The CIA & Heroin

"After a quarter century of monumental heroin abuse, the international medical community finally recognized the dangers of unrestricted heroin use, and the League of Nations began to regulate and reduce the legal manufacture of heroin. The Geneva Convention of 1925 imposed a set of strict regulations on the manufacture and export of heroin, and the Limitation Convention of 1931 stipulated that manufacturers could only produce enough heroin to meet legitimate "medical and scientific needs." As a result of these treaties, the world's total legal heroin production plummeted from its peak of nine thousand kilograms (I kilo = 2.2 pounds) in 1926 to little more than one thousand kilos in 1931. (16)

However, the sharp decline in legal pharmaceutical output by no means put an end to widespread heroin addiction. Aggressive criminal syndicates shifted the center of world heroin production from legitimate pharmaceutical factories in Europe to clandestine laboratories in Shanghai and Tientsin, China. (17) Owned and operated by a powerful Chinese secret society, these laboratories started to supply vast quantities of illicit heroin to corrupt Chinese warlords, European criminal syndicates, and American mafiosi like Lucky Luciano. In Marseille, France, fledgling Corsican criminal syndicates opened up smaller laboratories and began producing for European markets and export to the United States.

While law enforcement efforts failed to stem the flow of illicit heroin into the United States during the 1930s, the outbreak of World War II seriously disrupted international drug traffic. Wartime border security measures and a shortage of ordinary commercial shipping made it nearly impossible for traffickers to smuggle heroin into the United States. Distributors augmented dwindling supplies by "cutting" (adulterating) heroin with increasingly greater proportions of sugar or quinine; while most packets of heroin sold in the United States were 28 percent pure in 1938, only three years later they were less than 3 percent pure. As a result of all this, many American addicts were forced to undergo involuntary withdrawal from their habits, and by the end of World War 11 the American addict population had dropped to less than twenty thousand." In fact, as the war drew to a close, there was every reason to believe that the scourge of heroin had finally been purged from the United States. Heroin supplies were nonexistent, international criminal syndicates were in disarray, and the addict population was reduced to manageable proportions for the first time in half a century.

But the disappearance of heroin addiction from the American scene was not to be. Within several years, in large part thanks to the nature of U.S. foreign policy after World War II, the drug syndicates were back in business, the poppy fields in Southeast Asia started to expand and heroin refineries multiplied both in Marseille and Hong Kong. How did we come to inflict this heroin plague on ourselves? ....

And once again American foreign policy played a role in creating these favorable conditions. During the early 1950s the CIA had backed the formation of a Nationalist Chinese guerrilla army in Burma, which still controls almost a third of the world's illicit opium supply, and in Laos the CIA created a Meo mercenary army whose commander manufactured heroin for sale to Americans GIs in South Vietnam. The State Department provided unconditional support for corrupt governments openly engaged in the drug traffic. In late 1969 new heroin laboratories sprang up in the tri-border area where Burma, Thailand, and Laos converge, and unprecedented quantities of heroin started flooding into the United States. Fueled by these seemingly limitless supplies of heroin, America's total number of addicts skyrocketed.

Unlike some national intelligence agencies, the CIA did not dabble in the drug traffic to finance its clandestine operations. Nor was its culpability the work of a few corrupt agents, eager to share in the enormous profits. The CIA's role in the heroin traffic was simply an inadvertent but inevitable consequence of its cold war tactics."

Find the complete text and learn more in The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia by Alfred W. McCoy with Cathleen B. Read and Leonard P.Adams II (1972)

CIA Heroin Trafficking