Alfred W. McCoy

Alfred William McCoy (born June 8, 1945) is the J.R.W. Smail Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.[1] McCoy has been recognized as "one of the world’s leading historians of Southeast Asia and an expert on Philippine political history, opium trafficking in the Golden Triangle, underworld crime syndicates, and international political surveillance."[1]


McCoy graduated from the Kent School in 1964. He earned his BA from Columbia College, and his PhD in Southeast Asian history from Yale University in 1977.[1][2]

Academic career

McCoy served on the faculty of the University of New South Wales for eleven years.[1] In 1989, he joined University of Wisconsin-Madison.[1]

Congressional testimony

As a Ph.D candidate in Southeast Asian history at Yale, McCoy testified before the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee on June 2, 1972 and "accused American officials of condoning and even cooperating with corrupt elements in Southeast Asia's illegal drug trade out of political and military considerations."[3] One of his major charges was that South Vietnam's President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, Vice President Nguyễn Cao Kỳ, and Prime Minister Trần Thiện Khiêm led a narcotics ring with ties to the Corsican mafia, the Trafficante crime family in Florida, and other high level military officials in South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand.[3] Those implicated by McCoy included Laotian Generals Ouane Rattikone and Vang Pao and South Vietnamese Generals Đăng Văn Quang and Ngô Dzu.[3] He told the subcommittee that these military officials facilitated the distribution of heroin to American troops in Vietnam and addicts in the United States.[3] According to McCoy, the Central Intelligence Agency chartered Air America aircraft and helicopters in northern Laos to transport opium harvested by their "tribal mercenaries".[3] He also accused United States Ambassador to Laos G. McMurtrie Godley of blocking the assignment of Bureau of Narcotics officials to Laos in order to maintain the Laotian government's cooperation in military and political matters.[3] A spokesman for the United States Department of State responded to the allegations: "We are aware of these charges but we have been unable to find any evidence to substantiate them, much less proof."[3]

The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia

McCoy reiterated similar charges in his 1972 book The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia published by Harper and Row.[4] He stated that the Central Intelligence Agency was knowingly involved in the production of heroin in the Golden Triangle of Burma, Thailand, and Laos.[4]

The principal thesis of McCoy's work is that organized crime in both America and Europe collaborated in a wide-ranging conspiracy to establish new centers of opium production, heroin refining and distribution in Southeast Asia. This collaboration occurred following the effective suppression of the heroin trade in America during World War II and the subsequent decision to stamp out opium growing by Turkey which had been one of the main sources of raw opium. McCoy said that the collaboration was facilitated by the Central Intelligence Agency and by the unstable political situation created by the ongoing Vietnam War.[5]

McCoy said that the French SDECE military intelligence agency during the First Indochina War (1947–1954) was in need of money for its covert operations, and that its officers contacted opium producers in the Golden Triangle, and set up an international system of smuggling aided by intelligence and other aid from SDECE. This system persisted past the war, and became the French Connection.[6]

McCoy asserts that the "French Connection" conspiracy arose from an alliance between the Corsican Mafia, who had an historical presence in South Vietnam dating back to the French occupation, and between the leading members of the American and Sicilian Mafia under the leadership of Lucky Luciano who had been imprisoned in the U.S. during World War II for racketeering but who was asked also to provide assistance to American military intelligence about Axis infiltration of Mafia-controlled, waterfront in American ports as well as assisting Allied forces in their invasion of Sicily and Italy. As McCoy shows, Luciano used his contacts in the Sicilian Mafia to assist U.S. forces by gathering intelligence and identifying both fascist collaborators and Socialist/Communists in the Italian resistance movement who were then systematically eliminated.

In return for his assistance, Luciano was covertly permitted to run his crime operations from prison, and at the end of the war he was deported back to Sicily, where he immediately began a major expansion of his drug operations, forging alliances with Corsican Mafia members in South Vietnam and organized crime figures in other countries, including Australia.

McCoy wrote in the book, "American involvement had gone far beyond coincidental complicity; embassies had covered up involvement by client governments, CIA contract airlines had carried opium, and individual CIA agents had winked at the opium traffic. As an indirect consequence of American involvement in the Golden Triangle until 1972, opium production steadily increased ... Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle grew 70 percent of the world's illicit opium, supplied an estimated 30 percent of America's heroin, and was capable of supplying the United States with unlimited quantities of heroin for generations to come."[7]

The CIA's actions were more specifically described by him thus: "In most cases, the CIA's role involved various forms of complicity, tolerance or studied ignorance about the trade, not any direct culpability in the actual trafficking ... [t]he CIA did not handle heroin, but it did provide its drug-lord allies with transport, arms, and political protection. In sum, the CIA's role in the Southeast Asian heroin trade involved indirect complicity rather than direct culpability."[5]

McCoy said the CIA recruited drug lords in the frame of the Cold War, underlying a "conflict between the drug war and the cold war."[6] For instance, McCoy alleges that the CIA assisted drug lords in Burma in 1950 in operations against China,[8] McCoy also said similar drug trafficking activities occurred from 1965 to 1975 in Laos and through the 1980s in Afghanistan, supporting for example the drug and warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the Hezbi-i Islami guerilla group.[6]

McCoy said he uncovered money laundering activities by banks controlled by the CIA, first the Castle Bank which was then replaced by the Nugan Hand Bank, which had as legal counsel William Colby, retired head of the CIA.[6] McCoy also alludes to the BCCI, which seems to have played the same role as the Nugan Hand Bank after its collapse in the early 1980s, stating that "the boom in the Pakistan drug trade was financed by BCCI."[6]

Between a repressive policy (the "Drug war"), which he considers a failure ("The repression creates a shortfall in supply which raises price and then stimulates production everywhere around the world."[6]) and a full legalization of drugs, which he considers "politically impracticable", McCoy argues in favor of an "alternative strategy," "regularization": "I favor regulation because if cocaine and heroin are commodities let's deal with them as such. You don't repress commodities, you regulate them."[6] Furthermore, against bilateral agreements between the US and other nations (Colombia, Bolivia, etc. - see coca eradication campaign by the US), McCoy argues in favor of multilateral policies under the direction of the United Nations.[6]

Recent work

In his book "A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror",[9] McCoy shows how from the start of the Cold War to the early nineteen-sixties, the C.I.A. spent billions of dollars developing psychological tools for interrogation. Early on, the emphasis was on electroshock, hypnosis, psychosurgery, and drugs, including the infamous use of LSD on unsuspecting soldiers and civilians, but these methods appeared a complete waste of time, although they were of dubious legality. Drawing on the sensory deprivation work of Canadian neurological scientist Donald O. Hebb, it was found that sensory deprivation was far more effective in brainwashing subjects than beatings or physical pain. Furthermore, "self-inflicted pain" (for example forcing an uncooperative subject to stand for many hours with arms outstretched) were more effective means of breaking prisoners. Augmented by fears of physical abuse, sexual humiliation, and other psychological attacks on personal and cultural identity, McCoy has explained how the US government produced exactly the system on display in the Abu Ghraib abuse photographs[10]


In 2001, the Association for Asian Studies awarded McCoy the Grant Goodman Prize for his career contributions to the study of the Philippines. In October 2012, Yale University's Graduate School Alumni Association awarded McCoy the Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal.[1]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Graduate School Honors Four Alumni with Wilbur Cross Medals". Yale University. November 12, 2012. Retrieved August 16, 2015. External link in |website= (help)
  2. See Archived September 3, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Heroin Charges Aired". Daytona Beach Morning Journal. XLVII (131). Daytona Beach Florida. AP. June 3, 1972. p. 6. Retrieved July 18, 2015.
  4. 1 2 "Heroin, U.S. tie probed". Boca Raton News. 17 (218). Boca Raton, Florida. UPI. October 1, 1972. p. 9B. Retrieved July 18, 2015.
  5. 1 2 p. 385 of The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by McCoy, with Cathleen B. Read and Leonard P. Adams II, 2003, ISBN 1-55652-483-8
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Interview with Alfred McCoy, 9 November 1991 by Paul DeRienzo
  7. pg 383
  8. a view supported by USMC Major D.H. Berger in his study: "The Use of Covert Paramilitary Activity as a policy Tool...1949-1951"
  9. McCoy, Alfred W. (2006), "A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror" (Holt)
  10. accessed 14th April 2011

Partial bibliography

External links

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