Alfred W. McCoy

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Alfred William McCoy (born June 8, 1945) is a historian of Southeast Asia. He is the J.R.W. Smail Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. McCoy graduated from the Kent School in 1964. He earned his B.A. from Columbia College, and his Ph.D in Southeast Asian history from Yale University.[1]


McCoy has researched, and has written, about Philippines history. He has also written about other parts of Southeast Asia and, in particular, about the Golden Triangle drug trades of opium and heroin. His controversial book, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia (1972 first ed.),purportedly documented the interactions between the CIA and drug cartels in that region.

One of 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 claims that the alleged collaboration was facilitated by the Central Intelligence Agency and by the unstable political situation created by the ongoing Vietnam War.[2]

McCoy claims that the French SDECE military intelligence agency during the First Indochina War (1947–1954) was in need of money for its covert operations. McCoy alleges that the French 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.[3]

McCoy also alleges how 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. McCoy alleges, and theorizes, that 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."[4]

The CIA's actions were more specifically alleged 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."[2]

McCoy alleges and claims the CIA recruited drug lords in the frame of the Cold War, underlying a "conflict between the drug war and the cold war."[3] For instance, McCoy alleges that the CIA assisted drug lords in Burma in 1950 in operations against China.[5] McCoy also claims to demonstrate similar drug trafficking activities 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.[3] McCoy also claims, and alleges, to have 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.[3]

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."[3]

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."[3]) 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."[3] 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.[3]

Recent work[edit]

In another recent controversial book "A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror",[6] 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[7] These were regularised in the first manual, "KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation," dated July 1963, and then used in a series of U.S. Army and CIA interrogation manuals, that were widely distributed to right wing dictatorial anti-communist regimes around the world during the cold war, and special training in these torture methods was given at the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA). The manuals provide detailed techniques for infiltrating social movements, using torture to interrogate suspects, surveillance, maintaining military secrecy, recruiting and retaining spies, and controlling the population. Throughout the Bush administration Dick Cheney retained personal copies of the training manuals.[8]

McCoy claims that these methods were used during the Vietnam War, in Project Phoenix, a joint CIA and Vietnamese counter-insurgency operation, resulted in the torture of tens of thousands of suspected Viet Cong. They were also alleged to have been used in the Philippines during the Marcos years and in Iran by the Shah's Savak.[citation needed]

McCoy writes that since the time of the Roman author Ulpian torture has never been good at eliciting information. Those tortured will confess to anything to get the pain to stop, and often invent information they think the torturer wants to hear. He also demonstrates that not only is the evidence that torture fails to work, it in fact increases hatred of the regimes that use it, and undoubtably contributed to the fall of the Marcos and Shah of Iran's regimes.[citation needed]

McCoy asserts that from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and through alleged extraordinary rendition, the CIA made widespread use of torture of suspects, apparently producing no useful information that could be used in criminal court against suspects. McCoy claims that scapegoats have been tried for these offenses. McCoy claims to show, that from World War II, "Empathic Interrogation" used against fanatic Japanese has been found to be far more effective, and, used by the FBI, has resulted in a number of successful prosecutions. McCoy also writes that, not only does torture produce psychotic effects upon the tortured, it historically has led to violence afterwards perpetrated by torturers, citing evidence in both the Philippines and with the OAS in France after its use in Algeria and Vietnam. He concludes "In sum, the powerful often turn to torture in times of crisis, not because it works but because it salves their fears and insecurities with the psychic balm of empowerment."[citation needed]

Grant Goodman Prize[edit]

In 2001, the Association for Asian Studies awarded him the Grant Goodman Prize for his career contributions to the study of the Philippines.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See
  2. ^ a b 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
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Interview with Alfred McCoy, 9 November 1991 by Paul DeRienzo
  4. ^ pg 383
  5. ^ This is purportedly confirmed by USMC Major D.H. Berger in his study: "The Use of Covert Paramilitary Activity as a policy Tool...1949-1951"
  6. ^ McCoy, Alfred W. (2006), "A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror" (Holt)
  7. ^ accessed 14th April 2011
  8. ^ from on May 18th 2009

Partial bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]