CIA versus the DEA in Burma’s Narcotopia

Rumors that the CIA orchestrated the meth and heroin trade in Southeast Asia during the Viet Nam War have been examined in Patrick Winn’s excellent new book, Narcotopia: In Search of the Asian Drug Cartel that Survived the CIA.

During the Viet Nam War the CIA was faced with a critical choice. The agency could undermine the drug trade of a Burmese tribal people called the Wa who occupied land next to the Chinese border, or they could leave the Wa alone to block Communist China’s expansion into the mountainous Golden Triangle area of Burma and beyond. Being the CIA, they threw their full support behind the Wa and their illicit drug activities.

The Wa were a simple, primitive people. They wore loin cloths and practiced head hunting, decapitating unwelcome intruders entering into their territory and proudly displaying the severed trophies nailed to skull posts. Wa occupation of the mountains of the Golden Triangle discouraged the inward migration of people from China and thus any Chinese national expansion. China in turn supplied the Wa with chemicals and the instructions needed to produce crystal meth, as well as materials to produce heroin from the opium harvested in the Wa’s local poppy fields. As a result, wartime US military personnel serving in Thailand and Viet Nam had easy access to nearly-pure heroin for a mere seven dollars per generously filled vial container. One-in-six American military service members were estimated to have used China White heroin and many became addicted.

When the DEA entered the scene the agency sought to capture and formally execute the leader of the Wa drug empire, Wei Xuegang. However, the Wa drug kingpin was considered an important ally by the CIA in the US battle against Asian Communists. In a spy versus spy series of events, the slick culprit always managed to elude captivity with a little help from his friends in Langley, Virginia.

By the end of the Viet Nam conflict the DEA had proven no match for the CIA and its version of a drug war. The Wa retained a drug empire that generates $60 billion in worldwide meth sales. It’s defended by 30,000 well-equipped Wa fighters. Winn attributes the DEA/CIA performance mismatch to differences in the recruitment tactics between the two agencies. The CIA prefers Ivy League types or members of top universities, while the DEA typically hires former law enforcement officers and

the sons (and sometimes daughters) of working class stock. Straight shooters by nature, they never smoked pot in high school. Their worldview skews monochrome: we’re the good guys, drug dealers are “scumbags”….

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6 Responses to CIA versus the DEA in Burma’s Narcotopia

  1. fuckthepolice says:

    If the DEA is recruiting from former L.E. personel they are doomed. The mass stupidity of L.E. officers caught on camera by “auditors” on You tube shows just how dense these folks are before they perform the inevitable walk of shame. For some reason the female cops are even more thick than the men. Good grief.

    • Carlyle Moulton says:

      The female cops have to survive in a testosterone saturated environment.

      Even if they are not stupid they have to act as if they are.

  2. Son of Sam Walton says:

    That explains the captagon craze and even why Meth is preferred now as a source of funding the war/military vs. heroin. I guess local dope makes more money than local heroin and international heroin combined, considering one must chop the price for bulk . . . while one can simply sell small amounts at full price while chopping the supply with additives.

  3. Libby Spencer says:

    Pete! Your blog came up in my facebook memories today. So good to see it’s still going. You were the first and now probably one of the last independent drug policy bloggers on the internet. Hope all is well with you and yours.

    • Pete says:

      Thanks, Libby! Things are good – I’m retired and don’t spend much time blogging these days, but I sure have enjoyed it over the years.

      • Son of Sam Walton says:

        Pete–“Things are good – I’m retired and don’t spend much time blogging these days, but I sure have enjoyed it over the years.”

        You know, they have an app for that now . . . now you can spend all your time on your blog without ever looking at it once for many months–that way your retired hobbies of snowboarding and knitting yard-length ties for yellow yacks in Yuma won’t ever be interrupted while constantly being back on the blog.

        “Momma always said that ‘life was like a computer housing box full of AI Applications, you never know which algorithm you’re going to get’ “.

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