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Air America and Drugs in Laos

October 05, 1990

In "Fury Won't Make the Truth Go Away," (Column Left, Commentary, Sept. 20) columnist Alexander Cockburn makes the serious charge that I doctored a later edition of my book "Air America" to enhance the reputation of the protagonists of a second book I was writing. This is completely untrue.

The chapter on opium in my book "Air America" is expanded and updated--not dropped--to take into account further research. While writing a second book on the secret war in Laos--"The Ravens"--I inspected numerous documents that were classified when I first started my research, and conducted interviews with people involved in all aspects of the war.

I concluded that the drug-smuggling in Laos was conducted by high military personnel in the Laotian military, and these were the people who profited from it. Unable to control their clients' activities, the U.S. government and the CIA turned a blind eye.

This view is backed up by Prof. Al McCoy whose "legendary research" Cockburn so admires. McCoy states in his book, "The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia": "Unlike some national intelligence agencies, the CIA did not dabble in the drug traffic to finance its clandestine operations." Again, McCoy points the finger at the Laotian military. And the professor has not been banned from mainstream academia, as Cockburn says, but enjoys tenure at the University of Wisconsin.

Similarly, Prof. William Leary, at the University of Georgia--who has conducted exhaustive research into Air America --concludes that "portions of the Laotian air force and high officials of the Laotian government" were the culprits in the drug trade.

A recent article in the New Yorker states that it is still the Laotian military today that conducts the drug trade--under a communist government.

Cockburn seems to have an ideological need to believe the trivialized and distorted view of the cartoon version of Air America, which is the movie--described by its own screenwriter as "a fun, zany thing for the whole family, with laughs aplenty and big things blowing up."

It is the movie--and its misguided true-believers--who are ignoring the truth, not those of us--often from opposing political positions--who have spent years of research in trying to shed light on a complicated and difficult subject.

CHRISTOPHER ROBBINS

Santa Monica

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