August 9, 2016
Long before Roy Carlson’s Bank of America fronted the seed money to launch BCCI into the darker recesses of Pakistan, the Shah of Iran had been a major depositor at an equally nefarious bank based in Sydney, Australia, but with a far-flung network that spanned the globe.
As with his BCCI deposits, the Shah understood that his contributions Down Under were funding “black operations” for the CIA. In fact, the Shah single-handedly bankrolled a very large chunk of the Vietnam War.
The Shah’s investment adviser was CIA agent Kent Crane. Crane often flew from Tehran to Sydney with Rear Admiral Earl “Buddy” Yates. Yates served as Chief of Policy and Planning for the entire Pacific Command during the Vietnam War. He was a member of Naval Task Force-157 where he worked with Ted Shackley, Ed Wilson and the others who had set up shop in Tehran where they peddled arms to the Shah. While Crane was flying petrodollars to Australia, Ed Wilson was flying the Shah’s deposits north to the Swiss branch of the same bank. Just as Shackley & Company were arriving in Tehran, Yates jetted to Sydney to join the staff of Nugan Hand Bank.
Frank Nugan and Michael Hand founded Nugan Hand in 1969. Nugan was a prominent Sydney businessman with all the right connections. Hand was an American Green Beret and military intelligence officer who worked in Laos for Major General Richard Secord’s CIA opium courier Air America. Ted Shackley and Tom Clines were the CIA’s top two officials in Laos at the time. In 1976, Hand helped Secord, who was by then heading MAAG in Iran, to procure a spy vessel for the Iranian Navy. Ten of the nineteen stockholders in Nugan Hand Bank worked with either Air America or Continental Services, a subsidiary of Continental Airlines and CIA contract airline in SE Asia.
Air America re-supplied the CIA-created Meo Army in Laos, which fought a proxy war for the US against the communist Pathet Lao, whom had overrun the Plain of Jars region in 1964. Air America ferried weapons into remote Meo villages, then returned to its base at Long Tieng loaded with opium grown by the villagers.
Long Tieng was also the headquarters of General Vang Pao, who became the premier opium warlord in the Golden Triangle during the Vietnam War. Later he would serve Chinese intelligence in the Balkanization of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. By keeping these three nations in a permanent state of war both the Chinese and the Americans would benefit for many years. Some speculate that this was a key feature of the détente signed by President Nixon and Chinese Premier Zhou En-lai, who had himself been the target of CIA assassination attempts after he helped organize the ground-breaking 1955 Bandung Conference of Third World leaders.
When the Pathet Lao prevailed, taking over the entire country of Laos, the CIA abruptly pulled out of the Plain of Jars, leaving tens of thousands of Meo villagers to be slaughtered, ala Kurdistan. Buddy Yates of Nugan Hand Bank did manage to relocate 3,000 Meo to Grand Turk Island in the Caribbean. But the relocation was hardly humanitarian in nature. The CIA wanted a trained paramilitary force to guard the Turks & Caicos, which was to become an offshore banking center, an Enron partnership haven and an important transshipment point for Colombian cocaine. In 1982 the Chief Minister of Turks & Caicos was arrested in Miami with two other key government officials on charges of conspiring to smuggle cocaine.
At Long Tieng CIA opium was transferred from Air America planes to Vang Pao’s private airline, Xieng Khouang Air Transport, which then flew the opium into the Laotian capital Vientiane. Vang Pao’s airline was 100% funded by USAID. Since 1959, the US had also been funding Laotian Cabinet Minister and outspoken right-wing General Phoumi Nosavan. While Vang Pao handled the CIA’s Long Tieng opium, Nosavan and his partner, General Ouane Rattikone held a monopoly over the importation of Burmese Shan and Chinese Kuomintang opium into Laos.
The CIA had been meddling in Laos since the late 1950’s, first employing missionaries and Thai commandos to train and advise its surrogate Meo Army. According to Edward Lansdale, former Kennedy Defense Department official, by 1959 the CIA had sent eight Green Beret units into Laos. By 1963 a 100,000-man army had been assembled.
Highly decorated Green Beret Paul Withers said his most important task was to buy up the entire opium crop from certain villages in the region. CIA operative Del Rosario worked for Continental Air Service. He says that as late as 1971 Continental baggage coming out of Laos was marked either “rice” or “diverse”, the latter of which meant opium. Rosario would get messages over the phone saying, “…the customer is here…keep an eye on the planes from Ban Houai Sai. We’re sending some goods and somebody’s going to take care of it. Nobody’s allowed to touch anything”.
The CIA set up a Special Operations Group (SOG) in Laos headed by Ted Shackley and Tom Clines. SOG members included John Singlaub, Richard Secord, Watergate plumber Raphael Quintero, Nicaraguan contra handler Donald Gregg and a young Marine lieutenant named Oliver North.
SOG trained special Meo sparrow units which assassinated more than 100,000 civilians in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam between 1966 and 1975. SOG was the key component of Operation Phoenix, which was directly supervised by CIA Director Bill Colby and William Sullivan, later US Ambassador to Iran. Operation Phoenix was funded through Vang Pao, Nosavan and Rattakone heroin sales, as were many of the CIA’s endeavors overseen by Colby, who moonlighted as legal and political adviser for Nugan Hand Bank and was the bank’s “branch manager” in Panama City.
Miami mobster Santos Trafficante followed the Shackley Operation Mongoose crew to SE Asia. When Vang Pao’s opium reached Vientiane, it would be delivered to heroin labs set up in that city. General Phoumi Nosavan’s Burmese opium arrived at these same refineries, which were run by General Ouane Rattikone, but owned by a more familiar entity.
When the Pathet Lao took the capital city they found that by far the largest of these labs doubled as the national bottling plant for Pepsi Cola. The plant’s construction had been paid for by US taxpayers under a USAID program. The lawyer who landed this corporate welfare package for Pepsi was soon-to-be-President Richard Nixon.
From Vientiane, the heroin moved down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, where, according to New York Times reports, US-allied South Vietnamese Special Forces picked it up and flew it to military bases in Saigon.
Heroin traffic intensified in 1963 following the CIA-sponsored assassination of Vietnamese President Ngo Dien Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu. Orchestrated by CIA operative Lucien Conein, the coup gave rise to a new Opium Monopoly led by US puppets General Nguyen Ngoc Loan and Premier Nguyen Cao Ky.