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Geopolitics, Profit, and Poppies: How the CIA Turned Afghanistan into a Failed Narco-State

PHOTO: John Moore/Getty Images

The war in Afghanistan has looked a lot like the war on drugs in Latin America and previous colonial campaigns in Asia, with a rapid militarization of the area and the empowerment of pliant local elites.

By Alan Macleod | 25 June 2021

MINT PRESS NEWS — The COVID-19 pandemic has been a death knell to so many industries in Afghanistan. Charities and aid agencies have even warned that the economic dislocation could spark widespread famine. But one sector is still booming: the illicit opium trade. Last year saw Afghan opium poppy cultivation grow by over a third while counter-narcotics operations dropped off a cliff. The country is said to be the source of over 90% of all the world’s illicit opium, from which heroin and other opioids are made. More land is under cultivation for opium in Afghanistan than is used for coca production across all of Latin America, with the creation of the drug said to directly employ around half a million people.

This is a far cry from the 1970s, when poppy production was minimal, and largely for domestic consumption. But this changed in 1979 when the CIA launched Operation Cyclone, the widespread funding of Afghan Mujahideen militias in an attempt to bleed dry the then-recent Soviet invasion. Over the next decade, the CIA worked closely with its Pakistani counterpart, the ISI, to funnel $2 billion worth of arms and assistance to these groups, including the now infamous Osama Bin Laden and other warlords known for such atrocities as throwing acid in the faces of unveiled women.

“From statements by U.S. Ambassador [to Iran] Richard Helms, there was little heroin production in Central Asia by the mid 1970s,” Professor Alfred McCoy, author of “The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade,” told MintPress. But with the start of the CIA secret war, opium production along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border surged and refineries soon dotted the landscape. Trucks loaded with U.S. taxpayer-funded weapons would travel from Pakistan into its neighbor to the west, returning filled to the brim with opium for the new refineries, their deadly product ending up on streets worldwide. With the influx of Afghan opium in the 1980s — Jeffrey St. Clair, co-author of “Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press,” alleges — heroin addiction more than doubled in the United States. […]

3 Comments on Geopolitics, Profit, and Poppies: How the CIA Turned Afghanistan into a Failed Narco-State

  1. Must have missed this one previously, but boy is it timely in the context of a book I am reading, and another that I have just ordered.

    Recently, I decided to dive back into:


    and that action resulted in me being reminded that I never ordered or read:


    Now it may seem that there is not a lot in common with this thread and the first text; however, I would (humbly) suggest that Mr. Scott begins with a history of the CIA sponsored Dirección Federal de Seguridad. This sponsorship began under the OSS as a protective move against a possible “Red Dawn” scenario in which one of the Axis Powers would set up an allegiance with Mexico in order to gain access to the United States for subversion or an outright attack. This program dovetailed with the ONI program known as Operation Underworld (the government working with the mafia to protect U.S. ports).

    Still, what is most fascinating to me is that the OSS program evolved into the first drug running project (predating both Taiwan and Laos by 2-3 years), operated by this covert agency, with a flow of narcotics into the United States. Although the BNDD did attempt mitigation of this program, they were ultimately unsuccessful.

    My guess (having read Mr. Valentine’s text: The CIA as Organized Crime) is that since the OSS was trained (both domestically and abroad) by the BNDD, which already had an intelligence infrastructure as well as armament / martial programs, there was a mutual understanding by Mr. Dulles and the head of the BNDD (I think it was Mr. Anslinger if I recall correctly; however, I could have his dates of service confused) to “turn the other cheek” as the narcotics flowed into the United states.

    Since much of these events lead up to my own time with an early memory of having watched the Iran / Conta hearings and this thread (discussing the never ending war in Afghanistan), the topic both resonates and has a relevance to my interests in history.


    P.S. Another point struck me in Mr. Scott’s text that I had forgotten was that Mr. Angleton was one of a (literal) handful of people at the burial service of Mr. Howard Hughes; in fact he gave the eulogy. As many of you here (at WW) know, I have often commented on Mr. Angleton’s shrine in Israel and the placement, sorry election, of BOTH his daughters to become join the Hare Krishna movement. Very ODD indeed!

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