152. Assessment Paper Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

Narcotics Assessment: Thailand

SIGNIFICANCE: Thailand is a major processing center and transshipment point for illicit opium and its by-products produced in the Golden Triangle.2 Although a large portion of the narcotics transiting Thailand are destined for consumer markets within Asia, increasing supplies are finding their way into Europe where Chinese trafficking organizations have established new markets. At least 10 percent of the No. 4 heroin entering the US market is believed to be of Golden Triangle origin.

The upland areas of northwest Thailand produce about 50 tons of opium per year, nearly all of which is consumed by Thailand’s large addict population. Although a 1959 law banned the growing of opium poppies in Thailand, political sensitivities toward the tribal cultivators and lack of government control in some growing areas has prevented the enforcement of the ban. Tribal groups in the upland areas are still dependent upon the opium poppy as their major cash crop. Crop substitution programs sponsored by the US and the United Nations have been instituted in several key villages but no significant decrease in poppy area has as yet been accomplished.

The raw opium which is produced in Burma is usually transported southward to the remote and generally under-policed areas on the Thai border. Most of this opium is processed at the numerous refineries which straddle the Thai-Burma border. Many of these refineries are owned or managed by the major trafficking organizations operating between Burma and Thailand, such as the Shan United Army (SUA) and the 3rd and 5th Chinese Irregular Forces (CIF). In addition to these organizations, there are smaller para-military and tribal groups engaged in the traffic which also use Thailand as their base of operations.

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Thailand has historically been the corridor through which the bulk of opium and finished narcotics from the Golden Triangle have made their way into international markets. Powerful and far-flung smuggling organizations have operated for years throughout Thailand, moving narcotics from the Thailand-Burma border area through Bangkok, by both air and sea, or overland into Malaysia whence they are transshipped elsewhere. The narcotics are smuggled through Thailand by foot, private automobile, taxi, bus, trucks, trains, and aircraft. Bangkok is a major marketing center for narcotics which are often transshipped south through Hatyai to Malaysia and Singapore. Alternative routings include the use of points along the Gulf of Thailand for movement by trawler or freighter to Hong Kong and other destinations. Narcotics destined for international markets outside of Asia are often smuggled aboard commercial aircraft in Bangkok for Hong Kong, Europe, and North America.

A large portion of the heroin produced in the Golden Triangle is consumed within Southeast Asia. The addict population in Thailand has been estimated at between 175,000–300,000. Bangkok itself has become a major consumer market for No. 3 and No. 4 heroin. Estimated requirements for No. 4 heroin in that city alone are said to total 4600 kilograms annually.

PROBLEMS: While Thai laws are adequate for narcotics control purposes their enforcement has been mediocre. Corrupt practices among the police and the courts have seriously handicapped the enforcement efforts of honest officials. Prior to the advent of the Thanin government in late 1976 the Thai government had taken few steps to remedy these problems. The new Thai government appears to be much more aware of the problem and is making a serious effort toward correcting these deficiencies. Nevertheless, the magnitude of the narcotics traffic through Thailand limits the effectiveness of any new enforcement initiatives once the narcotics leave the border area. The volume of freight and passenger traffic which moves daily along the major north-south routes in Thailand makes interdiction very difficult unless precise information about a particular narcotics shipment is made available to the police.

Suppression of the narcotics traffic in Thailand is also impeded by the government’s attitude toward the insurgent and trafficking groups which maintain their headquarters and bases in Thailand. Historically Thai governments have used these groups as para-military buffers against Burmese and Communist insurgencies in Thailand. The narcotics trafficking activities of these organizations have been generally condoned by the Thais in return for their military cooperation.

PROSPECTS: There have been noticeable if perhaps temporary improvements in the narcotics situation during the period since the [Page 559] new Thai government assumed power. Most traffickers still appear to be assessing the new government’s anti-narcotics policies and have reduced their operations. However, the success of Thai anti-narcotics efforts will depend in the long run upon the determination of that government to eliminate the bases used by the major trafficking organizations within Thailand. Efforts are reportedly being made to force the SUA from Thai soil. However, unless the Thai government also moves against the CIF and the other trafficking organizations based in Thailand, and coordinates its anti-narcotics efforts with those of the Burmese government, only a temporary respite can be expected.

  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. See footnote 1, Document 151.
  2. The Golden Triangle includes the traditional opium growing areas straddling the Thai, Burmese, and Lao borders. [Footnote in the original.]