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Fight Back Jan 21 2011, NYT Fails To Mention Vang Pao’s Drug Running Allegations

Discussion of the death of Vang Pao and how the New York Times ignored the fact he was a major drug dealer, the shootings in Tucson, and other related politics by Bob Fitrakis and Connie Gadell Newton

New York Times obit fails to mention that Vang Pao was one of the world’s most notorious drug dealers
January 18, 2011

The New York Times, self-proclaimed “paper of record,” failed to record that General Vang Pao, who died Thursday, January 6, was a wretched drug dealer who targeted U.S. troops in Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines for drug sales.

Let’s go over the bizarre, Soviet-style, Times obit entitled “Gen. Vang Pao, Laotion Who Aided U.S., Dies at 81.” In their ideological analysis, Pao was a “…charismatic Laotian general who commanded a secret army of his mountain people in a long, losing campaign against Communist insurgents.” The Times goes on to say he had “almost kinglike status.”

They quote a Hmong refugee in California saying “He is like the earth and the sky.” They throw in the following quote of the general to his Hmong troops: “If we die, we die together. Nobody will be left behind.”

In the New York Times fantasyland, Vang Pao was a patriot and an anti-communist hero. The Times glosses over the fact that Vang Pao was discredited in Laos because he was perceived as a lackey and a tool of French imperialism. He was a sergeant in the French colonial army, the Times tells us, and then he went on to work directly for the CIA.

Here are the facts that the Times ignored.

Pao was reportedly born in December 1929 and began serving as an interpreter to the French forces in what was then called Indo-China. Following World War II, the French were desperate to hold together their crumbling empire and turned to the opium trade in order to hire Hmong mercenaries to fight Laotian national liberation forces.

From 1946 through 1954, the French allowed the so-called Operation X to run heroin labs on the lower Mekong River in Indo-China. Ho Chi Minh, like the Chinese in the 19th century rallied the people of Vietnam against the French by pointing out the insidious nature of the opium trade. Like the British opium wars in the 19th century, the French became drug pushers to control the people of Indo-China.

Pao, a self-titled general among the Hmong clans of the Laotian highlands, was the bagman for Laotian crowned prince Sopsaisana. Pao bought the locally-grown opium from the Hmong and helped process it into high-grade heroin.

In 1963, one of those rare moments in history occurred when Anthony A. “Tony Poe” Poshepny became Vang Pao’s case officer for the CIA in Laos. Poe, legendary figure who was often viewed as the model for Marlon Brando’s character Kurtz in the movie “Apocalypse Now,” initiated a program where he would pay the Hmong warriors cash for the ears of Pathet Lao communists.

According to Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair in their book Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs, and the Press, Poe progressed from ears to paying for “entire heads” claiming that he “preserved them in formaldehyde in his bedroom.”

In Richard Ehrlich’s obituary of Poe in the Asian Times, Poe “…dropped decapitated human heads from the air on to communists and stuck heads on pikes.”

Poe claimed that he was booted out of Long Tieng in 1965, the CIA’s “secret” airbase in Laos, because he objected to the CIA’s facilitating Vang Pao’s drug trafficking. In the Frontline documentary “Guns, Drugs, and the CIA,” Poe said, “He [Pao] was making millions. He had his own avenue for selling heroin.”

Long Tieng was the fabled site of the Air America airlines, the stuff of TV land and Hollywood legend. Later, many of these Air America drug runners would emerge around Southern Air Transport in the Iran-Contra cocaine scandal of the 1980s.

“Vang Pao controlled the opium in the plain of Jars region of Laos. By buying up the one sellable crop, the general could garner the allegiance of the hill tribes as well as stuff his own bank account. He would pay $60 a kilo, $10 over the prevailing rate, and would purchase a village’s crop if, in return, the village would supply recruits for his army,” Cockburn and St. Clair write.

So blatant was Vang Pao’s drug running and his use of American helicopters to buy opium to turn into heroin to sell to U.S. soldiers that the CIA created a fictional front airline to distance themselves from the heroin trade. In 1967, the CIA and USAID procured two C-47s for Pao so that he could operate Zieng Khouang Air. But, it was better known by the CIA assets and drug runners who drank at the Purple Porpoise as “Air Opium.” Infamous CIA agent Ted Shackley oversaw the creation of Air Opium.

In 1975, Pao settled in the United States at a ranch in the Missoula, Montana area. At the end of his life he spent time in southern California and among the Hmong ethnic community in Minnesota. He died at the age of 81 in Clovis, California.

To really understand the death of one of the CIA’s favorite drug runners, Albert McCoy’s book The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia remains an essential source. As for the New York Times obituary, it simply should have read “Gen. Vang Pao, Laotian who Aided Heroin Addiction Among U.S. GIs, Dies at 81.”


Dr. Bob Fitrakis is Editor of The Free Press (https://freepress.org).

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