Mind and Body

In Afghanistan, it was a war financed by heroin

The unwritten story of the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan includes a willful blindness around heroin trafficking by the Taliban

Image courtesy of World BEYOND War

Image used to illustrate the story written by Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald, "President Carter, Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.""

By Richard Asinof
Posted 8/23/21
The story about heroin trafficking in Afghanistan was interwoven into the geopolitical strategy of the Carter and Reagan administrations. During the last 20 years, the Taliban controlled 80 percent of the flow of heroin in Europe and Asia, financed by Pakistan banks, and apparently carried out with some level of knowledge of the U.S. military and the CIA, according to two authors, Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald.
How do the apparent money laundering operations of banks under the control of Russian oligarchs factor into the Taliban operations in pushing supplies of heroin in Europe and Asia? Would the efforts to legalize illicit drugs in the U.S. cripple the narcotics empires of drug traffickers? If and when the R.I. General Assembly reconvenes this fall, will legislators take up the bills to legalize recreational marijuana? What are the metrics about how COVID-19 has influenced the rate of drug overdoses in Rhode Island? What are the sources of dark money funding the anti-vaccination and anti-masking campaigns?
With the onset of tropical storm Henri, it is difficult to break through all the news coverage around the storm’s impact and the potential for downed power lines and flooded conditions, the way that extreme weather mobilizes almost the entire bandwidth of our attention span when it comes to the news, often in breathless fashion.
Still, the connection between the Sackler bankruptcy hearings in federal court, the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, and the role that the Taliban is playing in the production and sale of heroin throughout Europe and Asia demand that Rhode Islanders pay attention to the continuing overdose epidemic and the ways that a different, harm reduction approach, can move the needle toward prevention and recovery, not profit and blame.


PROVIDENCE – It may be a bit risky to write this story; by reading it, you risk becoming complicit in understanding that there are suppressed facts about the U.S. involvement with drug trafficking in Afghanistan, specifically about the production of opium and refining it into heroin, run by the Taliban and allegedly financed by the Pakistani intelligence service, its military and its banks, that has functioned as the financial linchpin of the 20-year war in Afghanistan waged by the U.S., far different from all sorts of false policy and political goals that have been used to rationalize our military presence.

It might be wiser to follow the directive of Irish poet Seamus Heaney, who in a poem about the troubles in Northern Ireland, offered the advice: whatever you say, say nothing.

So, yes, writing this story may prove to be risky; my best protection is having you read the story and then share it.

As detailed in PART One, “Connecting the Sacklers, Afghanistan and addiction,” ConvergenceRI offered “a history lesson for those who still pretend to know nothing, recall nothing, and deny everything.”

The “I do not recall” approach by the Sackler family is more than just a legal strategy; it is a refusal to take responsibility for their greed in making billions of dollars in pushing and pimping OxyContin, a highly addictive prescription painkiller. Bankuptcy appears to be a deliberate corporate strategy to evade legal and financial accountability for their actions.

R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha remains one of nine state attorneys general still seeking to hold the Sacklers accountable.

The willful “blindness” of the Sackler family strikes a resonant chord with the similar “I see nothing” strategy of the U.S. military and the State Department in ignoring the heroin trafficking business of the Taliban, a tradition of corruption that dates back hundreds of years to the British East India Company in pursuing a global monopoly in pushing opium.

In PART Two, ConvergenceRI conducted an interview with Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald, authors of Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story, as a way to better understand the history of drug trafficking of heroin by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Stephen Kinzer, the author of The Brothers, about John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles, had recommended that ConvergenceRI speak with Gould and Fitzgerald. [They are also the authors of Crossing Zero: The Af/Pak War at the Turning Point of the American Empire.]

In their recent article, “President Carter, Do You Swear To Tell the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth?” Gould and Fitzgerald lay out the historical framework detailing the strategy of Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, to launch a secret program, six months before the Russians invaded Afghanistan, in order to draw “the Russians into the Afghan trap.” [See link to story below.]

Here is the ConvergenceRI interview with Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald, talking about the role of heroin trafficking as a geopolitical tactic of intelligence services in what Rudyard Kipling once described as “the great game” of espionage.

ConvergenceRI: Do you have any questions for me, about ConvergenceRI?
GOULD: What brings you to this particular type of story?

ConvergenceRI: I am the editor and publisher of ConvergenceRI, which is a digital news platform published weekly every Monday morning, launched in September of 2013, that covers the convergence of health, science, innovation, technology, research, education, and community, attempting to break down the silos and report on stories across the artificial barriers, the silos, that exist in most news coverage.

I have covered extensively the opioid epidemic, with a focus on the recovery community’s efforts to fashion a different approach around harm reduction.

I have been covering the ongoing legal bankruptcy proceedings against the Sacklers, the family that owns the privately held Purdue Pharma, and their efforts to preserve their wealth by evading future liability from civil litigation.

It struck me what was missing from the stories about what was occurring in Afghanistan, as the U.S. military prepares to leave the country after 20 years of war, was he fact that the Taliban run a huge heroin trafficking operation, which is the basis of their finances, and have done so for years. The Taliban was producing 80 percent of all the heroin supply for Europe and Asia, controlling the growing of opium and its refinement into heroin.

But nowhere has that become part of the story about what went wrong in Afghanistan. There appears to be a similar kind of blindness, if that it the right term, regarding the foreign policy and strategy, about the reasons why we got into Afghanistan, and the role that the CIA had played in the early 1980s in supporting the insurgency against the Russian invasion.

The way I initially found out about the State Department/CIA’s involvement was that when I lived in Washington, D.C., I was the editor of Environmental Action Magazine, and I had housemate who worked with the State Department/CIA in Pakistan, who was responsible for funneling weapons and money and who knows what else to the insurgent forces, including Osama Bin Laden in those days.
GOULD: What year would that have been?

ConvergenceRI: That would have been 1981, 1982, 1983. He was back in the states in 1984.
GOULD: Those were very hot years in that arena.

ConvergenceRI: I had reached out to Stephen Kinzer, because he has written a lot about the world that the CIA and the State Department had played in pushing an agenda overthrowing of governments, both in his book, Overthrow, and again, in The Brothers, looking at the strategic policies of the Dulles brothers.

I thought he might serve as an excellent source for this story. And he, in turn, referred me to you. So, that is how I got to from here to there, and here again.
GOULD: Right, right.

FITZGERALD: You know, the whole drug thing is at the core of our new book, the story about the assassination of Adolph Dubs, the American Ambassador to Afghanistan, back in 1979.

GOULD: We got the impression from your note that you were trying to get more details about what happened back in the 1980s.

ConvergenceRI: What is the title of the new book?
GOULD: Valediction. It is actually a memoir. But it does lay out of the history associated the drug trade’s effects on  Ambassador Dubs trying to move the whole issue of the Soviet Union and the outcome of trying to stabilize the area.

The drug issue was really an underlying issue all along, but it has never been talked about.

ConvergenceRI: Why has it never been talked about? Is it blindness? Is it because too many people are making too much money?
GOULD: It is notorious for basically financing the black projects for the intelligence community.

That is an underlying problem of the whole nature of illegal drugs. That is the BCCI [the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, headquartered in Karachi and London], you know, the Pakistani bank, which was the bank that basically was managing all the drug money during that era. They were the money launderers.

FITZGERALD: They weren’t the only ones. They were the best known ones. It got to be so lucrative that so many people, at a high level, knew about it, and they just were able to quash any investigation. There were a couple of good books that were written about BCCI.

ConvergenceRI: I am somewhat familiar with those. When I go back into the history, when you look at Vietnam, and you look at the CIA and Air America and the transportation of refined heroin coming out of Laos, you have during the 1980s, in parallel, all the investments that were being made in the Contras were all funded by cocaine trafficking, apparently underwritten by the CIA and the U.S. government.
FITZGERALD: There was a major shift at the end of the Vietnam War for the drug industry from Southeast Asia to Southcentral Asia.

That was a major event that occurred. I am sure you have seen the movie, “American Gangster.” It showed the tail end of U.S. involvement there.

There was a movie made back in the 1980s, “Air America,” the guy who wrote that screenplay wrote it up beautifully, and then the studio bought it, paid him a million dollars, and told him, “We want you to walk away from it.”

They turned into a Robert Downey [romantic] fantasy with Mel Gibson.

So, there was very high-level stuff from the very beginning that has been going on in terms of [tamping] down on the real story about what is going on.

A couple of French journalists, back in the 1970s, wrote a very detailed book about how the drug trade was moving from Southeast Asia to Southcentral Asia. I am going to get some quotes; I will be right back.

GOULD: What I think, in terms of our analysis at this point, the drugs, basically, is about finance. No matter what, that is basically the purpose. And, of course, drug addiction is kind of a downstream effect.

You have to sell the drugs to get the money. And obviously, that is what happened.

But I think it is really the U.S. military role in basically facilitating all of the [drug trafficking] activities. That has been going on now for 20 years in Afghanistan.

That is part of the problem, that the [drug trafficking of heroin] is a function of the U.S. military.

ConvergenceRI: Can you assume that the U.S. military at the highest levels knew all about this?
GOULD: I cannot say for the record that yes, everyone knew. That I do not know. But the fact that… Paul brought up the movie, “American Gangster,” that was exactly what the point of the whole film was about. You know, that [Frank Lucas, the main character] had a contact in the military, which was helping him get the drugs he needed. That was the level that we are talking about.

How high up the food chain [did it go]? [Was it] on a need-to-know basis? I imagine that there were quite a few people who didn’t want to know so they can’t be held accountable.

FITZGERALD: We talked to Chuck Cogan, on a couple of occasions, who ran the operations for the CIA from 1979 to 1984 [serving as chief of the Near East and South Asian Division in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations], and we asked him about the drug trafficking. He said, of course, there were drugs there; everyone knew that there were drugs there.

Cogan said that that wasn’t their goal, and that wasn’t what they were directly involved in. The Pakistani ISI [intelligence services] were the ones that were actually running the drugs in the 1980s.

They set up a trucking company, actually. A correspondent from TIME magazine who covered these wars told us, he said, “Planes were never empty, flying in and out.” They would bring the guns in and they would fly out the heroin.

GOULD: That was one of the functions of the military.

FITZGERALD: There was a woman, Mary McGrory, who was a columnist for The Boston Globe.

Early on, after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, she wrote a column for The Boston Globe, in which she said: “What is the United States doing supporting all these drug dealers in Afghanistan?” Because that is what these so-called freedom fighters are really all about.

And that was one of the few commentaries that was ever written about it, and they started to call her out, saying that she wasn’t in possession of her senses, and all kinds of things.

When the boom came down, it came down on us, too. We did a documentary in 1981, and we showed it at the Parker House, and some of the local media and some of the international media were there, too.

And, Theodore Eliot, who was the Ambassador to Afghanistan from the United States, from 1972 until 1978, he came to the event, and he was then the dean of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University, and he basically said, “You are not allowed; who gave you permission to say this? Who gave you permission to actually show this part of the story? You are not allowed to do that.”

Right in front of everybody, he embarrassed himself.

GOULD: That was at the end of 1981.

FITZGERALD: If any journalist came out and talked about anything other than the official story about what was really going on, which was basically a fabrication. Then, you know, you were not allowed to profit from your journalism any more.

GOULD: The drugs were always viewed as secondary issues, which was very convenient for keeping a secret, or for keeping it as something not to focus on, as Chuck Cogan said. They knew all about the drugs. But they weren’t personally involved during the Soviet occupation.

But that, of course, wasn’t the case in Vietnam, during the Vietnam War, and it certainly wasn’t the case during the last 20 years in Afghanistan.

ConvergenceRI: What questions, as a journalist, need to be asked as we move forward? What investigations need to be done? What should journalists be focusing on?
GOULD: You are dealing with a problem and a level of corruption that is so total, that actually, the drug issue hasn’t really come up, partly because there are so many other complete misrepresentations. And that is part of what our research has been about, being able to track the reality of how the Soviets ended up in Afghanistan, and the role that the Carter administration played.

Yes, so the drug aspect was part of it, there is definitely evidence, in fact, we can send you a paper that we wrote last year, about the Carter administration’s active role, in guaranteeing that the Soviets were going to end up in Afghanistan, and ultimately, in what Zbigniew Brzezinski described as “their own Vietnam.”

The drug aspect is in there, too. It is the story about the Carter official who was trying to control the drugs, and was basically told by the Carter administration that he was not allowed to tinker with any of the issues around drugs. And, he was shot.

So, you have that kind of evidence, where there were officials who did not realize about what some of the underlying objectives were.

Those issues never seemed like the front-end issues. Because the politics, and the military-industrial complex, sucked up all the attention.

FITZGERALD: What you have to realize is that the British East India Company had a monopoly on the opium that they were shipping to China in 1775, before the United States was even a country. The [British] built their empire, Hong Kong was basically established as a banking empire to launder the drug money.

But the fact was, it wasn’t illegal at the time. And even when it became illegal, it wasn’t illegal because it was immoral, that they were destroying people’s lives, it was because they couldn’t tax it.

That is the way that the DEA was setting it up under President Nixon. You had this whole evolution of the anti-drug people, the war on drugs and the creation of the Drug Enforcement Agency under Nixon, you got this whole process at work, it is like the evolution of an idea, using the cover of morality and the whole chemical thing that drug addiction does to people, but it is really about business, and it is a big business. And it is been around for a long time.

GOULD: The drugs were used to finance black projects, completely with dark money.


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