Is the CIA helping itself to the Afghan heroin harvest?

Letting slip the drugs of war
Is the CIA helping itself to the Afghan heroin harvest?
Nick Possum

October 22, 2007

... Since the fall of the Taliban regime, which had seriously honoured an agreement to close down the trade, heroin production in Afghanistan has surged. In 2006 there was a 50 per cent increase in the poppy harvest and it created a new record for world production, my contact in the UN Office on Drugs and Crime told me. Afghanistan now accounts for 92 per cent of the world’s illicit production. She expected it would take another leap upwards this year.

So where is the stuff ending up? So far, not in Australia, but that’s only a matter of time. Once again, the streets of Western Europe and Russia are awash with the stuff....

Now, there’s also a freelance parallel universe of 'special forces’ and 'security contractors’ – created by the neocons for their War on Terror – doing everything from assassinations to 'interrogation’. No mainstream politician wants to know what these people are doing in their name.

For security reasons these organizations are rigidly compartmentalised. Everything is on a need-to-know basis; "Don’t ask, don’t tell" is the rule. When (somewhere in the world) a Learjet from one of the CIA’s front companies rolls into the hanger at a US military airbase you just say "Hi, Raul" to the pilot and forget you saw the manacled guy being frogmarched down the steps, wearing a blindfold and earmuffs. You certainly don’t ask what those big black duffle bags might contain.

And, of course, this vast bureaucracy has a limitless appetite for money – over and above the official budget, itself often partly concealed. We’re talking about black, untraceable money. Money in quantities you can’t achieve by any means other than drugs. We’re talking hundreds of billions.

I read Amnesty International’s 2006 report on the CIA’s 'rendition’ flights – Below the radar: Secret flights to torture and disappearance – and my suspicion deepened. Officially available flight details for known aircraft of the CIA’s clandestine fleet combined with observations by Amnesty’s global network of plane spotters reveal that these aircraft fly too often, and touch down far more often, than can be explained by the rendition of the hapless suspects they were carrying at the time. They often stopped at US air bases where the local authorities have no control over what gets loaded or unloaded.

I was musing on all this when a contact in the US emailed, drawing my attention to an 11 October piece in the New York Times.

"The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, has ordered an unusual internal inquiry into the work of the agency’s inspector general, whose aggressive investigations of the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs and other matters have created resentment among agency operatives.

"A small team working for General Hayden is looking into the conduct of the agency’s watchdog office, which is led by Inspector General John L. Helgerson. Current and former government officials said the review had caused anxiety and anger in Mr. Helgerson’s office and aroused concern on Capitol Hill that it posed a conflict of interest."

It seemed that the General Hayden’s investigation is particularly focused on complaints that the inspector general had not acted as a fair and impartial judge of CIA ops but was instead conducting a crusade against participants in controversial detention programs.

"Any move by the agency’s director to examine the work of the inspector general would be unusual, if not unprecedented, and would threaten to undermine the independence of the office, some current and former officials say.

"A CIA spokesman strongly defended the inquiry … saying General Hayden supported the work of the inspector general’s office and had 'accepted the vast majority of its findings’.

"'His only goal is to help this office, like any office at the agency, do its vital work even better’, said Paul Gimigliano, the spokesman."

Yeah, I’ll bet. Given that inspector general is appointed by the president and reports to both the director of the CIA and to Congress, one would have thought that he had every right to check up on what was going on in the CIA’s gulag archipelago.

But maybe that wasn’t where he’d trespassed. Maybe, just maybe, John Helgerson, in the course of auditing the whole dirty rendition process had begun to have the same suspicions as I about an even dirtier secret.

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