339. Memorandum From the Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury (Acheson) to the Under Secretary of State (Katzenbach)1


  • North Thailand Opium Cultivation, Traffic, and KMT Irregulars

This supplements our telephone conversation of yesterday2 on the cultivation of, and traffic in, opium in the North Thailand area occupied by the KMT irregulars. There is a very clear and informative account of this situation in AmEmbassy Bangkok Secret Airgram A–629 dated January 21, 1966.3

Much of that opium production is moved down to Bangkok, where illegal heroin conversion facilities have been established. A small portion of that heroin finds its way into the illegal U.S. import traffic, but at the present time it is not a large factor in our own domestic narcotics picture. Most of it is probably consumed in Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore. If, however, the present negotiations with the Government of Turkey for the eradication of opium production there should prove successful, and if the representations now being initiated by Ambassador Bohlen to the Government of France should be successful, for the elimination of the illegal French heroin laboratories, I would think the inevitable result would be that the French heroin operators would move their conversion operation to Bangkok, so as to be close to the next largest available source of supply of raw material. In this event, a great deal of the Thai opium production would then be converted to heroin at Bangkok specifically for the U.S. market and that production would become the dominant factor in the U.S. narcotics picture.

The Embassy at Bangkok has known about the opium production in the KMT area for a number of years. For the reasons I described over the telephone, and which airgram A–629 elaborates, the Embassy representations to the Thai government to clean up the traffic have never been particularly insistent or productive.

Presumably the counterinsurgency buildup under way in Thailand has as one of its objectives the strengthening of Thai border security. One would hope that Thailand may be able to diminish its reliance on the KMT forces for border security, and may have a stronger position to control the KMT trafficking in opium. In any event, it would seem timely to [Page 753] strengthen our representations to Thailand to clean the traffic up. I do not underestimate the obstacles.

Our hand should be considerably strengthened when we have, at the end of February 1967, the report of the U.N. Narcotics Commission survey team which is going to Northern Thailand in January for a two-month closeup study of the cultivation of opium and the traffic in opium and heroin.

Meanwhile, it would materially serve the long-range interest of the United States in suppressing the narcotics traffic, if the Thai opium problem were persistently kept out on the table, and if the Thai government were forcefully reminded from time to time that they have both a treaty obligation and a moral obligation (not to mention the practical obligation of a large donee of American aid) to move toward effective control of the opium and heroin traffic. The problem is bound to surface sooner or later in the U.S. press. As I have said, there is a substantial possibility that Thailand may, in the not too distant future, be a major source of narcotics supplies for the illegal traffic in the United States.

I will see that you are sent a copy of the U.N. survey teamʼs report when it is available and that you get any other information on this problem which may be helpful.

David C. Acheson
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 11–5 US–THAI. Secret.
  2. No record of this telephone call has been found.
  3. Not printed. (Department of State, Central Files, SOC 11–5 THAI)