That time the CIA drove a drug abuse non-profit into existential crisis

That time the CIA drove a drug abuse non-profit into existential crisis

Even as evidence of Agency involvement in global drug trade mounted in the ’70s, the CIA insisted that they weren’t “contributing to the problem”

Written by
Edited by JPat Brown

In the May 1971 edition of the left-leaning Ramparts magazine appeared an article unflattering to the United States government and, in particular, the Central Intelligence Agency entitled “The New Opium War.”

Tying the Agency and the U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia directly to the growing heroin crisis at that time - a problem half a million addicts strong and counting - the piece caused a stir alongside other similar allegations being brought at the same time. An underlined copy found in the CIA’s CREST database highlights the Agency’s appearances in the narrative, which includes their relationship with the Laotian opium growers …

their protection of opium-carrying aircraft …

and the American position as consumer …

Another item that found its way into the archive was a letter sent on April 28, 1971 (presumably the publication was released in advance of May), written in response to the Ramparts piece. It came from the Westside Drug Planning Council, a group involved with drug abuse programs in San Francisco. It’s reaction was bleak.

The group called into question the utility of its efforts if the accusations - that the CIA and the government generally were participating in the drug trafficking now ravaging the U.S. West Coast - were true. “[W]hat has us nearly paralyzed is the apparently ludicrous position we are in,” the authors wrote, viewing with skepticism their good intentions and earnest efforts in the face of news that the very government assigned to protect the populace were in fact participating in its demise.

“The repetive [sic] meaninglessness of a Sisyphean labor faces us starkly,” they said. “We can’t cope, and we believe the tax-payer deserves a better return on his dollar.”

The following year, after famed poet Allen Ginsberg made similar allegations against the Agency on the Dick Cavett show, the agency response remained that of innocence, and to this day, the CIA has denied its responsibility for its role in the drug market.

Read the full letter and article below.

Image via Public Intelligence