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Burma - 1950-1961

The so-called Golden Triangle is the no-man's land where Burma, Laos and Thailand converge, where about 800 tons of opium were produced annually in the early 1990s. U.S. and European black markets were fed by the narcotics produced from the "Golden Triangle".

In Burma in 1910 there were three rules: (1) In Upper Burma no Barman may possess opium except for bona fide medical use. (2) In Lower Burma the native Burman may be registered when he ranks with (3) the non-Burman population - Chinese and Indians - who in either province may when registered possess opium and smoke. This policy dated from 1893, when the register was made. As in the case of Japan, it was found necessary to reopen the register for the admission of secret smokers. There was a limit to the quantity which any licensee may have in his possession (usually 54 grains). Shops for retail were licensed, and during the time they are open there must be a Government inspector present who sees that there are no infractions of the rules.

At one time restriction was attempted, with, at first, a delusory appearance of success. The ultimate result was failure. The attempt to restrict consumption was gradually breaking down. The registered consumers were too far from the shops to obtain their supplies in a regular manner; there were also unregistered consumers, probably ten times as numerous, whom the prohibition policy was converting into an outlaw class; opium smuggling was rife, and opium could be obtained in almost every village even when there was no shop in the district. In 1904 some of the regulations were relaxed and the exercise strengthened, resulting in the immediate increase of licit consumption.

Alfred W. McCoy wrote in 1972 that "CIA activities in Burma helped transform the Shan States from a relatively minor poppycultivating area into the largest opium-growing region in the world. The precipitous collapse of the Nationalist Chinese (Kuomintang, or KMT) government in 1949 convinced the Truman administration that it had to stem "the southward flow of communism" into Southeast Asia. In 1950 ... the CIA began regrouping those remnants of the defeated Kuomintang army in the Burmese Shan States for a projected invasion of southern China. Although the KMT army was to fail in its military operations, it succeeded in monopolizing and expanding the Shan States' opium trade."

In 1950, following the collapse of Chiang's regime on the mainland, several thousands of his followers in the Ninety-third Independent Division, Twenty-sixth Army, and Gen. Li Mi's Eighth Army fled across the Yunnan border into Northern Burma. American policy makers decided to arm and equip these Nationalist troops for a reinvasion of Yunnan Province. From Formosa, CIA allegedly masterminded the operation. Arms, munitions, supplies were airlifted into Burma, but despite this support, there is little evidence that Chiang's gallant warriors ever wreaked much damage on the Chinese Reds. Instead, the Nationalists discovered they could achieve the finer life more easily by growing opium, and a great number of them settled down in Northern Burma and proceeded to do just that.

The Burmese, a most unreasonable people, were not happy with this ideal, CIA-created situation. For some inexplicable reason, they seemed to resent the presence of this foreign army on their soil; and when Chiang's fighters, showing no regard for Burmese sovereignty, practically took over the state of Kengtung and established their own government, the Burmese actually filed a vigorous protest with the United States. As Charles Edmundson... wrote in The Nation (Nov. 7, 1957), the American Ambassador in Burma hadn't been let in on the secret of what the CIA and the Chinese Nationalists were up to. The Ambassador, William J. Sebald, therefore denied in perfect good faith that America had anything to do with supporting Chiang's guerrillas in Burma. Burmese Prime Minister U Nu knew better and became so incensed he suspended all U.S. Point Four activities and almost broke off relations entirely.

Alfred W. McCoy wrote "With CIA support, the KMT remained in Burma until 1961, when a Burmese army offensive drove them into Laos and Thailand. By this time, however, the Kuomintang had already used their control over the tribal populations to expand Shan State opium production by almost 1,000 percent-from less than 40 tons after World War II to an estimated three hundred to four hundred tons by 1962. From bases in northern Thailand the KMT have continued to send huge mule caravans into the Shan States to bring out the opium harvest. ... over twenty years after the CIA first began supporting KMT troops in the Golden Triangle region, these KMT caravans control almost a third of the world's total illicit opium supply and have a growing share of Southeast Asia's thriving heroin business."

In the 1960s narcotics was a big problems in Thailand, and narcotics was a big problem in Burma. Much of the opium that was translated into heroin in laboratories along the Thai-Burmese border and then shipped by caravan down into Thailand and exported, was raised in the Shan states of Burma. So the US worked out an assistance program with the Burmese. The US supplied them with helicopters for spraying weed-killer on opium plants, and gave them advice from the DEA people. The US tried crop substitution and things like that, and even had a road project going in Burma. The US tried to keep Burma more or less on the straight and narrow, despite the fact that it was a hopelessly run country, dictatorial. Ne Win was not exactly nature's nobleman, and he continued to run that country into the ground for quite awhile.

Alcohol was the first substance of abuse of American troops in Vietnam. Heroin abuse became significant in early 1970 when 90% to 96% pure heroin derived from the "golden triangle" of Thailand, Burma, and Laos became available countrywide. This pure heroin was so cheap that a significant "habit" could be maintained for $8 to $10 a day. The preferredroute was "snorting" through the nostrils or smoking. Heroin reportedly displaced cannabis because it had no characteristic strong odor allowing detection, made time seem to go faster rather than sloweras with marijuana, and was compact and easily transportable. Heroin did not so much replace marijuana as augment itsuse and that the real reason for the heroin epidemic was enormous profits that South Vietnamese officials could make by selling it to Americans.

Illicit worldwide opium production exceeded 4,000 metric tons in 1995, enough to produce nearly 400 metric tons of heroin. Burma was the source of most of the heroin available in the United States, but opium production in Afghanistan had skyrocketed since 1990 and Colombia had surpassed Mexico as the largest producer of opium in the Western Hemisphere.



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