90% heroin

Afghanistan’s opium poppy production goes into more than 90% of heroin worldwide.

1970-1980: As the Afghan government began to lose control of provinces during the Soviet invasion, warlords flourished. With that lack of control, opium production also expanded, as regional commanders searched for ways to generate money to purchase weapons. At this time the United States was pursuing a supporting strategy of the Afghan freedom-fighters or Mujahideen, the main purpose of which was to cripple the USSR; reporting that American CIA agents were helping smuggle opium out of Afghanistan and supporting Afghan drug lords, such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Haji Ayub Afridi.

1980’s: The opium industry shifted from Pakistan into Afghanistan.

1990’s: According to EU agencies, Afghanistan has been Europe’s main heroin supplier for more than 10 years. Heroin enters Europe primarily by two major land routes: the long-standing ‘Balkan route’ through Turkey; and, since the mid-1990s, the ‘northern route’, which leaves northern Afghanistan through Central Asia and on to Russia (and is sometimes colloquially referred to as the ‘silk route’).

1992-2000: Afghanistan has been the world’s greatest illicit opium producer since 1992, excluding the year 2001.

1994–2000: prior to a Taliban opium ban, the Afghan farmers’ share of gross income from opium was divided among 200,000 families.

July 2000: Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, collaborating with the United Nations to eradicate heroin production in Afghanistan, declared that growing poppies was un-Islamic, resulting in one of the world’s most successful anti-drug campaigns. The Taliban enforced a ban on poppy farming via threats, forced eradication, and public punishment of transgressors. The result was a 99% reduction in the area of opium poppy farming in Taliban-controlled areas, roughly three quarters of the world’s supply of heroin at the time.

2001: Opium production in Afghanistan has been on the rise since U.S. occupation started in 2001; opium prices surged tenfold from 2000, to a record high.

2001-2009: Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of the then-newly elected President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, was on the payroll of the CIA.

September 2001: following the attacks, the United States under the Bush administration issued an ultimatum to Afghanistan to hand over Osama bin Laden. The Taliban declared in Islamabad that “our position in this regard is that if the Americans have evidence, they should produce it.” If they can prove their allegations, “we are ready for a trial of Osama bin Laden.” 

October 2001: Shortly after the U.S.-led War in Afghanistan began, Mullah Mohammed Omar’s house in Kandahar was bombed, killing his 10-year-old son and his uncle. The United States offered a reward of US$10 million for information leading to his capture. Despite his political rank and his high status on the Rewards for Justice most wanted list, not much was publicly known about Omar. Before his death, only two known photos existed of him, neither of them official, and a picture used in 2002 by many media outlets has since been established to be someone other than him.

December 2001: a number of prominent Afghans met in Bonn, Germany, under United Nations (UN) auspices to develop a plan to reestablish the State of Afghanistan, including provisions for a new constitution and national elections. As part of that agreement, the United Kingdom (UK) was designated the lead country in addressing counter-narcotics issues in Afghanistan.

2004-2007: Based on UNODC data, opium poppy cultivation was more in each of the growing seasons than in any one year during Taliban rule. More land is now used for opium in Afghanistan than is used for coca cultivation in Latin America.

2006: the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimate that 52% of the nation’s GDP, amounting to $2.7 billion annually, is generated by the drug trade. Some 3.3 million Afghans are involved in producing opium.

2007: 92% of the non-pharmaceutical-grade opiates on the world market originated in Afghanistan. This amounts to an export value of about $4 billion, with a quarter being earned by opium farmers and the rest going to district officials, insurgents, warlords, and drug traffickers. In addition to opiates, Afghanistan is also the largest producer of cannabis in the world.

NOTE: 40,000 foreign troops manage “security” in Afghanistan, 32,000 regular soldiers from 37 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces: the International Security Assistance Force and 8,000 US and other special operations forces, mainly privately contracted soldier of fortune. There is significant resistance, both from the Taliban, especially in southern Afghanistan, and also independent local warlords and drug organizations.

2009: Presently with the resurgence of high output production of opium and heroin in Afghanistan, there is an ongoing heroin addiction epidemic in Russia which is claiming 30,000 lives each year, mostly among young people. There were two and half million heroin addicts in Russia.

2011: As per UN drug report, Iran accounts for highest rate of opium and heroin seizure rates in the world, intercepting 89% of all seized opium in the world.

2014: Heroin use has reached the highest level in 20 years in the United States. There were about one million heroin users in the U.S., almost three times the number in 2003.
Deaths related to heroin use have increased five-fold since 2000.


While the CIA was sponsoring a Secret War in Laos from 1961 to 1975, it was accused of trafficking in opium (an area known as the Golden Triangle).

In response to accusations by Rolling Stone magazine in 1968, and Alfred W. McCoy in 1972, the CIA made its own internal inquiries of its staff and clients in Laos concerning the drug trade. It noted that trading in opium was legal in Laos until 1971. Cultural background was also explored. Opium served the isolated Lao hill tribes as their sole cash crop. Additionally, it was one of the few medicines available in their primitive living circumstances. Nevertheless, the CIA had its own internal security agents investigating any possible commercial exports from mid-1968 onwards. An American single plane airline was barred from CIA airfields on suspicion of drug smuggling. A guerrilla commanding officer was pressured into giving up dealing in opium. The CIA’s own conclusion was that small amounts of opium might have been smuggled via their contract aircraft, given wartime conditions. The Agency’s case officers even staged a couple of impromptu raids on drug refineries, only to be reined in by their Office of General Counsel.

During the CIA’s secret war in Laos, the CIA used the Meo (Hmong) population to fight Pathet Lao rebels. Because of the war against Pathet Lao rebels, the Hmong depended upon poppy cultivation for hard currency. The Hmong were very important to CIA operations and the CIA was very concerned with their well-being. The Plain of Jars had been captured by Pathet Lao rebels in 1964 which resulted in the Laotian Air Force not being able to land their C-47 transport aircraft on the Plain of Jars for opium transport. The Laotian Air Force had almost no light planes that could land on the dirt runways near the mountaintop poppy fields. Having no way to transport their opium, the Hmong were faced with economic ruin. Air America was the only airline available in northern Laos. “According to several unproven sources, Air America began flying opium from mountain villages north and east of the Plain of Jars to Gen Vang Pao’s headquarters at Long Tieng.”

The CIA’s front company, Air America was alleged to have profited from transporting opium and heroin on behalf of Hmong leader Vang Pao, or of “turning a blind eye” to the Laotian military doing it. This allegation has been supported by former Laos CIA paramilitary Anthony Poshepny (aka Tony Poe), former Air America pilots, and other people involved in the war. It is portrayed in the movie Air America. However, University of Georgia historian William M. Leary, writing on behalf of Air America, claims that this was done without the airline employees’ direct knowledge and that the airline did not trade in drugs. Curtis Peebles denies the allegation, citing Leary’s study as evidence.

A number of allegations have been written about and several local, state, and federal investigations have taken place related to the alleged use of the Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport as a CIA drop point in large scale cocaine trafficking beginning in the early 1980s. The topic has received some press coverage that has included allegations of awareness, participation and/or coverup involvement of figures such as Oliver North and former president Bill Clinton.

An investigation by the CIA’s inspector general concluded that the CIA had no involvement in or knowledge of any illegal activities that may have occurred in Mena. The report said that the agency had conducted a training exercise at the airport in partnership with another Federal agency and that companies located at the airport had performed “routine aviation-related services on equipment owned by the CIA”.

Hollywood film director Ron Howard is currently making a movie about these events, called ‘Mena’, and focusing on the notorious pilot and Medellin cartel drug smuggler Adler Berriman Seal, a.k.a. Barry Seal, in which Seal is played by actor Tom Cruise. The film has been renamed ‘American Made’ and is set for release in January, 2017.

Seal was a Medellín pilot who operated out of Mena, Arkansas, between 1976 and 1984, transporting cannabis, cocaine and later quaaludes from South America to the US. He was arrested in 1984 and began working for the US Drug Enforcement Administration to avoid jail time. Seal was shot dead in 1986 at a safe house in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by Colombian hitmen working for the cartel.

In the late 1980s, Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel was the most powerful drug-trafficking organization in the world.

Violence in Colombia had increased throughout the decade, and by 1988, Escobar and the Colombian government had entered into “indirect” negotiations, during which the cartel leaders proposed a deal to preserve their wealth and end the government’s efforts to hunt them down. In their effort to secure the deal and protect their business, Escobar and his associates tried to contact some of the highest-ranking members of the US political class, including a former secretary of state as well as a Florida power-player and presidential scion: Jeb Bush. “In 1988, the drug lords reportedly attempted to hire the services of the New York firm Kissinger and Associates to mount a public relations campaign on behalf of the proposed trafficker-government accord,” Patrick Clawson and Rensselaer Lee wrote in their 1996 book, “The Andean Cocaine Industry.”

In 1989, they “dispatched Vallejo to Miami to discuss their proposal with a lawyer who had at one time ‘sorted out legal difficulties’ for Jorge Ochoa [a member of the Medellin cartel] in the United States and who just happened to be working with a team of corporate attorneys headed by Jeb Bush, the then-president’s son,” according to Clawson and Lee.

In August 1989, Luis Galán, the leading presidential candidate — who had promised to extradite drug traffickers to the US — was assassinated, a killing orchestrated in part by Escobar and reportedly at the urging of Galán’s political rivals.

In December 1993, with his Medellin cartel withering, Escobar was killed on a rooftop in his home town — though who delivered the fatal shot remains unclear.

In October 2013, two former federal agents and an ex-CIA contractor told an American television network that CIA operatives were involved in the kidnapping and murder of DEA covert agent Enrique Camarena, because he was a threat to the agency’s drug operations in Mexico. According to the three men, the CIA was collaborating with drug traffickers moving cocaine and marijuana to the United States, and using its share of the profits to finance Nicaraguan Contra rebels attempting to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. A CIA spokesman responded, calling it “ridiculous” to suggest that the Agency had anything to do with the murder of a US federal agent or the escape of his alleged killer.

The Honduran drug lord Juan Matta-Ballesteros was the owner of SETCO, an airline which the Nicaraguan Contras used to covertly transport military supplies and personnel in the early 1980s. Writers such as Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall have suggested that the U.S. government’s desire to conceal or protect these clandestine shipments led it to close the DEA office in Honduras when an investigation began into SETCO, allowing Matta-Ballesteros to continue and expand his trafficking.

In 1986, the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations began investigating drug trafficking from Central and South America and the Caribbean to the United States. The investigation was conducted by the Sub-Committee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations, chaired by Senator John Kerry, so its final 1989 report was known as the Kerry Committee report. The Report concluded that “it is clear that individuals who provided support for the Contras were involved in drug trafficking, the supply network of the Contras was used by drug trafficking organizations, and elements of the Contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers.”

In 1996 Gary Webb wrote a series of articles published in the San Jose Mercury News, which investigated Nicaraguans linked to the CIA-backed Contras who had smuggled cocaine into the U.S. which was then distributed as crack cocaine into Los Angeles and funneled profits to the Contras. His articles asserted that the CIA was aware of the cocaine transactions and the large shipments of drugs into the U.S. by the Contra personnel and directly aided drug dealers to raise money for the Contras. The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Washington Post launched their own investigations and rejected Webb’s allegations. In May 1997, the Mercury News executive editor Jerry Ceppos, who had approved the series, published a column that acknowledged shortcomings in the series reporting, editing, and production, while maintaining the story was correct “on many important points.” Webb later published a book based on the series, Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion.

In 1989, the United States invaded Panama as part of Operation Just Cause, which involved 25,000 American troops. Gen. Manuel Noriega, head of government of Panama, had been giving military assistance to Contra groups in Nicaragua at the request of the U.S.—which, in exchange, allowed him to continue his drug-trafficking activities—which they had known about since the 1960s. When the DEA tried to indict Noriega in 1971, the CIA prevented them from doing so. The CIA, which was then directed by future president George H. W. Bush, provided Noriega with hundreds of thousands of dollars per year as payment for his work in Latin America. However, when CIA pilot Eugene Hasenfus was shot down over Nicaragua by the Sandinistas, documents aboard the plane revealed many of the CIA’s activities in Latin America, and the CIA’s connections with Noriega became a public relations “liability” for the U.S. government, which finally allowed the DEA to indict him for drug trafficking, after decades of allowing his drug operations to proceed unchecked. Operation Just Cause, whose ostensible purpose was to capture Noriega, pushed the former Panamanian leader into the Papal Nuncio where he surrendered to U.S. authorities. His trial took place in Miami, where he was sentenced to 45 years in prison.

Noriega’s prison sentence was reduced from 30 years to 17 years for good behavior. After serving 17 years in detention and imprisonment, his prison sentence ended on September 9, 2007. He was held in U.S. custody before being extradited to France where he was sentenced to 7 years for laundering money from Colombian drug cartels.

A failed CIA anti-drug operation in Venezuela resulted in at least a ton of cocaine being smuggled into the United States and sold on the streets. The incident, which was first made public in 1993, was part of a plan to assist an undercover agent gain the confidence of a Colombian drug cartel. The plan involved the unsupervised shipment of hundreds of pounds of cocaine from Venezuela. The drug in the shipments was provided by the Venezuelan anti-drug unit which was working with the CIA, using cocaine seized in Venezuela. The shipments took place despite the objections of the U.S. DEA. When the failed plan came to light, the CIA officer in charge of the operation resigned, and his supervisor was transferred.

In addition, the former Venezuelan anti-narcotics chief General Ramon Guillen Davila and his chief civilian aide were both indicted in connection with the shipments. Because Venezuela does not extradite its citizens, Guillen was not tried in the U.S., but his civilian aide was arrested while in the United States and sentenced to 20 years.

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