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A Correspondence with the CIA

Our Response

  1. While in this area, the author was told by retired CIA personnel, local CIA mercenaries. Baptist missionaries, and hill tribesmen that a heroin refinery operated near Ban Nam Keung from 1965-1971. The author believes that this is the refinery which was confiscated by the CIA last year and which is referred to at p. 346 of the text. The same sources informed the author that another refinery operated near Ban Houei Tap in 1970-1971. Both refineries were located in areas where there was American influence.

Ger Su Yang

Your Comment

  1. You state that an officer of the Agency interviewed Ger Su Yang, who admitted talking to Mr. McCoy but denied having discussed the sale of opium with him. You go on to state that you do not have confidence in what Ger Su Yang told your officer and state that Mr. McCoy should not have accepted his word either without any attempt at verification.

Our Response

  1. The author does not base his account (on page 289) of American helicopters flying opium from Long Pot to Long Tieng solely on his interview with Ger Su Yang. The author spoke to many villagers in Long Pot and in neighboring villages who confirmed Ger Su Yang’s story. In addition, the author obtained similar information from Ron Rickenbach, a former USAID official in Laos, General Ouane Rattikone, and General Thao Ma, a former commander of the Royal Laotian Air Force. More recently, the author has been advised by some British television journalists who have recently returned from the area that these activities are accurately described by him. A former State Department official has also confirmed to the author that his account is correct.

KMT Irregulars

Your Comment

  1. You state that the author’s charge that the “CIA’s relationship with the KMT was a key factor in the latter’s involvement in the opium trade” is without foundation.

Our Response

  1. We cannot find in the book any statement that the CIA’s relationship with the KMT was a “key factor” in the latter’s involvement in the opium trade. The author does state (p. 306) that there was a “peculiar symbiosis between opium and espionage” in the activities of the KMT, an inference which we believe is amply supported by the evidence cited.

Your Comment

  1. You state that since August, 1951 the CIA has had no “substantial” contact with KMT Irregulars.

Our Response

  1. At pp. 305-8 the author describes a number of contacts the CIA had with KMT Irregulars in 1962 and later. The principal sources for these passages are William Young, a former CIA employee, U Ba Thein, a Shan rebel leader, and various Yao tribesmen interviewed by the author (cf. ftn. p. 208). Under the circumstances, we do not find such testimony to be incredible or the contacts described insubstantial.

Your Comment

  1. You state that opium production in the areas where the KMT Irregulars located after the fall of China was not, as suggested by the author, started by them but had existed for a long time prior thereto.

Our Response

  1. We cannot find in the text any assertion to the effect that the KMT Irregulars started opium production in the areas in which they settled after the fall of China. The author does say (pp. 126-7) that the KMT greatly expanded the opium trade in the Shan states, a statement with which you do not appear to disagree.

The Mafia

Your Comment

  1. You state that Mr. McCoy states that “there has been an association of the U.S. Government, Sicilian and Corsican Mafia types in the past” and that this has “somehow been responsible” for the fact that these types play the role they do in narcotics traffic today.

Our Response

  1. Mr. McCoy does assert that during the War and shortly thereafter the Government associated with the Sicilian and Corsican underworld for reasons having nothing to do with the illegal narcotics traffic. Mr. McCoy clearly regards it as ironic that one result of such associations was a rebirth of these groups and their subsequent involvement in the narcotics trade, but we do not believe it is a fair inference from the book to state that the U.S. Government has “somehow been responsible” for this result simply because it has been such in the narrow causal sense of the words, as to which there can be little dispute.

Support for U.S. Narcotics Control Efforts Overseas

Your Comment

  1. You cite Mr. McCoy’s statement on page 350 that the BNDD’s attempts to conduct investigations in Laos were blocked by the Laotian Government, the State Department, and the CIA and quote a statement from the BNDD to the effect that they are “unaware” of any such opposition by the CIA.

Our Response

  1. Mr. McCoy’s source for the statement on page 350 is a BNDD agent familiar with the investigations referred to. We have questioned Mr. McCoy about this source and are satisfied that he exists and that he made the statement in question, although Mr. McCoy has requested that he not be identified for his own protection. The statement attributed to this source is not, of course, necessarily inconsistent with the statement that the BNDD in Washington is “unaware” of any opposition by the CIA.

Your Comment

  1. You quote the author’s statement on page 218 that the CIA avoids gathering information on high-level involvements, even in sessions with high Embassy officials, and discusses only minor pushers and addicts. You state that the assertion is untrue, and criticize Mr. McCoy for having made it on the word of an unnamed Embassy official who may not have had access to the facts.

Our Response

  1. The source of the statement on page 218 is a Foreign Service Officer in the U.S. Embassy in Sargon who was interviewed in the presence of a BNDD employee and another Embassy official. Mr. McCoy has disclosed their identities to us but asked that we keep such information confidential in order to protect the individuals involved. We are satisfied that the assertion is amply corroborated in view of the circumstances of the interview.

III

The quality of the CIA’s defense—and most important, the methods the Agency employed in concocting it—provide the strongest evidence of the folly of allowing government agencies to help decide what will be published. In fact, the CIA’s letter consists of little more than flat, unsubstantiated denials, evasions, and half-truths, as well as false denials by my sources in Southeast Asia that were obtained only after the CIA brought considerable pressure on them, as I shall show.

A. KMT (Nationalist Chinese) Irregulars: The CIA attempted to rebut my detailed history of KMT-CIA collaboration in the Golden Triangle region of Southeast Asia during the last twenty years by flatly asserting that there has been “no substantial contact with KMT irregulars in Burma or elsewhere” since August, 1951. (What exactly does the CIA mean by “substantial” anyway?) Yet in making this denial the CIA simply ignores the evidence in my book that the KMT paramilitary units were employed by the CIA as mercenaries in northwestern Laos in 1961. It conspicuously avoids commenting on my account of the close collaboration between CIA intelligence teams and KMT military opium dealers in northeastern Burma throughout the 1960s. Specifically, I stated that the CIA intelligence teams, set up to carry out patrols inside southern China, were based in Burmese outposts used by KMT military caravans for opium smuggling on a large scale. Even though this is the most detailed section of the book on the connections between CIA espionage operations and the Golden Triangle opium trade, it did not get a word of comment from the Agency.

Then, curiously, after categorically denying any “substantial” contact with the KMT paramilitary units in the Burma-Thailand borderlands, the CIA critics felt compelled to apologize for KMT involvement in the opium traffic (“That they [the KMT units] ultimately became involved appears to have been motivated by survival rather than any other known reason”). These are the harshest words the CIA can find for the single most powerful opium and heroin trafficking organization in the world.

According to the reports of a former CIA agent cited in my book, these KMT units, with their vast mule caravans and intricate purchasing network, control almost 90 percent of northeastern Burma’s enormous opium exports and most of northern Thailand’s illicit harvest—equivalent to more than one third of the world’s entire illicit opium supply. Moreover, these KMT units have been operating large heroin laboratories in their headquarter compounds along the Thai-Burmese border—laboratories producing heroin for both GIs in South Vietnam and addicts here in the United States.

B. The Mafia: I find it somewhat unnerving that the CIA is so confident of its immunity to public scrutiny that it no longer even bothers to contest the fact that it provided important political support for both the Sicilian Mafia and the Corsican narcotics syndicates of Marseilles. It is sharply significant that by refusing to comment on evidence in my book, the CIA is in effect admitting for the first time that it was allied with the founding father of the Marseilles postwar heroin industry, Barthélémy Guerini.

C. Paramilitary Activities and Heroin Laboratories: Once again the CIA attempts to flatly deny my analysis, this time citing a transparent half-truth. Although it is true, as the CIA claims, that the heroin laboratory at Nam Keung in northwest Laos voluntarily shifted its location in mid-1971 when US officials brought pressure for it to do so, this opium refinery had in fact been operating since 1965 with the full knowledge and tacit consent of the CIA. It was owned by one of the Agency’s most prominent mercenary commanders in northern Laos, Major Chao La. This laboratory was opened in 1965 near a highly classified CIA base used for training tribal commandos for cross-border missions into southern China. Rather than disrupt operations at this opium refinery, the local CIA agent moved his training base in order to maintain the security of his operations.

Moreover, the huge refinery at Ban Houei Tap in northwest Laos also operated for almost two years without being disturbed by the CIA because its owner was the commander-in-chief of the Royal Laotian Army, General Ouane Rattikone. This laboratory had a capacity to refine some 3.6 tons of heroin annually (estimates of total current US consumption range from six to ten tons a year) and supplied most of the heroin for GI addicts in South Vietnam. Moreover, large shipments of its output stamped with its distinctive Double U-O Globe brand label have begun turning up in the United States. And yet the CIA did absolutely nothing about it.

D. Ger Su Yang: By far the most disturbing aspect of the CIA’s review—worse than all its half-truths and false denials—was the pressure it applied on the Meo district officer, Ger Su Yang, to coerce him into retracting statements he had made when he described to me the role of Air America, the CIA’s charter airline, in northern Laos’s opium trade.

In August of last year I visited Long Pot, Ger Su Yang’s village in northern Laos, with an Australian photographer, John Everingham, and a Laotian interpreter, Phin Manivong. After spending a week in the village we learned that not only had Air America been shipping opium out of Long Pot for the last two years but that the CIA had halted shipments of needed refugee supplies to the district because Ger Su Yang had refused to send any more young men to a certain death as CIA mercenaries. In order to pressure USAID into sending food to the slowly starving village, we made public the CIA’s withholding of rice. 4 Shortly afterward a senior USAID refugee officer close to the CIA threatened the life of my interpreter. Officers in the CIA’s secret army visited Long Pot village to advise Ger Su Yang that he would be arrested and taken away if any more news came out of Long Pot. The ultimatum was delivered in such a way as to convince Ger Su Yang that he would never come back alive if that happened.

Needless to say, Ger Su Yang was more than apprehensive when a CIA helicopter arrived in his village sometime this July and CIA mercenaries ordered him aboard the aircraft for a flight to CIA headquarters in northern Laos. Coincidentally, my photographer, John Everingham, arrived in the Long Pot area the very day that Ger Su Yang returned from his ordeal and so we have a remarkably complete report of what actually passed between the CIA and this Meo district officer.

According to Everingham’s account, Ger Su Yang reported that he was interrogated for over an hour by a “short, fat,” rather irate American in a building near the runway at CIA headquarters. Ger Su Yang later recounted to Everingham the following details of the interrogation.

The American [CIA agent] asked if I had a photo of you [Everingham], if I knew how contact you in Vientiane. It was easy to see the American was angry that you had come to Long Pot to talk to me.

I was afraid. I didn’t know what was best to say to him. So I said I knew nothing about everything he asked me.

He also asked if it’s true the American helicopters carried away our opium. Again I didn’t know what was best to say. So I said I didn’t know if it was true or not.”

How frightened and intimidated Ger Su Yang had been is revealed by his last question to Everingham:

Do you think they will send a helicopter to arrest me or send Vang Pao’s soldiers [CIA mercenaries] to shoot me?”

Whether these pressures on Ger Su Yang derived directly from the CIA’s review of my book, this incident provides ample evidence of the dangers inherent in providing manuscripts to the CIA—or any other government security agency—prior to publication. Once the material is published and in the public domain, it is both more difficult and less profitable for the CIA to pressure sources to withdraw their statements. The damage has largely been done. However, if the CIA thinks it might induce a publisher to withdraw an embarrassing book from publication, then it is obviously worth the Agency’s time and trouble to secure such retractions.

Harper and Row went ahead with publication of the book in its original form. And, in fact, Harper and Row’s management accelerated its production schedule and brought it out on August 17—a month ahead of schedule.

All’s well that ends well? Not quite. First, it remains to be seen what precedent this incident may or may not set for the publishing industry. In this case it is fortunate for me and my book that the CIA was unable to convince my publisher to make any changes; the CIA’s review was much less fortunate for my informants in Southeast Asia. If America’s publishers are not careful to defend their own constitutional prerogatives, then the CIA, for one, seems only too willing to help them wither away. If publishers will now refuse to cooperate when the CIA calls, then perhaps mine has been a worthwhile test case. Secondly, in 1969—before significant numbers of GIs started using heroin in Vietnam—this country had an estimated 315,000 heroin addicts. Three years later that estimate has nearly doubled. Early this year the government estimated that there were almost 600,000 addicts in the United States.

  1. 4

    Washington Post, August 31, 1971.

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