Source: The Progressive, August 1997

Drug Fallout
The CIA's fortyyear complicity in the narcotics trade
by Alfred W. Mccoy
(A history professor  University of Wisconsin
Wrote "The Politics of Heroin: The CIA etc."

Last August, the San Jose Mercury News reported that Nicaraguan dealers 
connected to the CIAbacked contra rebels has sold tons of cocaine in Los 
Angeles' street gangs during the mid1980s, sparking an explosive 
controversy over CIA links to drug lords. The product of a year's work by 
investigative reporter Gary Webb, the threepart "Dark Alliance" series 
stated that one contraconnected dealer was "the Johnny Appleseed of 
crack in California"the man who introduced cheap crack cocaine to the 
poor black neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles.

	 To accompany the series, the San Jose Mercury News ran an editorial
that said "the contrarun drug network opened the first conduit between
Colombia's . . . cartels and L.A.'s black neighborhoods." The paper
concluded that .it's impossible to believe that the Central Intelligence
Agency didn't know about the contras' fundraising activities in Los
Angeles." Going beyond the story itself, political activists and callers
on black talk radio charged that the CIA had targeted their communities
for crack.

	This May, after months of controversy, the San Jose Mercury News
published a remarkable apology. In a signed column, executive editor
Jerry Ceppos criticized the story and undermined some of its claims.
"Although members of the drug ring met with contra leaders paid by the
CIA, I feel that we did not have proof that top CIA officials knew of the
relationship," he wrote.

	The Washington Post responded by lauding Ceppos and by condemning "the
monstrousness of the charge that a secret government agency had created a
national drug epidemic." In an oped in The New York Times, John Deutch,
the recently retired director of the CIA, used the occasion to issue a
carefully and cleverly worded denial that ~the CIA has ever directed or
knowingly condoned drug smuggling into the United States." He added that
"dedicated" CIA analysts and agents who frequently run personal risks in
fighting drugs deserve to have the allegations put fully to rest."

	But before we issue the blanket absolution that Deutch demands, we need
to take a hard look at the CIA and its practice in country after country
of allying with drug traffickers and providing them with de facto
protection from prosecution.

Throughout the forty years of the Cold War, the CIA joined with urban
gangsters and rural warlords, many of them major drug dealers, to mount
covert operations against communists around the globe. In one of
history's accidents, the Iron Curtain fell along the border of the Asian
opium zone, which stretches across 5,000 miles of mountains from Turkey
to Thailand. In Burma during the 1950s, in Laos during the 1970s, and in
Afghanistan during the 1980s, the CIA allied with highland warlords to
mobilize tribal armies against the Soviet Union and China.

	In each of these covert wars, Agency assets local informants used
their alliance with the CIA to become major drug lords, expanding local
opium production and shipping heroin to international markets, the United
States included. Instead of stopping this drug dealing, the Agency
tolerated it and, when necessary, blocked investigations. Since ruthless
drug lords made effective anticommunist allies and opium amplified their
power, CIA agents mounting delicate operations on their own, half a world
from home, had no reason to complain. For the drug lords, it was an ideal
arrangement. The CIA's major covert operations often lasting a
decadeprovided them with de facto immunity within enforcementfree

	In Laos in the 1960s, the CIA battled local communists with a secret
army of 30,000 Hmonga tough highland tribe whose only cash crop was
opium. A handful of CIA agents relied on tribal leaders to provide troops
and Lao generals to protect their cover. When Hmong officers loaded opium
on the CIA's proprietary carrier Air America, the Agency did nothing. And
when the Lao army's commander, General Ouane Rattikone, opened what was
probably the world's largest heroin laboratory, the Agency again failed
to act.

	"The past involvement of many of these officers in drugs is well known,"
the CIA's Inspector General said in a stillclassified 1972 report, "yet
their goodwill ... considerably facilitates the military activities of
Agencysupported irregulars."

	Indeed, the CIA had a detailed knowledge of drug trafficking in the
Golden Triangle that remote, rugged corner of Southeast Asia where
Burma, Thailand, and Laos converge. In June 1971, The New York Times
published extracts from another CIA report identifying twentyone opium
refineries in the Golden Triangle and stating that the "most important
are located in the areas around Tachilek, Burma; Ban Houei Sai and Nam
Keung in Laos; and Mae Salong in Thailand." Three of these areas were
controlled by CIA allies: Nam Keung by the chief of CIA mercenaries for
northwestern Laos; Ban Houei Sai by the commander of the Royal Lao Army;
and Mae Salong by the Nationalist Chinese forces who had fought for the
Agency in Burma. The CIA stated that the Ban Houei Sai laboratory, which
was owned by General Ouane, was "believed capable of processing 100 kilos
of raw opium per day," or 3.6 tons of heroin a year a vast output
considering the total yearly U.S. consumption of heroin was then less
than ten tons.

	By 1971, 34 percent of all U.S. soldiers in South Vietnam were heroin
addicts, according to a White House survey. There were more American
heroin addicts in South Vietnam than in the entire United States largely
supplied from heroin laboratories operated by CIA allies, though the
White House failed to acknowledge that unpleasant fact. Since there was
no indigenous local market, Asian drug lords started shipping Golden
Triangle heroin not consumed by the GIs to the United States, where it
soon won a significant share of the illicit market.

	I took leave from graduate school in 1971 to investigate the Asian

trade. When I went to Laos, I was able to meet the Lao army commander,
General Ouane, who graciously showed me his opium trafficking ledger
titled Controle de Opium au Laos. By contrast, the U.S. mission attempted
a coverup, insisting that the general and his subordinates were not
involved in the drug trade. After I hiked into a remote Hmong village to
investigate opium shipments on Air America, CIA Hmong mercenaries
ambushed my research team, firing bursts from automatic weapons and
forcing my local guards to return fire so we could escape to safety.
Several days later, a CIA operative, George Cosgrove, threatened to kill
my Lao interpreter, Phin Manivog, unless I stopped asking questions.

	When my book The Politics of Heroin was in press, the CIA's deputy
director for plans pressured my publisher to suppress it. And the
Agency's general counsel demanded the right to prior review of my
stillunpublished manuscript. In writing to request a copy of the galley
proofs, CIA counsel Lawrence Houston assured my publisher that he "could
demonstrate to you that a considerable number of Mr. McCoy's claims about
this Agency's alleged involvement are totally false and without

	To encourage compliance, he closed with his rather chilling view that no
"responsible publisher would wish to be associated with an attack on our
Government involving the vicious international drug traffic." After my
publisher capitulated and the CIA reviewed my manuscript for a week, the
Agency's general counsel wrote back, insisting that the "CIA has never
been involved in the drug traffic and is actively engaged in fighting
against it." In the midst of making his case that my book was unworthy of
publication, he admitted that CIA agents had recently interviewed most
of my sources in Laos, including General Ouane, and they had, as one
would expect, retracted statements attributed to them in my manuscript.

	After my book was published unaltered, the Agency mounted a successful
disinformation campaign to discredit my findings that its Laotian allies
were trafficking in opium and heroin. The CIA persuaded the House
Foreign Relations Committee that my allegations were baseless.

	Simultaneously, however, the CIA's own Inspector General conducted a
classified internal investigation that eventually confirmed my
allegations of drugdealing by CIA assets. Five years later, long after
my charges had been forgotten, a Senate Committee published a few
revealing fragments from this secret report buried in the back pages of
its massive investigation into CIA assassinations.

The Inspector General had, back in 1972, expressed "some concern" that
"local officials with whom we are in contact have been or may be still
involved in one way or another in the drug business."

	What to do about these people is a particularly troublesome problem, in
view of its implications for some of our operations, particularly in
Laos." In something akin to a reprimand of the Vientiane station, the
Inspector General suggested that "the station will need additional
guidance from headquarters" in understanding "the possible adverse
repercussions" of its ties to Lao drug dealers. "The war has clearly been
our overriding priority in Southeast Asia, and all other issues have
taken second place," the Inspector General concluded in defense of the
Agency's long history of inaction on drugs in Laos. "It would be foolish
to deny this, and we see no reason to do so."

	By the mid1970s, Golden Triangle heroin syndicates were supplying an
estimated 30 percent of U.S. demand. But Asia was too far away and the
connections were too indirect for allegations of CIA complicity to pack
any political punch. Most Americans did not see the equation between
Agency alliances with distant Asian drug lords and heroindealing in
their own cities.

	Within a few years, the currents of global geopolitics then shifted in

ways that pushed the CIA into new alliances with drug traffickers. In
1979 the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and the Sandinista revolution seized
Nicaragua prompting two CIA covert operations with some revealing

	During the 1980s, while the Soviets occupied Afghanistan, the CIA,
working through Pakistan's InterService Intelligence, spent some $2
billion to support the Afghan resistance. When the operation started in
1979, this region grew opium only for regional markets and produced no
heroin. Within two years, however, the PakistanAfghanistan borderlands
became the world's top heroin producer, supplying 60 percent of U.S.
demand. In Pakistan, the heroinaddict population went from near zero in
1979 to 5,000 in 1981 and to 1.2 million by 1985 a much steeper rise
than in any other nation.

	CIA assets again controlled this heroin trade. As the Mujaheddin
guerrillas seized territory inside Afghanistan, they ordered peasants to
plant opium as a revolutionary tax. Across the border in Pakistan, Afghan
leaders and local syndicates under the protection of Pakistan
Intelligence operated hundreds of heroin laboratories. During this decade
of wideopen drugdealing, the US. Drug Enforcement Agency in Islama 
had failed to instigate major seizures or arrests.

In May 1990, as the CIA operation was winding down, The Washington Post
published a frontpage expose' charging that Gulbudin Hekmatar, the CIA's
favored Afghan leader, was a major heroin manufacturer. The Post argued,
in a manner similar to the San Jose Mercury News's later report about the
contras, that U.S. officials had refused to investigate charges of heroin
dealing by its Afghan allies "because U.S. narcotics policy in
Afghanistan has been subordinated to the war against Soviet influence

	In 1995, the former CIA director of the Afghan operation, Charles Cogan,
admitted the CIA had indeed sacrificed the drug war to fight the Cold
War. "Our main mission was to do as much damage as possible to the
Soviets. We didn't really have the resources or the time to devote to an
investigation of the drug trade," he told an Australian television
reporter. "I don't think that we need to apologize for this. Every
situation has its fallout. . . . There was fallout in terms of drugs,
yes. But the main objective was accomplished. The Soviets left

	Again, distance and complexity insulated the CIA from any political
fallout. Once the heroin left Pakistan's laboratories, the Sicilian mafia
managed its export to the United States, and a chain of
syndicatecontrolled pizza parlors distributed the drugs to street gangs
in American cities, according to reports by the Drug Enforcement Agency.
Most ordinary Americans did not see the links between the CIA's alliance
with Afghan drug lords, the pizza parlors, and the heroin on U.S.

	In Central America, proximity simplified the political equation.

to sections of the San Jose Mercury News story that the
mainstream press have not contested, this "dark alliance" began in the
early 1980s when the contra revolt against Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista
government was failing for want of funds. In 1981, the CIA hired
exNicaraguan army Colonel Enrique Bermudez to organize what became the
main contra guerrilla army, the Nicaraguan Democratic Front. Bermudez
then accepted funds from two Nicaraguan exiles active in the crack trade
to supplement meager Agency funding.

	In California, Danilo Blandon, the former director of Nicaragua's
farmmarketing program, used his business skills to open a new
drugdistribution network. Blandon allied with the rising young black
drug dealer "Freeway Rick" Ross to convert tons of cocaine into lowcost
crack for a growing market among the city's poor African Americans. With
supplies of cheap cocaine from Central America, Ross undercut rival
dealers and built a booming drug business that spread up the California
coast and across the Midwest. Ross and Blandon avoided arrest for years.
But in the late 1980s, the operation lost its contra connection. Both
dealers were soon arrested on drug charges. Freeway Rick started serving
a tenyear sentence, while the Justice Department intervened to free the
contraconnected Blandon and send him home as a wellpaid Drug
Enforcement Agency (DEA) informant.

	Other responsible sources have made similar allegations about contra
involvement in cocaine smuggling to the United States. In December 1985,
the Associated Press issued a story about the contra alliance with
cocaine smugglers. "Nicaraguan rebels operating in northern Costa Rica
have engaged in cocaine trafficking," wrote AP reporters Robert Parry
and Brian Barger, "in part to help finance their war against Nicaragua's
leftist government, according to U.S. investigators and American
volunteers who work with the rebels." As evidence, the reporters cited a
CIA intelligence report noting "the contras in Nicaragua had bought
aircraft with drug profits."

	After lengthy investigations, a U.S. Senate subcommittee chaired by John
Kerry, the Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, issued a report in 1988
concluding that "individuals associated with the contra movement" were
traffickers; cocaine smugglers had participated in "contra supply
operations"; and the U.S. State Department had made "payments to drug
traffickers . . . for humanitarian assistance to the contras, in some
cases after the traffickers had been indicted . . . on drug charges."

	During this decade of contra operations from bases in southern Honduras,
the region was effectively closed to narcotics investigations. In 1983,
at the height of the contra war, the DEA suddenly shut down its Honduran
office even though the agent there, Tomas Zepeda, had, in his words,
"generated a substantial amount of useful intelligence" about Honduran
military involvement in the cocaine traffic to the United States. "The
Pentagon made it clear that we were in the way," an anonymous DEA agent
explained. "They had more important business." As host to the main contra
bases and the CIA's supply operation, the Honduran military, like the
commander of the Royal Laotian Army and Pakistani Intelligence, were
spared investigation of their involvement in drug trafficking.

	Looking back on these tangled covertaction alliances, I do not believe
that the CIA actually targeted any group of Americans for drug use
whether GIs in South Vietnam or African Americans in South Central.

	But it is indisputable that the CIA allied with warlords, colonels, and
criminals who used the Agency's protection to deal drugs. CIA agents
regarded narcotics as mere "fallout." For CIA agents in Laos, the heroin
epidemic among GIs in Vietnam was only "fallout." For agents in Pakistan
and Central America, drug ship ments to America were just "fallout."

	For Vietnam vets and African Amencans who live with the pain of this
fallout such CIA involvement remains profoundly disturbing. And no amount
of CIA blanket denials, no amount of backpedaling from the executive
editor of the San Jose Mercury News, no amount of handwringing from The
Washington Post, can make that pain go away.