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SPECIAL NARCOTICS ORGANIZATION, NORTHERN THAILAND
The Special Narcotics Organization (SNO) of the Royal Thailand Government (RTG) has been operational in northern Thailand since April 1972. An elite group of some sixty officers and men, SNO operates independently and is welltrained and equipped for its task of interdicting tri-border area narcotics trafficking. SNO has its headquarters at Chiang Mai and five district offices in north Thailand, plus one in the south at Songkhla. SNO receives some funding and advisory assistance from DEA.
ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT
By the beginning of 1970, there was an unprecedented flow of narcotics originating in the tri-border area of Burma, Thailand, and Laos which transited Thailand on its way to international markets. SNO was created to interdict that flow and to neutralize the associated traffickers as the task had proven to be more than conventional RTG police units stationed in northern Thailand could handle. In the summer of 1971, the Narcotic Attaché's office at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok proposed that added support be furnished Thai Narcotics Bureau Police forces in Chiang Mai with the aim of developing a more effective interdictive capability. The RTG was in agreement with the proposal and, in the months that followed, SNO developed and took form.
To be more effective, it was considered essential that SNO be independent of other RTG National Police elements. In addition to separate facilities, this independent posture required a secure communications network, plus a uniform reporting and central information file and retrieval system, all housed at the Chiang Mai headquarters. Additionally, personnel ceilings for the new organization had to be kept to a select number in order to develop esprit de corps and to attract competent officers. As of April 1974, SNO had a total of sixty officers and men at Chiang Mai and its six district offices.
The major successes this small organization has accomplished are summarized below:
SNO became operational in April 1972. Its first operation in May against a reported opium refinery proved negative, but the initial performance of SNO personnel was considered admirable. The first major success occured on 9 June when a raid in Lamphun netted 1,600 kilograms of raw opium and refinery materials. Soon thereafter, one of the largest narcotics seizures in Thai history occurred in Chiang Rai Province where, on 14 July, six suspects were arrested along with 2,254 kilograms of raw opium; 353 kilograms of smoking opium, 212 kilograms of morphine, and 7 kilograms of heroin. On 26 August, one suspect with 4.6 kilograms of heroin No. 3 was arrested in Chiang Mai Province.
On 21 January 1973, SNO and Chiang Mai Provincial Police seized 13 kilograms of heroin No. 4 carried by courier on a bus outside the provincial capital. On the 7th of February, a SNO task force and local police seized 3,919 kiolgrams of raw opium and 261 kilograms of morphine base at the home of a known trafficker in Mae Sai.
SNO forces report their program of setting up unannounced roadblocks on a random basis on roads leading south from border areas, has had beneficial results. Numerous small seizures have been made, and larger shipments of narcotics are believed to have been disrupted or diverted.
Besides its own investigative methods and assets, SNO pays rewards to informants in the case of successful seizures.
Coordination between SNO personnel, Border Patrol Police (BPP), and Provincial Police (PP), and Thai Army units has been excellent and productive. Helicopter support provided by the Police Aviation Division has been particularly effective in assisting joint BPP/SNO raids against known or suspected opium storage sites. A case which illustrates effective coordination was the record seizure of 1 January 1973, when three trucks were observed by a Thai Air Force pilot overflying the area. The trucks' location aroused his suspicion. Ground forces were alerted by radio and were immediately dispatched to the scene. The vehicles were found to contain 4,136 kilograms of raw opium and 182 kilograms of morphine base.
During the past 21⁄2 years, SNO has become a key element in the RTG's overall narcotics enforcement effort. Its personnel, selected from the Crime Suppression Division of the Thai National Police, have been able to establish close working relationships with both the Border Patrol Police, Provincial Police forces and military units, and several coordinated enforcement actions have been successfully conducted. SNO has demonstrated a willingness to pursue recommended leads, as well as to act on information developed from its own sources.
SNO has an extensive geographic area for which its limited manpower is responsible. It is to SNO's credit that, despite such limitations, significant seizures of narcotics and numerous arrests have been effected.
THE NEW CHINESE CONNECTION
[From the Winter 1975 issue of Drug Enforcement]
IN THE UNITED STATES: THE ARREST OF FAR EASTERN TRAFFICKERS (By Ross M. Riley, Supervisor, CENTAC 3, DEA Office of Enforcement) Five secret indictments were unsealed recently in the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York, charging 61 persons, most of them denationalized Chinese, with conspiring to import and distribute heroin in the United States and Canada. In a coordinated array of arrests that began on November 19, the Drug Enforcement Administration-acting together with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police-closed down the most thorough investigation of the Far Eastern narcotics traffic ever conducted in this country. But in doing so they opened up to public inspection a disconcerting prospect: Asian heroin on the horizon.
The cultivation of opium poppies in Asia is not a new phenomenon. Southeast Asia is, in fact, the oldest, and still by far the largest, opium-producing area in the world. According to "World Opium Survey 1972," published by the Cabinet Committee on International Narcotics Control, output of illicit opium in the remote, protected, and almost autonomous highlands of "The Golden Triangle" exceeds that of all other countries in the world combined.
As old as the Asian opium traffic are the traditions of the master traffickers themselves. They are, with few exceptions, Chinese merchants, residing not only in Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Singapore, but in San Francisco, New York, Vancouver, and major cities around the world.
Dealing with one another in multiple illicit enterprises, they maintain close ties protected by power of immense wealth, their only loyalty to themselves, their only commitment to what they regard as venture capitalism. Penetration of this caste without a country has heretofore presented almost insurmountable difficulties On Christmas Eve, 1972, federal narcotics agents arrested a Danish seamen, John Thomsen, in Brooklyn, New York, in possession of 18 pounds of Asian heroin. Documented information by DEA's regional office in New York revealed that as much as a thousand pounds of Asian heroin had been smuggled into New York City by independent seamen during the period 1971-1972. In September 1973 the Special Assistant for Conspiracy Operations called for an intensive case review of Far Eastern traffickers. I was then serving as Group Supervisor of the Regional Conspiracy Group in New York. Here, in summary, is the still fragmentary situation as we reported it at that time:
Purchase or seizure by DEA of 63.5 pounds of Asian heroin from Chinese. violators-21 percent of the total amount recovered from the region in 1972. Seizure by the Bureau of Customs of another 40 pounds of Asian heroin bound for New York City.
Seizures in Holland and Canada of 55 pounds of Asian heroin bound for New York City.
Deliveries over an 18-month period of 700 pounds of Asian heroin to an Italian violator.
DEA undercover negotiations with a Cuban of Chinese extraction for an initial shipment of 15 to 20 pounds of Asian heroin with regular shipments in 100-pound lots to follow.
The report concluded:
Southeast Asian traffickers are completely ignorant of federal conspiracy laws: they feel they cannot be arrested unless they participate directly in the sale to an enforcement officer. It should be noted, however, that to date it has been unusual to get a Far Eastern defendant to testify in court.
In January 1974, Central Tactical Unit 3 was formed under the Special Assistant for Conspiracy Operations to direct an Administration-wide search for
demonstrable evidence. I was assigned to DEA Headquarters to head the unit, which included Group Supervisor Thomas O'Grady and Special Agent David Samuel, and later Special Agent Matthew Maher. We began slowly to plot the pattern of known events. It was at this point that the tenuous ties of unrelated intelligence began to acquire the strength of an inextricable web of evidence that would reach around the world. Into this net were drawn a number of the most notorious Chinese traffickers who had been operating for years beyond the reach of the law. How to get a Far Eastern trafficker to testify in court turned out to be less difficult than had been foreseen. Such is the pecking order of prison life that after a year or two they were more than willing to implicate the otherwise invulnerable violators at the top of the organizations directing both supply in Southeast Asia and distribution in North America.
The indictments drawn up under the direction of Paul J. Curran, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and David G. Trager, U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of New York, allege that about 250 pounds of heroin and a hundred pounds of opium were smuggled into North America and distributed in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver from 1970 to 1972.
About one-third of the defendants are foreign nationals, most of them Chinese traffickers who are responsible for directing the movement of hundreds of pounds of heroin into the United States in recent years. These suppliers and financiers have previously been insulated from police action and prosecution in the sanctuaries they operate in Southeast Asia. The primary purpose of CENTAC 3 was to find a way to bring them to justice. The indictments obtained in New York are the first in a series of carefully planned steps to achieve this end. Extradition or prosecution in their own countries of nationality is the next necessary step. Public exposure attending the outcome of CENTAC 3 should help to achieve this.
IN EUROPE: AN INCURSION OF ASIAN HEROIN
(By Michael A. Antonelli, Chief, European Section, DEA Office of Enforcement) A noteworthy trend is rapidly developing on the European drug scene. The previously drug-free capital cities are quickly becoming hubs of activity for groups of "ethnic" Chinese engaged in the traffic of heroin smuggled from Hong Kong and other principal cities in the Far East. Chinese criminal elements of Amsterdam, Brussels, and London, once content to reap profits from their prostitution and gambling interests, have now shifted their efforts to the marketing and distribution of Asian heroin throughout Western Europe.
In March 1972 U.S. and Netherlands narcotics officials made the first successful penetration of this traffic, culminating in the seizure of more than five pounds of white Asian heroin in Amsterdam. Included in the list of defendants was the owner of a Chinese restaurant in Breda.
One of the earliest cases involving this traffic occurred in London during June 1972 when H.M. Customs Service searched the bedrolls of two Chinese residents of Hong Kong upon their arrival at Heathrow Airport. The search uncovered 16 pounds of No. 3 heroin.
In early 1973 U.S. and European narcotics officials identified Amsterdam as the main distribution point for Asian heroin in Western Europe. As a result of a case initiated in New York, DEA identified an extremely active group of Chinese traffickers who were operating in The Hague, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam. In March two DEA agents traveled to Netherlands and conducted an investigation of eight members of the organization. It was learned that the leader was planning to sell 30 pounds of brown No. 3 heroin. Upon delivery three defendants were arrested in Amsterdam by Dutch authorities. Since Netherlands law does not recognize the act of conspiracy, the remaining defendants could not be charged. During their investigations the agents learned that the group was seeking to establish a link for Asian heroin distributors connecting Hong Kong, Europe, and the United States.
After the successful penetration of the Amsterdam group, DEA and foreign authorities recognized that the traffic pattern had been shifting from Paris to Brussels, then back to Amsterdam like a fast-moving shadow. In mid-1973 Chinese groups were dispatching the majority of their couriers from the Far East via commercial aircraft. At a time when a fairly certain pattern and trend was identified, the shadow shifted to Hamburg where, on August 19, 1973, German customs
officials and the Hamburg police seized 11 pounds of No. 3 heroin from a Chinese seaman who had concealed a part of the load on his person and the rest of it in his cabin.
During the fall of 1973 DEA, in concert with police and customs officials in France, Germany, Belgium, and Netherlands, continued to put forth concentrated efforts to break the links which were then connecting the Chinese traffic between The Orient and Europe. On August 30, 1973, a routine check of a Chinese resident of Singapore on his arrival at Kastrup Airport in Copenhagen resulted in the seizure of seven pounds of No. 3 heroin. In an effort to avoid suspicion during his travels, he had flown from Singapore via Moscow to Copenhagen. After a second seizure in Copenhagen in December 1973, the groups sent their couriers on their previous travel pattern from Hong Kong via Paris to Amsterdam.
On January 21, 1974, a seizure of heroin of Asian origin in Europe was made at Orly Airport, Paris. During a routine inspection of a Chinese traveler's suitcase, a large number of camphor balls were uncovered, evidently to inhibit a detector dog's ability to locate the seven pounds of No. 3 heroin which had been secreted in the suitcase's lining. Two couriers were arrested. One of them had previously visited Norway, Denmark, and Amsterdam, the pivotal point of this traffic. Since July 1972 European police and customs officials have arrested 62 Chinese traffickers and seized a total of 178 pounds of Asian heroin.
In a few years heroin addiction has increased in the principal cities of Netherlands, France, Germany, and Italy. As New York has historically been the primary distribution center for heroin here, Amsterdam has become the focal point for this traffic which thus far has been adequately contained within Europe. In the coming months DEA and foreign counterpart officials will continue to apply resources to strike at this traffic or contain it at a level where it hopefully will not be able to spread towards North America.