In May 1971, upwards of 17 years into the Second Indochina War and not long before the Watergate scandal brought down Richard Nixon, a photograph of South Vietnam’s vice president appeared on the cover of Ramparts Magazine. Next to him were the words: “Marshal Ky: Biggest Pusher in the World?”
It turned out not to be an unfair question.
Nguyen Cao Ky had been stashing away profits from the booming trade in heroin — the drug to which hundreds of thousands of GIs were coming home hopelessly addicted. But he was one of many such CIA proteges. And it fit a pattern that has continued to the present day.
During the Carter and Reagan administrations’ war to oust the Soviet army from Afghanistan in the 1980s, local warlords and their Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Saudi−bankrolled handlers in Pakistani military intelligence pocketed billions derived from the traffic in heroin. It was not by chance that Afghanistan supplanted Southeast Asia as the source of 60 percent of the world’s supply. (The CIA’s collaborators included Osama bin Laden and the Islamic fundamentalist jihadists who would form the nucleus of al−Qaida, having been armed to the teeth by the Washington.)
Afghan heroin production was at a low point after September 1996 when the Taliban, having vanquished the feuding warlords, marched victoriously into Kabul. But it rebounded with a vengeance when U.S. Special Forces routed the Taliban in the wake of Sept. 11. The Taliban recovered with a vengeance when the Bush White House, having swallowed its own disinformation about Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction,” made the fateful decision to divert U.S. forces to Iraq.
The profiteers reportedly included Afghan power broker and reputed CIA asset Ahmed Wali Karzai, the recently assassinated brother of President Hamid Karzai.
Throughout the war in the ’80s to oust the Russians from Afghanistan, and the current decade−long war in Afghanistan — the stated aims of which have variously included the pursuit of Al−Qaida, the routing of the Taliban, the stabilization of Afghanistan and all of the above — the CIA’s drug−trafficking Afghan and Pakistani assets, with rare exception, have led charmed lives thanks to get−out−of−jail free cards printed in Washington.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has a long history of treating war zones as “enforcement−free zones” when it comes to CIA assets. It did that in Indochina in the ’60s and ’70s. During that same era, it did that for CIA−trained Cuban exile terrorists attempting to assassinate Fidel Castro. And it did it again in Central America in the ’80s— contemporaneously with the Washington−sponsored anti−Soviet jihad in Afghanistan — when the CIA−trained “contras” terrorized the Nicaraguan countryside to destabilize the Sandinista government. After the Sandinistas ousted the ruthless long−timeWashington ally, Anastasio Somoza, Reagan famously dubbed the contras “the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers.”
In and of itself, CIA complicity in the global drug trade is morally indefensible. But it is especially reprehensible when it supports illegal wars like the current one in Afghanistan, which drain the national treasury to prop up corrupt foreign despots and provide a distraction from social inequities here at home. The late Japan scholar Chalmers Johnson, author of “Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope” (2010) among other important books, warned that a nation can pursue such endless wars or it can have a democracy, but it cannot do both.
In his celebrated April 1967 sermon at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., drew the connection:
“Who are we supporting in Vietnam today? … It’s a man by the name of General Ky, who fought with the French against his own people and … said … [that his] greatest hero … is Hitler… A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death… I am disappointed with our failure to deal… with the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism. We are presently moving down a dead−end road that can lead to national disaster.”
An assassin’s bullet spared Dr. King the disappointment of discovering just how well−justified his pessimism had been.
If you are interested in hearing two authorities discuss CIA complicity in the global drug trade, you should consider attending tonight’s event in Cabot Auditorium, which begins at 7 p.m.
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