THE OPIUM KINGS
Air date: May 20, 1997
Written and directed by Adrian Cowell
ADRIAN COWELL: The mountains of eastern Burma have been cursed by war and cursed by opium so that today their Shan people are caught in a vicious trap. It's
a trap corrupted by opium and its derivatives: morphine and heroin. And it's bloodied by one of the cruelest tyrannies on earth.
For decades I've watched the world's largest
traffic in narcotics and Burma's civil war feed on
each other until they've become monsters of
ANNOUNCER: This is a story that goes back to 1964,
when filmmaker Adrian Cowell first traveled into one
of the most remote parts of Burma to film the local
tribespeople and found himself drawn into the
dangerous politics of opium.
ADRIAN COWELL: Chris Mingus, who is the cameraman who went in with me on the worst part of this, has always said he wished he'd never gone, now that he knew what happened, and he'd never go back again. I'm a more_ I come from people who feel, well, if you suffered a hell of a lot, surely you've got to get something out of it.
ANNOUNCER: Over the next 30 years, Cowell would travel back again and again to try to unravel the mysteries
of the heroin trade.
ADRIAN COWELL: Many a time, when we were there in the '70s, we just wondered how we had ever got
ourselves into such a mess.
ANNOUNCER: Through the years of civil war, Cowell
followed the train of the heroin convoys out of Burma
to Thailand and found his way into the mountain
fortress of the man who controlled the drug trade.
Tonight on FRONTLINE, an adventure of epic scale, "The Opium Kings."
ADRIAN COWELL: This story begins on the borders of
Thailand and China, in a remote part of Burma called
Shan State. Cameraman Chris Mingus and I first entered
with the newly born Shan resistance movement and had
no premonition of the manic saga we would gradually
The revolutionaries were organizing the people in
defense of democracy and against the Burmese general
Ne Win. He had recently seized power in a military
coup, abolishing the constitution and the parliament
under which the Shan and other minority peoples had
joined the union of Burma. But it needed a little
optimism to think of this as a military machine
capable of victory. Their tactics also seemed to lack
any goal beyond shooting up Burmese patrols_ good for
morale, but not much else.
And so we watched the revolutionaries take their
next, fateful step. Opium was the Shan farmers' only
source of ready money, so the guerrillas began to take
10 percent as a tax and transported it to Thailand to
buy guns. And so the cause of democracy fell under the
spell of the "moon flower," the Yunan poppy whose
refined sap enslaves its addicts. The revolution's
equal dependence on narcotics has haunted Shan State,
as we were to see during our next visit.
[on-camera] Most of the people got into it without
really realizing what they were getting into. And
gradually, as opium dominates your taxation system and
your military system more and more, that begins to
twist what you're fighting for and who you are. And
it's a dangerous thing.
[In 1972, Adrian Cowell returned to the mountains of
ADRIAN COWELL: When we joined the Shan State army, their marching songs seemed strangely familiar until we learned that many Shans had been to mission schools and "Onward Christian Soldiers" and "Auld Lang Syne" had been borrowed as revolutionary songs. Their
collective leadership was planning to capture a monopoly of the opium trade.
SAO BOON TAI: We have been discussing
what to do. In two or three years we may be crushed
between the Burmese Government and the Communists
unless we can find enough money to increase our army.
Unfortunately, the only big source of money in Shan
State is opium. We gradually hope to take over most of
the opium trade.
ADRIAN COWELL: The only sure way to control and tax
narcotics is in the field. But as there were millions
of fields, the guerrillas had decided instead to tax
the convoys which exported the opium. These convoys
had originally been escorted by revolutionaries like
the ones we'd filmed 10 years before, but many had
since been bribed to go over to the Burmese
government. In return for a government license to
trade opium, the ex-revolutionaries worked as a
militia for the Burmese, adding confusion to this
story by switching from side to side.
The most powerful of the militia leaders was Lo Hsin Han, the famous king of opium. The revolutionaries' aim was to capture one of the king of opium's giant convoys which would soon come up from Thailand to collect the new opium harvest. Its capture would change the balance of power in the opium traffic. The first poppies were already in flower when the convoy
set out. Shan spies counted 700 mules and also filmed
for us. To prevent the convoy being reinforced by
truck, the roads were blown.
The mules are very hard to capture because they can divert onto any side track and that's exactly what happened. We were with the revolutionaries waiting in
ambush as the convoy came up this valley, but the
convoy turned suddenly and attacked another
revolutionary unit blocking their escape on the other
side of the mountain.
1st OFFICER: [subtitles] The troops must not
retreat. They must resist the enemy attack. Do you
2nd OFFICER: [subtitles] I hear.
ADRIAN COWELL: But like all the convoys of the future,
this convoy had escaped, except for 11 mule loads of
contraband from Thailand. The chief of staff barely
concealed his embarrassment.
KUN SIANG: [through interpreter] We should say it is
very unlucky for our troops and enemies escape.
ADRIAN COWELL: [interviewing] Where have they gone to?
KUN SIANG: [through interpreter] I think now they are
having their breakfast at Lashio.
ADRIAN COWELL: The booty was like a taunt from the
gods: underpants, underpants with the ironic brand
name James Bond 007. The film unit's share was two Dr.
West toothbrushes. So the first campaign against the
convoys came to its inglorious but prophetic end.
[on-camera] Basically, a mule convoy cannot move
faster than a man. You move at about the same pace as
the soldiers moving against you. So if you've got
forces here and a mule convoy going down there, that
convoy cannot get around these soldiers. So what do
they do? At the time that this convoy moves that way,
they bring another convoy the other way, yes? Then
they launch other convoys in different directions, and
these are feints. You don't know which convoy actually
has opium on it. That was extremely sophisticated and
I don't think I've heard of any other sort of warfare
of this sort, that I saw there. This is old Chinese
tactics. And of course, many of the senior officers
were officers who had been trained in nationalist
Chinese military academies.
[In 1973, under pressure from the U.S., the Burmese
dictator ordered Lo Hsin Han to disband his army.
LoHsin Han began to look for new allies.]
ADRIAN COWELL: Who, one day, did we see marching out of the jungle, but the opium king. The revolutionaries had recently killed 100 of his militia, but no one was impolite enough to mention the fact. Under the umbrella: Lo Hsin Han, the king of opium.
[on-camera] That was, for us, stunning. I mean, if
you think, you spend a six-month campaign trying to
wipe out this man and he turns up and says, "Hi boys."
It really was.
[voice-over] The revolutionaries now hoped -- with
the king of opium's help -- to control the opium trade
at its source in the field and to propose a radical
alternative to the traffic. They insisted he sell his
narcotics to the United States for burning. They hoped
the U.S. would then apply pressure to stop the Burmese
oppression of the Shans.
SAO BOON TAI, Vice President: These proposals we have just signed are to the U.S. Narcotics Bureau and to any organization which is prepared to buy and burn the opium in the Shan State. We are also prepared to bring in narcotics agents into Shan State and to check on anything they want to check. But, of course, if our proposal is not
accepted, then the needs of our people and the need of
our revolution will force us to go on with the opium
ADRIAN COWELL: The king of opium already controlled
more than half the traffic and was sure the other
opium militias would join him.
[interviewing] [subtitles] How much opium do you
handle a year?
LO HSIN HAN: [subtitles] Roughly, and on average, 180
tons a year.
ADRIAN COWELL: [subtitles] How much morphine and
heroin do you make?
LO HSIN HAN: [subtitles] We don't make heroin. Other
Tachilek traders do. We handle raw opium, morphine,
and Phyi Tzue.
ADRIAN COWELL: [on-camera] The first thing we asked he was how much of the opium trade did he control and he actually replied in the interview quite openly. So
that in that sense, I think he was direct. He was
never not straight with us. He obviously was a man of
power and a dangerous man. I mean, any revolutionary
leader has to, to survive, kill lots of people. So
there's no question, you know, that he is a war lord
from that time, but he was very direct and very
straight with us.
[voice-over] As the combined armies took the
proposals to Thailand, the opium king told us they
were carrying five tons of morphine, enough to provide
six months' heroin for all the addicts of America. As
he approached the border of Thailand, the king of
opium seemed confident the Americans would welcome his proposals. What he didn't foresee was that the American Drug Enforcement Administration would have
his proposals suppressed. With Lo Hsin Han, the five
tons of morphine were to wait in the jungle. And as he
was nervous of approaching the DEA, I agreed to
deliver the proposals.
Our first car ride, our first traffic jam for a year
and a half. Monday morning, the U.S. embassy, Bangkok.
I delivered the Shan offer: a third of the world's
heroin for only $12 million.
But just a few hours after I left, far away in the
mountains the king of opium was arrested. In fact, the
king of opium had entered Thailand with 100 soldiers.
A dozen Thai police arrived by helicopter and invited
the opium king to negotiate. His Shan interpreter went
with him and the headman swears they entered the
helicopter willingly. They were flown to the police
barracks near Chiengmai and arrested.
When the king of opium and the interpreter were
extradited from Bangkok to Burma, they looked stunned.
The DEA publicized this as the enforcement triumph of
the year, but in fact it had no effect whatever in
reducing the flow of narcotics. The king of opium knew
the least he faced was years in a Burmese jail.
Ruefully, I waved to Lo Hsin Han and he waved back.
[voice-over] I said, "Why on earth did you get into
that helicopter?" And he said, "Well, I thought I was
going to talk to the Americans." In that sense it was
naive. Lo Hsin Han is legitimately a gambler. I mean,
quite obviously a gambler, not only when he made his
bid to be the biggest man in the opium trade, but when
he switched sides. I mean, that was an enormous
gamble. And this was another gamble.
[Lo Hsin Han was extradited to Burma on August 2,
1973. He was sentenced to death.]
ADRIAN COWELL: The removal of its king naturally left
a power vacuum at the head of the opium trade, so the
main result of the betrayal was to make a present of
the traffic to the revolutionaries who'd failed to
capture it. Soon after, they exchanged a hostage for
one of their leaders who'd been captured some years
Once out of jail, Khun Sa became the second "king of opium," building up a near monopoly of the traffic.
Incredibly, his revolutionary aims led him to revive
his predecessor's offer by inviting the narcotics
committee of the United States Congress to fly to his
base in Thailand.
[April 16, 1977] As we had introduced Joe Nellis, chief counsel of the Congressional committee, we were allowed to film this historic meeting, for the second king of opium had asked the United States to plan the long-term eradication of the poppy and, in the meantime, to buy up the crop.
JOE NELLIS: Let me ask Khun Sa what would have to be
done to eliminate opium production in the Shan
KHUN SA: [through interpreter] We want you to help
make contact to the persons, you know, who can come
and collect all the opium grown in our country, either to throw it or to burn it.
ADRIAN COWELL: In the summer of 1977, the narcotics
committee of the U.S. Congress took the Shan opium
proposals to the White House of the new president,
Jimmy Carter. The debate about the proposals started
with a video of the committee's visit to Khun Sa.
Backing the proposals was Lester Wolff, chairman of
the Congressional committee on narcotics. Opposed was
President Carter's aide, Peter Bourne, who was in
charge of all drugs policy.
LESTER WOLFF: [June 24, 1977] I think the important
element that we would like to discuss with you today
is this whole question of the offer that has been
made to us because it's quite obvious that what
we're doing now has not accomplished the desired
result. And I know that.
PETER BOURNE: I'm not sure that there are any total victories or total losses, that the question is to move from one strategy to another, keep the traffickers constantly off guard, and for us to stay when--
ADRIAN COWELL: Over the coming weeks, the debate would resolve into two clearly defined arguments. Lester
Wolff, Joe Nellis, and their committee wanted to buy
up Shan opium, as the first stage to negotiating an
end to its cultivation. But Peter Bourne and his
government departments were against negotiations. They
wanted to give the Burmese army airplanes to attack
Shan convoys. The debate continued until the White
House took its all too predictable decision to the
LESTER WOLFF: [July 12, 1977] --the testimony you're
about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
PETER BOURNE: I do.
LESTER WOLFF: Please proceed.
PETER BOURNE: I would like to just address briefly,
Mr. Chairman, the policy alternatives suggested for
consideration in the committee's report on your
recent visit to South-East Asia- that is the
preemptive purchase of opium from the Shan United
Army. I have found not a single person who felt this
concept had any validity. It is unthinkable that any
representative of this administration would
negotiate with representatives of insurgent groups
opposed to the legitimate government of Burma, much
less use the American taxpayers' dollars for a
program that would, in effect, provide a subsidy
for narcotic traffickers and arms for an
insurrection. The so-called Shan United Army is led
by a ruthless band of ethnic Chinese opium warlords--
ADRIAN COWELL: And so the United States rejected the
second king of opium's offer.
The United States would soon be providing satellite
intelligence about Shan convoys. They also gave the
Burmese military junta five troop-carrying planes to
transport their soldiers to forward airstrips. There
American diplomats saw officers briefing soldiers
about the convoy they were about to attack. They then
transferred to two dozen U.S.-donated helicopters,
though, U.S. officials were never permitted to go with
them. The reason was revealed when we later learned
that the 10-year campaign completely failed to stop or
capture a single convoy.
[interviewing] Presumably, the purpose of giving
troop-carrying planes was to attack the convoys. What
percentage, roughly, did they succeed in capturing?
Did they capture 1 per cent?
WILLIAM DAVNIE, Bureau of International Narcotics, State Department: I suspect-- I don't have the numbers, you know, right off the top of my head. I suspect that
would be high. I mean, in most years in Burma we've
looked at seizure rates-- and of course we're dealing
with estimates of-- of export. But we're dealing with
seizure rates in the decimal point range.
ADRIAN COWELL: [on-camera] Why did they not succeed in ever capturing a single convoy? Why did they not succeed in stopping in any way? The reason is that in
jungle, in jungle areas, you could go off in all sorts
of directions, and a helicopter has the one disadvantage that unless somebody has a loud Walkman blasting into his ears, he's going to hear it, yeah? And those troops can just vanish like that. A mule isn't like a truck, you know. It can go-- it can just go off the trail into the jungle, anything like that, so that-- and they were never effective.
[The U.S. provided $80 million in anti-drug militaryaid. All aid ceased in 1988 after the massacre of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators by the Burmese military.
In 1992, Adrian Cowell returned to Shan State.]
ADRIAN COWELL: [on-camera] Living in Khun Sa's capital was like living not in an opera, in a sort of comic opera. I mean, there were mad things going on all the
time, really mad things, and that comes from the fact
that they are on the fringe of the legal world. I
mean, there are all sorts of mercenaries going up
there, trying to sell them different sorts of weapons.
There were all sorts of other deals going on which were not narcotics deals, especially gem deals and things like that. So that from the point of view of people who live in a more stable society, it was a slightly mad society, but it came from the fact that it was a society outside the legal parameters of the international community.
INTERVIEWER: A dangerous society?
ADRIAN COWELL: Yes. If you did something wrong, you
[voice-over] Like waves in a sea of rock, the Shan
mountains of eastern Burma seem capable of deterring
any invader. When I was here 20 years ago, most
guerrilla armies still only numbered 1,000, but by
1992 the Shan training school was turning out over
4,000 recruits a year. Yet the Shans had never fought
a major battle. So is their commander, Khun Sa, a
revolutionary or is he a drug baron?
DON FERRARONE, Drug Enforcement Administration: When you look out on the universe of the major trafficking organizations throughout the world, he fits in there right up in the top five. His organization alone
accounts for 60 percent, 70 percent of the heroin that's in the United States. Khun Sa was doubling his capacity, his ability to produce heroin, every 10 years. The amounts that were coming out were staggering.
ADRIAN COWELL: The American Drug Enforcement
Administration -- the DEA -- has so demonized Khun Sa
that it's hard to separate the Hollywood villain from
the political figure.
KHUN SA: [subtitles] Hong Kong film people don't
understand the heroin business.
ADRIAN COWELL: Perhaps he's right, but the caricature
does pose a question. If we scratch the revolutionary,
will we find this? Through an interpreter, I asked if he enjoyed being a Hollywood demon.
KHUN SA: [subtitles] The movie company is just making
money. It's not important that they defame me. What's
important is that they harm the Shan cause. More than
10 million people are dying and suffering. It's not
fair to the Shan people.
ADRIAN COWELL: But the Shans now produce two thirds of the world's heroin. So we showed Khun Sa an article in which an English mother accused him of killing her addict daughter.
KHUN SA: [subtitles] If the DEA had agreed in 1977 to
uproot opium, her daughter wouldn't have died. I want
to help, but they won't let me. I sympathize with her.
She shouldn't blame Khun Sa, but the DEA.
ADRIAN COWELL: But as the interpreter translated, we
could see that Khun Sa could not take his eyes off the
article, as if it had really got under his skin. Then
he brought it up again.
KHUN SA: [subtitles] You can see our men carry rifles.
They want to liberate Shan State and opium and Shan
politics are inter-twined. Give the Shans independence
and we'll do away with opium without one cent of
outside help. The people will do it, even if they have
to eat roots.
ADRIAN COWELL: If opium means a bargain with the
devil, then Khun Sa does not like to be reminded of
ROBERT GELBARD, Assistant Secretary of State for
International Narcotics Affairs: Khun Sa is a criminal. The Shan United Army -- and I use that in quotes -- is a criminal organization. They're responsible for poisoning tens of thousands of people.
ADRIAN COWELL: The United States has formally indicted Khun Sa and claims he's using politics to traffic in narcotics. Yet if you watch, Khun Sa appears to be a
revolutionary using opium to support his army. But
there's no way of proving he's not play-acting in
order to control the world's largest source of heroin.
That's the puzzle. Where on earth does Khun Sa think
As I crossed into the guerrilla region with
cameraman Ned Johnston, the first of the opium harvest was coming the other way.
SIANG JOE: The traders brought in 25 viss of opiates
-- raw opiates -- and we tax 100 kyatts for a viss.
ADRIAN COWELL: [interviewing] What percentage of the MTA's annual income comes from opiates? Is it half
SIANG JOE: It's partial. Partially. I couldn't mention
the right figure, but I think it's only partially.
ADRIAN COWELL: Where will the opium go now?
SIANG JOE: I presume they have the buyers somewhere in the jungles.
ADRIAN COWELL: Are those buyers from heroin factories?
SIANG JOE: I don't know, sir.
ADRIAN COWELL: [voice-over] As the opium moved on
towards the factories, our column traveled towards the
fields and the war, into the opium mountains regularly
raided by the Burmese Army. Huge fields of poppies
were everywhere and we were surprised by the density
of the crop and how every spare patch of land was
devoted to opium. Most families were growing twice as
much, some five times as much, as the amounts I
recorded in the 1970s. In village after village we
learned that Burmese plundering had made it impossible
to survive without opium.
MAN WITH SLIT LIP: [subtitles] They killed our pigs
and cows. They beat us up. They took our chickens.
ADRIAN COWELL: [subtitles] What happened to your
MAN WITH SLIT LIP: [subtitles] When I didn't tell them
what they wanted to know, they sliced my mouth.
ADRIAN COWELL: [voice-over] Opium in the field is too
laborious for a Burmese soldier to harvest on his own
and once out of the field is such a small packet that
it's easy to hide, unlike rice or cattle. So opium is
the only crop the Burmese cannot loot. So far as I
could see, it is the Shan family's only insurance
against starvation. The white sap of the Yunan poppy
bleeds in ever increasing quantities, driven by ever
increasing looting and brutality against these ever
more desperate people.
[on-camera] Great atrocities were constantly
committed, primarily by the Burmese, but the
guerrillas always had the restraint that you depended
on the village people to give you information and to
lie for you to the Burmese. So that that restrained
the natural brutality of an armed man in an unarmed
society. So I'm not saying the guerrillas didn't do
bad things to the villagers, but that's naturally
less. The Burmese did many, many very brutal things,
and they still are. I mean, the Burmese regime now is
probably the most brutal, according to Amnesty
International and Human Rights Watch, which is the
U.S.-based one here-- the most brutal regime in the
[voice-over] Recently, Shan State has provided the
main resistance to the dictatorship, and south of the
river Shaween there's an area completely liberated by
the Shan army. This part of Shan State is free because
the Burmese are unable to cross the Salween Gorge. But
in 1994 the Burmese built a bridgehead from the east
to attack the liberated part of Shan State without
crossing the River.
Soon after, a large Shan column was sent off to
attack the Burmese bridgehead and it began to look as
if military action might soon clarify the enigma of
Khun Sa. Could he be planning to refute the DEA and
his other critics by becoming the savior of his
The target of the Shan attack was the valley of Mong
Kyawt. Major Yot Serk was to command the assault and
pointed out the location of the first Burmese fort.
That evening the clouds built up and the Shans
attacked in heavy rain during the night. Next day the
Shan soldiers at the fort of Mahin Gong looked
relieved but drained by the attack. It looked as
though Khun Sa was truly launched on the long struggle
The Shan outposts held off what were only minor
attacks in the east and the Shans retaliated against
the Burmese border town of Tachilek. Shan tracers pass
over this Burmese and this Shan fires a grenade at
him. During 1995, the Shans held their own in the war,
but they would soon be brought to their knees by
In Rangoon, the Burmese generals had for some years been keeping another card up their uniformed sleeves. The chief of military intelligence, General Khin
Nyunt, had a concealed joker in the form of our old
friend, the first king of opium. Lo Hsin Han's death
sentence was reduced to eight years, when he was
released on the orders of his future patron, the chief
of intelligence, General Khin Nyunt.
The Burmese went on helping Lo Hsin Han become a sort of godfather to the traffickers in the principal opium-growing regions of the Wa and Kokang. There he negotiated a ceasefire between the Burmese and the leader of Kokang's traffickers. The deal Lo Hsin Han
brokered was Kokang's unrestricted right to manufacture and distribute its heroin, for the more his groups controlled the narcotics traffic, the more Lo Hsin Han was able to undercut economically the enemy the Burmese could not defeat militarily: Khun Sa.
[on-camera] The important thing that actually
undercut Khun Sa was, one, the Kokang and Wa heroin
was no longer coming that way and he wasn't getting
that tax and, two, that his forces in the middle of
Shan state mutinied in August, 1995, and that mutiny
was-- not only took that group away, but more and more
people were deserting from other areas. It took time
for all of that to impact on Khun Sa, but there's no
question that Lo Hsin Han was the key to the changing
of that situation, yes.
[voice-over] The economic stranglehold produced
increasing strain at Khun Sa's capital. When senior
officers became critical of Khun Sa, fearing a
landslide of desertions, he surprised and challenged
the Shan assembly with a speech of resignation.
KHUN SA: [August 11, 1995] [subtitles] If the
majority of you say "We want you", I'll continue
doing my duty. But if you don't, then fight on your
own. I won't give the army's weapons up to you. I'll
deposit my weapons at the monastery. Then let the
best man lead.
ADRIAN COWELL: With an ironic laugh and after decades in power, the king of opium resigned his executive offices. At the same time, he sent secret emissaries to the Burmese government and warned his troops of a time of great sorrow ahead.
After decades unable to enter this area, the Burmese
just walked in-- to a traditional welcome. Somberly, Khun Sa waited to greet the Burmese general. The general had promised him amnesty and to cease blockading his trade routes for narcotics and other goods. Grimly, the troops assembled for a ceremony -- to be filmed by the Burmese government -- which ended all hope of Shan independence. Altogether 12,000 surrendered. Without a shot fired, Burmese troops dominated Khun Sa's capital.
BURMESE GENERAL: [subtitles] I am General Tin Tut of the Eastern Command.
ADRIAN COWELL: He proposed Khun Sa's army should
become a pro-government militia, like the Kokang and
Wa militias which control most of Burma's narcotics.
Thus, by abandoning Shan independence, Khun Sa secured his share of the narcotics traffic and possibly a
NICHOLAS BURNS, State Department Spokesman: [January 4, 1996] Given the criminal notoriety of Khun Sa and his organization's extensive involvement in the
international heroin trade, we are concerned that this apparent political agreement could facilitate the continued drug-trafficking operations of the Shan United Army. And as you know, this supplies a very large amount of the heroin consumed in the United States. So we are calling on the Burmese government to turn Khun Sa over to United States authorities. Because he is a drug lord, he should be prosecuted in a United States court on narcotics charges.
DON FERRARONE:, Drug Enforcement Administration: We'd love to get our hands on Khun Sa. And he needs to go to jail. He's a crook, he's a liar and he's a killer and he's caused the death of thousands of people in the United States over a 30-year period. Rather than put him in a mansion in Rangoon, we have a little room for him in the eastern district in Brooklyn waiting for him. It's got his name on it.
ADRIAN COWELL: If all this resolves the enigma of Khun Sa, it does little to solve the opium problem. And
Khun Sa was his cryptic self when I suggested the DEA
was chasing him around in circles, like the music box
on his table.
KHUN SA: [subtitles] They go on making arrests, like
in the movies. It's their way of making money. But,
like this, things just go 'round and 'round. A war has
an aim: to capture money, gold, a country. Because
there's an aim, war must end one day. But the way they
deal with it, the drug problem has no end because
there's no goal.
ADRIAN COWELL: The war on drugs is a ceaseless merry-go-round, as the history of the kings of opium reveals over and over again to the immense profit of everyone on board and to the intense suffering of the addicts and the Shan people.
[on-camera] Khun Sa was an intelligent man who had
the courage to use power and he may have used it
wrongfully, but, I mean, he was someone who came from
more or less nowhere, saw that the secret to this
guerrilla war was to build up the economic resources
to put into a major army, and he did that. What he
betrayed, of course, was the thousands of young men
who joined his army and got paid very little for it
and who fought for him all those years and the
thousands who got killed, as well. And that's what
many Shan people cannot forgive him for.
[Khun Sa lives comfortable in Rangoon and is looking
for business opportunities. Lo Hsin Han remains one of the richest men in Burma. His businesses include a hotel, a contract to own and operate a new port in Rangoon and a new toll road that runs into the heart of Burma's opium fields.
Adrian Cowell spent the decade of the '80s documenting the destruction of the Brazilian rain forest. Today he is deep in the rain forest again, trying to film previously uncontacted Indian tribes.]
ANNOUNCER: Check out FRONTLINE online at this address for more on the opium and heroin trade. Find out how four U.S. drug czars would crack down on heroin.
Explore the process that turns poppy flowers into heroin. Read about heroin and the brain and how addiction to it works. Explore much more at FRONTLINE on-line at www.pbs.org.
Next time on FRONTLINE, a modern-day witch hunt. ["...more dramatic than John Grisham could ever conceive..." USA Today] Seven people accused and
indicted for unspeakable crimes. ["...likely to leave
the audience shaken..." The Wall Street Journal] Eight
years later, they must choose between getting back
their lives and the truth.
SCOTT PRIVOTT: If I'm a monster, then why did they offer me a plea?
ANNOUNCER: FRONTLINE's investigation of the Little
Rascals day care case continues with shocking new
events. ["A meticulous, gut-churning report." Los
Angeles Times] "Innocence Lost: The Plea" next time on
Our fax machine worked overtime and we received well over 1,000 e-mail messages about "Nuclear Reaction," our report reexamining nuclear power. Response was overwhelmingly positive, but critics voiced opinions like these.
DALE COBERLY: [Corvallis, OR] Dear FRONTLINE-- Sorry, no sale. I am wary enough to recognize propaganda when I see it, even PBS-quality propaganda. My own experience as an inspector in the construction industry and my further experience with our elected government leaves me no confidence in our ability to manage anything as insidiously dangerous as nuclear
JOHN V. LESKO: [Bedford, MA] Dear FRONTLINE-- Using Ralph Nader as the chief spokesman against nuclear power and a much wider array of spokesmen for nuclear power was not balanced coverage. I would have been curious about what the Union of Concerned Scientists and technically trained specialists who oppose nuclear power had to say.
EGENE J. McALLISTER: [Guerneville, CA] Dear
FRONTLINE-- I've never realized how slanted your
presentations were. I guess it's because I've agreed
with you. Yes, EMFs are harmless. Yes, Mexico is
corrupt. However, this time I do not agree. I do not
want to see these nuclear power plants operating.
ANNOUNCER: Here's a sample of the hundreds of positive comments that dominated the mix.
CHRISTIAN M. RESTIFO: [Bloomington, IN] Dear
FRONTLINE-- As someone who has been involved with
nuclear power, I have felt my skin crawl every time a
typical news article or T.V. spot totally distorted
the facts about nuclear power. Your piece was
refreshingly calm, balanced and grounded in good
science and engineering. Everything that the
physicists and engineers said has been known
throughout the industry for decades.
PATRICIA MILLIGAN: [Forked River, NJ] Dear FRONTLINE-- As a nuclear worker, I found your story to be honest and to the point. I have been frustrated for years
dealing with the irrational fears of nuclear power. At times I don't even bother to tell people what I do for a living, just to avoid the hassle. Thanks again for your excellent coverage of our industry, an industry that should be making up a large part of America's energy needs, but instead finds itself dying out.
HAYDEN MATHEWS: [Burke, VA] Dear FRONTLINE-- I began viewing the program with a strong "no nukes" bias, but was pleasantly surprised. Your program has prompted me to revisit the data on nuclear power, reexamine my
views and make a fair and equitable reassessment of the overall issue. Programs like this are great. They make me stop and take stock of my beliefs and the basis for those beliefs. Bravo.
ANNOUNCER: Let us know what you thought about
tonight's program by fax [(617) 254-0243], by e-mail
[firstname.lastname@example.org] or by the U.S. mail [DEAR
FRONTLINE, 125 Western Ave., Boston, MA 02134].
THE OPIUM KINGS
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
PRODUCER IN THAILAND
PRODUCER & EDITOR FOR FRONTLINE
Joe Rosenbloom III
©1997 Carlton UK Television
POST PRODUCTION DIRECTOR
POST PRODUCTION PRODUCER
The Caption Center
Lee Ann Donner
SPECIAL PROJECTS ASSISTANT
SENIOR STAFF ASSOCIATE
Anne del Castillo
Valerie E. Opara
Janel G. Ranney
DIRECTOR OF ADMINISTRATION
SENIOR PRODUCER SPECIAL PROJECTS
SENIOR EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
Produced by Carlton UK Television in association with WGBH/ FRONTLINE
© 1997 WGBH EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION ALL RIGHTS RESERVED