Drugs, the CIA and Afghanistan

October 27, 2009 | By | 8 Replies More

Covert government by defense contractor means corrupt wars of conquest, government by dope dealer. When the world’s traditional inebriative herbs become illegal commodities, they become worth as much as precious metal, precious metal that can be farmed. … Illegal drugs, solely because of the artificial value given them by Prohibition, have become the basis of military power anywhere they can be grown and delivered in quantity. … To this day American defense contractors are the biggest drug-money launderers in the world.— Drug War: Covert Money, Power and Policy, p.318.

Revelations from today’s New York Times that Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of president of Afghanistan, has been on the payroll of the CIA for years should be utterly unsurprising to anyone that has followed the history of either the CIA or drugs in Afghanistan.  In a considerable understatement, the Times story says “The C.I.A.’s practices also suggest that the United States is not doing everything in its power to stamp out the lucrative Afghan drug trade, a major source of revenue for the Taliban.”  Far from “doing everything in its power” to end the drug trade, Afghan poppies are also a major source of revenue for the CIA.  As Noam Chomsky said: The close correlation between the drug racket and international terrorism (sometimes called “counterinsurgency,” “low intensity conflict” or some other euphemism) is not surprising. Clandestine operations need plenty of money, which should be undetectable. And they need criminal operatives as well. The rest follows.”

Field of poppies- via Wikipedia (commons)

Field of poppies- via Wikipedia (commons)

First, some history.  In 1999, total opium production from Afghanistan was 4,600 tons, according to the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention.(p.35). That same year, the Taliban issued a decree requiring poppy farmers to reduce their cultivation by one-third.  By 2000, the total production fell to 3,300 tons (down 28%).  On July 27, 2000 the supreme Taliban leader issued a decree of a total ban on opium production in Afghanistan.  By 2001 total production of opium in Afghanistan had fallen to only 185 tons (p.45), a stunning reduction of some 94%.  Contrast this with the results from the US-led “War on Drugs”, which has achieved no reduction whatsoever.

The history of drugs and the CIA is interesting also.  Taking over where French intelligence left off in Vietnam, the CIA availed themselves of drug profits to finance their covert operations.  In the 1980’s drugs played a prominent role in the Iran-Contra scandal, which circumvented Congressional restrictions on providing funds to the Nicaraguan Contras. (see here and here also)  The CIA also funded Afghani mujahideen fighting against the Soviet occupiers.  From a 1991 Time story detailing the failure of CIA-connected bank BCCI:

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the resulting strategic importance of neighboring Pakistan accelerated the growth of B.C.C.I.’s geopolitical power and its unbridled use of the black network. Because the U.S. wanted to supply the mujahedin rebels in Afghanistan with Stinger missiles and other military hardware, it needed the full cooperation of Pakistan, across whose border the weapons would be shipped. By the mid-1980s, the CIA’s Islamabad operation was one of the largest U.S. intelligence stations in the world. “If B.C.C.I. is such an embarrassment to the U.S. that forthright investigations are not being pursued, it has a lot to do with the blind eye the U.S. turned to the heroin trafficking in Pakistan,” says a U.S. intelligence officer.

And from Alfred McCoy, professor of Southeast Asian History at the University of Wisconsin (emphases in original):

The relationship between BCCI and the CIA operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan; how much money was the CIA moving through those accounts? Secondly, the relationship between the Pakistan military connected with that operation and BCCI. Thirdly, the relationship between the booming heroin trade of Pakistan and BCCI. I think what we’ll possibly discover is that the CIA was shipping its funds into Pakistan through BCCI, protecting BCCI thereby from serious investigations elsewhere in the world. That the Pakistan military were in fact banking their drug profits, moving their drug profits from the consuming country back to Pakistan though BCCI. In fact the boom in the Pakistan drug trade was financed by BCCI.The interrelationship between the Afghan resistance and the CIA and the Pakistan drug trade can all be seen through the medium of BCCI, the banker to both operations, the resistance and the drug trade.

Dick Cheney and Halliburton (through their former subsidiary of Kellogg Brown & Root) have also been connected with the drug trade.  Note also Cheney’s unflinching support for Oliver North (of Iran-Contra scandal fame, see above).  So remember, under the Taliban opium production was almost halted completely.  In September, 2001 the U.S. is attacked, and demands shortly thereafter that the Taliban hand over Osama bin-Laden.  The Taliban ask for proof that bin-Laden is responsible for the attacks, which the U.S. never provides. Interestingly, we now know that before 9/11, the Bush administration was already planning on invading Afghanistan if they did not hand over bin-Laden.  According to Wikipedia:

“On October 7, 2001, before the onset of military hostilities, the Taliban did offer to try bin Laden in Afghanistan in an Islamic court.  This offer was rejected by the U.S., and the bombing of targets within Afghanistan by U.S. and British forces commenced the same day. October 14, 2001, seven days into the U.S./British bombing campaign, the Taliban offered to surrender Osama bin Laden to a third country for trial, if the bombing halted and they were shown evidence of his involvement in the September 11 terrorist attacks. This offer was also rejected by U.S. President Bush, who declared ‘There’s no need to discuss innocence or guilt. We know he’s guilty.'”

As an aside, perhaps someone can explain to me why we gave up on the constitutional requirement that Congress declare a war?  Eight years in, we still have not legally declared a war in Afghanistan. Perhaps that falls under the auspices of an all-encompassing “war on terror”, although I don’t remember a congressional declaration to that effect either.

In any case, after the invasion of Afghanistan began the White House and the Pentagon refused to order strikes on any drug-related targets, despite having a list of such targets ready to go:

Before 9/11, US intelligence had collected a list of potential bombing targets in Afghanistan (see Late August 1998-2001). The list is said to include 20 to 25 major drug labs and other drug-related facilities. But according to a CIA source, when the list is turned over to the US military after 9/11, the Pentagon and White House refuse to order the bombing of any of the drug-related targets. This CIA source complains, “On the day after 9/11, that target list was ready to go, and the military and the [National Security Council] threw it out the window. We had tracked these [targets] for years. The drug targets were big places, almost like small towns that did nothing but produce heroin. The British were screaming for us to bomb those targets, because most of the heroin in Britain comes from Afghanistan. But they refused.” This source believes that if the US had bombed those targets, “it would have slowed down drug production in Afghanistan for a year or more.”

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. Known CIA operative, as is his brother whose connections to the CIA and drugs are explored in the New York Times this week.  Picture via Wikipedia (commons)

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. Known CIA operative, as is his brother whose connections to the CIA and drugs are explored in the New York Times this week. Picture via Wikipedia (commons)

Professor Michel Chossudovsky reported in 2005:

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.”

So since the U.S. invaded, opium production has flourished once again- back to 3,400 tons in 2002, which was roughly the same amount as was produced in 2000. In 2003, the L.A. Times reported:

An expert on the international drug trade, Rensselaer Lee, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that control of drugs had taken a back seat to fighting terrorism, building consensus and alliances.

“To build these alliances, unfortunately we’ve had to make some arrangements, compromises with people who frankly may have some history of involvement with the drug trade and may be even currently protecting the drug trade,” said Lee, president of the Virginia-based research group Global Advisory Services.

Since that time, the U.S. has made a token attempt to reduce the drug trade, a minimal effort which continues under the Obama administration.  McClatchy news reported in June:

As the Obama administration ramps up the Drug Enforcement Administration’s presence in Afghanistan, some special-agent pilots contend that they’re being illegally forced to go to a combat zone, while others who’ve volunteered say they’re not being properly equipped.

In interviews with McClatchy, more than a dozen DEA agents describe a badly managed system in which some pilots have been sent to Afghanistan under duress or as punishment for bucking their superiors.

Not exactly the hallmarks of a successful program, eh?  It’s at least fair to say that those agents might not be motivated to give 100% to their current assignments.  Perhaps that is why the Pentagon has decided that it will simply assassinate suspected drug kingpins in Afghanistan. At least, the ones that aren’t friendly to our interests.  Near the end of the article, we find this curious statement:

In a surprise, the Senate report reveals that the United States intelligence community believes that the Taliban has been getting less money from the drug trade than previous public studies have suggested. The Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency both estimate that the Taliban obtains about $70 million a year from drugs.

The Senate report found that American officials did not believe that Afghan drug money was fueling Al Qaeda, which instead relies on contributions from wealthy individuals and charities in Persian Gulf countries, as well as aid organizations working inside Afghanistan.

So if tens of millions of dollars per year in drug money is not going to support terrorism (as is usually claimed by the US), where is it going?  Perhaps the CIA is still up to its old tricks and is siphoning off that money to fund its covert activities.  Professor Chossudovsky concludes:

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).

For further reading on the topic, see here and here.

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is a full-time wage slave and part-time philosopher, writing and living just outside Omaha with his lovely wife and two feline roommates.

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  1. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    I would like to add this:

    The actual poppy farmers in most heroin producing countries often are not paid well. But it is the only significant cash crop available. many years ago, when MacDonalds opened franchise stores in south Asia, it was reported that farmers made more money by growing potatoes for MacDonalds fries than they they got for growing opium poppies.

    While the price per pound of the poppies was much higher than the per-pound price for potatoes, an acre of potatoes yields considerably more poundage than an acre of poppies.

    Even over the last several years, farmers in the Northern Province of India, where opium is grown for morphine production, have been giving up on opium as a cash crop.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    This Onion piece on Afghanistan was meant as humor, but it makes a strong legitimate point. http://www.theonion.com/content/news/u_s_continue

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Brynn: This "war" couldn't possibly stand the light of day. I would bet that 99 out of 100 Americans don't know the stench and the rot, and the tragedy, of this "war."

    This "war" seems to amount to sunk costs PLUS "Since we're here, we'll just install our lackeys as your new leaders and we'll protect your drugs for them." I mean, what is the POINT of all of this? And all of this American money could be spent on things the United States sorely needs (name any of 10,000 worthy projects that can't currently go forward because we "can't afford it.")

  4. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Niklaus: You're absolutely right. Professor Chossudovsky addressed the issue in this way:

    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 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.

    Erich: The Onion provides a extremely valuable service, I think, in the form of devastating satire. They really seem to hit the nail on the head in a lot of cases.

    I would take it even further than this war, I would bet that not 1 in 10 Americans has any idea what the US military spends in a given year. Or that we spend nearly ten times as much on our military as our nearest rival, China. I can think of lots of things we could do with the $170 billion dollars we will spend in Iraq and Afghanistan just during FY '09.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    We are occupying Afghanistan with our army; therefore, we are undeniably responsible for some of what's going on there. Think Progress explains the brisk illegal drug trade:

    Perhaps the most important contributing factor to Afghan corruption has been the drug trade. It is estimated that Afghanistan is now responsible for supplying over 93 percent of the global opiate market. Some estimates say that opium production even accounts for up to 97 percent of the country's per-capita annual GDP. "This a source of income for the warlords and regional factions to pay their soldiers," former Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalili told Reuters in 2005.

    http://pr.thinkprogress.org/2009/10/pr20091029/in

  6. Brynn Jacobs says:

    PressTV reports:

    The Afghan minister of counter narcotics says foreign troops are earning money from drug production in Afghanistan.

    General Khodaidad Khodaidad said the majority of drugs are stockpiled in two provinces controlled by troops from the US, the UK, and Canada, IRNA reported on Saturday.

    He went on to say that NATO forces are taxing the production of opium in the regions under their control.

    Afghanistan is the world's biggest supplier of opium.

    Drug production in the Central Asian country has increased dramatically since the US-led invasion eight years ago.

  7. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Two stories of interest on this subject lately. First the Guardian (UK) reports that money from organized crime and drugs were effectively responsible for saving the banking system last year:

    Drugs money worth billions of dollars kept the financial system afloat at the height of the global crisis, the United Nations' drugs and crime tsar has told the Observer.

    Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said he has seen evidence that the proceeds of organised crime were "the only liquid investment capital" available to some banks on the brink of collapse last year. He said that a majority of the $352bn (£216bn) of drugs profits was absorbed into the economic system as a result.

    "In many instances, the money from drugs was the only liquid investment capital. In the second half of 2008, liquidity was the banking system's main problem and hence liquid capital became an important factor," he said.

    Some of the evidence put before his office indicated that gang money was used to save some banks from collapse when lending seized up, he said.

    "Inter-bank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade and other illegal activities… There were signs that some banks were rescued that way." Costa declined to identify countries or banks that may have received any drugs money, saying that would be inappropriate because his office is supposed to address the problem, not apportion blame. But he said the money is now a part of the official system and had been effectively laundered.

    And on drugs and profits in Afghanistan, from the Asia Times Online from 12/16:

    To blame "corruption" and "criminals" for the state of affairs is to ignore the direct and predictable effects of US policies, which have simply followed a historical pattern of toleration and empowerment of local drug lords in the pursuit of broader foreign policy objectives, as Alfred McCoy and others have documented in detail.

    Impunity for drug lords and warlords continues: a US Senate report noted in August that no major traffickers have been arrested in Afghanistan since 2006, and that successful prosecutions of significant traffickers are often overturned by a simple bribe or protection from above, revealing counter-narcotics efforts to be deficient at best.

    Identifying drugs as the main cause behind Taliban advances absolves the US/NATO of their own responsibility in fomenting the insurgency: their very presence in the country, as well as their destructive attacks on civilians account for a good deal of the recent increase in popular support for the Taliban.

    In fact, buried deep in the report, its authors admit that reducing drug production would have only "minimal impact on the insurgency's strategic threat". The Taliban receive "significant funding from private donors all over the world", a contribution which "dwarfs" drug money.

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