The Spoils of War: Afghanistan’s Multibillion Dollar Heroin Trade

Afghanistan, CIA, opium

Joe Biden's Hidden Agenda in Afghanistan: Sustain the Drug Trade

The article below was first published in 2005. Below is a detailed update followed by the original 2005 article. 

Author’s Note and Update

The US opioid crisis broadly defined bears a relationship to the export of heroin out of Afghanistan.

How will  this multibillion trade (which until recently was protected by US forces) be affected by the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Private mercenary companies are also involved in supporting the opium trade.

The US withdrawal has been the object of extensive negotiations between US-NATO and the Taliban. A deal was signed in Doha in late February 2020.

Did the U.S. reach a “secret agreement” with the Taliban regarding the opium trade?

Restoration of the Drug Trade. Did the Invasion of Afghanistan Contribute to the Increase in Heroin Addiction

What is important to understand is that one of the key strategic objectives of the 2001 war on Afghanistan was to restore the opium trade following the Taliban government’s successful 2000-2001 drug eradication program which led to a 94% collapse in opium production. This program was supported by the United Nations. (For details, see below)

In the course of the last 19 years following the US-NATO October 2001 invasion,  there has been a surge in Afghan opium production. In turn the number of heroin addicts in the US has increased dramatically. Is there a relationship?

There were 189,000 heroin users in the US in 2001, before the US-NATO invasion of Afghanistan.

By 2016 that number went up to 4,500,000 (2.5 million heroin addicts and 2 million casual users).

In 2020, at the hight of the covid crisis, deaths from opioids and drug addiction increased threefold.

It’s Big Money for Big Pharma.


Graph based on CDC data Source PBS

In a bitter irony, Johnson and Johnson which is marketing its “experimental” COVID-19 adenovirus viral vector vaccine, just so happens to be a major producer of prescription opioids.

In November 2020 a “a tentative $26 billion settlement was reached with counties and cities across America which sued J and J and its distributors on behalf of opioid victims.

This  class action law suit was “the largest federal court case in American history”.  It coincided with the launching of the Covid vaccine initiative in early November 2020. (For further details see Michel Chossudovsky’s E-Book, Chapter VI).

According to the Washington Post:

Johnson & Johnson and the “Big Three” distributors, McKesson, Cardinal Health and Amerisource Bergen, potentially brings a large measure of legal closure for the companies and will funnel money to communities devastated by an addiction crisis that claims more than 70,000 lives in America every year.  (emphasis added)

Afghanistan currently produces 84 percent of the World’s opium which feeds the heroin and opioid markets.

Lest we forget, the surge in opium production occurred in the immediate wake of the US invasion in October 2001.

Who is protecting opium exports out of Afghanistan?

“In 2000-2001,  the Taliban government –in collaboration with the United Nations– had imposed a successful ban on poppy cultivation. Opium production declined by more than 90 per cent in 2001. In fact the surge in opium cultivation production coincided with the onslaught of the US-led military operation and the downfall of the Taliban regime. From October through December 2001, farmers started to replant poppy on an extensive basis.” (quoted from article below)

The Vienna based UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reveals that poppy cultivation in 2012 extended over an area of  more than  154,000 hectares, an increase of 18% over 2011. A UNODC  spokesperson confirmed in 2013 that opium production is heading towards record levels.

In 2014 the Afghan opium cultivation hit a record high, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s 2014 Afghan Opium Survey.( See graph below). A slight decline occurred in 2015-2016.

War is good for business. The Afghan opium economy feeds into a lucrative trade in narcotics and money laundering.

Source:  United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC)

According to the 2012 Afghanistan Opium Survey released in November 2012 by the Ministry of Counter Narcotics (MCN) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). potential opium production in 2012 was of the order of 3,700 tons, a decline of 18 percent in relation to 2001, according to UNODC data.

There is reason to believe that this figure of 3700 tons is grossly underestimated. Moreover, it contradicts the UNOCD’s own predictions of record harvests over an extended area of cultivation.

While bad weather and damaged crops may have played a role as suggested by the UNODC, based on historical trends, the potential production for an area of cultivation of 154,000 hectares, should be well in excess of 6000 tons.  With 80,000 hectares in cultivation in 2003,  production was already of the order of  3600 tons.

It is worth noting that UNODC has modified the concepts and figures on opium sales and heroin production, as outlined by the  European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).

A change in UN methodology in 2010 resulted in a sharp downward revision of Afghan heroin production estimates for 2004 to 2011. UNODC used to estimate that the entire global opium crop was processed into heroin, and provided global heroin production estimates on that basis. Before 2010, a global conversion rate of about 10 kg of opium to 1 kg of heroin was used to estimate world heroin production (17). For instance, the estimated 4 620 tonnes of opium harvested worldwide in 2005 was thought to make it possible to manufacture 472  tonnes of heroin (UNODC, 2009a). However, UNODC now estimates that a large proportion of the Afghan opium harvest is not processed into heroin or morphine but remains ‘available on the drug market as opium’ (UNODC, 2010a). …EU drug markets report: a strategic analysis, EMCDDA, Lisbon, January 2013 emphasis added

There is no evidence that a large percentage of opium production is no longer processed into heroin as claimed by the UN. This revised UNODC methodology has served, –through the outright manipulation of statistical concepts– to artificially reduce the size of of the global trade in heroin.

According to the UNODC, quoted in the EMCDDA report:

“an estimated 3 400 tonnes of Afghan opium was not transformed into heroin or morphine in 2011. Compared with previous years, this is an exceptionally high proportion of the total crop, representing nearly 60 % of the Afghan opium harvest and close to 50 % of the global harvest in 2011.

What the UNODC, –whose mandate is to support the prevention of organized criminal activity– has done is to obfuscate the size and criminal nature of the Afghan drug trade, intimating –without evidence– that a large part of the opium is no longer channeled towards the illegal heroin market.

In 2012 according to the UNODC,  farmgate prices for opium were of the order of 196 per kg.

Each kg. of opium produces 100 grams of pure heroin. The US retail prices for heroin (with a low level of purity) is, according to UNODC of the order of $172 a gram. The price per gram of pure heroin is substantially higher.

The profits are largely reaped at the level of the international wholesale and retail markets of heroin as well as in the process of money laundering in Western banking institutions.

The revenues derived from the global trade in heroin constitute a multibillion dollar bonanza for financial institutions and organized crime.

Record Production in 2016. Fake Eradication Program
According to the YNODC: 
“Opium production in Afghanistan rose by 43 per cent to 4,800 metric tons in 2016 compared with 2015 levels, according to the latest Afghanistan Opium Survey figures released today by the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics and the UNODC. The area under opium poppy cultivation also increased to 201,000 hectares (ha) in 2016, a rise of 10 per cent compared with 183,000 ha in 2015.
This represents a twentyfold increase in the areas under opium cultivation since the US invasion in October 2001. In 2016, opium production had increased by approximately 25 times in relation to its 2001 levels, from 185 tons in 2001 to 4800 tons in 2016.

Source: UNODC

The following article first published in May 2005 provides a background on the history of the Afghan opium trade which until recently was protected by US-NATO occupation forces on behalf of powerful financial  interests.

Michel Chossudovsky,  May 2o16, August 2021  

The Spoils of War: Afghanistan’s Multibillion Dollar Heroin Trade
by Michel Chossudovsky

Global Research, May 2005

Since the US led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, the Golden Crescent opium trade has soared. According to the US media, this lucrative contraband is protected by Osama, the Taliban, not to mention, of course, the regional warlords, in defiance of the “international community”.

The heroin business is said to  be “filling the coffers of the Taliban”. In the words of the US State Department:

“Opium is a source of literally billions of dollars to extremist and criminal groups… [C]utting down the opium supply is central to establishing a secure and stable democracy, as well as winning the global war on terrorism,” (Statement of Assistant Secretary of State Robert Charles. Congressional Hearing, 1 April 2004)

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), opium production in Afghanistan in 2003 is estimated at 3,600 tons, with an estimated area under cultivation of the order of 80,000 hectares. (UNODC at ).An even larger bumper harvest is predicted for 2004.

The State Department suggests that up to 120 000 hectares were under cultivation in 2004. (Congressional Hearing, op cit):

 “We could be on a path for a significant surge. Some observers indicate perhaps as much as 50 percent to 100 percent growth in the 2004 crop over the already troubling figures from last year.”(Ibid)

“Operation Containment

In response to the post-Taliban surge in opium production, the Bush administration has boosted its counter terrorism activities, while allocating substantial amounts of public money to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s West Asia initiative, dubbed “Operation Containment.”

The various reports and official statements are, of course, blended in with the usual “balanced” self critique that “the international community is not doing enough”, and that what we need is “transparency”.

The headlines are “Drugs, warlords and insecurity overshadow Afghanistan’s path to democracy”. In chorus, the US media is accusing the defunct “hard-line Islamic regime”, without even acknowledging that the Taliban  –in collaboration with the United Nations– had imposed a successful ban on poppy cultivation in 2000. Opium production declined by more than 90 per cent in 2001. In fact the surge in opium cultivation production coincided with the onslaught of the US-led military operation and the downfall of the Taliban regime. From October through December 2001, farmers started to replant poppy on an extensive basis.

The success of Afghanistan’s 2000 drug eradication program under the Taliban had been acknowledged at the October 2001 session of the UN General Assembly (which took place barely a few days after the beginning of the 2001 bombing raids). No other UNODC member country was able to implement a comparable program:

“Turning first to drug control, I had expected to concentrate my remarks on the implications of the Taliban’s ban on opium poppy cultivation in areas under their control… We now have the results of our annual ground survey of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. This year’s production [2001] is around 185 tons. This is down from the 3300 tons last year [2000], a decrease of over 94 per cent. Compared to the record harvest of 4700 tons two years ago, the decrease is well over 97 per cent.

Any decrease in illicit cultivation is welcomed, especially in cases like this when no displacement, locally or in other countries, took place to weaken the achievement”

(Remarks on behalf of UNODC Executive Director at the UN General Assembly, Oct 2001, )

United Nations’ Coverup

In the wake of the US invasion, shift in rhetoric. UNODC is now acting as if the 2000 opium ban had never happened:

“the battle against narcotics cultivation has been fought and won in other countries and it [is] possible to do so here [in Afghanistan], with strong, democratic governance, international assistance and improved security and integrity.”

Statement of the UNODC Representative in Afghanistan at the :February 2004  International Counter Narcotics Conference,  p. 5).

In fact, both Washington and the UNODC now claim that the objective of the Taliban in 2000 was not really “drug eradication” but a devious scheme to trigger “an artificial shortfall in supply”, which would drive up World prices of heroin.

Ironically, this twisted logic, which now forms part of a new “UN consensus”, is refuted by a report of the UNODC office in Pakistan, which confirmed, at the time, that there was no evidence of stockpiling by the Taliban. (Deseret News, Salt Lake City, Utah. 5 October 2003)

Washington’s Hidden Agenda: Restore the Drug Trade

In the wake of the 2001 US bombing of Afghanistan, the British government of Tony Blair was entrusted by the G-8 Group of leading industrial nations to carry out a drug eradication program, which would, in theory, allow Afghan farmers to switch out of poppy cultivation into alternative crops. The British were working out of Kabul in close liaison with the US DEA’s “Operation Containment”.

The UK sponsored crop eradication program is an obvious smokescreen. Since October 2001, opium poppy cultivation has skyrocketed.   The presence of occupation forces in Afghanistan did not result in the eradication of poppy cultivation. Quite the opposite.

The Taliban prohibition had indeed caused “the beginning of a heroin shortage in Europe by the end of 2001”, as acknowledged by the UNODC.

Heroin is a multibillion dollar business supported by powerful interests, which requires a steady and secure commodity flow. One of the “hidden” objectives of the war was precisely to restore the CIA sponsored drug trade to its historical levels and exert direct control over the drug routes.

Immediately following the October 2001 invasion, opium markets were restored. Opium prices spiraled. By early 2002, the opium price (in dollars/kg) was almost 10 times higher than in 2000.

In 2001, under the Taliban opiate production stood at 185 tons, increasing  to 3400 tons in 2002 under the US sponsored puppet regime of President Hamid Karzai.

While highlighting Karzai’s patriotic struggle against the Taliban, the media fails to mention that Karzai collaborated with the Taliban. He had also been on the payroll of a major US oil company, UNOCAL. In fact, since the mid-1990s, Hamid Karzai had acted as a consultant and lobbyist for UNOCAL in negotiations with the Taliban. According to the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan:

“Karzai has been a Central Intelligence Agency covert operator since the 1980s. He collaborated with the CIA in funneling U.S. aid to the Taliban as of 1994 when the Americans had secretly and through the Pakistanis [specifically the ISI] supported the Taliban’s assumption of power.” (quoted in Karen Talbot, U.S. Energy Giant Unocal Appoints Interim Government in Kabul, Global Outlook, No. 1, Spring 2002. p. 70. See also  BBC Monitoring Service, 15 December 2001)

History of the Golden Crescent Drug trade

It is worth recalling the history of  the Golden Crescent drug trade, which is intimately related to the CIA’s covert operations in the region since the onslaught of the Soviet-Afghan war and its aftermath.

Prior to the Soviet-Afghan war (1979-1989), opium production in Afghanistan and Pakistan was directed to small regional markets. There was no local production of heroin. (Alfred McCoy, Drug Fallout: the CIA’s Forty Year Complicity in the Narcotics Trade. The Progressive, 1 August 1997).

The Afghan narcotics economy was a carefully designed project of the CIA, supported by US foreign policy.

As revealed in the Iran-Contra and Bank of Commerce and Credit  International (BCCI) scandals, CIA covert operations in support of the Afghan Mujahideen had been funded through the laundering of drug money.  “Dirty money” was recycled –through a number of banking institutions (in the Middle East) as well as through anonymous CIA shell companies–, into  “covert money,” used to finance various insurgent groups during the Soviet-Afghan war, and its aftermath:

“Because the US wanted to supply the Mujahideen rebels in Afghanistan with stinger missiles and other military hardware it needed the full cooperation of Pakistan. By the mid-1980s, the CIA operation in Islamabad was one of the largest US intelligence stations in the World. `If BCCI is such an embarrassment to the US that forthright investigations are not being pursued it has a lot to do with the blind eye the US turned to the heroin trafficking in Pakistan’, said a US intelligence officer. (“The Dirtiest Bank of All,” Time, July 29, 1991, p. 22.)

Researcher Alfred McCoy’s study confirms that within two years of the onslaught of the CIA’s covert operation in Afghanistan in 1979,

“the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands became the world’s top heroin producer, supplying 60 per cent of U.S. demand. In Pakistan, the heroin-addict population went from near zero in 1979  to 1.2 million by 1985, a much steeper rise than in any other nation.”

“CIA assets again controlled this heroin trade. As the Mujahideen guerrillas seized territory inside Afghanistan, they ordered peasants to plant opium as a revolutionary tax. Across the border in Pakistan, Afghan leaders and local syndicates under the protection of Pakistan Intelligence operated hundreds of heroin laboratories. During this decade of wide-open drug-dealing, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in Islamabad failed to instigate major seizures or arrests.

U.S. officials had refused to investigate charges of heroin dealing by its Afghan allies because U.S. narcotics policy in Afghanistan has been subordinated to the war against Soviet influence there.  In 1995, the former CIA director of the Afghan operation, Charles Cogan, admitted the CIA had indeed sacrificed the drug war to fight the Cold War. ‘Our main mission was to do as much damage as possible to the Soviets. We didn’t really have the resources or the time to devote to an investigation of the drug trade,’ I don’t think that we need to apologize for this. Every situation has its fallout.  There was fallout in terms of drugs, yes. But the main objective was accomplished. The Soviets left Afghanistan.'”(McCoy, op cit)

The role of the CIA, which is amply documented, is not mentioned in official UNODC publications, which focus on internal social and political factors. Needless to say, the historical roots of the opium trade have been grossly distorted.


According to the UNODC, Afghanistan’s opium production has increased, more than 15-fold since 1979. In the wake of the Soviet-Afghan war, the growth of the narcotics economy has continued unabated. The Taliban, which were supported by the US, were initially instrumental in the further growth of opiate production until the 2000 opium ban.


This recycling of drug money was used to finance the post-Cold War insurgencies in Central Asia and the Balkans including Al Qaeda. (For details, see Michel Chossudovsky, War and Globalization, The Truth behind September 11, Global Outlook, 2002, )

Narcotics: Second to Oil and the Arms Trade

The revenues generated from the CIA sponsored Afghan drug trade are sizeable. The Afghan trade in opiates constitutes a large share of the worldwide annual turnover of narcotics, which was estimated by the United Nations to be of the order of $400-500 billion. (Douglas Keh, Drug Money in a Changing World, Technical document No. 4, 1998, Vienna UNDCP, p. 4. See also United Nations Drug Control Program, Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 1999, E/INCB/1999/1 United Nations, Vienna 1999, p. 49-51, and Richard Lapper, UN Fears Growth of Heroin Trade, Financial Times, 24 February 2000). At the time these UN figures were first brought out (1994), the (estimated) global trade in drugs was of the same order of magnitude as the global trade in oil.

The IMF estimated global money laundering to be between 590 billion and 1.5 trillion dollars a year, representing 2-5 percent of global GDP. (Asian Banker, 15 August 2003). A large share of global money laundering as estimated by the IMF is linked to the trade in narcotics.

Based on recent figures (2003), drug trafficking  constitutes “the third biggest global commodity in cash terms after oil and the arms trade.” (The Independent, 29 February 2004).

Moreover, the above figures including those on money laundering, confirm that the bulk of the revenues associated with the global trade in narcotics are not appropriated by terrorist groups and warlords, as suggested by the UNODC report.

There are powerful business and financial interests behind narcotics. From this standpoint, geopolitical and military control over  the drug routes is as strategic as oil and oil pipelines.

However, what distinguishes narcotics from legal commodity trade is that narcotics constitutes a major source of wealth formation not only for organised crime but also for the US intelligence apparatus, which increasingly constitutes a powerful actor in the spheres of finance and banking.

In turn, the CIA, which protects the drug trade, has developed complex business and undercover links to major criminal syndicates involved in the drug trade.

In other words, intelligence agencies and powerful business syndicates allied with organized crime, are competing for the strategic control over the heroin routes. The multi-billion dollar revenues of narcotics are deposited in the Western banking system. Most of the large international banks together with their affiliates in the offshore banking havens launder large amounts of narco-dollars.

This trade can only prosper if the main actors involved in narcotics have “political friends in high places.”  Legal and illegal undertakings are increasingly intertwined, the dividing line between “businesspeople” and criminals is blurred. In turn, the relationship among criminals, politicians and members of the intelligence establishment has tainted the structures of the state and the role of its institutions.

Where does the money go?  Who benefits from the Afghan opium trade?

This trade is characterized by a complex web of intermediaries. There are various stages of the drug trade, several interlocked markets, from the impoverished poppy farmer in Afghanistan to the wholesale and retail heroin markets in Western countries. In other words, there is a “hierarchy of prices” for opiates.

This hierarchy of prices is acknowledged by the US administration:

“Afghan heroin sells on the international narcotics market for 100 times the price farmers get for their opium right out of the field”.(US State Department quoted by the Voice of America (VOA), 27 February 2004).

According to the UNODC, opium in Afghanistan generated in 2003 “an income of one billion US dollars for farmers and US$ 1.3 billion for traffickers, equivalent to over half of its national income.”

Consistent with these UNODC estimates, the average price for fresh opium was $350 a kg. (2002); the 2002 production was 3400 tons.  ( ).

The UNDOC estimate, based on local farmgate and wholesale prices constitutes, however, a very small percentage of the total turnover of the multibillion dollar Afghan drug trade. The UNODC, estimates “the total annual turn-over of international trade” in Afghan opiates at US$ 30 billion. An examination of the wholesale and retail prices for heroin in the Western countries suggests, however, that the total revenues generated, including those at the retail level, are substantially higher.

Wholesale Prices of Heroin in Western Countries

It is estimated that one kilo of opium produces approximately 100 grams of (pure) heroin. The US DEA confirms that “SWA [South West Asia meaning Afghanistan] heroin in New York City was selling in the late 1990s for $85,000 to $190,000 per kilogram wholesale with a 75 percent purity ratio (National Drug Intelligence Center, ).

According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) “the price of SEA [South East Asian] heroin ranges from $70,000 to $100,000 per unit (700 grams) and the purity of SEA heroin ranges from 85 to 90 percent” (ibid). The SEA unit of 700 gr (85-90 % purity) translates  into a wholesale price per kg. for pure heroin ranging between $115,000 and $163,000.

The DEA figures quoted above, while reflecting the situation in the 1990s, are broadly consistent with recent British figures. According to a report published in the Guardian (11 August 2002), the wholesale price of (pure) heroin in London (UK) was of the order of 50,000 pounds sterling, approximately $80,000 (2002).

Whereas as there is competition between different sources of heroin supply, it should be emphasized that Afghan heroin represents a rather small percentage of the US heroin market, which is largely supplied out of Colombia.

Retail Prices


“The NYPD notes that retail heroin prices are down and purity is relatively high. Heroin previously sold for about $90 per gram but now sells for $65 to $70 per gram or less. Anecdotal information from the NYPD indicates that purity for a bag of heroin commonly ranges from 50 to 80 percent but can be as low as 30 percent. Information as of June 2000 indicates that bundles (10 bags) purchased by Dominican buyers from Dominican sellers in larger quantities (about 150 bundles) sold for as little as $40 each, or $55 each in Central Park. DEA reports that an ounce of heroin usually sells for $2,500 to $5,000, a gram for $70 to $95, a bundle for $80 to $90, and a bag for $10. The DMP reports that the average heroin purity at the street level in 1999 was about 62 percent.”  (National Drug Intelligence Center, ).

The NYPD and DEA retail price figures seem consistent. The DEA price of $70-$95, with a purity of 62 percent translates into $112 to $153 per gram of pure heroin. The NYPD figures are roughly similar with perhaps lower estimates for purity.

It should be noted that when heroin is purchased in very small quantities,  the retail price tends to be much higher. In the US, purchase is often by “the bag”; the typical bag according to Rocheleau and Boyum contains 25 milligrams of pure heroin.

( )

A $10 dollar bag in NYC (according to the DEA figure quoted above) would convert into a price of $400 per gram, each bag containing 0.025gr. of pure heroin. (op cit). In other words, for very small purchases marketed by street pushers, the retail margin tends to be significantly higher. In the case of the $10 bag purchase, it is roughly 3 to 4 times the corresponding retail price per gram.($112-$153)


In Britain, the retail street price per gram of heroin, according to British Police sources, “has fallen from £74 in 1997 to £61 [in 2004].” [i.e. from approximately $133 to $110, based on the 2004 rate of exchange] (Independent, 3 March 2004). In some cities it was as low as £30-40 per gram with a low level of purity. (AAP News, 3 March 2004). According to Drugscope ( ), the average price for a gram of heroin in Britain is between £40 and £90 ($72- $162 per gram) (The report does not mention purity). The street price of heroin was £60 per gram in April 2002 according to the National Criminal Intelligence Service.

(See: )

The Hierarchy of Prices

We are dealing with a hierarchy  of prices, from the farmgate price in the producing country, upwards, to the final retail street price. The latter is often 80-100 times the price paid to the farmer.

In other words, the opiate product transits through several markets from the producing country to the transshipment country(ies), to the consuming countries. In the latter, there are wide margins between “the landing price” at the point of entry, demanded by the drug cartels and the wholesale prices and the retail street prices, protected by Western organized crime.

The Global Proceeds of the Afghan Narcotics Trade

In Afghanistan, the reported production of 3600 tons of opium in 2003 would allow for the production of approximately 360,000 kg of pure heroin. Gross revenues accruing to Afghan farmers are roughly estimated by the UNODC to be of the order of $1 billion, with 1.3 billion accruing to local traffickers.

When sold in Western markets at a heroin wholesale price of the order of $100,000 a kg (with a 70 percent purity ratio), the global wholesale proceeds (corresponding to 3600 tons of Afghan opium) would be of the order of 51.4 billion dollars. The latter constitutes a conservative estimate based on the various figures for wholesale prices in the previous section.

The total proceeds of the Afghan narcotics trade (in terms of total value added) is estimated using the final heroin retail price. In other words, the retail value of the trade is ultimately the criterion for measuring the importance of the drug trade in terms of revenue generation and wealth formation.

A meaningful estimate of the retail value, however, is almost impossible to ascertain due to the fact that retail prices vary considerably within urban areas, from one city to another and between consuming countries, not to mention variations in purity and quality (see above).

The evidence on retail margins, namely the difference between wholesale and retail values in the consuming countries, nonetheless, suggests that a large share of the total (money) proceeds of the drug trade are generated at the retail level.

In other words, a significant portion of the proceeds of the drug trade accrues to criminal and business syndicates in Western countries involved in the local wholesale and retail narcotics markets. And the various criminal gangs involved in retail trade are invariably protected by the “corporate” crime syndicates.

90 percent of heroin consumed in the UK is from Afghanistan. Using the British retail price figure from UK police sources of $110 a gram (with an assumed 50 percent purity level), the total retail value of the Afghan narcotics trade  in 2003 (3600 tons of opium) would be the order of 79.2 billion dollars. The latter should be considered as a simulation rather than an estimate.

Under this assumption (simulation), a billion dollars gross revenue to the farmers in Afghanistan (2003) would generate global narcotics earnings, –accruing at various stages and in various markets– of the order of 79.2 billion dollars. These global proceeds accrue to business syndicates, intelligence agencies, organized crime, financial institutions, wholesalers, retailers, etc. involved directly or indirectly in the drug trade.

In turn, the proceeds of this lucrative trade are deposited in Western banks, which constitute an essential mechanism in the laundering of dirty money.

A very small percentage accrues to farmers and traders in the producing country. Bear in mind that the net income accruing to Afghan farmers is but a fraction of the estimated 1 billion dollar amount. The latter does not include payments of farm inputs, interest on loans to money lenders, political protection, etc.

(See also UNODC, The Opium Economy in Afghanistan, , Vienna, 2003, p. 7-8)

The Share of the Afghan Heroin in the Global Drug Market

Afghanistan produces over 70 percent of the global supply of heroin and heroin represents a sizeable fraction of the global narcotics market, estimated by the UN to be of the order of $400-500 billion.

There are no reliable estimates on the distribution of the global narcotics trade between the main categories: Cocaine, Opium/Heroin, Cannabis, Amphetamine Type Stimulants (ATS), Other Drugs.

The Laundering of Drug Money

The proceeds of the drug trade are deposited in the banking system. Drug money is laundered in the numerous offshore banking havens in Switzerland, Luxembourg, the British Channel Islands, the Cayman Islands and some 50 other locations around the globe.  It is here that the criminal syndicates involved in the drug trade and the representatives of the world’s largest commercial banks interact. Dirty money is deposited in these offshore havens, which are controlled by the major Western commercial banks. The latter have a vested interest in maintaining and sustaining the drug trade. (For further details, see Michel Chossudovsky, The Crimes of Business and the Business of Crimes, Covert Action Quarterly, Fall 1996)

Once the money has been laundered, it can be recycled into bona fide investments not only in real estate, hotels, etc, but also in other areas such as the services economy and manufacturing. Dirty and covert money is also funneled into various financial instruments including the trade in derivatives, primary commodities, stocks, and government bonds.

Concluding Remarks: Criminalization of US Foreign Policy

US foreign policy supports the workings of a thriving criminal economy in which the demarcation between organized capital and organized crime has become increasingly blurred.

The heroin business is not  “filling the coffers of the Taliban” as claimed by US government and the international community: quite the opposite! The proceeds of this illegal trade are the source of wealth formation, largely reaped by powerful business/criminal interests within the Western countries. These interests are sustained by US foreign policy.

Decision-making in the US State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon is instrumental in supporting this highly profitable multibillion dollar trade, third in commodity value after oil and the arms trade.

The Afghan drug economy is “protected”.

The heroin trade was part of the war agenda. What this war has achieved is to restore a compliant narco-State, headed by a US appointed puppet.

The powerful financial interests behind narcotics are supported by the militarisation of the world’s major drug triangles (and transshipment routes), including the Golden Crescent and the Andean region of South America (under the so-called Andean Initiative).

Table 1

Opium Poppy Cultivation in Afghanistan

Year                         Cultivation in hectares               Production (tons)

1994                                 71,470                                    3,400

1995                                 53,759                                    2,300

1996                                 56,824                                    2,200

1997                                 58,416                                    2,800

1998                                 63,674                                    2,700

1999                                 90,983                                    4,600

2000                                 82,172                                    3,300

2001                                   7,606                                       185

2002                                 74 000                                    3400

2003                                 80 000                                    3600

Source: UNDCP, Afghanistan, Opium Poppy Survey, 2001, UNOCD, Opium Poppy Survey, 2002.

See also Press Release: , and 2003 Survey:

Notice the dip in 2001


Afghanistan and the CIA Heroin Ratline

Global Research, August 29, 2017
Sputnik 25 August 2017

The Persian Gulf harbors an array of extremely compromising secrets. Near the top is the Afghan heroin ratline – with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) positioned as the golden node of a transnational, trillion dollar heroin money laundering operation.

In this 21st century Opium War, crops harvested in Afghanistan are essentially feeding the heroin market not only in Russia and Iran but especially in the US. Up to 93% of the world’s opium comes from Afghanistan.

Contrary to predominant Western perception, this is not an Afghan Taliban operation. The key questions — never asked by Atlanticist circles — are who buys the opium harvests; refines them into heroin; controls the export routes; and then sell them for humongous profit compared to what the Taliban have locally imposed in taxes.

The hegemonic narrative rules that Washington bombed Afghanistan in 2001 in “self-defense” after 9/11; installed a “democratic” government; and after 16 years never de facto left because this is a key node in the Global War on Terror (GWOT), against al-Qaeda and the Taliban alike.

Washington spent over $100 billion in Afghan reconstruction. And, allegedly, $8.4 billion in “counternarcotics programs”. Operation Enduring Freedom — along with the “liberation” of Iraq — have cost an astonishing several trillion dollars. And still the heroin ratline, out of occupied Afghanistan, thrives. Cui bono?

Have a SIGAR

An exhaustive Afghanistan Opium Survey details the steady rise of Afghan opium production as well as the sprawl in production areas; “In 2016, opium production had increased by approximately 25 times in relation to its 2001 levels, from 185 tons in 2001 to 4800 tons in 2016.”

Another exhaustive report issued by the delightful acronym SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) even hints — discreetly — at the crucial connection; Operation Enduring Freedom feeding America’s heroin epidemic.

Afghanistan is infested by contractors; numbers vary from 10,000 to tens of thousands. Military and ex-military alike can be reasonably pinpointed as players in the heroin ratline — in many cases for personal profit. But the clincher concerns the financing of US intel black ops that should not by any means come under scrutiny by the US Congress.

A Gulf-based intel source with vast experience across the Pentagon-designated “arc of instability” tells the story of his interaction with an Australian intel operative who served in Afghanistan;

“This was about 2011. He said he gave US Army Intelligence and the CIA reports on the Afghan heroin trade — that US military convoys from the ports of Pakistan were being used to ship the heroin out of Afghanistan — much of it was raw opium — for distribution as their backhaul.

No one answered.

He then cornered the key army intelligence operations and CIA at a meeting and asked why no action was taken. The answer was that the goal of the US was winning the hearts and minds of the population and giving them the poppies to grow won their hearts. He was then warned that if he brought this issue up again he would be returned to Australia in a body bag.”

The source is adamant,

“CIA external operations are financed from these profits. The charge that the Taliban was using the heroin trade to finance their operations was a fabrication and a form of misdirection.”

And that brings us to a key motive behind President Trump‘s going against his instincts and accepting a new Afghan surge;

“In the tradition of the opium wars of perfidious Albion in the 19th century, in which opium paid for tea and silk from India, and the taxes on these silk and tea imports financed the construction of the mighty British Navy which ruled the seas, the CIA has built itself up into a most powerful agent based on the trillion dollar heroin trade. It is impossible for Trump to overcome it as he has no allies to tap. The military are working together with the CIA, and therefore the officers that surround Trump are worthless.”

None of this deviates from the CIA’s modus operandi.

Past examples abound. The most notorious concerns the Golden Triangle during the Vietnam war, when the CIA imposed a food-for-opium scheme on Hmong tribesmen from Laos — complete with a heroin refinery at the CIA headquarters in northern Laos and the set up of nefarious Air America to export the opium.

The whole story was exposed on Prof. Alfred McCoy‘s seminal The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia — which drove Langley nuts.

A contemporary counterpart would be a recent book by Italian journalist Enrico Piovesana detailing the New Opium War in Afghanistan.

The return of Air America

A Pakistani intel source with vast Pashtun/ tribal area contacts delves into even more incendiary territory; “According to our best information the CIA has brought in their al-Qaeda-Daesh proxies into Afghanistan to justify the additional American troops”. That would neatly tie in with Trump being cornered by his generals.

And then, there’s Moscow. Last week, the Russian Foreign Ministry was adamantly denouncing “foreign fighters” transferred by “unknown helicopters” as the perpetrators of a massacre of Hazara Shi’ites in a northern Afghanistan province; “It seems that the command of the NATO forces controlling the Afghan sky stubbornly refuses to notice these incidents.”

It does not get more serious than that; Moscow denouncing sectors of the US-trained Afghan Armed Forces side by side with NATO engaged in covert ops supporting jihadis.  Russian intel has hinted — discreetly — for quite some time that US intel is covertly sponsoring Daesh — a.k.a. “ISIS Khorasan” — in Afghanistan.

Russian intel is very much aware of the Afghan chapter in the New Great Game. Russian citizens are “collateral damage” of the Afghan heroin ratline as much as Americans. The Russian Foreign Ministry is tracking how tons of chemicals are being illegally imported into Afghanistan from, among others, “Italy, France and the Netherlands”, and how the US and NATO are doing absolutely nothing to contain the heroin ratline.

Well, Air America, after all, never died. It just relocated from the jungles of Southeast Asia to the arid crossroads of Central and South Asia.


The Politics of Heroin and the Afghan US Pullout. Private Mercenary Occupation

Global Research, April 25, 2021

The Biden Administration has announced an Afghanistan US troop withdrawal date of September, 11, 2021, symbolically exactly two decades after the game-changing 911 attacks in New York and Washington. However the Pentagon and White House are saying nothing about one of the main reasons the powers that be who control Washington have remained in Afghanistan since the fake chase after a former CIA contract employee named Osama bin Laden.

What is clear is that the US Administration is not being straightforward with its plans for Afghanistan and the so-called pull-out. The previously agreed May 1 date versus September 11 is clearly not about making a more graceful exit after a two decade war that has cost US taxpayers more than $2 trillion. The argument by some US Democrats that a full pullout with endanger the rights of Afghan women with the brutal Taliban culture of misogyny is clearly not what US and NATO soldiers have been protecting with their presence. What then is at stake?

Private Mercenary Occupation

While the Pentagon has been sly about giving any direct answer, it seems that what the Team Biden neo-cons are planning is a “privatized” US military presence. According to a report by Jeremy Kuzmarov, “over 18,000 Pentagon contractors remain in Afghanistan, while official troops number 2,500. Joe Biden will withdraw this smaller group of soldiers while leaving behind US Special Forces, mercenaries, and intelligence operatives — privatizing and down-scaling the war, but not ending it.” Already there are seven private military contractors in Afghanistan for every single US soldier.

Use of private military contractors allows the Pentagon and US intelligence agencies to avoid serious Congressional oversight. Typically they are special forces veterans who earn vastly more as private security contractors or mercenaries. Their work is simply classified so there is almost no accountability. The New York Times reports, citing current and former US officials, that Washington “will most likely rely on a shadowy combination of clandestine Special Operations forces, Pentagon contractors and covert intelligence operatives” to conduct operations inside Afghanistan.

The current Afghan government led by Ashraf Ghani, like that of Hamid Karzai is a creation of the United States. Ghani will remain Washington’s proxy in Kabul. His military is funded by the United States at a cost of around $4 billion per yearFor what?

What is missing from the public discussion of Afghan troop presence is the 800 pound gorilla in the room: drugs, specifically heroin.

The 800 Pound Gorilla

Some of these private soldiers of fortune are not doing nice things. DynCorp is one of the largest contractors there. As of 2019 DynCorp had gotten over $7 billion in government contracts to train the Afghan army and manage military bases in Afghanistan. One of the publicized tasks of DynCorp and other US mercenary personnel in Afghanistan has been to “oversee” destruction of Afghan poppy fields that supply an estimated 93% of world heroin. Yet the clear evidence is that that opium and its global distribution has been a major province of the CIA along with the US military who guarantee secure air transport via airbases in Kyrgyzstan as well as Afghanistan into the western heroin markets. DynCorp has little to show for that drug eradication, or were they doing something else?

CIA, Mujahideen and Afghan Opium

When the US first occupied Afghanistan, claiming retribution for the Taliban role in aiding Osama bin Laden in the 911 US attacks, a severe anti-opium policy of Taliban had reduced harvests to almost zero. By October, 2001, just before the US invasion, the UN acknowledged that the Taliban reduced opium production in Afghanistan from 3300 tons in 2000 to 185 tons in 2001. According to Canadian economist and historian Michel Chossudovsky, “immediately following the October 2001 invasion, opium markets were restored. Opium prices spiraled. By early 2002, the domestic price of opium in Afghanistan (in dollars/kg) was almost 10 times higher than in 2000.” The Anglo-American invasion of Afghanistan successfully restored the drug trade. The Guardian reported that, “In 2007 Afghanistan had more land growing drugs than Colombia, Bolivia and Peru combined.” That was six years into the US military occupation.

Source: UN

Within several years of US occupation under Karzai, opium crops were at all-time record levels. One of the largest Afghan opium warlords then was the brother of Karzai. In 2009 the New York Times, citing unnamed US officials, wrote that,

“Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years…”

In 2011 Ahmed Karzai was gunned down, mob-style, at his home in Helmland by one of his bodyguards. Helmland is the largest opium province in Afghanistan. If Helmland were a country it would be the largest opium producer worldwide. Was it accident that the CIA paid money to Karzai for at least eight years or did The Company have a stake in the business of Karzai?

While Washington and the CIA have denied supporting the huge Afghan opium trade, the CIA history since the Vietnam War with drug warlords suggests otherwise. As Alfred W. McCoy documented during the Vietnam War era in his ground-breaking book, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, the CIA was deeply involved with Hmong tribesmen in Laos who were involved in opium trade. They claimed it was necessary to twin their support. Later it was found the CIA Air America was involved in secretly shipping opium from the Golden Triangle.

During the 1980’s US-financed Mujahideen war against the Soviet Red Army in Afghanistan, the CIA allegedly turned a blind eye as Osama bin Laden and thousands of “Afghan Arabs” he recruited. Afghan warlords such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar were enriching themselves along with the Pakistani ISI intelligence with vast drug trade profits. To imagine that the CIA, and private mercenary armies such as DynCorp closely tied to the agency, are today involved in the world’s largest opium and heroin source requires no great leap of faith.

In 2018 Alfred McCoy made a damning indictment of the US war in Afghanistan. He asked,

“How could the world’s sole superpower have battled continuously for more than 16 years – deploying more than 100,000 troops at the conflict’s peak, sacrificing the lives of nearly 2,300 soldiers, spending more than $1trillion on its military operations, lavishing a record $100bn more on ‘nation-building’, helping fund and train an army of 350,000 Afghan allies – and still not be able to pacify one of the world’s most impoverished nations?”

His reply was that the US presence was not about nation-building or democracy. It was about heroin: 

“Throughout its three decades in Afghanistan, Washington’s military operations have succeeded only when they fit reasonably comfortably into central Asia’s illicit traffic in opium,” he charged. “Its opium production surged from around 180 tons in 2001 to more than 3,000 tons a year after the invasion, and to more than 8,000 by 2007.

By 2017 the opium production reached a record 9,000 tons. After more than 16 years of US military occupation. Somewhere here is a very dirty and criminal story and the CIA as well as related private military contractors such as DynCorp appear to be in the middle of it.

This is maybe the real reason Washington refuses to honestly leave Afghanistan. As Pepe Escobar points out, contrary to the narrative in Western media that the Taliban control the Afghan opium trade,

“this is not an Afghan Taliban operation. The key questions — never asked by Atlanticist circles — are who buys the opium harvests; refines them into heroin; controls the export routes; and then sell them for humongous profit…”

He points to NATO, noting that Russian citizens are “collateral damage” of the Afghan heroin ratline as much as Americans. “The Russian Foreign Ministry is tracking how tons of chemicals are being illegally imported into Afghanistan from, among others, ‘Italy, France and the Netherlands’, and how the US and NATO are doing absolutely nothing to contain the heroin ratline.”

The US operations in Afghanistan, the world’s largest opium producer, is far from ending. It is merely changing form.


Note to readers: please click the share buttons above or below. Forward this article to your email lists. Crosspost on your blog site, internet forums. etc.

F. William Engdahl is strategic risk consultant and lecturer, he holds a degree in politics from Princeton University and is a best-selling author on oil and geopolitics, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook” where this article was originally published. 

He is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization.

Featured image is from NEO


CIA Officers Admitted the Agency Ran Drug Traffic During Indochina Wars

In new memoir, CIA expert shares interviews he conducted with CIA paramilitary officers who spilled the beans about CIA drug trafficking along with other major crimes.

In 1991, during the 1st Persian Gulf War, investigative journalist Douglas Valentine traveled to Thailand and interviewed a group of legendary CIA officers who had helped run the secret war in Laos and other clandestine operations in the Indochina Wars.

Among them was Anthony Poshepny (aka Tony Poe), the prototype for Colonel Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola’s epic 1979 film Apocalypse Now—a covert warrior who went off the deep end and established a secret jungle enclave where enemy body parts were displayed.[1]

Anthony Poshepny during his glory days. [Source:]

Now 66, Poshepny lived at the time in a big, beautiful home in a fancy neighborhood in Udon Thani, Thailand, home of a major U.S. air base during the Indochina Wars used for carrying out secret bombing missions over Laos.

Poshepny owned a lumber and security consultant business and a sugar and tapioca farm; he was considered around town to be a friendly guy but a belligerent drunk.

Poshepny’s father had been a naval officer and he had become desensitized to violence serving with the Marines in the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.

During a meeting with Poshepny, who suffered from diabetes and cirrhosis from years of heavy drinking, Valentine noticed that he was missing two middle fingers. Poshepny also liked to tell obscene jokes.

He told Valentine that he was proud of things he had done with political implications, notably his involvement in a failed CIA coup against Indonesian socialist leader Sukarno in 1958, where he and CIA officer “Pat” Landry supplied mutinous military forces in oil-rich Sumatra with M16s and thousands of rounds of ammunition. “It was an adventure,” Poshepny said.

Sukarno, right, shakes hands with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles as Vice President Richard Nixon looks on. Both Nixon and Dulles supported a coup plot against Sukarno using the CIA, which resulted in the genocidal killing of some two million Indonesians. [Source:]

Poshepny, around the same time, told Valentine that he had created a guerrilla army in Thailand to try to destabilize Cambodia, which was then ruled by neutralist Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who was seen as too friendly to the North Vietnamese communists.

CIA target Norodom Sihanouk. [Source:]

After Cambodia, Poshepny went on to Tibet, where he was awarded a coveted intelligence medal for his role in a CIA operation to support the Dalai Lama and recruit his supporters into a guerrilla army that waged war against the People’s Republic of China (PRC).


During the Korean War (1950-1953), Poshepny worked under station chief John Hart[2] in South Korea, training guerrillas and running operations up the eastern coast to the Soviet border near Vladivostok.

John Hart [Source:]

Subsequently, he was sent to Thailand with Hart—whom a colleague described as a “guy who has strong criminal tendencies—but was too much of a coward to be one [a criminal].” Poshepny worked under the cover of Sea Supply (a military contractor run by OSS veteran Willis Bird) with the Thai Border Patrol Police (BPP) in Chung Mai.

In 1961, Poshepny was sent to Laos where, for the next 12 years, he helped run the CIA’s secret war. The CIA financed a mercenary arm of Hmong guerrillas who served as cannon fodder in the fight against the pro-communist Pathet Lao.

The CIA’s mercenary army: Hmong guerrilla fighters, c. 1968. [Source:]

Poshepny told Valentine that he was “not proud of his service in Laos.” For one thing, he said that he “chopped up a lot of prisoners.” He and his friends would line up three prisoners, wrap cord around their necks, and then blow the heads off the first two prisoners as an inducement to get the last guy to talk.

Poshepny was one of the CIA liaisons to Vang Pao, a leader of the ethnic Hmong. The CIA molded them into a guerrilla army to fight the communist Pathet Lao after the Royal Lao army proved unable to fight. Poshepny said that Vang Pao “was a bastard who should have been arrested for extortion,” as he was “pocketing” CIA money.

Poshepny added that he “paid the Meos [Hmong] directly for three years” but that, when Vang Pao got control of finances in 1965, he “cut salaries by fifty percent. He said he needed the money for supplies and air transport, but put most of it in his pocket.”

Poshepny continued: “Through his underlings, Vang Pao was selling guns to [Burmese] drug trafficker Khun Sa and his boss Li. We were penetrated by crooks.”

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Major General Richard G. Stilwell [Source:]

Poshepny noted further that, when he tried to discipline one of the underlings, Vang Pao promoted him. “And the bastards in Bangkok” (meaning the commander of the U.S. Military Advisory Group, Major General Richard G. Stilwell, CIA Station Chief Robert “Red” Jantzen, and Ambassador Graham Martin) “didn’t back me.”[3]

According to Poshepny, Vang Pao “made millions dealing drugs,” drove a Mercedes-Benz and “enjoyed the high life at his villa in Vientiane, where he a made illicit deals under the gaze of CIA officers. The CIA even gave him his own D-3 with a crew of KMT [Chinese Guomindang] mercenaries that flew narcotics to cash customers around Southeast Asia.”

Opium field in Laos. [Source:]
Hardcover The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America's War on Drugs Book

Valentine had previously reported in his book, The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America’s War on Drugs (Verso, 2004), that Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) officer Bowman Taylor had busted Vang Pao in 1963 for drug smuggling in the Laotian capital, Vientiane, during an undercover sting operation.

Taylor told Valentine that, after he made the case on Vang Pao, he was thrown out of Laos as a result. The CIA in turn “gave Vang Pao back his Mercedes-Benz and fifty kilos of morphine base. I wrote a report to FBN Commissioner Henry Giordano, but when he confronted the CIA, they said the incident never happened.”[4]

In his interview with Valentine, Poshepny described the arrangement by which “the KMT managed, from Nam Yu, units in Burma that sent spies into China. In return, the CIA allowed the KMT to traffic in narcotics.”

According to Poshepny, “wet-wing C47s (with auxiliary tanks) flown by Taiwanese pilots” with Chinese technicians on board “would fly for thirteen hours out of (the Thai-Laos border town) Houei Sai with opium packed in Styrofoam drums and free drop them into flaming T’s in the Gulf of Siam. Receivers would gather the floating drums into boats (one was equipped with machine guns, a 40mm cannon, and the latest radio equipment) bound for Taiwan where the opium was processed into heroin and sold to traffickers in Hong Kong for sale in America.”

Air America in Laos: flying weapons and drugs. [Source:]
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David Morales [Source:]

Poshepny said he knew it was wrong for America’s allies to sell U.S. government weapons on the black market and for the CIA to engage in drug trafficking. He wanted everyone to know, and he told anyone who would listen.

According to Poshepny, CIA officers who worked with Vang Pao directly oversaw and profited from the drug trade. Laotian CIA Station Chief Ted Shackley’s “pet from Miami,” David Morales, for example, “built a castle in Pakse from drug money.”[5]

Poshepny also told Valentine that the huge campaign to publicize the search for American prisoners of war in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia after the war was a “CIA psychological warfare operation that provided a cover for CIA efforts to track and try [to] assassinate 55 U.S. deserters who had escaped from military prisons, mostly Negroes and Hispanics guilty of fraggings, and had gone into tunnels and onto farms with the Vietcong.”

Another CIA psy-war operation. [Source:]

The CIA used the MIA-POW mission, Poshepny said, “as a cover to gather intelligence and conduct its manhunt [in Indochina].”

American Pisces

Valentine’s interview with Poshepny is one of the highlights from his new memoir, Pisces Moon: The Dark Arts of Empire (Walterville, OR: Trine Day, 2023).

The book in essence recounts Valentine’s journey of discovery—as if in a Joseph Conrad novel—about the dark side of the U.S. empire.

Valentine’s political awakening occurred at the age of fourteen on the day JFK was assassinated when he told his father excitedly that they had caught the culprit. Douglas Valentine, Sr., responded in a rather kindly voice: “The guy they got didn’t do it, Doug. You can count on that.”

Valentine’s first book, The Hotel Tacloban (1987), told the story of his father, whose Army records were doctored in order to cover up a mutiny that took place in the POW camp where he was detained during the Pacific War in the Philippines. The rest of his unit had been wiped out on a secret U.S. Army mission in New Guinea.

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Douglas Valentine with his father, Douglas Valentine, Sr. [Source:]

Former CIA Director William Colby read The Hotel Tacloban and gave Valentine “the keys to the CIA kingdom”—top-secret documents and access to CIA veterans who participated in the Phoenix Program in South Vietnam, which Colby ran.

Phoenix was a counter-terror operation designed to wipe out the leadership of the National Liberation Front (NLF—South Vietnam resistance organization to U.S. invaders) that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians.

Published in 1990, Valentine’s book exposed the murderous methods of Phoenix, which later guided the Department of Homeland Security during the age of the War on Terror. William Colby, whom Valentine characterizes as a “homicidal maniac,” said that Phoenix was also a model for the 1965-1966 Indonesian massacres, where more than one million suspected communists were killed, many of them identified by CIA blacklists, after a CIA-backed coup.

The CIA Station Chief at the time, Hugh Tovar, also helped run the secret war in Laos.

In the 2000s, Valentine published a two-part history of the CIA’s complicity in the drug trade—The Strength of the Wolf and The Strength of the Pack—and another book entitled The CIA as Organized Crime.

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Pisces Moon provides some key back story and further rich insights into the workings of the CIA. After years of research, Valentine came to the realization that the CIA was the dark shadow of the U.S.: Its officers fit with the observation of English writer D.H. Lawrence that “democracy was a sort of by-play” and that “the American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer.”

D.H. Lawrence [Source:]

One OSS officer told Valentine about a scenario where an eight-year-old boy was found listening to a secret meeting, and the OSS men knew what they had to do—because otherwise he could give away their plans to the enemy.

Many of the CIA officers who Valentine came across were outright psychopaths who had found in the CIA a way of attaining social respectability and making a good living while engaging in a life of crime.

Contrary to popular illusions cultivated in Hollywood films, the craft of intelligence, Valentine tells us, is not a noble one.

Agents lie and deceive on a daily basis. They amass information so that the U.S. government—following the precedent of previous colonial powers like Britain, which it learned from—can manipulate people, and in many cases destroy them, like it did with the Hmong in Laos.

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Douglas Valentine [Source:]

Interviews with More Legendary Spooks

Valentine’s memoir is most riveting when he recounts the interviews that he carried out with CIA legends who ran secret operations during the Indochina War.

Among them was Jack Shirley, who coordinated training of the Thai Border Patrol Police and Police Aerial Reconnaissance Unit (PARU), oversaw creation of an unconventional warfare center in Thailand, served a tour in Vietnam, worked with Vang Pao in Laos, and ran Khmer mercenaries into Cambodia in an attempt to destabilize Prince Sihanouk’s neutralist government.

Characterized by Poshepny as a “cocksucker,” Shirley was hostile to Valentine when they met at a bar in Bangkok’s famous red-light district. Valentine described Shirley as “physically repellent; short and fat with a long nose that nearly touched his upper lip. The more he drank, the more he ranted about how liberals, the media and the peace movement lost the war.”

Jack Shirley on the right, with yellow shirt, at a pub in Bangkok with Anthony Poshepny on his left. [Source:]

When Valentine asked Shirley about CIA drug smuggling, Shirley sat back, glared at him and said, “I knew that’s what you were after. The conversation ends here,” adding: “Why are you biting your lower lip? You’re not so tough now, are you? Buy me a beer, then go.”

To Valentine, Shirley embodied a macho Christianity and racist imperialist worldview that led ultimately to the election of Donald Trump.

Valentine wrote that “a famous writer once described spies as ‘a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards—little men, drunkards, queers, henpecked husbands, civil servants playing cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten little lives.’ Shirley pretty much fit the bill.”

Valentine had a friendlier interview in Chiang Mai with William Young, a CIA paramilitary specialist who had run intelligence operations into China while working with Hmong guerrillas in the Laos secret war.

Young’s brother Gordon was also a CIA officer who worked undercover in Laos as a narcotics officer and was sent to Con Son prison in South Vietnam to make sure that political prisoners being held in the infamous Tiger Cages did not build any escape tunnels.

The brothers had grown up in a missionary family in Burma and spoke Lahu, Wa, Shan and Yunnan Chinese. They set up a radio post on mountaintops outside Chiang Mai so they could communicate with KMT assets and with their father helped facilitate the indigenous and KMT drug trade beginning around 1951.

William Young [Source:]

Young told Valentine about how opium caravans would leave Laos and hook up with small groups of low-level Lahu, Wa and Shan waiting inside Burma, which penetrated at times 200 miles into China.

When asked to assess the drug war, Young said that the U.S. effort in Laos was implemented through Thai military intelligence, which put the Thais in position to act as middlemen in the drug trade. Young also mentioned Robert “Dutch” Brongersma as the pilot who oversaw CIA involvement.

Civil Air Transport CIA pilot Robert Dutch Brongersma
Civil Air Transport CIA Pilot Robert “Dutch” Brongersma. [Source:]
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General Ouane Rattikone [Source:]

When Valentine asked Young about Corsicans, Young said that Corsican brothers at Le Concorde Restaurant in Vientiane ran drugs with General Ouane Rattikone, Royal Lao Army chief and a CIA asset, until the 1967 opium war and the start of the Cultural Revolution in China, after which Rattikone consolidated the business.

The CIA gave Rattikone free passage because he was in contact with people in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and because PRC agents had penetrated the KMT. Rattikone’s Chinese commercial agent in the drug (and thus spy) business, Mr. Heng, was instrumental in this arrangement.[6]

Vang Pao was meanwhile given his own private airline so he could ferry opium from the CIA secret base at Long Tieng on the Plain of Jars to South Vietnam where it was cooked into heroin by a Chinese chemist operating under Rattikone’s protection.

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Airstrip at secret CIA base at Long Tieng, Laos, that was used for opium smuggling. [Source:]

The Biggest Untold Story of the Secret War

Yet another interesting interview that Valentine conducted was with Dr. Charles Weldon, a country doctor from Louisiana and World War II veteran who worked for the CIA in Laos under cover as a USAID administrator, serving as chief of the Ministry of Public Health in Vientiane.

Dr. Weldon had worked in Laos with Dr. Tom Dooley, another CIA doctor whose book, Deliver Us From Evil (1956), falsely claimed that the Viet Minh had disemboweled thousands of Vietnamese women.[7]

Dr. Weldon blew Valentine away when he told him the big untold story of the secret war in Laos was the venereal disease infestation within the over-sexed CIA colony, the result of officers having unprotected sex with tribal women and then with each other’s wives. The wives would come to him for penicillin, begging for secrecy.

Dr. Tom Dooley in Laos. [Source:]

In the Company of Monsters

One interview that Valentine said made him nauseous was one he conducted with Thomas G. Clines, a CIA adviser to Vang Pao, who bragged about overseeing Phoenix-style operations in Cuba where anti-Castro commandos trained by the CIA used blowtorches to burn the faces off Communist mayors and cadres in rural Cuban villages.

Valentine was also sickened by interviews he conducted with “All-America war criminals” Theodore Shackley, the CIA Station Chief in Laos in the mid 1960s, who had a photo on the wall of his Alexandria, Virginia, office of the CIA’s secret Long Tieng base; and with Richard Secord, a key figure in the Iran-Contra affair, who had overseen the air war over Laos that killed thousands of rice farmers on the Plain of Jars and the 1972 Christmas bombing over North Vietnam that resulted in thousands more civilian deaths.

Valentine wrote that he developed a form of PTSD from being in the company of “monsters like [John] Muldoon, Shackley, Clines and Secord who were all proud of the horrors they visited upon Vietnam and Laos.”

Bad Karma of Empire

Valentine’s memoir provides an important “critical analysis of how Western imperialists impose their will on foreign nations,” with a “focus on the ‘dark arts’ of religious propaganda and CIA psychological warfare (psywar) and drug trafficking operations during the Cold War, and how they ultimately corrupted America—what William Burroughs, speaking about England in The Place of Dead Roads (1983), called “the backlash and bad karma of empire.”

William S. Burroughs [Source:]

Valentine notes that the U.S. support for the regional drug trade went back to the 1920s when the Coolidge and Hoover administrations began supporting Guomindang commander Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) in China’s civil war with the Communists, despite Chiang’s alliance with Chinese Green Gang operatives Dai Li, the chief of Guomindang intelligence, and Du Yuesheng, the Asian Al Capone.

During World War II, OSS Detachment 101 allied with opium-growing tribes in Burma, including the Kachin, with whom future CIA Deputy Director of Plans, Desmond Fitzgerald, smoked opium as an initiation rite.[8]

a group of people holding objects
Kachins allied with OSS Detachment 101 in Burma during the Pacific War. [Source:]

When the KMT lost the Chinese civil war in 1949, the CIA helped set up Chiang and his son, Chiang Ching-kuo, as powerbrokers in Taiwan, which provided a regional base for CIA subversion. Journalist Sterling Seagrave identified Chiang Ching-kuo, who oversaw the KMT’s intelligence service in Taiwan, as a key man in the drug trade.

Additionally, remnants of the KMT army established a base in northern Burma, where the CIA oversaw the drug traffic and ran KMT agent networks into China in an attempt to sabotage and destabilize the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Valentine writes that the “CIA was like a godfather, it provided for the earthly needs [of the KMT soldiers led by Generals Li Mi and Li Wenhuan and their families] and covered up its central role in the Golden Triangle drug trade.”

Valentine writes that KMT and U.S. mercenary pilots working for Civil Air Transport—the airline set up by Clare Chennault to ferry supplies to Chiang’s forces in the Chinese civil war that became known as Air America—flew opium back to Taiwan, from where it was sold on the world market.

Thailand also became a major center of CIA drug trafficking and anti-communist subversion after the CIA aided in the overthrow of nationalist Pridi Phanomyong, and imposed a mafia clique run by a collection of right-wing drug traffickers closely allied with the CIA.

Some of the key dirty work in fortifying the new regime was carried out by a renegade CIA officer, Willis Bird, and Paul Helliwell, who had set up a private military supply company (Sea Supply) that served as a cover for clandestine arms and drug smuggling by the CIA and its local friends.

A group of people standing in front of an airplane Description automatically generated with medium confidence
Sea Supply [Source:]

The latter included rogue police chief Phao Sinyanon, Prime Minister Thanom Kittikachorn, and Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, the cousin of right-wing General Phoumi Nosavan, who came to power in a CIA-backed coup in Laos in 1959.

Field Marshal Sarit consented to the transportation of opium into South Vietnam, where the drug trade was controlled by generals allied to the Diem clique and CIA, including Ngo Dinh Nhu (South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem’s brother), and Nguyen Cao Ky, a flamboyant Air Force officer who served as the Washington backed Prime Minister of South Vietnam from 1965 to1967.

These same venal officials were the ones to preside over massive carpet bombing campaigns, with the CIA assassinating any political candidate—like Quinim Pholsena in Laos—who advocated for peace.

Perhaps the country worst affected was Cambodia, where the CIA backed a coup in 1970 and drove the peasantry crazy through a massive bombing campaign that fueled the rise of the Khmer Rouge.

Cambodian children wandering through the ruins of their town after carpet bombing by the Nixon administration. [Source:]

When the latter came to power in 1975 led by Pol Pot, they tried to force the peasants who had fled to the city back to the countryside to build a peasant utopia that turned in fact into a genocidal dystopia resulting in the torture and death of up to two million Cambodians from 1975 to 1978.

Khmer Rouge soldier brandishing a pistol. [Source:]

Amazingly, the CIA now backed the Khmer Rouge because of their hatred of the Vietnamese who liberated Cambodia in 1980 and imposed a proxy leader (Hun Sen) whom the CIA tried to overthrow.


The CIA also in the 1980s tried to organize Hmong refugees in Thailand who had lost everything to reinvade Laos and overthrow the communist Pathet Lao who took over Laos in 1975 following the massive CIA bombing campaign.

Brimming with Hungry Ghosts

Valentine suggests at the end of his memoir that CIA and military propaganda—which valorizes U.S. soldiers who commit war crimes and indoctrinates the public in the ideology of American exceptionalism—is the root cause of the political corruption in the United States today and American neo-fascism embodied by Donald Trump.

Valentine tells a story about how the OSS recruited a Kiowa Indian and Japanese Nisei with connection to the leader of the Black Dragon Society, a paramilitary ultra-nationalist group, for a suicide mission into Nagasaki which was obliterated by the atomic bomb on August 9, 1945, along with 400 allied prisoners of war.

Valentine sees the mission as a parable for how U.S. intelligence agencies manipulate minority groups and use right-wing criminals—who are discarded or killed with little thought after their utility has run out.

This modus operandi fits a long trend in U.S. history going back to the Indian Wars and slavery, an inescapable part of the country’s DNA.

Valentine writes that the United States, like all of North and South America, is “brimming with hungry ghosts invisible to its militant Christian nationalists—the millions of indigenous people who were slaughtered and African-Americans who were enslaved and lynched.”

There are also the ghosts of millions of Southeast Asian peoples whom the same militant Christian nationalists believed were “better dead than red,” along with the millions of victims of the drug trade that the CIA oversaw through the Cold War.

  1. In Richard Ehrlich’s obituary of Anthony Poshepny/”Tony Poe” in the Asia Times, Poe “…dropped decapitated human heads from the air on to communists and stuck heads on pikes.” According to his funeral announcement Poshepny was awarded two CIA stars, the agency’s highest honor, and two Purple Hearts. Bangkok’s Patpong Museum describes how Mr. Poe paid Hmong mercenaries to bring him enemy ears and heads to prove they killed communists. ”I threw two heads from an airplane, it was a Dornier plane,” Mr. Poe, laughing, told Ehrlich in his San Francisco home in 2001 before he died in 2003. “The heads landed right in that [Lao] bastard’s front door. We were flying at 100 feet.” “I had a bunch of heads in my hut and the blood was seeping through the floor. It was sticky. And [CIA officer] Bill Lair said, ‘Get rid of those goddamn heads,’” Mr. Poe said. Poe angrily sent ears in a bag to then-U.S. Ambassador G. McMurtrie Godley in Laos after being mocked as no threat to the enemy. 
  2. Bronze Star recipient as an army intelligence officer in World War II and graduate of the University of Chicago who received a Master’s degree in psychology from George Washington University, Hart served as CIA Station Chief in South Vietnam from 1966 to 1968, and headed the CIA’s European Division from 1968 to 1971. 
  3. Poshepny liked CIA Station Chiefs in Laos—Theodore Shackley and Hugh Tovar—but hated Shackley’s replacement, Larry Devlin, who, he told Valentine, “was an asshole prone to boasting that he’d arranged the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo.” 
  4. Valentine notes that “a few years after Wolf was published, the CIA published a revised version of the bust in Undercover Armies: CIA and Surrogate Warfare in Laos 1961-1973A footnote on page 537 cites an anonymous CIA officer as saying: “A U.S. narcotics agent named Taylor, visiting Vientiane to try to make a drug arrest, identified Touby as a direct participant with Gen. Phoumi Nosavan [CIA-backed General who mounted right-wing coup in 1959], in a transaction involving 100 kilograms of opium. Vang Pao asserted that Touby’s role was peripheral, more as an accessory than as a principal.” The “Touby” referred to above, Touby Lyfoung, represented the Hmong’s political interests in Vientiane while Pao handled military affairs. For years, Touby had managed the Hmong’s opium business with the French and thus was a convenient fall guy. But the CIA’s apocryphal account is proof it knew all about Nosavan’s drug trafficking and covered it up.” 
  5. Morales was involved in the CIA’s 1954 Operation PBSUCCESS overthrow of the Guatemalan government; was part of the CIA’s Miami-based CIA’s JMWAVE station employing more than 200 CIA officers who paid over 2,200 Cuban agents. JMWAVE was complicit in some of the 637 documented CIA attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro; he told the BBC“I was in Dallas when we got the son of a b*tch (President Kennedy) and I was in Los Angeles when we got the little bastard.”  
  6. General Ouane oversaw heroin-refining labs in Ban Houei Sai, Laos, from which the heroin was brought via boat to Hong Kong. 
  7. The International Rescue Committee, founded by the CIA, sponsored Dooley’s missionary work in Laos where he befriended and promoted the drug-smuggling fascist, General Phoumi Nosavan. 
  8. Desmond Fitzgerald joined the CIA in 1950; the Far East Division in the 1950s; the Cuban Task the Force in 1962-63; chief of the Western Hemisphere Division in 1964; headed clandestine operations in Central America, Cuba America, Cuba, and was Deputy Director of Plans in 1965.

About the Author

Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine.

He is the author of four books on U.S. foreign policy, including Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019) and The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018).

He can be reached at:


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