In this final excerpt, Peter Dale Scott focuses on CIA drug ties into Latin America and shows that, by working with the drug underworld, the national security state also ends up harming….national security.

In this final excerpt, Peter Dale Scott focuses on CIA drug ties into Latin America and shows that, by working with the drug underworld, the national security state also ends up harming….national security.

Introduction by Russ Baker:

Professor Peter Dale Scott sees what the rest of us miss. His decades-long investigation of the connections between the hugely lucrative and unstoppable global drug trade and the national security apparatus is unparalleled. The details are also highly complex and a challenge to absorb. Nevertheless, they demand our attention.

In this final excerpt from his new book, Scott focuses on CIA drug ties into Latin America, and finishes off with the argument that in choosing to tolerate and even work with the drug underworld, the national security state also ends up harming….national security.

This is Part 5 of a 5-part series. To see Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4, please go here, here, here, and here.

Excerpt from American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection, and the Road to Afghanistan ( Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014), Introduction. Deep History and the Global Drug


US Responsibility for the Flood of Heroin in the World


Here is yet another fact that is so alien to our normal view of reality that I myself find it hard to keep in mind: US backdoor covert foreign policy has been the largest single cause of the illicit drugs flooding the world today.

It is worth contemplating for a moment the legacy of CIA-supported drug proxies in just two areas — the Golden Triangle and the Golden Crescent. In 2003, according to the United Nations, these two areas accounted for 91 percent of the area devoted to illicit opium production and 95 percent of the estimated product in metric tons. [Add in Colombia and Mexico, two other countries where the CIA has worked with drug traffickers, and the four areas accounted for 96.6 percent of the growing area and 97.8 percent of the estimated product.(52)]

The CIA’s covert operations were not the sole cause for this flood of opium and heroin. But the de facto protection conferred on sectors of the opium trade by CIA involvement is clearly a major historical factor for the world crime scourge today.

When the CIA airline CAT began its covert flights to Burma in the 1950s, the area produced about 80 tons of opium a year. In ten years’ time, production had perhaps quadrupled, and at one point during the Vietnam War the output from the Golden Triangle reached 1,200 tons a year. By 1971, there were also at least seven heroin labs in the region, one of which, close to the CIA base at Ban Houei Sai in Laos, produced an estimated 3.6 tons of heroin a year. (53)

Afghan opium production has been even more responsive to US operations in the area. It soared from 200 metric tons in 1980, the first full year of US support for the drug-trafficking mujahideen Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, to 1,980 metric tons in 1991, when both the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to terminate their aid. (54)  After 1979 Afghan opium and heroin entered the world market significantly for the first time and rose from roughly 0 to 60 percent of US consumption by 1980. (55) In Pakistan there were hardly any drug addicts in 1979; the number had risen to over 800,000 by 1992. (56)

In 2000-2001, the Taliban virtually eliminated opium production in their area of Afghanistan. Thus total production for 2001 was 185 metric tons. Nearly all of this was from the northeastern corner controlled by the drug trafficking Northern Alliance, which in that year became America’s ally in its invasion.

Once again production soared after the US invasion in 2001, in part because the United States recruited former drug traffickers as supporting assets in its assault. From 3,400 metric tons in 2002, it climbed steadily until “in 2007 Afghanistan produced an extraordinary 8,200 tons of opium (34 percent more than in 2006), becoming practically the exclusive supplier of the world’s deadliest drug (93 percent of the global opiates market).” (57)

The conspicuous (and rarely acknowledged) fact that backdoor aspects of US policies have been a major causal factor in today’s drug flows does not of course mean that the United States has control over the situations it has produced. What it does indicate is that repeatedly, as a Brookings Institution expert wrote of the US Afghan intervention of 1979–1980, “drug control evidently became subordinated to larger strategic goals.” (58)

Congress has done nothing to alter these priorities and is not likely to do so soon.The CIA shares responsibility not only for the increase in global drug production but also for significant smuggling into the United States. This was demonstrated by two indictments by the US Department of Justice in the mid-1990s. In March 1997, Michel-Joseph François, the CIA-backed police chief in Haiti, was indicted in Miami for having helped to smuggle 33 tons of Colombian cocaine and heroin into the United States. The

Haitian National Intelligence Service (SIN), which the CIA helped to create,was also a target of the Justice Department investigation that led to the indictment.(59)

A few months earlier, General Ramon Guillén Davila, chief of a CIA-created anti-drug unit in Venezuela, was indicted in Miami for smuggling a ton of cocaine into the United States. According to the New York Times,

“The CIA, over the objections of the Drug Enforcement Administration,approved the shipment of at least one ton of pure cocaine to Miami International Airport as a way of gathering information about the Colombian drug Cartels.”

Time magazine reported that a single shipment amounted to 998 pounds, following earlier ones “totaling nearly 2,000 pounds.” (60) Mike Wallace confirmed that “the CIA-national guard undercover operation quickly accumulated this cocaine, over a ton-and-a-half that was smuggled from Colombia into Venezuela.” (61) According to the Wall Street Journal, the total amount of drugs smuggled by General Guillén may have been more than 22 tons. (62)

But the United States never asked for Guillén’s extradition from Venezuela to stand trial, and in 2007, when he was arrested in Venezuela for plotting to assassinate President Hugo Chavez, his indictment was still sealed in Miami. (63) Meanwhile, CIA officer Mark McFarlin, whom Drug Enforcement Administration

(DEA) Chief Bonner had also wished to indict, was never indicted at all; he merely resigned. (64)

François and Guillén were part of an interconnected network of CIA-protected drug-trafficking intelligence networks south of the US border, including the SIN of Vladimiro Montesinos in Peru, the G-2 of Manuel Noriega in Panama, the G-2 of Leonidas Torres Arias in Honduras, and, perhaps above all, the DFS of Miguel Nazar Haro and Fernando Gutiérrez Barrios in Mexico.(65) But the Guillén case transcends all the others, both in size and also because in this case, as former DEA Chief Robert Bonner explained on 60 Minutes, the CIA clearly broke the law:

[MIKE] WALLACE [voiceover]: Until last month, Judge Robert Bonner was the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the DEA. And Judge Bonner explained to us that only the head of the DEA is authorized to approve the transportation of any illegal narcotics, like cocaine, into this country, even if the CIA is bringing it in. Judge BONNER: Let me put it this way, Mike. If this has not been approved by DEA or an appropriate law-enforcement authority in the United States, then it’s illegal. It’s called drug trafficking. It’s called drug smuggling. WALLACE: So what you’re saying, in effect, is the CIA broke the law; simple as that. Judge BONNER: I don’t think there’s any other way you can rationalize around it, assuming, as I think we can, that there was some knowledge on the part of CIA. At least some participation in approving or condoning this to be done. (Footage of Wallace and Bonner; the CIA seal) WALLACE: (Voiceover) Judge Bonner says he came to that conclusion after a two-year secret investigation conducted by the DEA’s Office of Professional Responsibility, in cooperation with the CIA’s own inspector general. (66)

According to Time, “The stated purpose of the scheme was to help one of the Venezuelan general’s agents win the confidence of Colombia’s drug lords,” specifically the Medellin cartel. (67) But by facilitating multi-ton shipments, the CIA was becoming part of the Colombian drug scene (just as, we shall see, it became in the 1950s an integral part of the Burma–Laos–Thailand drug scene). As I wrote in Drugs, Oil, and War,

The CIA can (and does) point to its role in the arrest or elimination of a number of major Colombian traffickers. These arrests have not diminished the actual flow of cocaine into the United States, which on the contrary reached a new high in 2000. But they have institutionalized the relationship of law enforcement to rival cartels and visibly contributed to the increase of urban cartel violence. The true purpose of most of these campaigns, like the current Plan Colombia, has not been the hopeless ideal of eradication. It has been to alter market share: to target specific enemies and thus ensure that the drug traffic remains under the control of those traffickers who are allies of the Colombian state security apparatus and/or the CIA. This confirms the judgment of Senate investigator Jack Blum a decade ago, that America, instead of battling a narcotics conspiracy, has “in a subtle way… become part of that conspiracy.” (68)

The fact that the CIA, two decades ago, became involved in facilitating massive shipments of cocaine impels us to consider the recent allegation by a Russian general that “drugs are often transported out of Afghanistan on American planes.” (69) We will consider this question at the end of this book.

Sanctioned Violence, Off-the-Books Violence, and the Global Drug Connection


As I argued in The Road to 9/11, the compelling conclusion one draws from anecdotes such as the Guillén Davila story is that secrecy in American decision making, although sometimes necessary for protecting our security, has grown to become a significant threat to American security.

America does not lack experts who can see a proper course in dealing with the rest of the world. But

we suffer from a hierarchy of secrecy that ensures that these experts can and will be overridden by small cabals with much more restricted, foolish, and often dangerous objectives. This deferral of public power has created what some have called (following Madison), an imperium in imperio. (70)

I hope in this book to persuade readers to set aside their doubts and consider that, for sixty years, backdoor covert operations – and in particular the drug–security relationship – have had a powerful influence on the evolution of America’s posture in relation to the rest of the world. And if this narrative is at all persuasive, one has to ask also whether the catastrophe of 9/11 was also, to some extent, the product of a drug–security relationship.

There are in this country today those who argue vocally that, in a war against terror, one should not be looking critically at the methods and alliances selected by our security establishment. I hope to make the case that these alliances have done more to create the crisis we are now in than to resolve it.

But the main purpose of this book is not just to criticize or to shock but to seek a better history for this country, one that is less contaminated by the twin forces of sanctioned violence and drugs. I have already indicated that civilization and denial are closely related, and in fact the style of each helps to determine the style of the other — a matter I shall return to in my conclusion.

I wish to present three propositions to which both left and right should be able to agree: first, that our country today is seriously afflicted by our security institutions to the extent that our constitutional government is altered and indeed threatened; second, that these relationships are associated with episodes of sanctioned violence, violence that will not be resolved by the normal processes of law enforcement; and, third, that there will be no progress in dealing with this affliction and threat until these interactions are publicly exposed and debated.

By the end of this book, we shall be looking at what I have hitherto called sanctioned violence in the light of what I call the global drug connection: a connection and milieu that in fact involves far more than merely the global drug traffic. I hope to present the global drug connection as a form of hitherto sanctioned off-the-books governance exploited by Washington.

The evidence in the following chapters will, it is hoped, strengthen this disturbing hypothesis. I will finally argue that involvement of US intelligence operators and agencies in the global drug traffic and in other international criminal networks is a factor that deserves greater attention in the emerging debate over the US presence in Afghanistan.



52. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report, 2004,

53. McCoy, The Politics of Heroin, 162, 191, 286–87. McCoy’s estimate of the Kuomintang’s impact on expanding production is extremely conservative. According to Bertil Lintner, the foremost authority on the Shan states of Burma, “The annual production increased from a mere 30 tons at the time of independence [1945] to 600 tons in the mid-1950s” (Bertil Lintner, “Heroin and Highland Insurgency,” in Alfred W. McCoy and Alan A. Block, War on Drugs: Studies in the Failure of US Narcotics Policy [Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992], 288). Furthermore, the Kuomintang’s exploitation of the Shan states led thousands of hill tribesmen to flee to northern Thailand, where opium production also increased.

54. State Customs Committee of Azerbaijan, “Opium Production in Afghanistan (1980–2005),”

55. McCoy, The Politics of Heroin, 464.

56. Beaty and Gwynne, The Outlaw Bank, 295.

57. Council on Foreign Relations, “Afghanistan Opium Survey, 2007,” August 2007

58. Peter Dale Scott, Drugs, Oil, and War: The United States in Afghanistan, Colombia,and Indochina (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 33.

59. San Francisco Chronicle, March 8, 1997, A10. Francois allegedly controlled the capital, Port-au-Prince, with a network of hirelings who profited on the side from drug trafficking.

60. Time, November 29, 1993,,9171,979669,00.html: “The shipments continued, however, until Guillen tried to send in 3,373 lbs. of cocaine at once. The DEA, watching closely, stopped it and pounced.” Cf. New York Times, November 23, 1996 (“one ton”).

61. CBS News Transcripts, 60 Minutes, November 21, 1993.

62. Wall Street Journal, November 22, 1996. The information about the drug activities of Guillen Davila and François had been published in the US press years before the indictments. It is probable that, had it not been for the controversy aroused by Gary Webb’s Contra-cocaine stories in the August 1996 San Jose Mercury, these two men and their networks would have been as untouchable as other kingpins in the global CIA drug connection whom we shall discuss, such as Miguel Nassar Haro in Mexico.

63. Chris Carlson, “Is the CIA Trying to Kill Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez?” Global Research, April 19, 2007

64. Douglas Valentine, The Strength of the Pack: The People, Politics and Espionage Intrigues That Shaped the DEA (Springfield, OR: TrineDay, 2009), 400; Time, November 23, 1993. McFarlin had worked with anti guerrilla forces in El Salvador in the 1980s. The CIA station chief in Venezuela, Jim Campbell, also retired.

65. Peter Dale Scott, “Washington and the Politics of Drugs,” Variant 2, no. 11 (Summer 2000): 3–6; Scott and Marshall, Cocaine Politics, vii–xiv.

66. CBS, 60 Minutes, November 21, 1993. Cf. Valentine, The Strength of the Pack, 400.

67. At the time, the CIA was plotting, successfully, to bring down Pablo Escandar,chief of the Medellín cartel, using the assistance of the drug-trafficking death squad leader Carlos Castaño, who was working for the rival Cali cartel (Scott, Drugs, Oil, and War, 88).

68. Scott, Drugs, Oil, and War, 89, citing Paul Eddy, The Cocaine Wars (New York: Norton, 1988), 342 (Blum).

69. “Afghan Drug Trafficking Brings US $50 Billion a Year,” RussiaToday, August 20, 2009, -trafficking.html. Cf. “Russian State TV Suggests USA Involved in Drug-Trafficking from Afghanistan,” RAWANews, February 18, 2008,

70. David Bromwich, New York Review of Books, November 20, 2008, 33.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adopted by WhoWhatWhy from skull (Internet Archive Book Images / Flickr) and camouflage (Henrickson / Wikimedia – CC BY-SA 3.0)


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