BFTN #13 2018-08-05
August 5, 2018
BFTN #14 2018-08-20
August 20, 2018
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Part NINETEEN of our series on the WAR ON DRUGS – The Golden Triangle

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Show Notes:

  • In May 1971, a couple of U.S. congressmen returned from a visit to Vietnam claiming that maybe as many at 15% of U.S. troops stationed there were using heroin.
  • That would be about 40,000 troops.
  • One of them said that troops going to Vietnam faced a much higher risk of becoming a heroin addict than dying in combat.
  • Personally, I’d pick the former over the latter any day.
  • Bud Krogh, one of the lawyers working in Nixon’s administration, age 32, the guy who let Elvis into the building, the guy who was in charge of drug policy for the White House, heard what these Congressmen had to say and he summoned the Pentagon admiral responsible for military drug abuse to his office to give a report.
  • Krogh was an interesting guy.
  • A hardcore Christian who didn’t drink, smoke or take drugs.
  • Is that the guy you want making drug policy?
  • Someone who knows nothing about using drugs?
  • Anyway… the admiral told Krogh that he thought there were maybe 100 or 200 troops in Vietnam who were addicts.
  • So Krogh decided to go to Vietnam himself to investigate.
  • He traveled over there without an entourage, just a pass that said he could go anywhere, as an official representative of the White House.
  • He flew all over the country and watched American soldiers snorting and smoking smack or mixing it with alcohol and drinking it, everywhere he went.
  • Everyone smoked pot as well.
  • It turned out that the Pentagon was responsible for the heroin problem.
  • In 1968, they had worked out that lots of the troops were smoking pot, so they tried to ban it.
  • They had sniffer dogs, searched men’s bunks, arrested anyone caught in possession.
  • So the men shifted from pot to heroin, which was harder to detect.
  • It is odourless and far less bulky than pot.
  • As we’ve seen during the series, when people have a need to get wasted, they are going to get wasted, at any cost.
  • Ban alcohol and they will drink moonshine.
  • Ban drugs and they’ll buy them from the mob at inflated prices.
  • When it comes to drugs, prohibition has never worked.
  • But now America faced a situation where 40,000 soldiers were going to come home, with PTSD, addicted to heroin, and trained how to shoot a gun.
  • And, by the way, using drugs while in the military was a crime.
  • Automatic dishonourable discharge.
  • So Bud Krogh called Jerome Jaffe.
  • Jaffe was a psychiatrist in Illinois who ran a clinic where they were treating addicts with methadone.
  • One of Krogh’s team, another young Christian who didn’t drink or smoke, Jeffrey Donfeld, had reached out to Jaffe in 1970 to prepare a report for the WH on how to tackle drug addiction nationwide.
  • Keep in mind that Nixon was elected on a “law and order” campaign and they had convinced themselves that drugs and crime were connected.
  • So reduce the number of people using drugs and you’ll reduce crime – that was their theory.
  • Jaffe didn’t believe the drugs and crime connection.
  • In his experience, most criminals who were drug users were criminals before they used drugs.
  • But he wanted to see addicts helped, so he agreed to write the report.
  • Meanwhile Donfeld had commission another group to write a similar report.
  • This was a group of people from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, the National Institute of Health and the FDA.
  • Their report said that addiction was the result of root causes.
  • Racism, alienation, a lack of opportunity.
  • If the government wanted to do something about it, they should address the root causes.
  • Pour money into housing, jobs, youth work, etc.
  • In the meantime, they said, psychiatry was useful in dealing with addiction.
  • But they were totally against methadone.
  • It just treated the addiction without treating the root causes.
  • It defined addiction as a disease suffered by individuals, not as a social pathology.
  • And methadone, of course, was what Jaffe’s report recommended.
  • BTW, it was around this time that the Nixon WH was also dealing with another problem.
  • When federal agents made drugs busts, they usually reported them in terms of the weight they captured.
  • So it might be 100 pounds of marijuana.
  • But when they captured heroin, it was obviously a lot less, because it’s a stronger drug.
  • So this is when they started reporting busts in terms of street value.
  • But all that was a year ago.
  • Now Krogh gets Jaffe on the phone and asks him to help them come up with a plan to deal with these soldiers who are heroin addicts.
  • Jaffe told him that technology had been invented that could detect opiates in urine.
  • The machines required to do it were huge – the size of an office desk.
  • There was only one in use in the entire country.
  • He recommended the army get one and start testing troops on their way home.
  • Anyone who tested positive should be kept in Vietnam to detox.
  • As the troops were eager to get home, this should motivate them to stay clean.
  • And this was how random drug testing was invented.
  • Jaffe assumed it wouldn’t happen because it was unconstitutional to subject someone to a random screening.
  • But that was taken care of.
  • Another problem was that any soldier found to be using drugs was going to be in legal jeopardy.
  • But Nixon sent a one-page memo to the Secretary of Defense ordering that drug use no longer be considered a crime under the military code of justice.
  • And poof – it just disappeared.
  • Nixon, as Commander in Chief, just reversed decades of military policy.
  • And opened the door to the massive treatment of drug abuse.
  • BTW, once they tested every American soldier in Vietnam for heroin addiction, they found out that 40 percent of servicemen had tried heroin and nearly 20 percent were addicted.
  • Where were the U.S. troops getting their heroin from?
  • From the Golden Triangle.
  • Let me give you some background on the Golden Triangle.
  • The Golden Triangle is the name given by the CIA to the region where the borders of Myanmar (then known as Burma), Thailand and Laos all meet.
  • In late 1969 heroin laboratories started springing up there and were producing huge quantities of heroin.
  • Myanmar was controlled by the British from 1886 until after WWII, and the country was destroyed during the war.
  • It has been under a military dictatorship since 1962.
  • Laos had been controlled by the French from the Franco-Siamese War in 1893 up until it won its independence during the First Indochina War in 1953
  • Thailand is the only Southeast Asian nation to never have been colonized by any Western power, partly because Britain and France agreed in 1896 to make it their buffer state.
  • And the relationship between the Golden Triangle and the CIA is interesting and disputed.
  • According to at least one historian, Alfred McCoy, who is Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the CIA and the French equivalent, Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage, aka SDECE,  have a very long history with the heroin trade.
  • He wrote book in 1972 called “The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia”.
  • In the early decades of the Cold War, the CIA was busy making alliances with every anti-Communist group they could in Asia.
  • It didn’t matter what kind of brutal dictatorship it was – if it was anti-Communist, it was a friend of the USA.
  • So Chiang Kai-Shek’s brutal military dictatorship in Taiwan implemented the White Terror but was known by the Americans as “free China”.
  • The brutal police state in South Vietnam because “Free Vietnam”.
  • a collection of military dictatorships stretching from Pakistan to Argentina was “the free world.”
  • Anything to stem the flow of “Communist aggression.”
  • Which, as we’ve pointed out in the CW show, was really just a competitor to the idea of a global American-run economic regime.
  • Determined to restrict Soviet influence in western Europe, American clandestine operatives intervened in the internal politics of Germany, Italy, and France.
  • In Sicily, the forerunner of the CIA, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), formed an alliance with the Sicilian Mafia to limit the political gains of the Italian Communist party on this impoverished island.
  • In France the Mediterranean port city of Marseille became a major battleground between the CIA and the French Communist party durin the late 1940s.
  • To tip the balance of power in its favor, the CIA recruited Corsican gangsters to battle Communist strikers and backed leading figures in the city’s Corsican underworld who were at odds with the local Communists.
  • Ironically, both the Sicilian Mafia and the Corsican underworld played a key role in the growth of Europe’s postwar heroin traffic and were to provide most of the heroin smuggled into the United States for the next two decades.
  • Ever heard of The French Connection?
  • Great 1971 film starring Gene Hackman.
  • It was the first R-rated movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
  • Complete badass.
  • Popeye Doyle.
  • Directed by William Friedkin.
  • The French Connection was a scheme through which heroin was smuggled from Turkey to France and then to the United States through Canada.
  • The operation reached its peak in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and was responsible for providing the vast majority of the heroin used in the United States.
  • The operation was headed by Corsican criminals.
  • Early on it was Paul Carbone, who was from Corsica and ended up the godfather of Marseilles.
  • He was the first to import opium from Indochina and transform it into heroin near Marseilles before sending it to the United States.
  • Carbone died on 16 December 1943 in a train crash (he had both legs crushed and took some hours to die, encouraging the rescue workers, saying “I’m finished but try to look after those who can be saved” finally adding “C’est la vie” as he smoked his last cigarette).
  • The train crash had been caused by Resistance freedom fighters, targeting this particular train as it was full of German soldiers on leave.
  • In the early 1960s the Italian government launched a crackdown on the Sicilian Mafia, and in 1967 the Turkish government announced that it would begin phasing out cultivation of opium poppies.
  • So the American Mafia and Corsican syndicates shifted their sources of supply to Southeast Asia, where surplus opium production and systematic government corruption created an ideal climate for large-scale heroin production.
  • And the CIA had played a role in making this happen too.
  • In the early 1950s, the CIA supported what was left of the Kuomintang – Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Chinese army – as they were run out of China by the Communists and went into Burma.
  • They got financial and logistical support from the CIA, who wanted them to go back into China to fight the Communists.
  • The CIA had a covert program called “Operation Paper” that transported weapons and supplies to the KMT from Taiwan via Thailand with President Truman’s approval.
  • This is when Air America got started.
  • After a failed attempt to retake the Yunnan province of China, which lies on the north border of Burma, in 1952, the KMT just decided to take over a section of Burma – which was fighting a civil war post independence – and take over the Burmese opium trade.
  • Burma had been producing opium since the days when the British controlled it.
  • After the war, Chinese traffickers had barely reestablished their heroin labs when Mao Tse-tung’s communist armies captured Shanghai and drove them out of China.
  • Under the KMT, the annual production increased twenty-fold from 30 tons at the time of Burmese independence to 600 tons in the mid-1950s.
  • And Burma became the world’s leading producer of opium right up until the 1990s, when the CIA supported the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviets, and then Afghanistan became the leading producer of opium.
  • Today Myanmar is the world’s second largest producer of opium after Afghanistan, producing some 25% of the world’s opium.
  • And in Laos the CIA created a Hmong mercenary army whose commander manufactured heroin for sale to Americans GIs in South Vietnam.
  • But, according to McCoy, the CIA didn’t dabble in the drug traffic to finance its clandestine operations.
  • And it wasn’t the work of a few corrupt agents, who wanted to make a buck off the drug business.
  • He says the CIA’s role in the heroin traffic was simply an inevitable consequence of its cold war tactics.
  • A bit like 9/11 was.
  • And so anyway – that’s where American GIs were getting their heroin from – groups funded and supported by the CIA.

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