The Guardian

The Guardian March 21, 2001

Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Not the real story

On Wednesday March 14, Evan, my youngest son who was visiting us at the 
time, and I tuned in to a repeat episode of the documentary series "Dealing 
With The Demon" on the ABC. The series is about the so-called "War on 
Drugs", but this particular episode, "An Unholy Alliance", purported to be 
an expose of US government involvement in the drug trade.

The ABC's program guide says the episode "Examines the relationship between 
the drug trade and war, detailing the involvement of the CIA in Vietnam and 
Afghanistan during the Cold War".

At first it appeared to doing just that, tracing the use of heroin 
production as a way of financing clandestine right-wing armies back to 
1949. That was when, despite desperate last-ditch efforts by the US, Chiang 
Kai-Shek's Kuo Min Tang (KMT) army got kicked out of China.

Most of his hangers-on fled to Taiwan, but some remnants of his army went 
east, into Burma. The US then brought more KMT forces in from Taiwan, in 
readiness for "rolling back the Communists" in 1950.

However, when the war began, in Korea in 1950, the KMT proved ineffective. 
A motley gang of bandits and war-lord forces, the demoralised KMT in Burma 
proved to be more interested in pursuing the lucrative trade in heroin, a 
product of the opium poppy.

In the mid-'50s, the French used heroin trafficking to finance the anti-
communist guerrilla army they recruited in Indo-China from the Mung 
tribespeople. The US in their turn, used the same means to finance the same 
force when they took over the war from the French.

"An Unholy Alliance" was seemingly frank about US involvement: matter-of-
factly, we were told about the use of CIA light planes to fly shipments of 
heroin from up-country to processing plants in Saigon and Phnom Penh.

The chief locals involved in this lucrative trade with the CIA are 
identified as the President, Prime Minister and Army Chief of South Vietnam 
 "our allies", says the horrified narrator.

While the program did not contain anything new, at least it did seem to be 
laying out the facts about the CIA and the drug trade during the Vietnam 

But quite soon, Evan and I began to notice curious anomalies: the 
commentary kept "explaining away" the use of heroin trafficking by the 
"need" to combat Communism.

It seems you need weapons to "fight Communism" and weapons cost money. 
Conscientious anti-Communists must find cash where they can and if the only 
source of cash in the region is heroin, then that is what you use.

It was, of course, regrettable, but it was part of the fight against 
Communism. At no time did the program question the motives of this anti-
communist crusade, or the motives of the CIA.

If they needed money to fight the Red menace, why didn't they just get it 
from Congress? Why was it necessary to utilise a criminal source of funds, 
one totally beyond the control and supervision of the "elected" government?

Nor were the CIA's connections with US mobsters  which dated back to its 
predecessor the OSS and that organisation's involvement with the New York 
Mafia at the time of the invasion of Sicily in WW2  brought up.

The program so relentlessly pushed its line that heroin trafficking in a 
big way by US agencies was a dreadful but necessary and understandable 
response to Cold War exigencies, that it became apparent that this "expose" 
was in fact a very special sort of cover-up.

The drug trade is big business  "very" big business. It is carried on by 
a combination of organised crime, covert operations sections of certain 
governments (especially the US Government), right-wing political forces and 
big business.

They are inextricably linked in almost all phases  production, 
distribution and laundering of profits.

They operate under cover of a lie popularised by such purveyors of truth as 
the Murdoch press, a lie which says that it's all the work of criminals 
(and "criminal masterminds"), and that all we have to do is "clamp down" on 
it and all will be well.

When the Fraser Government launched a Royal Commission into the Victorian 
Painters and Dockers union, the Commissioner pursued the drug trail with 
unexpected zeal. But when the trail began to lead to prominent right-wing 
public figures and big businessmen, the Royal Commission was abruptly shut 

Clamping down on petty crims is one thing; clamping down on the "real" 
criminals is quite another!

As various revelations and journalistic investigations punched holes in the 
cosy cover story that it was all the work of criminals, and the routine use 
by the CIA of drug trafficking as a source of funds began to come to light, 
a new "deep cover" story became necessary.

As if the revelations about the way US agencies had helped manufacture, 
transport, market and distribute heroin all over South East Asia weren't 
bad enough, some people began to question the use of the laundered profits 
from those transactions to fund take-overs in the business world and 
campaigns in elections.

Then came the revelations of CIA involvement in launching the crack cocaine 
epidemic in black communities throughout the USA itself. Denial was not 

A "deep cover" story was needed. "An Unholy Alliance", with its line that 
CIA involvement in drug trafficking was a dreadful but necessary part of 
the US's successful Cold War against Communism, is part of that deep cover.

It keeps the "real" story still buried.

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