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        by Jim Hargrove,

"Fueled by expanding drug trafficking rings and ineffectual or corrupt governments, the world's production of opium has risen dramatically in recent years and is pushing up addiction rates for heroin, according to the U.S. drug
policy chief," wrote William Branigin in last Thursday's Washington Post ["Dramatic Rise In Production Of Opium Cited," p. A16].  Branigin devoted some space to "... Southeast Asia, which produces 60 percent of the world's opium. Of that, the CIA figures show, 92 percent comes from Burma, the world's biggest producer."

Burma, in the heart of S.E. Asia's "Golden Triangle" of opium production and heroin refining, has long been associated with the narcotics trade.  But, as the Post reporter noted, "The increase in Burmese opium production in recent years coincides with the takeover in Burma of the State Law and Order Restoration Council, a military junta known as SLORC."

Branigin also quoted U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey on the question of SLORC involvement in narcotics production: "‘The jury is still out on how much SLORC is involved in drug production,' McCaffrey said. ‘But we can say that the drug production is up, not down.' He said the junta's ‘dismal' human rights record is an obstacle to U.S. cooperation in trying to reduce opium cultivation, which is carried out largely by hill tribes in remote parts of the country."

Tragically, there are now some indications that the Burmese government's "dismal human rights record" was no obstacle to our Central Intelligence Agency's efforts to help it EXPAND local opium cultivation.  In "People of the Opiate: Burma's dictatorship of drugs," [_The Nation_, Dec. 16, 1996] Dennis Bernstein and Leslie Kean tell how CIA agents apparently helped the brutal SLORC government "just say yes" to opium production.  Here are a few excerpts from the disturbing new article:

[QUOTE ON--The Nation, Dec. 16, 1996]

Consider the case of U Saw Lu, a revered leader in the mountainous poppy-growing region of the Wa territory, one of many ethnic regions in Burma. Lu, a Wa prince and chairman of the United Wa State Anti-Narcotics and Development Organization, has waged a risky opium eradication campaign on behalf of his people since the SLORC seized power in a 1988 coup.

In January 1992, after U Saw Lu informed the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration about the drug trafficking activities of a regional SLORC intelligence chief and a local drug warlord, he found himself face to face with a torture squad. [Horrible description of Lu's 56-day torture omitted.]

According to Benjamin Min, Lu continued to work on opium eradication although he was warned during his torture to terminate any relationship with the D.E.A. In 1993, Lu gave D.E.A. special agent Richard Horn a document titled "The Bondage of Opium: The Agony of the Wa People, a Proposal and Plea."

In his plea, Lu outlined specific steps that were needed to promote opium eradication among the Wa farmers, who provide 80 percent of Burma's opium crop. The Wa, an ethnic minority of 1 million, live in a remote area of Burma's Shan State where there are no roads, no educational system, no medical clinics and electricity for less than 10 percent of families. Even though the Wa farmers grow one of the globe's most sought-after crops, they remain among the world's poorest peoples. Lu knew that any hope of change had to include a serious plan for crop substitution. "Like the heroin addicts that result from the opium, we too are in bondage. We are searching for help to break that bondage," he wrote in his proposal to the D.E.A.

Communications between the D.E.A.'s Rangoon office and higher officials in Washington reveal that agent [Richard] Horn had every intention of working with the Wa people to implement Lu's proposal. But for reasons that remain unclear, the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department had other ideas. D.E.A. Sensitive e-mails state that former C.I.A. chief of station Arthur Brown "destroyed this project in one swift move." According to the e-mails, Brown delivered an early version of the Wa proposal -- signed by Lu -- to SLORC military intelligence officer Col. Kyaw Thein. When Thein threatened to pick up Lu once more and teach him a lesson in respect, Horn was able to intervene temporarily. In Horn's view, the C.I.A. destroyed a unique  opportunity for a dramatic drug eradication program in the poppy fields of the world's biggest heroin producer. (Horn, now a D.E.A. group supervisor in New Orleans, is suing the C.I.A., claiming it illegally surveilled his residence in Rangoon to gain information about his plans, which the C.I.A. went on to foil.)

In September 1993, Horn was forced out of the country by the State Department under pressure from the C.I.A. The plans of the Wa prince and his chief deputy, Benjamin Min, were crushed. A year later, Min risked his life to take the Wa Proposal and Plea to policy-makers in Washington. Before he left, the SLORC hatched a series of unsuccessful assassination plots. In his sworn testimony to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which won him asylum in the United States, Min states, "Their aim was to assassinate the Wa leaders, specifically U Saw Lu and myself as his chief deputy."


The entire lengthy article from The Nation can be read or obtained without charge at the following url:

I'll ask again what is becoming a depressing question: Is there a mainstream news agency in the United States with the courage to take time out from pummeling Gary Webb and to honestly investigate the role of elements of the CIA and State Department in promoting the worldwide narcotics trade? To date, I've received this one-word answer in perhaps a dozen different e-mail messages: "No."

Too bad.  Unless Dennis Bernstein and Leslie Kean invented the story in The Nation out of whole cloth, it sure appears that some current D.E.A. staffers are willing to talk to reporters.
Jim Hargrove
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