In 1971, Richard Nixon declared that drug abuse was public enemy number one, hence the War on Drugs was born. Nixon’s motivation was the fact that American servicemen in Vietnam were addicted to heroin at the rate of ten to fifteen percent. While Nixon was planning out the battlefield for his newly crafted war, Agents of the US Government, including the CIA and Armed Forces, were secretly smuggling large quantities of heroin back into the US. The US Government has had a two faced approach to drugs, simultaneously fighting a war against drug use while playing a direct role in the flow of narcotics onto the streets.
The CIA’s involvement in drug smuggling was brought to light by journalist Gary Webb in 1995. Webb uncovered the CIA’s participation in the transport and sale of cocaine by agents of the CIA for the purpose of funding government sponsored covert operations in Latin America, including the maintaining of guerrilla fighters . Webb drew connections between Ricky Ross, famed Los Angeles cocaine dealer, who was largely responsible for the crack epidemic in LA in the 1980s, and the Nicaraguan Contras, The Contras were rebel fighter from the late 70s through the early 90s who funded their operation through the sale of cocaine. The link between the two, was the Central Intelligence Agency. After publishing his articles, Webb’s career was systematically dismantled by the CIA. He was found dead in his home in 2004 with two gunshot wounds to his head. His death was ruled a suicide. Webb’s story was told in the 2014 film Kill The Messenger.
The CIA’s involvement in drug smuggling did not start or end with the Contras. According to Professor Alfred McCoy in his book The Politics of Heroin In Southeast Asia, “Since the prohibition of narcotics in 1920, alliances between drug brokers and intelligence agencies have protected the global narcotics traffic. Given the frequency of such alliances, there seems a natural attraction between intelligence agencies and criminal syndicates.” McCoy details the takeover of the Golden Triangle, an area in southeast Asia encompassing Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, initially by the OSS who later became the CIA. At the time, the area was the largest producer of opium and heroin in the world. McCoy also stated that the CIA first distributed heroin to American troops in Vietnam before shipping it back to the US. Many US Army officials were involved in the smuggling of heroin into the states by means of concealing the drug in the body bags of fallen soldiers.
It was reported in the mid 1980s that Texas billionaire Ross Perot asked then President George Bush to open an investigation into the possible drug smuggling activities of long time government employee and later Deputy Secretary of State Dick Armitage. Armitage was initially a Department of Defense Contractor in 1975 but later went on to work as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia and Pacific Affairs to President Reagan. He stayed on in varying capacities through the administrations of George Bush Sr and Jr. Armitage was named by Khun Sa, the infamous Burmese Warlord dubbed “King of the Golden Triangle” as the money handler for Golden Triangle opium profits, in a 1987 letter to the Department of Justice. Khun Sa also stated in a video taped interview that high ranking US government officials were directly involved in the Golden Triangle opium trade from 1965 through “at least” 1979.
After the war ended, the Golden Triangle fell to second place on the list of worldwide opium producers. The new opium and heroin production capitol became Afghanistan. It is no coincidence that opium production shifted from one war torn region to the next. Once war in Afghanistan commenced, opium became the number one harvested crop in the area. During the time of the Soviet invasion, the CIA secretly funded the Afghan mujaheedin rebels in order to oppose the invasion. Referencing Alfred McCoy’s book, he goes on to state “the CIA supported various Afghan drug lords, for instance Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The CIA did not handle heroin, but it did provide its drug lord allies with transport, arms, and political protection.” What the CIA brought to the region was the infrastructure and know-how on creating an opium based economy. The infrastructure put in place in the 70s has carried through today, however the modern players in the opium trade have shifted over the years. In the mid 90s, the Taliban rose to power, assisted by the CIA. In 2000, they banned the production of opium and growth of the poppy, however many speculated that the ban was simply meant to drive up prices in a Taliban controlled market. The ban fell apart after the Taliban were removed from power. Today, Afghanistan supplies 90% of the world’s heroin, as the Afghan government turns a blind eye to its production, and the U.S. Government refuses to take action on the matter. It is suspected that many Afghan politicians, in the U.S established Karzai government, are involved in Afghan opium production and sabotage efforts made against the trade. When you examine the shift in heroin production from southeast Asia to Afghanistan, many similarities and familiar names come to light. Dick Armitage, former bag man for the Golden Triangle, made his way to the middle east as Deputy Secretary of State where he assisted in implementing the new Afghan government, post 911. This is the same government which allows heroin to flow from its borders virtually unrestricted.
While the US government acts as a voluntary participant in the flow of narcotics around the world, it takes a much different approach with its citizens at home. The war on drugs has filled up federal prisons at staggering rates. Approximately half of federal prisoners are incarcerated on drug charges. At the state and local level, the war on drugs has targeted the African American community with approximately fifty percent of inmates charged with narcotics offenses, being black. The war on drugs has played a significant part in making America the most incarcerated country in the world, housing over 25% of the world’s prisoners. The war on drugs is also a factor in the militarization of local police. The utilization of armored SWAT units in “probable cause only” drug related search warrants is becoming commonplace, whereas tactical units had only previously been used in hostage or active shooter type situations. Besides clamping down on and splintering the civil rights of its citizens, the US war on drugs has completely ravaged the country of Mexico by allowing the cartels to rise to power. The prohibition and strict enforcement of illicit substances created an enormous black market surrounded by fear, death, and corruption at the highest levels of government.
The war on drugs was created to stop the use and abuse of narcotics that were flowing onto the streets of the US. The war was created by the same people who participated in, oversaw and controlled the flow of narcotics from their origins around the world to those very streets they claim to want to save. When individuals like Gary Webb attempt to expose the corruption perpetrated by those very people we look to for protection, they are silenced. The war on drugs is not a war which the government is planning to win, as they continue to play both sides and it is us who pay the price.
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Boilingfrogspost.com,. ‘Armitage- Part I: The Early Years & The Golden Triangle’. N.p., 2009. Web. 28 Feb. 2015
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