When I read Mizgin’s recent great post about Richard Armitage and his involvement in the Golden Triangle, I rolled my eyes. “Some Daily Kos reader out there,” I thought, “is, at this very moment, shouting ‘conspiracy theory’ at their computer.” The “conspiracy theory” accusation comes up any time a journalist or a whistleblower points out that U.S. officials and agencies have been complicit in the global drug trade. In fact, it has been an effective tool to try and silence truth tellers at least since Alfred McCoy was viciously attacked for writing the Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia. Never mind the fact that allegations against the Central Intelligence Agency or the State Department have often been vindicated with the passage of time. It just can’t be true that America would support drug lords, can it?
Unfortunately, the answer to that question is a resounding YES, IT CAN. American agencies, including the C.I.A. and the State Department, have given aid and comfort to international drug lords in the past and apparently continue to do so. Just read what the New York Times reported on October 28th about Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a known drug dealer, being on the C.I.A. payroll:
The C.I.A.’s practices also suggest that the United States is not doing everything in its power [Emphasis Added] to stamp out the lucrative Afghan drug trade, a major source of revenue for the Taliban.
Gee, do ya think? Any enterprising individual of reasonable intelligence, using a minimum of Google research skills, could have determined that the drug trade out of Afghanistan has skyrocketed since late 2001, shortly after the U.S. removed the Taliban from power and installed Hamid Karzai as its puppet. If the Times had been a little bit bolder, they might have written something like this:
The C.I.A is complicit in the illegal drug trade in Afghanistan, but this should surprise no one, as a peek at the historical record demonstrates drug complicity has become routine. Just look at these facts:
1950s, Southeast Asia: The C.I.A. supports the Kuomanting (KMT) drug running in Burma.
1960s-1970s, Vietnam-Laos: Richard Armitage, Ted Shackley and Thomas Clines finance a portion of the Phoenix Program in Vietnam through the Southeast Asian heroin trade.
1980s, Southwest Asia: The C.I.A. supports Afghan rebels, many of whom, along with the Pakistani ISI, are known to be deeply involved in opium and heroin trade.
1980s, Latin America: The U.S. backs Contras, even though cocaine turns out to be a key source of their funding, and Panama dictator Manuel Noriega, also tied to the drug trade. Also in this time period, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Agent Michael Levine claims Attorney General Edwin Meese blew the cover of a DEA team investigating drug corruption at the highest levels of the U.S. government.
1990s, Burma: DEA Agent Richard Horn, whose case was recently settled with the Justice Department, is spied on by the State Department and C.I.A., apparently because Horn was being too aggressive in trying to shut down the opium trade from Burma.
1996-2002: Sibel Edmonds testifies that criminal elements in Turkey tied to the drug trade, with knowledge and acquiescence of the State Department, bring drugs into the U.S. and Europe.
None of these past Agency misdeeds were mentioned by the Times to give its story context. The reason for these omissions is obvious: the Times or someone in the American government had an axe to grind either with the C.I.A. or the Karzai government itself, and the story was only trotted out because it was convenient for the moment. A few months from now, if some really enterprising journalists accuse the U.S. government of aiding the Afghan opium trade, the major newspapers will likely ignore them, or, worse, accuse them of being conspiracy mongers. This is exactly how our trusted mainstream press has treated C.I.A. drug stories in the past: When it is convenient to promote one of their pet agendas, the establishment media admit the shocking facts. Then, when it is no longer serving its purposes, the same press turns around and marginalizes anyone repeating the same. Take the example of Oliver North, Gary Webb, and the Washington Post.
According to a 1998 book Whiteout by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, in order to torpedo Oliver North’s 1994 Virginia Senate candidacy, the Post published a hard-hitting article on October 22, 1994, entitled “North Didn’t Relay Drug Tips”. The gist of the story (written by Lorraine Adams) was that while he was running the illegal Contra War from his post on the National Security Council, North failed to forward to the Drug Enforcement Agency the evidence that several members of the FDN (the main Contra organization) were involved in the cocaine business. North had claimed to have “turned over to the DEA all evidence of Contra drug running” during his Congressional testimony. The Post found the story useful at the time, given the newspaper’s opposition to North’s candidacy. However, two years later, when journalist Gary Webb and the San Jose Mercury News tied the Contras to a large crack cocaine ring in Los Angeles, the Post apparently forgot its own reporting, and (along with the New York Times and Los Angeles Times) ripped Webb’s career apart. Cockburn and St. Clair wrote:
Friday, October 4  the Washington Post went to town on Webb and on the Mercury News. The onslaught carried no less than 5,000 words in five articles. The front page featured a lead article by Roberto Suro and Walter Pincus, headlined, “CIA and Crack: Evidence Is Lacking of Contra-Tied Plot.”
The rest is history. Webb was destroyed, which ultimately led to his suicide years later. In the meantime, the U.S. Congress did nothing, which is something it is accustomed to doing in cases involving accusations of Executive Branch malfeasance. Two years after Webb’s Dark Alliance series, the C.I.A. Inspector General actually released a report admitting Contra drug running, but this report was barely covered by the same newspapers that had eviscerated the story in the first place.
The press gets away with their perpetual flip-flopping on drug-related issues for a simple reason: The “C.I.A. drug trade complicity” tale is not the kind of story the average citizen wants to believe. This topic is a taboo because the public has been trained to have a visceral reaction to drugs. Ever since propaganda films like Reefer Madness were released at the beginning of the 20th Century, drug dealers have been made out to be public enemy number one and are hated perhaps even more than terrorists. Recreational drugs are often portrayed as a weapon of mass destruction on America’s youth. It just can’t be possible that our trusted officials -- like Orrin Hatch, to cite one example, -- would rail against drugs, claiming they endanger our children on the one hand, while moving in Congress to quash any attempt to hold federal agencies accountable for working with the pimps and pushers on the other.
Wake up, America. Our government’s acquiescence in the global drug trade is not just possible; it is an important part of our nation’s post-World War II history. Obama’s surge in Afghanistan is doomed to failure, in part because our intelligence agencies are fostering the same poppy trade that helps finance our enemies, the Taliban. We know it is doomed because all of the other C.I.A. drug operations have ended in similar catastrophes. Of course, the one “success” the U.S. government could point to, if it were willing to admit the facts of its drug alliances, is the defeat of the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. However, given what happened over a decade later on September 11, 2001, that “success” looks like an awful “short-sightedness” and “long-term failure”.
It is sad to think how many of our young men and women are dying, or are permanently scarred, mentally or physically, in the false belief that they are engaged in some higher moral battle to bring democracy and an end to the heroin trade in Afghanistan. Until the public realizes the truth about the dark history of U.S. intelligence agencies and drugs, such illusions about the morality of America’s endless wars will continue.