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The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  505 ratings  ·  45 reviews
The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South ...more
Paperback, Second Revised Edition, 709 pages
Published May 1st 2003 by Lawrence Hill Books (first published January 1st 1972)
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Nov 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
I was a Teaching Assistant for Dr. McCoy while in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We taught his highly regarded class on "The Vietnam Wars" together, with him as lecturer and me and another graduate assistant as teachers of the breakout sessions. These were some of my fondest memories of my college career.

Dr. McCoy is an outstanding and rigorous scholar, though this work walks the fine line between journalism and history in a similar way to how Michel Foucault walks the l
Erik Graff
Mar 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all citizens
Recommended to Erik by: no one
McCoy is an academic historian. His book is an extremely well-researched and well-documented account of the importance of heroin to Southeast Asian politics from the post-war French occupation through their replacement by, first, the C.I.A. and, second, the Armed Forces of the United States of America.

Opium has been produced since time immemorial in the Golden Triangle and has had its place in the lifeways of the peoples indigenous to the area. It is, like alcohol for us, part of the social life
Yigal Zur
Sep 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
amazing research. i found it so intetesting
Erik Graff
Mar 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all citizens
Recommended to Erik by: reading McCoy's work
This book constitutes a summary of McCoy's 1972 Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia (see review) and an update leading into the nineties. While the prior book was primarily focused on Southeast Asia, this one points towards Afghanistan, where the opiate trade has retreated since the American retreat from Vietnam.

There is no debate on the simple fact that while once most world heroin production occurred in Southeast Asia, now almost all of it occurs in Afghanistan. Nor is there any question that
Apr 18, 2009 rated it liked it
Odd book. McCoy is a historian but the main part of this book, which was intially published as "The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia" was written based on work he did while following the trail of heroin during the war in Vietnam, generally the kind of stuff done by a journalist or ethnographer. McCoy himself is an accomplished scholar of the area with several important books on the history of the Philippines. The front and back sections of the book, on the history of the drug trade in the ea ...more
Kelbaenor (Dan)
Aug 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A monumental work of reporting and in depth secret history. The book is very dense and a little repetitive because the updated edition tacks on so much that happened in the 30 years since it was published but very worth it. McCoy documents with meticulous data the complicity between the CIA's covert wars around the world and the nearly ubiquitous rise in drug lords in the regions they're operating in. Only demerit is that McCoy somehow remained a liberal after writing it so theres some naive stu ...more
Dec 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I cannot believe the amount of information that this book contained. While there were a myriad of topics covered, some of the main topics covered by the book include the way that the British used opium and heroin to create an "enslaved" workforce, the complicity of the Americans--specifically the CIA--in the opium trade, American "confusion" of progressive, southeast Asian governments with communism, the complete denial and concealment of American GIs with heroin problems, and the extreme amount ...more
Tentatively, Convenience
I can't stress enuf how important this bk is to me. While the early edition that I refer to here focuses primarily on the US & Southeast Asia, particularly in the Vietnam War era, its extremely well-researched information is clearly applicable to explaining the covert machinations of ALL GOVERNMENTS. If you want to understand in detail how heroin is used to both control & destroy domestic populations AND 'foreign' ones AND how its production & sale is a major source of war-mongering funding, REA ...more
Lee Tracy
Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
McCoy was a PhD from Yale, a scholar in Asian history teaching at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia was widely ignored by mainstream reviewers of the time because it linked drug lords to US military-intelligence men. Much of the information in the book came from interviews with eyewitnesses.

US support of anti-communists in Asia, who often financed their activities through poppy, opium and heroin growing and manufacturing, led to this
Aug 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a meticulously researched*, densely written, fascinating analysis of the covert wars waged by the CIA and its effects--intended or otherwise--on the global drug trade. It's not a quick read, but it's worth the time if you're interested in geopolitics and the drug trade. The book was published in 1972, and this is a revised and expanded edition published in 2003. The analysis of the 30 years since the first edition seems to confirm the book's original premise, that the CIA's focus on cont ...more
Shea Mastison
To begin with, this book is not exactly a page turner. It hasn't been thoroughly edited for readability; and I suspect a lack of editing is responsible for a considerable part of this book's length.

With that said, McCoy does a fantastic job analyzing the global drug trade up to the early '90s; and pointing out instances in which the CIA was complicit in shipping drugs, or aiding in the drug trade in general. He analyzes the drug trade and CIA complicity beginning in America, moving to Southeast
Aug 26, 2008 rated it liked it
This book is more like an encyclopedia. I believe the author has certainly shown that he can document a subject "forgotten" by the mainstream media. It's difficult to read because of its density. But it does a good job explaining the issue.

Relatedly, if anyone wants a good argument why legalizing drugs is a bad idea, just read this book to learn how several SE Asian countries legalized narcotics to reap massive tax revenues. However, the countries became so "addicted" -how ironic- to the tax inc
Occasionally a tad repetitive (reciting events and claims/sources throughout various sections) and suffering from some wonky editing (why analyse the impact of the contra affair AFTER detailing the rise of the rise of the heroin trade in Pakistan/Afghanistan...) McCoy's work is well written, documented, and manages to (despite my gripes) hold its reader for its fairly substantial length. ...more
Dec 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
An enlightening and detailed look at the heroin trade and its geopolitical influences throughout the world. Very detailed (which can bog the narrative down at times), but obviously well-researched. Quite disheartening in the our (the US) complicity in the heroin trade and its far-reaching effects on the health and lives of people throughout the world.
Mar 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Phenomenal book about U.S. sponsorship of opium production in Asia during the Vietnam War. Written by a guy who hung out with drug traffickers and producers, Mafia members, in order to write this thing, got death threats, etc...
Justin Podur
Jul 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I learned a lot from this excellent and thoroughly researched book, which shows that covert operations and the drug trade are inextricably linked. The case he takes on is Southeast Asia during the Vietnam war, but the same thing happened in Latin America and in Afghanistan. Terrific book.
Jul 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Seriously readable and very informative.
Sep 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Everyone should read this book...maybe their perspective on our government and military would be very different. There are plenty of books just like it, well documented. Just saying!
Peter Lance
A landmark book on the explosion of smack during the Vietnam War
Nigel Tskitishvili
a definitive book on Western intelligence agencies' complicity in the heroin trade ...more
Roger Mexico
Apr 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
He was my professor!
Nov 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Extremely interesting read!! The current opioid issues began 2 centuries ago with the support of U.S. government along the way. A must read!
Matthew Petti
Aug 30, 2021 rated it it was amazing
If you’ve ever heard that the CIA caused the crack epidemic, you’re familiar with the journalism of Gary Webb. But before Gary Webb, there was The Politics of Heroin by historian Alfred McCoy, who stumbled upon a link between CIA covert operations in Southeast Asia and the heroin epidemic among American soldiers in Vietnam.

I read McCoy’s updated 2003 edition, which ties his findings from Southeast Asia to other drug hotspots around the world. Over the past few decades, he had discovered a consis
James Mc Donald
Mar 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: very-best
CIA Mind Control Program. Guards protect the Opium there & controls the Largest Prison population here. So why 9/11 report?

Most strongly recommended publication for mature American adults looking for facts. Most strongly recommended to ID State Crimes. Most strongly recommend for an insight to the BIG picture. For me, this outstanding work IS one of the top 5 publications I've discovered all while traveling through the rabbit hole of discovery. It all leads back here!

Alfred McCoy Studied at Colu
Jun 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I read this book a long time ago but it served as a deep education in statecraft, capitalism, and war. The book is extremely well-documented and demonstrates exactly what the subtitle states: The CIA's complicity in the production, transport, and sale of heroin from where it was grown in Southeast asia to markets in America. Beyond the obvious cynicism, the author provides a very simple thesis: Only governments have access to the level of infrastructure required to manufacture and distribute ill ...more
Noric Dilanchian
Jan 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
An extraordinary, gripping book. The essence is about how American forces used heroin as a currency for keeping political power in South-East Asia during the Vietnam War. In doing so one of the outcomes was that American troops became heroin addicts and brought their addiction back to the United States where it became a scourge among both the working class and the middle class from the 1970s.

In my study of American history I was lucky enough to sit in some of Prof Alfred W. McCoy's university l
Judith Saldaña
Oct 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
As a non-academic, the shear breadth and depth of information presented in this book was challenging. It definitely provided a well researched foundation for understanding the history of drug trafficking. Since this edition is from 2003, I was left wondering what the panorama of the global drug trade looks like now. Hence, I was left feeling unsatisfied due to the dated nature of the book.
Rich Grisham
Mar 18, 2016 rated it liked it
Rich Grisham It is a very good overview of the history of the Golden Triangle, however, it is not a in depth telling of the CIA's complicity in the heroin trade. The book is a very good read, but due to my American-centric view and education it is difficult at times to keep the players straight, especially, since most of the book covers the Asian players in the Heroin trade. The book is very interesting and informative, but the book is not loaded with clandestine CIA operations that result in di ...more
Lee Adams
Jan 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I first came across professor McCoy in 2003 in his History of the Vietnam War class at UW-Madison. Portions of this book were assigned and it was fascinating reading. I came back to McCoy in 2004 in his advance seminar course covering American Imperialism in the Philippines. I've hung on to this book since then and finally read his book cover to cover. "The fight against X (terrorism, communism, etc.) takes priority. The fight against narcotics comes in second" Unfortunately, this is a sad reali ...more
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Dr Alfred W. McCoy is professor of SE Asian History at the U. of Wisconsin at Madison where he also serves as director of the Center for SE Asian Studies, a federally-funded National Resource Center. He's spent the past quarter-century writing about the politics & history of the opium trade. In addition to publications, he serves as a correspondent for the Observatoire Geopolitique des Drogues in ...more

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