This contribution is based largely on the book The Politics of Heroin (CIA Complicity in the Global Drugs Trade) by Alfred W. McCoy. It deals with the period around World War II, the US state’s use of the Mafia domestically, its use in the invasion of Italy and the subsequent explosion of heroin production up to the late 1950s. McCoy’s is a brave book whose detailed research put him in danger both in the 'field' and back home in the USA. If anything, the analysis in the book is somewhat understated and this makes it all the more effective.
In 1980, US President George Bush Senior, ex-head of the secret services, declared his 'War on Drugs' when the CIA were up to their necks in the drugs business through a whole mosaic of alliances and the protection that they afforded it. Nixon had already declared a 'war on drugs' in 1972 and Reagan after him. Clinton followed with his own expanded version in 1996 and then Bush Junior in 2002. Through all these wars on drugs, opium, hashish, coca and their derivatives, as well as synthetic stimulants (amphetamines, MDMA) increasingly traded like major global commodities according to the laws of the market. This in itself is nothing new. Early European merchants and colonial adventurers, including the British, Dutch, Spanish and French, discovered opium’s potential in the seventeenth century.
More recently, in the 40 years of the Cold War (up to 1989), the USA’s prohibition on drugs went hand in hand with using and protecting major drug dealers in the 'fight against communism'. Through the 50s to the 80s, the Central Intelligence Agency (created by Truman in 1947) used tribal armies that under its protection became major drug lords in Burma, Laos, Afghanistan and Nicaragua. The financing of these armies through the drugs trade relieved the CIA of paying for their costly upkeep (this was in contrast to French imperialism’s role in the drug trade after the war which was much more 'hands on' in the trade itself – see below).
The drugs trade expanded across Asia, Central and Latin America involving Corsican, Italian, nationalist Chinese, Honduran, Haitian, Panamanian and Pakistani gangsters in the CIA 'enforced' non-enforcement areas; generally speaking this went hand in hand with the expansion of the arms trade. After the CIA’s intervention in Burma opium production in this country increased 40-fold; in Afghanistan it was up 460-fold a year or so ago. In 2000, the CIA’s main covert battlegrounds – and thus of the greatest interest to US imperialism – were Afghanistan, Burma and Laos; in that order the three leading opium producers in the world.
In the late 1940s, heroin addiction looked like falling to insignificant levels in the USA which wasn’t surprising given years of world war. Today its prisons are full of drug-related offenders. Five to 10% of all HIV cases are reported to be down to intravenous drug use. The prohibition of drugs, like that of alcohol, facilitated the expansion of the industry and the expansion of corruption where even 'war on drugs' money was channelled into production in some cases. Local suppression turned into global stimulus. The consequences of increased prices and no reduction in demand could only encourage increased production which is pushed back and forth across the globe but always expanding to meet demand. Prohibition has been a major factor in turning the drugs industry into one of the world’s biggest, larger than textiles, steel and automobiles. According to a 1997 UN report “highly centralised” transnational crime groups, with nearly 4 million members (or “associates”) world-wide control most of the drug trade within which police and state corruption and protection are extensive. Despite all these 'wars' on drugs, US diplomats and the CIA have been involved in the drugs trade in what McCoy calls “coincidental” complicity, condoning, concealment and active involvement in transportation.
The USA and the Mafia
World War Two had seen the Mafia in Sicily smashed by Mussolini. Surviving only in outposts in the mountainous areas and in Marseilles, the Corsican Mafia was weakened by their collaboration with the Gestapo. Both these structures, and their drugs businesses, were revived and given new life by the US from the beginning of the Cold War as imperialism reacted to the new realities of American and Russian rivalry. In the 1930s, the 'new guard' of Salvatore C. Luciana, aka, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, turned the American Mafia into a centralised, relatively peaceful national cartel ready to take over the prostitution and narcotics rackets, including the Don’s once-forbidden drug, heroin. Luciano was arrested and convicted in the late 1930s Mafia clampdown. In 1942, in order to exert control over the New York waterfront, the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) approached Mafia boss Joseph “Joe Socks” Lanza, also a union agent, for his help. Lanza arranged a meeting with an ONI go-between and Luciano who was residing in Albany prison. Apart from helping with the imposition of domestic repression on the docks and on dockworkers, Luciano also helped in the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, providing maps, charts and Mafia contacts in the region. ONI operatives reported that the Mafia were “extremely cooperative”.
In the invasion of Sicily local mafiosi were responsible for the rapid speed of General Patton’s advance through the mined roads into Palermo. Further, there is no doubt about the relationship between the US military occupation of Italy and the Mafia, whose representatives were selected as mayors by the Allied Military Government (AMGOT). The commander of this force, Colonel Charles Poletti, appointed Luciano’s lieutenant and New York gangster Vito Genovese (now living in Naples and doing very well after working with the fascists) to assist the US war effort. Genovese was soon using military transports to move all sorts of contraband goods around, reminiscent of Milo Minderbinder in Catch 22. In the meantime Luciano and his cohorts were beginning to integrate all the aspects of the global heroin trade.
In 1944, in the German-occupied north, over half a million workers were on strike in Turin despite vicious Gestapo repression. The concerns of US (and British) imperialism were this threat from the working class, but also the Stalinist turn being taken in Italy which, if established, would give Russia an important asset not least through its access to the Mediterranean. Churchill halted the Allied advance to the north and in objective collaboration with the SS against the Italian workers, allowed them to “stew in their own juice”. Subduing the workers was important: at a workers’ rally in Villalba in the south, the US’s Mafia allies fired into the crowd, wounding 19. The Mafia was used to break up workers’ assemblies and they were raised to their full power as an adjunct to the western bloc's war effort. In 1946, Luciano was released from prison and deported to Italy as a Thank You, free to rebuild the heroin trade from the Middle East to Europe and to the US via Corsican and Cuban Mafia connections, without suffering a single major arrest or a single significant seizure. The number of heroin addicts in America rose from 20,000 in 1945 to 150,000 in 1965.
The protection of the bourgeois political system was essential for the gangsters involved in the expansion of the heroin business. The Mafia controlled politics in Sicily by the 1950s with US approval. In Marseille, the Corsican drug gangs were protected by local politicians and the CIA and this alliance was in place when they began processing heroin for the US market.
Bourgeois politics was once again turning drug addiction into vast profits. The Corsican syndicates won their power and the CIA conjointly supported them in Marseille, particularly in their efforts to repress the working class and control the waterfront. Alongside overt repression and muscle the Corsicans also excelled in setting up the laboratories to process heroin. After direct meetings with the Corsican and Italian Mafias and under the benign aegis of the CIA, the French Connection was established and the USA’s heroin supply was manufactured in Marseille.
France: an unholy alliance against the workers
The French fascists had used the Corsican Mafia to fight and disrupt workers’ demonstrations during the 1930s. In 1934, at a dockworkers’ demonstration in Marseille, members of the Corsican gangs fired into the crowd putting a number of workers into hospital. The Gestapo used them during the war; the CIA paid them to break strikes in 1947 and 1950. Specialists in heroin manufacture and international smuggling, and with their alliance with the Italian Mafia, the Corsicans in Marseille became the centre of operations for the export, mainly to the USA, of high-grade stuff. They had an informal alliance with the De Gaulle government after World War Two, whereby Marseille became the world’s largest heroin producer and France remained largely drug free. A significant number of the Corsican underworld sided with the Resistance (while others were serious Gestapo informants). The French Resistance was fractionalised and never amounted to much more than a nuisance to the German occupation – despite Hollywood’s fantasies. In fact the pin-prick activities of the Resistance facilitated the most cold-blooded retributions. The Resistance movement was split between the Stalinists and the non-Stalinist umbrella group the Mouvements Unis de Resistance (MUR) and there were constant squabbles between these two factions of the imperialist war effort, not least through dancing to the tunes of their rival imperialist masters. The Corsican Mafia were largely involved with the latter group. Within weeks of the end of the war, the Marseilles Resistance was controlled by “criminals and undisciplined young hoodlums”.
The French Socialist and Communist parties remained allied just after the war and the Compagnies Republicaines de Security (CRS) police force was set up to take on the underworld and their activities. A high percentage of CRS officers were recruited from the Stalinist Resistance fractions.
In 1947, clandestine activity by the CIA helped topple the Stalinists from power in Marseille and the Socialist and Communist parties split. The rightist elements took power, immediately raising transport prices and thus provoking a strike. Workers all over France were suffering pay cuts, even in relation to the depression of the 30s. They had to pay more tax and in some cases were literally starving. Tens of thousands of workers demonstrated in Marseille and attacked the gangster-controlled districts which resulted in a sheet-metal worker being shot dead. Despite police witnesses to the shooting the Corsican Mafia perpetrators were freed.
At national level the Stalinists were still participating in the government and were directly responsible for labour discipline in the work of reconstruction. The working class was beginning to grow weary of the CP’s support for draconian austerity and they were losing their union posts as a result. A US State Department analyst reported in June 1946, that the CP leadership “could no longer hold back the rank and file”. By November 1947, three million French workers were on strike, overtly rejecting the Communist Party. But at the same time, the US feared that the CP could take over the French state on the back of this movement, giving Russian imperialism an important advantage. Using the Socialist Party, the CIA moved in to help break the strike (at the same time the CIA was using the $400 million given to it by the Truman government to fight both the working class and the Stalinists in Turkey, Italy and Greece). It was also using ex-Nazis, many of them war criminals, to further their imperialist interests. Both the ex-Gestapo and the Corsican gangsters became US allies in the Cold War.
In addition, US imperialism was using the American Federation of Labour (AFL) which had its own clandestine networks in Europe. The French trade union Force Ouvriere (FO) was set up with CIA/AFL/CIO support. This effort was also supported by the USA’s Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union led by an ex-communist union official.
De Gaulle was too independent for US liking and secretly gave support to the Socialists who took on the workers along with tens of thousands of police, reservists and troops. But Marseille, given its importance as a US beachhead for the Marshall Plan and for routing US munitions to the French in Indo-China, was a crucial battleground. The Socialists had purged CP elements from the CRS and once this had happened the attacks on the workers increased. The CIA, working with its contacts in the SP, sent its agents along with “psych-ops” personnel to Marseille. Here they met up with the Corsican Mafia and supplied them with money and guns to take on the 80,000 workers still on strike. A number of the latter were killed and many injured; the forces of counter-revolution prevailed and the strike was beaten. The scene was set for the further rise of the Corsican Mafia and their Marseille heroin laboratories flourished while at the same time the Italian Mafia was looking for a sure supply of the stuff.
In the 1950s, during a Marseille dock strike (the conditions of the working class in France had got worse if anything), the CIA helped to bring Italian scabs in and worked closely with the Corsican gangsters in order to break the strike. The Socialists took full municipal power and the Corsican syndicates were partners-in-crime with them, acting as muscle, bodyguards and campaign workers. The first heroin lab opened in 1951 and the high-grade powder (it had fallen to less than 3% during the war) was exported to the US and distributed by the American Godfathers – tons of it.
New opium wars in Indochina
At the outbreak of World War Two, French imperialism launched a programme for a massive boost to opium production in French Indo-China. At the end of the war, the French opium imperative contributed to the 25 years of Laotian war, feeding local wars and various inter-tribal rivalries. French-run opium dens (officially called “detoxification centres”) in Indo-China were being taxed to the point where the opium trade accounted for 15% of all French colonial revenues in 1938. The British and Dutch were also onto this game while making their own pronouncements about their 'wars on drugs' and their “commitments to eradication”.
As stated above the CIA tended to use drug production indirectly (when it wasn’t flying it around) through non-enforcement, protection and concealment. The French military and secret services were much more directly involved however. The highest levels of the French Expeditionary Force and the SDECE intelligence service were involved in financing covert operations from the drugs business. French “Operation X” in Indo-China ran from 1951 to 1954 and involved buying up large quantities of opium, transporting and selling it.
Following a six-week tour of Indo-China, CIA agent Colonel E. G. Landsdale found that the French Expeditionary Force under the orders of the commander-in-chief, General Salan, had bought up the 1953 opium harvest. He cabled Washington about the extent of French military involvement and the reply came “Don’t you have anything else to do? .... drop your investigation”.
French drug money didn’t help in the end – au contraire. In 1954, the French staked all on a single decisive battle against the Viet Minh in the Dien Bien Phu valley. This was supposed to be a trap for the latter, wiping out their forces and preventing an invasion of Laos. But the mountain tribes, cheated for years by the French over drug money, had their revenge by assisting the Viet Minh, carefully transporting and placing its artillery, springing the trap and raining fire on the French forces below. The crucial French fortifications were shattered and so, to a large extent, was the French colonial empire along with them.
During 1968 in France, Jaques Foccart, De Gaulle’s intelligence advisor organised 5000 men, many of them Corsican and French gangsters, into the Service d’Action Civique (SAC). Hundreds of them followed French politicians around for protection and the SDECE used them for “dirty” jobs. They were protected by safe conduct passes and many of them were involved in heroin trafficking. The role of the SDECE itself in heroin smuggling was revealed in 1971, when a Colonel Paul Fournier, a top SDECE chief, was indicted in New Jersey for conspiring to smuggle 45k of the powder into the US along with other SDECE agents.
The activities of the democratic powers in the drugs business show where the real power lies in the capitalist state and what are the forces behind its imperialist enterprises. Not the elected politicians and parliaments which are just fronts in the integrated state capitalist process, but in the military, the secret services and the forces of repression of both the right and the left. Their hypocrisy is there for all to see. Lies, terror and murder are the daily bread and butter of the ruling class and the bourgeoisie’s plunge into the global drugs business and its use of the filth that surround it demonstrates the decay and decomposition of the whole capitalist system.