From Korea to Vietnam to Colombia
"White lies" about the drug war an
by Deirdre Griswold
Workers World, August 19, 1999
The involvement of the CIA and other U.S. agencies in the
drug trade has been detailed in many books and articles, including
the recent "Whiteout" by Alexander Cockburn, "Dark
Alliance" by Gary Webb, "The Politics of Heroin"
by Alfred W. McCoy, and "Cocaine Politics" by Peter
Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall.
Those who remember the Vietnam War know that the CIA, with
all its protective secrecy, became deeply involved in the heroin
trade during that conflict, as detailed in the book "The
Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia."
An informative piece in the Dec. 3,1993, International Herald
Tribune by Larry Collins, author of the book "Black Eagles"
about the CIA, cocaine traffic and Central America said that "CIA
ties to international drug trafficking date to the Korean War."
The agency gave weapons to warlords thrown out of revolutionary
China in exchange for information about Chinese support for North
Korea. "Soon intelligence began to flow into Washington from
the area, which became known as the Golden Triangle. So, too,
did heroin, en-route to Southeast Asia and often to the United
The involvement of the CIA and the U.S. military in the drug
trade was briefly in the spotlight again when the intricate plot
by Col. Oliver North to finance the contras in Nicaragua through
an arms trade with Iran made the news. North claimed not to know
about the dirty dealings generated from his office in the basement
of the Reagan White House, but it seems that plenty of people
in Los Angeles knew that the eocaine flooding into their city
was coming from the Nicaraguan contras, with CIA help.
It is well documented that the Taliban of Afghanistan have
a multimillion-dollar opium and heroin operation. These thugs,
who were nothing more than mercenaries for the feudal landlords
uprooted by the Afghan Revolution, rose to power in a vicious
war paid for by U.S. taxpayers and organized by the Pentagon.
The KLA paramilitary group that has just been installed by
NATO decree as the civil authority in Kosovo is linked to organized
crime and the drug trade in Western Europe. Evidence of the KLA-drug
connection was presented at the July 31 Independent Commission
of Inquiry to Investigate U.S./NATO War Crimes Against the People
of Yugoslavia, held in NewYork.
McCaffrey and counter-revolution
Everywhere U.S. super-secret agencies have been involved in
counter-revolution, it seems, they have also been involved in
using drug trafficking to generate funds for their "assets"
- and for themselves, too, on the side.
But Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey must think that the public's memory
McCaffrey is director of the Office of National Drug Control
Policy and he has called for stepping up the "war on drugs"
in Latin America.
The general - whose appointment in 1996 was a major stride
in militarizing what is basically a public health problem - has
requested another $1 billion to stop the advances of the revolutionary
guerrilla army in Colombia, whom he calls "narco-terrorists."
This money will go for special forces - highly trained killers
- and more high-tech planes, and helicopters.
Meanwhile, drug treatment facilities here - the most economical
and effective way to deal with addiction - are going begging for
McCaffrey may not know much about public health, but he knows
what war and counter-revolution are all about. He's a veteran
of Vietnam. He also commanded a division in "Operation Desert
Storm." He was commander in chief of the U.S. Southern Command
from February 1994 until Clinton named him "drug czar"
two years later.
McCaffrey calls the revolutionaries in Colombia "narco-terrorists."
This is the phrase Washington has invented for the popular revolutionary
army that has been fighting against the Colombian ruling class
for the last 30 years.
The "war on drugs" that the U.S. government has
launched against the revolutionary movement in Colombia is bound
to fail. It will not reduce drug addiction in the United States
and it will not turn back the international drug trade. In fact,
stopping the flow of drugs to the U.S. has nothing to do with
The "drug war" is nothing but a cover for an all-out
military attempt to keep Colombia and neighboring countries in
Latin America in the orbit of U.S. transnational corporations.
This means propping up a corrupt and brutal ruling class there-that
is, the same social grouping that owes much of its wealth to the
Progressives have argued for decades that the drug trade is
a product of capitalism. It is nothing more than an extreme form
of profiteering-one that ranks along with arms sales, prostitution
and slavery in directly profiting off of human misery and degradation.
It attracts capital the way any for-profit business does -
by promising a generous return on the investment.
The profits grow directly with the risks involved-so criminalizing
and even militarizing the problem just make the trade more lucrative.
Prohibition in the same way led to the growth of organized crime
and vast fortunes for the most successful bootleggers. The Kennedy
millions originated in the illegal liquor trade.
Narcotics have grown into a huge industry that relies not
only on the desperado characters portrayed in movies but, even
more importantly, on the prosaic administrators and managers of
"legal" businesses like banks and brokerage houses.
They launder the hundreds of billions that are made in drug profits.
Banks and money laundering
Back on Oct. 5, 1989, a New York Times report on the testimony
of Assistant Treasury Secretary Salvatore R. Martoche to the Senate
Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations
said the Bush administration offficial admitted that U.S. banks
were laundering the enormous sum of $110 billion ayear in drug
Just this July 27, the New York Times referred to an ongoing
investigation of Citibank's "private banking" practices.
You won't find the word "drugs" or even "controlled
substances" in the article, which lumps together private
accounts the bank has set up for a number of wealthy people. But
in at least one of the cases mentioned- an offshore account Citibank
set up for Raul Salinas-the laundering of drug money is what it's
A report posted last Oct. 30 on the web site of the General
Accounting Office goes into quite a bit of detail on Citibank's
relations with Salinas, brother of the former president of Mexico
- who got elected with U.S. support and then returned the favor
for U.S. big business by signing the NAFTA trade agreement.
Any worker who has ever tried to open a checking account with
the bank will be shocked at the special treatment accorded Salinas.
At a time when he was in prison on a murder charge, Citibank opened
an account for him in the name of his fiance. It accepted a double-endorsed
check that wasn't even made out to her real name.
Had the check been for $100, the bank would have told her
to take a hike. But the checks she used to open the account added
up to $100 million. So she got special treatment-from Citibank's
offfices in Mexico City, New York, Zurich and London-and was able
to open an offshore account in the Cayman Islands.
The GAO report on this matter refers to other cases of bank
money laundering. In a 1994 case against two employees of American
Express Bank, the largest monetary penalty ever imposed-$35 million-was
levied against the bank.
Yet this is just the tip of the iceberg. The truth is that
with an industry as large as drugs, all kinds of financial institutions
are part of the profit-making network.
Special Agent Harold D. Wankel of the Drug Enforcement Administration
told the House Banking and Financial Committee on Feb. 28, 1996,
that "Drug trafficking is a multibillion-dollar cash business,
and drug money is essential to these enterprises. Without it,
they cannot finance the manufacturing, the transportation and
the smuggling, the distribution, the murder and the intimidation
that are essential to their illegal trade. Drug money laundering
organizations are established to ensure the cash flow to these
"Profits from the sale of illegal drugs are recycled
through laundered investments, which take place across many borders-
and often involve international financial institutions-banks and
money exchange houses. With today's sophisticated banking techniques,
including the electronic transfer of money, once the money enters
into the banking system, it can be transferred among dozens of
banks within a 24hour period, making the paper trail either impossible
or extremely time-consuming to follow. Mobalization of the drug
trade has necessitated an expansion and sophistication of the
laundering of illegal drug profits."
But you'll never see SWAT teams breaking into the offices
of these white-collar dope pushers and slamming them against the
wall on the nightly news. That kind of treatment is reserved for
the street dealers who take all the risks and get peanuts compared
to the big criminals.
Demonization of FARC
The U.S. government has tried to portray the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) as "narco-guerrillas"
because, it says, there are coca-growing peasants living in the
areas controlled by the rebel force, and they are "taxed"
by the guerrillas.
These peasants, like poor farmers everywhere, get very little
for what they grow. They are not the kingpins of the drug industry.
The FARC is a Marxist organization that intends to completely
revamp Colombian society along socialist lines. The real drug
lords fear this most of all, because they know that when the economy
is socially owned and producing to satisfy people's needs, not
to generate a profit for private owners, then they will be washed
Just look at Russia today for proof of this statement. When
the Soviet Union existed, there was virtually no drug problem
there. Now that capitalism has been restored, organized crime,
drug addiction, violence and prostitution are rampant and Russian
mobsters have become part of an international underworld.
China, too, needed a revolution to get rid of the opium habit
that had been forced on it by the British during the Opium Wars.
The answer to the drug problem is not McCaffrey's war in Latin
America. It is victory for progressive movements like the - FARC
that are fighting to overturn capitalism's poisonous influence
on human society.