
atives to break the law in pursuit of their objectives. From this
vague clause has sprung the entir C.I.A. covert action ethos and
the radical pragmatism that have encouraged repeated alliances with
drug lords over the past four decades.
With the demise of the cold war in 1989-1990, it might now be
possible to impose some controls over the C.I.A. A small reform of
the national security legislation would close down the C.IA.'s
covert action apparatus, which is no longer necessary, without
weakening the agency's main intelligence-gathering capabilities.
Regulation of the C.I.A.'s covert operations might thus deny soe
future drug lord the political protection he needs to flood America
with heroin or cocaine.
To order this book or learn more about the Christic Institute,
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