America’s Drug Crisis: Brought to You by the CIA

Ahmed Karzai

Ahmed Karzai

Next time you see a junkie sprawled at the curb in the downtown of your nearest city, or read about someone who died of a heroin overdose, just imagine a big yellow sign posted next to him or her saying: “Your Federal Tax Dollars at Work.”

Kudos to the New York Times, and to reporters Dexter Filkins, Mark Mazzetti and James Risen, for their lead article Wednesday reporting that Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of Afghanistan’s stunningly corrupt President Hamid Karzai, a leading drug lord in the world’s major opium-producing nation, has for eight years been on the CIA payroll.

Okay, the article was lacking much historical perspective (more on that later), and the dead hand of top editors was evident in the overly cautious tone (I loved the third paragraph, which stated that “The financial ties and close working relationship between the intelligence agency and Mr. Karzai raises significant questions about America’s war strategy, which is currently under review at the White House.”

Well, duh! It should be raising questions about why we are even in Afghanistan, about who should be going to jail at the CIA, and about how can the government explain this to the over 1000 soldiers and Marines who have died supposedly helping to build a new Afghanistan).

But that said, the newspaper that helped cheerlead us into the pointless and criminal Iraq invasion in 2003, and that prevented journalist Risen from running his exposé of the Bush/Cheney administration’s massive warrantless National Security Agency electronic spying operation until after the 2004 presidential election, this time gave a critically important story full play, and even, appropriately, included a teaser in the same front-page story about October being the most deadly month yet for the US in Afghanistan.

What the article didn’t mention at all is that there is a clear historical pattern here. During the Vietnam War, the CIA, and its Air America airline front-company, were neck deep in the Southeast Asian heroin trade. At the time, it was Southeast Asia, not Afghanistan, that was the leading producer and exporter of opium, mostly to the US, where there was a heroin epidemic.

A decade later, in the 1980s, during the Reagan administration, as the late investigative journalist Gary Webb so brilliantly documented first in a series titled “Dark Alliance” in the San Jose Mercury News, and later in a book by that same name, the CIA was deeply involved in the development of and smuggling of cocaine into the US, which was soon engulfed in a crack cocaine epidemic—one that continues to destroy African American and other poor communities across the country. (The Times role here was sordid—it and other leading papers, including the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times—did despicable hit pieces on Webb shamelessly trashing his work and his career, and ultimately driving him to suicide, though his facts have held up. For the whole sordid tale, read Alex Cockburn’s and Jeffrey St. Clair’s White Out).

In this case, Webb showed that the Agency was actually using the drugs as a way to fund arms, which it could use its own planes to ferry down to the Contra forces it was backing to subvert the Sandinista government in Nicaragua at a time Congress had barred the US from supporting the Contras.

And now we have Afghanistan, once a sleepy backwater of the world with little connection to drugs (the Taliban, before their overthrow by US forces in 20001, had, according to the UN, virtually eliminated opium production there), but now responsible for as much as 80 percent of the world’s opium production—this at a time that the US effectively finances and runs the place, with an occupying army that, together with Afghan government forces that it controls, outnumbers the Taliban 12-1 according to a recent Associated Press story.

The real story here is that where the US goes, the drug trade soon follows, and the leading role in developing and nurturing that trade appears to be played by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Your tax dollars at work.

The issue at this point should not be how many troops the US should add to its total in Afghanistan. It shouldn’t even be over whether the US should up the ante or scale back to a more limited goal of hunting terrorists. It should be about how quickly the US can extricate its forces from Afghanistan, how soon the Congress can start hearings into corruption and drug pushing by the CIA, and how soon the Attorney General’s office will impanel a grand jury to probe CIA drug dealing.

Americans, who for years have supported a stupid, blundering and ineffective “War on Drugs” in this country, and who mindlessly back “zero-tolerance” policies towards drugs in schools and on the job, should demand a “zero-tolerance” policy toward drugs and dealing with drug pushers in government and foreign policy, including the CIA.

For years we have been fed the story that the Taliban are being financed by their taxes on opium farmers. That may be partly true, but recently we’ve been learning that it’s not the real story. Taliban forces in Afghanistan, it turns out, have been heavily subsidized by protection money paid to them by civilian aid organizations, including even American government-funded aid programs, and even, reportedly, by the military forces of some of America’s NATO allies (there is currently a scandal in Italy concerning such payments by Italian forces).

But beyond that, the opium industry, far from being controlled by the Taliban, has been, to a great extent, controlled by the very warlords with which the US has allied itself, and, as the Times now reports, by Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s own brother.

Karzai, we are also told by Filkins, Mazzetti and Risen, was a key player in producing hundreds of thousands of fraudulent ballots for his brother’s election theft earlier this year. Left unsaid is whether the CIA might have played a role in that scam too. In a country where finding printing presses is sure to be difficult, and where transporting bales of counterfeit ballots is risky, you have to wonder whether an agency like the CIA, which has ready access to printers and to helicopters, might have had a hand in keeping its assets in control in Kabul.

Sure that’s idle speculation on my part, but when you learn that America’s spook agency has been keeping not just Karzai, but lots of other unsavory Afghani warlords, on its payroll, such speculation is only logical.

The real attitude of the CIA here was best illustrated by an anonymous quote in the Filkins, Mazzetti and Risen piece, where a “former CIA officer with experience in Afghanistan,” explaining the agency’s backing of Karzai, said, “Virtually every significant Afghan figure has had brushes with the drug trade. If you are looking for Mother Teresa, she doesn’t live in Afghanistan.”

“The end justifies the means” is America’s foreign policy and military motto, clearly.

The Times article exposing the CIA link to Afghanistan’s drug-kingpin presidential brother should be the last straw for Americans.  President Obama’s “necessary” war in Afghanistan is nothing but a sick joke.

The opium, and resulting heroin, that is flooding into Europe and America thanks to the CIA’s active support of the industry and its owners in Afghanistan are doing far more grave damage to our societies than any turbaned terrorists armed with suicide bomb vests could hope to inflict.

The Afghanistan War has to be ended now.

Let the prosecution of America’s government drug pushers begin.

Finally, a note about Sen. John Kerry Kerry, D-MA, who went to Afghanistan to press, for the Obama administration, to get his “good friend” President Karzai to agree to a run-off election after Karzai’s earlier theft of the first round, has played a shameful role here. Once, back when he still had an ounce of the principle that he had back when he was a Vietnam vet speaking out against the Indochina War, Kerry held hearings on the CIA’s cocaine-for-arms operation in Central America. Now he’s hugging the CIA’s drug connections.

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist. He is author of Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Penalty Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal (Common Courage Press, 2003) and The Case for Impeachment (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at

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6 Responses for “America’s Drug Crisis: Brought to You by the CIA”

  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Reddit by Xombie818: I’d personally like to thank them for their contribution to the proliferation of LSD. Thanks guys!…

  2. Richard Sinnott says:

    Very well done, Dave. And I agree COMPLETELY with your criticism of Kerry. Those were exactly my thoughts when I saw that 2 faced idiot speaking about it.

    Americans are so brainwashed about this subject.

    The Agency has been in the dope business for decades, probably since its inception.

  3. clem says:

    Note to the editor:

    Next time you post an article decrying the CIA’s links to the narcotics trade, just imagine that the use of the word ‘junkie’ to describe a heroin user lessens the seriousness of any point that may subsequently be made. The ‘journalist’ who contributed this piece should also probably keep expressions such as “well duh!” to his comments on youtube. New Journalism can certainly use casual language but should aim higher than this… I’ve just removed this site from my bookmarks.

  4. Jim Angleton says:

    We don’t have a drug crisis, we have a prohibition crisis. Simply remove the prescription requirements for purchasing pharmaceuticals from a pharmacy, as all will be well. Profound reduction in crime. Profound reduction in health care costs.

    Law Enforcement Against Prohibtion volunteers needed

    The Case for Legalising All Drugs Is Unanswerable

    100 years of government abuse, corruption and lies

    Creating Prisoners is a Booming Industry in Need of a Bust

    Prohibition and the Rise of Crime

    Excellent Article on the Corrupt Prison-Industrial Complex

    Drugs in Portugal: Did Decriminalization Work?

    Bolivia’s Morales Calls for Recognition of Legal Coca Use in N.Y. Times Editorial

    Drug-Friendly Netherlans to close prisons for lack of criminals

    Under the radar: US Democrats overseas pass marijuana resolution

    Former Mexican President Calls for Legalization

    Time to end the war on drugs

    Drug Control Becomes Speech Control

    Let’s set the record straight about Amsterdam

    (New Scientist) Better world: Legalise drugs

    Colombia’s High Court Says Drug Consumption Not a Crime

    Argentine Supreme Court rules personal marijuana use punishment unconstitutional

    Mexico Legalizes Drug Possession

    Latin America: Latin America On Its Way To Legalizing Drugs, Experts Say

    Walter Cronkite Knew a Failed War When He Saw One: Vietnam and the War on Drugs

    Ethan Nadelmann Speaks at the NAACP Conference: Human Rights, Racial Justice and the Drug War

    Suppressed report raises questions about drug policy

    United Nations Backs Drug Decriminalization In World Drug Report

    Marijuana and Cocaine Should Be Legalized, Says Latin American Drugs Commission

  5. Jesse Hemingway says:

    “I say we have no choice but to bring murder charges against a son of privilege from Crawford Texas ” Vincent Bugliosi

    This Movie will be out in 2/2010

  6. Nick says:

    @ Jim Angleton

    I wanted to let you know I was impressed by those links provided. But, has it ever occurred to you (and this journalist) that CIA people (while they were the biggest traffickers) were also the ones passing legislation creating this black market: Bush with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 in Congress and Rockefeller with his “drug laws” in NY (now repealed).

    Also, to the gentleman writing this piece: you left out Colombia. It is a major key to their cocaine and crack epidemic. Here’s International Committee for the Red Cross David Guyyat documenting Col. Cutolo’s affidavit:

    I threw in some more interesting stuff.

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