Professor Alfred McCoy on …

… the Politics of Heroin (March 06 2016)

Professor Alfred McCoy is recognized as being one of the foremost experts on the politics of Heroin, a drug making a surging comeback after largely being shamed out of popular culture for decades. The availability of opiate-related pills has brought on demand for the dragon drug, thought to be cheaper and easier to obtain once an addict has exhausted their doctor prescriptions.

McCoy’s breakthrough book The Politics Of Heroin In Southeast Asia has been updated several times, but alas I am operating from his original 1972 copy.

McCoy’s heavily footnoted book travels from “The history of a miracle drug” through the sordid partnership between the military, CIA, and Mafia. Heroin, McCoy explains, was introduced into the United States in 1898, was declared non-addictive and widely used in hospitals. Interestingly, the German pharmaceutical company Bayer (think aspirin), formerly a component of Nazi industrial giant I G Farben holds the patent on this drug. After the turn of the century and during prohibition heroin turned out to be a useful moneymaker for the Mafia, although until the 1930s the Sicilian families left distribution to Jewish gangsters such as Mayer Lansky. During World War Two the Office of Naval Intelligence brokered a partnership with east-coast Mafia families to protect the waterfront and shipping operations from German sabotage. Later, as allied troops moved into Italy they were aided by territorial knowledge of the Mafia, which was more powerful and better connected in the post-war years. Originally, the heroin highway wove through Turkey and Italy to America. As demand rose and a need for more processing laboratories was needed, the Corsican Mafia in Marseille were employed – hence, “The French Connection”.

Fast-forward to Indochina, where French Intelligence was strapped for funds and took over the Opium trade. With a series of military defeats the French saw their colonial efforts fade away, and American involvement increase. The Golden Triangle region of Cambodia is some 150,000 square miles of rugged opium territory that was a refuge for Chinese Nationalists (Kuomintang) fleeing from the communists. President Truman began military aid to “stem the southward flow of communism”. It is here that we see the first footsteps of American Intelligence in heroin country. Author McCoy goes into great detail about CIA involvement, and we know from history that such a profitable business model would soon be moved to South America for cocaine production, and to its current home in the poppy fields of Afghanistan.

It is Afghanistan that is the subject of Professor McCoy’s current article “How a Pink Flower Defeated the World’s Sole Superpower”:

McCoy states that after years of American involvement, Afghanistan has become “the worlds first true narco-state”. In fact, “opium production surged from a minimal 180 tons to a monumental 8,200 in the first five years of US occupation”.

Everywhere the CIA goes, drugs come back. McCoy describes the agency’s supposed “blind eye”:

Not surprisingly, the Agency looked the other way while Afghanistan’s opium production grew unchecked from about 100 tons annually in the 1970s to 2,000 tons by 1991. In 1979 and 1980, just as the CIA effort was beginning to ramp up, a network of heroin laboratories opened along the Afghan-Pakistan frontier. That region soon became the world’s largest heroin producer. By 1984, it supplied a staggering sixty percent of the US market and eighty percent of the European one. Inside Pakistan, the number of heroin addicts went from near zero (yes, zero) in 1979 to 5,000 in 1980 and 1,300,000 by 1985 – a rate of addiction so high the UN called it “particularly shocking”.

According to the 1986 State Department report, opium “is an ideal crop in a war-torn country since it requires little capital investment, is fast growing, and is easily transported and traded”. Moreover, Afghanistan’s climate was well suited to this temperate crop, with average yields two to three times higher than in Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle region, the previous capital of the opium trade. As relentless warfare between CIA and Soviet surrogates generated at least three million refugees and disrupted food production, Afghan farmers began to turn to opium “in desperation” since it produced such easy “high profits” which could cover rising food prices. At the same time, resistance elements, according to the State Department, engaged in opium production and trafficking “to provide staples for [the] population under their control and to fund weapons purchases”.


McCoy goes on to describe the opium-to-heroin pipeline:

Once the mujahedeen fighters brought the opium across the border, they sold it to Pakistani heroin refiners operating in the country’s North-West Frontier Province, a covert-war zone administered by the CIA’s close ally General Fazle Haq. By 1988, there were an estimated 100 to 200 heroin refineries in the province’s Khyber district alone. Further south in the Koh-i-Soltan district of Baluchistan Province, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the CIA’s favored Afghan asset, controlled six refineries that processed much of the opium harvest from the Helmand Valley into heroin. Trucks of the Pakistani army’s National Logistics Cell, arriving in these borderlands from the port of Karachi with crates of weaponry from the CIA, left with cargos of heroin for ports and airports where it would be exported to world markets.

In May 1990, as this covert operation was ending, The Washington Post reported that the CIA’s chief asset Hekmatyar was also the rebels’ leading heroin trafficker. American officials, the Post claimed, had long refused to investigate charges of heroin dealing by Hekmatyar, as well as Pakistan’s ISI, largely “because US narcotics policy in Afghanistan has been subordinated to the war against Soviet influence there.


If there is a fault in McCoy’s lengthy analysis, it is that he points to incompetent policy resulting in the growth of the world’s largest heroin production zone. He suggests that if only US assistance went to financing production of food crops, Afghans would be fed and the world would not be flooded with heroin. I would suggest that the US military and State Department have no interest in feeding Afghans, Colombians, or Asian tribes in The Golden Triangle. They are interested, however, in mainlining heroin into the Russian sphere of influence. Much of the Afghan production found it’s way through the Kosovo Liberation Army (“KLA”) and Albanian Mafioso into Eastern Europe. Nice little destabilization plan ya’ got there.

We should not overlook the fact that banking giant HSBC just got a slap on the wrist for laundering hundreds of billions of dollars in drug money. During the 2008 global banking crash, prominent researchers suggested that the whole global financial system was kept afloat with drug money.

This problem will never go away. There is too much “dark money” gleaned for covert operations and special projects. Huxley’s Brave New World (1931) described a drugged, pacified population. A drugged population is easy to control, easy to jail, and easy to keep uninformed.

That’s exactly what we have right now.

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