Most Americans are unfamiliar with the methods the CIA employed to fight against Communism in the 20th Century. This edition of The Hot Seat brings host S Douglas Woodward together with his friend, Gary Winkleman, who was only one degree of separation removed from many players in the CIA and American politics, who were at the center of the controversy of secret wars and hidden finance.
This war began even while the Korean War was underway in the early 1950s. The secret fight began in Laos and continued throughout most of SE Asia for almost 30 years. Despite vehement denials, the CIA created its own flight service, Air America, to support between 30,000 to 80,000 tribal warriors in the mountains of Laos, with ancillary functions in Thailand, and Burma (today’s Myanmar).
While the focal point of US efforts to fight Communism via its military centered on Viet Nam, the war in Laos was enormous and may have cost $300 million annually. Because the war was ‘off the books’ the CIA came to rely upon payment from Opium farmers in SE Asia, to fly its morphine (eventually heroine) crop to market (CIA budgetary constraints could not fund the depth of these operations).
The Air America planes were housed at what became the world’s busiest airport (although never admitted by the US government, nor shown on any maps), with hundreds of flights daily to traffic opium into the airport, and then distribute it to refiners along the Thai border (and elsewhere), and then deliver heroine to drug markets across the globe. By so doing, the CIA became the dominant drug trafficker worldwide. By 1980, the focus shifted from the Poppy fields of SE Asia to the Middle East. Afghanistan became the principal grower of Poppies, with its crop flown to France where it was refined for 20 years, creating what came to be called, ‘The French Connection.’
This activity was not carried out unbeknownst to leadership in the CIA. Indeed, the clandestine wars were carried out at the order of American Presidents with little to no supervision by the People’s representatives in Congress. The unsavory aspects of drug trafficking became viewed as necessary evils to engage in the fight against Communism.
SE Asia was not the only region where these operations flourished. The ‘same war’ continued in Central America, involving CIA operations against the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, working through Costa Rica, Honduras, and especially Panama. The same players that had worked the drug trafficking in SE Asia, played central roles in CIA efforts there. Although the CIA denied having any role in drug trafficking, light would finally be shed by the Iran-Contra Affair in part by Senator John Kerry in 1987 which brought down President Reagans’ administration.
Folk hero, Oliver (‘Ollie’) North, led the charge, transporting cocaine (and ‘crack’) from Central and South America to the US, where it infected American inner cities, creating a huge drug problem with tens of thousands of heroine addicts, hallowing out the ghettos such as in south central LA and Compton. This operation was even central to the famed gang wars between the Bloods and the Crips, as these gang bangers became drug dealers for the CIA. Journalist Gary Webb, working for the San Jose Mercury News, would stumble upon the horrific details of these operations (as told in the story, “Kill the Messenger” – starring Jeremy Renner), which surfaced how the Medelin Cartel provided funding along with secret support from then Vice President George Bush and then governor Bill Clinton (told in the movie, “American Made” starring Tom Cruise).
It is an amazing story. Gary Winkleman’s first-hand information sharpens the intensity of the story. This 100-minute video traces the history of the CIA “war on behalf of drugs” (while the war against drugs was only half-heartedly fought). It provides the missing education that all Americans should glean in order to charge Congress to more closely supervise the operations of the Intelligence Services of our country. For while the fight won some victories slowing and eventually stopping the spread of Communism, it created corruption, and destroyed countless lives around the world, including in the United States.
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