I finally found a site that reviews the history of how the US got into the business of running drugs: The Takao Club.
Now, it’s important to understand that the US was not the first. The British beat us into the state-driven drug trade by a couple of centuries in the Opium Wars. But drug running has become a central part of US military action. The roots of US involvement are in World War II. Alfred McCoy gives a comprehensive history of that involvement through the mid-70s. In the case of Luciano, drug running was incidental; Luciano was clearly a bad guy (McCoy adds the fascinating point that Patton’s sweep through Sicily was facilitated by the Mafia). In Southeast Asia, drug running became part of policy.
Here’s what the Takao Club says about the connection between the CIA and the opium trade; I’ve highlighted a sentence that I think is based on the political fear that still reigns Taiwan politics:
The rise to power of China’s Nationalist movement was closely linked with Shanghai’s eminence as an international drug capital….
Chiang’s control of Shanghai was made possible with the aid of two main groups: the wealthy and the criminal. Wealthy merchants and foreign capitalists supported the KMT with the understanding that there would be no reforms that threatened their interests. The Shanghai criminal organizations were dominated by two secret society groups called the Green Gang and the Red Gang.
Tu and the Green Gang solved the problem for Chiang Kai-shek. On April 12, 1927, the gangsters initiated a vicious crackdown on the local Communist party organizers and labour activists. During the subsequent ‘reign of terror’, the city’s Communist party and labour movement was destroyed. This pact with the Kuomintang strengthened the Green Gang’s grip on official power, so that Tu was given a seemingly free hand to operate throughout Nationalist China.
By mid-July 1935, Chiang had turned most of the opium enterprises over to his ally, Tu Yueh-sheng. The Kuomintang jurisdiction in 1935 did not lead to opium suppression but brought instead stricter regulation of cultivation and sale…
Following World War II, the Green Gang fell under the control of a Nationalist army lieutenant general, Kot Siu-wong.
With CIA support, the Kuomintang remained in Burma until 1961, when a Burmese army offensive drove them into Laos and Thailand. By this time, however, the Kuomintang had expanded Shan State opium production by almost 1,000 percent-from less than 40 tons after World War 11 to an estimated three hundred to four hundred tons by 1962.
Shan heroin refinery in Thailand
From bases in northern Thailand the Kuomintang continued to send huge mule caravans into the Shan States to bring out the opium harvest. Until 1971, over twenty years after the CIA first began supporting Kuomintang troops in the Golden Triangle region, these Kuomintang caravans controlled almost a third of the world’s total illicit opium supply and a growing share of Southeast Asia’s thriving heroin business.
The Hong Kong-based ’14K’ triad, with its strong links to the old Shanghai Green Gang and Nationalist officers, was able to link the Kuomintang-controlled highlands of the Golden Triangle to the distribution channels of the USA and Europe.
Whether the Kuomintang in Taiwan had any connection with this trade remains an open question. However, it can be assumed that Taipei had little incentive to risk the American aid that flowed in after the Korean War, and the American supply contracts that flooded in during the Vietnam War, launching Taiwan on its ‘economic miracle’.
In the early 1990s, Taiwan came to notice as a transit point for Asian drug trafficking organizations moving heroin to the Western Hemisphere. The largest heroin seizure on record is the nearly half-ton of heroin that U.S. authorities discovered in Hayward, California in 1991. The drugs, which originated in China, had transited Taiwan en route to the United States.
(Also consult The Soong Dynasty by Sterling Seagrave)
Now, I don’t think it’s an open question as to what the relationship between the KMT on Taiwan and the narcotics trade was. Alfred McCoy, in The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia wrote:
In 1950 the Defense Department extended military aid to the French in Indochina. In that same year, the CIA began regrouping those remnants of the defeated Kuomintang army in the Burmese Shan States for a projected invasion of southern China. Although the KMT army was to fail in its military operations, it succeeded in monopolizing and expanding the Shan States’ opium trade.
The KMT shipped bountiful harvests to northern Thailand, where they were sold to General Phao Sriyanonda of the Thai police, a CIA client. The CIA had promoted the Phao-KMT partnership in order to provide a secure rear area for the KMT, but this alliance soon became a critical factor in the growth of Southeast Asia’s narcotics traffic.
With CIA support, the KMT remained in Burma until 1961, when a Burmese army offensive drove them into Laos and Thailand. By this time, however, the Kuomintang had already used their control over the tribal populations to expand Shan State opium production by almost 1,000 percent-from less than 40 tons after World War 11 to an estimated three hundred to four hundred tons by 1962. (130) From bases in northern Thailand the KMT have continued to send huge mule caravans into the Shan States to bring out the opium harvest. Today, over twenty years after the CIA first began supporting KMT troops in the Golden Triangle region, these KMT caravans control almost a third of the world’s total illicit opium supply and have a growing share of Southeast Asia’s thriving heroin business. (131)
At first glance the history of the KMT’s involvement in the Burmese opium trade seems to be just another case of a CIA client taking advantage of the agency’s political protection to enrich itself from the narcotics trade. But upon closer examination, the CIA appears to be much more seriously compromised in this affair.
What is particularly notable is the destination of the products of the opium that the KMT was producing: the streets of America. The addiction of Americans was financing secret wars being conducted by the CIA.
If you want to understand why Burma–a US ally during WW II–has been so hostile to the US, you cannot understand without understanding this history. If you want to understand why Italy is so ungovernable, this history is an important source to visit. If you want to understand the violence in Latin America, look into this history. All through the world history of the last 60 years, this secret drug empire lurks as a primary cause of America’s defeats.
And this returns us to why the Gary Webb story is so important. Today, December 9th, is the seventh anniversary of his death.