151. Intelligence Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

ER M 77–10094

Narcotics Assessment: Burma

SIGNIFICANCE: Burma’s average annual production of some 400 metric tons of raw opium is a major component of the illicit international trade in opium and opium derivatives. Most of this opium is produced in the mountainous terrain of northern and northeastern Burma by various hill tribes who rely upon it as their major cash crop and source of income. A large share of production—perhaps as much as 200 tons—is believed to be consumed in the producing areas.

In many areas the growers are under the control of various insurgent or trafficking organizations who determine how much opium poppy will be planted, supply inputs for its cultivation, and set opium purchase prices. Farmers sell their raw opium to merchants and trafficking groups who then organize caravans to transport it to the Thai border.

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The major organizations involved in the raw opium traffic between the producing areas of Burma and the Thai border are the Shan United Army (SUA) and the 3rd and 5th Chinese Irregular Forces (CIF). These organizations are commanded by ethnic Chinese and are composed of a mixture of Chinese and various Burmese tribal groups. These groups provide heavily armed escorts for the opium caravans and use modern means of communication—walkie talkie equipment and cyphers—to avoid government anti-narcotics forces. Logistic support for opium caravans is provided from numerous bases and storage points located in the Shan State of Burma and along the Thai border. The principal headquarters for these trafficking groups are located in Thailand.

During 1976 a total of 130 metric tons of raw opium was transported to the Thai border as compared to 217 tons in 1975. Fifty-five percent of this total was handled by the three main trafficking organizations noted above. Most of the opium was converted into finished narcotics, primarily No. 3 and No. 4 heroin, by numerous refineries located in the border area. These refineries are generally small in scale and can be readily moved in a short period of time. Many are owned and/or operated by the major trafficking organizations. The organizations also provide protection for privately owned refineries in the area.

Total heroin production statistics are not readily available, however, there are indications that production of heroin increased during 1976. Reported shipments of No. 4 heroin from border refineries totaled close to 3000 kilograms compared to 1500 kilograms in 1975. Thirty-eight percent of the No. 4 reportedly shipped from the border area was destined for consumer markets in Burma. Bangkok was the major consuming market for at least another 11 percent of the shipments. The remaining 1500 kilograms moved into international trafficking networks to meet demand elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the US.

Reliable data on opium and opium derivative consumptions in Burma is not available. However, a commonly used estimate of the addict population is 130,000, of which some 40,000 are believed to be heroin addicts.

PROBLEMS: The main problem in Burma is the lack of government control in the principal opium producing areas. Much of this area is located in very rugged terrain at a great distance from Rangoon. The region is populated by various tribal groups who are unsympathetic to the central government. Many of these people openly support insurgencies against the government. Enforcement of anti-narcotics laws is dependent upon the ability of Rangoon to maintain a military and/or police presence in the area. However, because of the government’s preoccupation with insurgents throughout the country, its military resources are insufficient to both police the narcotics traffic and combat [Page 556] insurgents. This is particularly true with respect to the Burmese Communist Party (BCP) which controls a large portion of the most productive opium area east of the Salween River in the Northern Shan State. Over the past two years, the BCP has increasingly used the raw opium traffic to finance operations against the government. Most of the raw opium produced in areas under BCP control is marketed through traditional channels in the Shan State and eventually finds its way to the Thai border.

The Burmese government has had some success in its anti-narcotics efforts during the past year. It has mounted major operations against narcotics caravans and refining sites and has seized large quantities of narcotics. Much of this success is the result of use of US-supplied helicopters and associated equipment. During the 1975/76 poppy growing season the government embarked upon a poppy crop destruction campaign which resulted in the elimination of an estimated 7000 hectares of poppies, representing potential opium production of about 60 tons. Despite these successes it is quite apparent that sufficient narcotics have slipped through the net to meet both local and international requirements.

PROSPECTS: Maintaining the momentum against the illicit opium traffic depends upon the zeal and commitment of the Burmese government. However, the government has only limited resources. Government adherence to a neutral foreign policy inhibits its willingness to seek larger amounts of foreign assistance in the anti-narcotics effort. The Burmese will most likely continue to go it alone and to work within the limitations imposed by their own resources and those made available by international organizations, e.g. UNFDAC. In the absence of major domestic problems—a change of government or an upswing in the tempo of the BCP insurgency—the government should be able to maintain anti-narcotics operations at the same level as in 1976. Any expansion of BCP operations in the Shan State could cause a diversion of military resources away from anti-narcotics activities and neutralize the successes achieved so far. The crux of the problem of finding a permanent solution to narcotics trafficking is Burma’s relationship with Thailand. [5 lines not declassified]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Support Services (DI), Job 92T00480R: Liaison Files (1976–1977), Box 6, Folder 192: Narcotics Assessment for Thailand and Burma. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]. Prepared by the Director of the South Asia Office in the Directorate of Intelligence. Printed from a draft copy. According to a February 16 memorandum, attached but not printed, Peter Bourne Director of the White House Office of Drug Abuse, had requested assessments for both Burma and Thailand. See Document 152.