After a day long interview with a poppy farmer in southern Afghanistan, the investigative reporter was handed four poppy pods from the farmer as a 'gift'; when he handed the pods to the reporter, the farmer said: "This is a gift of love from me; a kiss of death for you."
Poppy pods procured from Kandahar City. They were lanced six times each, indicating a slightly above average extraction of raw opium.
Photo by Matt Dupee.
Photo by Matt Dupee.
Acetic Anhydride: Chemical Precursor in the Production of Heroin
In 1874, Charles Romley Alder Wright was an English chemistry and physics researcher at St. Mary's Hospital Medical School in London and was the first person to synthesize heroin from morphine. Over the intervening years since 1874, the production of acetic anhydride as a chemical precursor, has also simultaneously increased to meet the demands of the production of heroin estimated in Afghanistan alone in 2006 to be at five-hundred and eighty-two metric tons. Heroin production increased sharply following the defeat of the Taliban, from 2001 (seven metric tons) to 2006 (five-hundred and eighty-two metric tons in Afghanistan out of a worldwide total estimated production of six-hundred and thirty-two metric tons).
At the time of his discovery, Charles Wright was experimenting with ways to come up with a non-addictive alternative to morphine; he had been experimenting with combining morphine with various acids. In his laboratory, Wright discovered that by boiling anhydrous morphine alkaloid with acetic anhydride over a stove for several hours, he could produce a potent acetylated form of morphine, now called diacetylmorphine, also known as heroin. Morphine, one of many alkaloids in opium, is then extracted out of the opium by precipitation and turned into heroin by heating it with acetic anhydride for several hours. As of 2011, Afghanistan is where the largest production in the world of diacetylmorphine is manufactured in secret labs dotting the rugged landscape.
Acetic anhydride (IUPAC)
Acetic anhydride, or ethanoic anhydride, is the chemical compound with the formula (CH3CO)2O. Commonly abbreviated Ac2O, it is the simplest isolatable acid anhydride and is a widely used reagent in organic synthesis. It is a colorless liquid that smells strongly of acetic acid, formed by its reaction with the moisture in the air.Formic anhydride is an even simpler acid anhydride, but it spontaneously decomposes, especially once removed from solution. This is why acetic anhydride is the preferred chemical component in the production of heroin in countless drug laboratories all across Afghanistan where heroin is produced after the resin from poppy pods has been collected and shipped to labs in wafers.
The resin is allowed to dry and then is scraped off the pods in a very laborious process. It is then formed into 'wafers' and then sent on to heroin producing labs.
Chemical Description of Heroin:
Heroin (diacetylmorphine (INN)), also known as diamorphine (BAN), is a semi-synthetic opioid drug synthesized from morphine, a derivative of the opium poppy. It is the 3,6-diacetyl ester of morphine (di (two)-acetyl-morphine). The white crystalline form is commonly the hydrochloride salt diacetylmorphine hydrochloride, though often adulterated thus dulling the sheen and consistency from that to a matte white powder, which diacetylmorphine freebase typically is. 90% of diacetylmorphine is thought to be produced in Afghanistan.
To give an idea of the scope and the breadth of the drug trade in Afghanistan, this video gives a pretty thorough understanding of the production of the poppy plant from the point of making incisions on the bulb of the plant to extract the resin, to its final collection for transportation to production labs for synthesis into heroin:
Acetic Anhydride Manufacturers & Suppliers
IndianIndustry.com presents an extensive directory of companies manufacturing and selling the chemical acetic anhydride along with their profiles and contact information. Global buyers looking for genuine manufacturers, suppliers, exporters and traders of acetic anhydride, can send request for information to these companies to receive free quotes on prices and transportation costs. The United Nations and various international agencies have made agreements with countries to restrict and monitor the production and transportation of chemicals including acetic anhydride. However, there are few impediments to the transporation of acetic anhydride on the black market by smugglers used in the production of heroin in Afghanistan in what is now estimated to be several hundred billion dollars a year in the drug trade.
Another factor that makes curtailing the flow of smuggled acetic anhydride into Afghanistan a very difficult proposition indeed, is the fact that some of the most important trafficking operations reportedly involve government officials and the police, while still others are independent and operate from outside Afghanistan, according to a United States Department of International Narcotics Control Strategy Report for 2009.
"The only thing that is not negotiable is my take on the acetic hydride coming in and the heroin going out of Afghanistan."
Taking the case of Col Abdul Raziq, for example, who was born in 1979 and raised in the Spin Boldak District of Afghanistan; he is now the border police commander for southern Spin Boldak District, Province Kandahar as of November 22, 2009. Raziq is known in the province as a "brutal border police commander and is engaged in the drug trade and large scale smuggling." Probably with shipments of acetic anhydride coming into the country and with shipments of heroin leaving the country. Raziq is a Adozai tribal leader and commands a private militia as well.
The chemical acetic anhydride enables Afghanistan's drug lords to increase revenue dramatically by producing heroin in their own laboratories instead of shipping out raw opium to be processed outside of Afghanistan. According to U.S. Army General John Craddock, supreme allied commander for Europe in 2008, a kilo of opium brings in roughly 100USD, compared with 3,500USD for heroin.
Just how much profit Razziq makes from his total control of the border is impossible to gauge. About 700 trucks cross the frontier each day, linking Pakistan with southern Afghanistan, Iran and central Asia beyond. The head of Afghan customs, Bismullah Kammawie, told the American officers that corruption at Razziq's border post was "total". The Afghan government collects about $55.93 million ($US40 million) in customs revenue in Kandahar Province per year, about a fifth of what it should collect. Razziq is controlling an empire worth millions in annual kickbacks. It is estimated that Razik pulls in between $5 million and $6 million per month in revenues, money he has invested in properties in Kabul and Kandahar and also abroad, in Dubai and Tajikistan.
Historically, chemicals critical or the synthesis or manufacture of heroin are introduced into various trade connections via legitimate purchases by companies that are registered and licensed to do business as chemical importers or handlers. Once in a country or state, the chemicals are diverted by rogue importers or chemical companies, by criminal organizations and individual violators, or, more typically as seen in Afghanistan, acquired as a result of coercion, intimidation and bribery on the part of drug traffickers.
Although the following list of manufacturers in India is only partial, it does give an indication of the amounts of acetic anhydride that is produced in India alone. China is also a huge manufacturer of this chemical compound as well as the United States, with the Eastman Corporation (a spin off of Eastman Kodak concentrating on chemical manufacturing with sales in 2008 of $6.7 billion) having three large chemical manufacturing plants in China that produce acetic anhydride, Nanjing, Tong Xiang and Wuhan. The biggest chemical manufacturers of acetic anhydride in India are the following:
Ashok Chem Pharma International, Mumbai
Manufacturing, exporting and supplying of Acetic Anhydride that includes acetic anahydride acid, liquid acetic anahydride acid, transparent acetic anahydride acid and laboratory acetic anahydride acid.
No. 11, Karim Chambers, Fort,
Maharashtra, India, 400 001
Ankit Raj Organo Chemicals Ltd., Mumbai
Deals in manufacturing and supplying of Acetic Anhydride, pharmaceutical Acetic Anhydride, Acetic Anhydride chemical and monochloro acetic acid. Also offering other product like food products and alcohol based chemicals.
No. 201, Trimurti Arcade, Near Sarvodaya Hospital, LBS Marg, Ghatkoper West,
Maharashtra, India, 400 072
Iol Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals Limited, Punjab, Ludhiana
Manufacturer and supplier of Acetic Anhydride, industrial grade Acetic Anhydride and pure Acetic Anhydride. Also offering other chemicals like ethyl acetate, ibuprofen, isobutyl benzene, glacial acetic acid and mono chloro acetic acid.
85, Industrial Area A,
Punjab, India, 141 003
Trupti Chemicals, Mumbai
Exporting a wide range of Acetic Anhydride, acetic acid, formulated acetic acid, pure acetic acid, clear acetic acid, water soluble acetic acid and flammable acetic acid. Also offering other chemicals like acetone, butyl acetate and benzene.
Exim Estate, Rambaug Lane, S. V. Road, Behind S.B.I Malad West,
Maharashtra, India, 400 064
Triveni Chemicals, Vapi, Vapi
Deals in supplying of Acetic Anhydride. Also offering other chemicals like acid anhydride; maleic anhydride; phthalic anhydride; triflic anhydride; succinic anhydride; trifluoromethanesulfonic anhydride.
No. 135 Pancharatna Char Rasta G. I. D. C,
Gujarat, India, 396 195
Solvents Plastics And Rubber Chemicals, Mumbai
Manufacturers Of Solvents Such As Acetic Anhydride; Aceto Acetanlide etc.
A/501, Jagannath Appt., Rokadia Lane, Borivli (w),
Maharashtra, India, 400 092
Jpb Chemical Industries Private Limited, Mumbai
Acetic Acid Glacial Chemicals; Caustic Potash Flakes; Citric Acid Chemicals; Potassium Carbonate; Tartaric Acid
Shreenath Shopping Center Office No. 2 1st Floor D.J. Road, Vile Parle (West),
Maharashtra, India, 400056
Acetic Acid; Chemical Powder; Citric Acid Monohydrate; Colorless Liquid Acetic Acid; Hydrogen Peroxide; Laboratory Chemicals; Sodium Nitrate; Sodium Sulphate
No. 11, 1st floor, 20th Cross, R.T. Street, Chickpet Cross,
Karnataka, India, 560 053
Manlike Chemical & Pharmaceutical Company Private Limited, Delhi
Acetic Acid; Acetic Anhydrous; Caustic Soda; Phenol; Soda Ash
Laxmi Nagar, Near Nirman Vihar, Metro Station,
Delhi, India, 110 092
Fischer Chemic Limited, Chennai
Acetic Anhydride; Aluminium Metal Powder; Aminophenol; Benzoin; Cholorbenzophenone; Dioxan
3/240, Govindan Nagar, Palavakkam,
Tamil Nadu, India, 600 041
'Is It Live or is It Livery' Review
Recently, allied troops in Afghanistan celebrated a heroin raid reputed to be one of the biggest ever: "Approximately 92 tons of street-ready heroin, along with several tons more of 'processing chemicals.'" The 'processing chemicals' included an undisclosed number of fifty gallon steel drums and five gallon polyurethane containers of acetic anhydride. Drug traffickers working with clandestine labs have increasingly been forced to divert chemicals by mislabeling the containers, forging documents, establishing front companies, using circuitous routing, hijacking shipments, bribing officials, or smuggling products across international borders.
When this seizure was learned of by one of our Abel Danger agents, our first question after finding out about this seizure was: 'Why were no details made available on those chemicals concerning shipping, manufacturer, container markings, ecetera?' What has already been concluded is that without acetic anhydride, the production of heroin from morphine is impossible; and has been ever since Charles Wright first discovered how to synthesize heroin from morphine in his lab in Britain one-hundred and thirty-five years ago. This chemical compound is also heavily used in the production of film coating (Eastman Kodak), aspirin production and used to chemically treat lumber.
Acetic anhydride is also an important organic chemical raw material, it is mainly applied in manufacturing cellulose acetate, among which cellulose diacetate is used to make cigarette filter tips and plastics, and cellulose triacetate as raw material to make high-grade light sensing film. Acetic anhydride can also be used in pharmaceuticals, dyes, agricultural, chemicals, military, perfume industries and used for metal buffing.
The problem for heroin labs operating in Afghanistan, is that no acetic anhydride is manufactured in the country; because ostensibly it is prohibited from being transported and manufactured which was imposed on Afghanistan by the Taliban when they came to power. Obviously, as a result of this ban on the production of acetic anhydride, which is still in effective to some extent, thousands of tons of the chemical are smuggled into Afghanistan most likely originating in India and China. China produces over one-hundred thousand metric tons of acetic anhydride each year, and imports an additional twenty-thousand metric tons from the United States and Singapore.
After production of morphine into heroin at production labs hidden in difficult to find locations strategically and in all probability, very mobile locations all over Afghanistan, tons of heroin are then smuggled out of Afghanistan possibly through many of these same smuggling networks through Afghanistan's long rugged and easily penetrated borders.
Afghanistan has been converted into one large narcotics processing factory, from production to transportation to markets; even Hamid Karzai's brother is in on the heroin trade:
The entire strategy here of the US policy towards heroin production seems to be deeply flawed (unless it is intentional) after reviewing this strategy to 'stem the flow' of Afghanistan's massive opium trade. Without acetic anahydride the production of morphine into heroin cannot be accomplished, so wouldn't it make more sense to develop a strategy to begin closely monitoring the manufacture of this chemical precursor made by companies previously identified in this blog manufacturing acetic anhydride?
The obvious answer would be no, of course not; because the purpose of the drug trade out of Afghanistan is not to limit it, but rather to determine who exactly controls the trade. The focus is on interdiction of heroin that has already been produced and is either in transport or storage. It would only make sense that some of the interdiction going on in Afghanistan is tolerated; and the heroin that is located and seized, and then taken out of circulation, is simply considered as a 'business write off' just like in any other business where losses are expected and incurred.
"American authorities are planning a broad new campaign against terrorist financing networks in Afghanistan, sending in dozens of federal drug enforcement agents to help stem the country's massive opium trade, the Associated Press has learned.In a statement by Karen P. Tandy, Administrator Drug Enforcement Administration (US$2.415 billion budget in 2010) on June 28, 2006 before the Committee on Armed Services U.S. House Representatives, Tandy outlined the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) operations in Afghanistan. After reading this, where is the 'containment' of the manufacturers in India and in China producing tons of the chemical precursor acetic anhydride? The effort here from US foreign policy is on seizing the final product, not interdiction of supply lines which should be fundamental in any tactical effort to stop or slow down the production of heroin.
The surge of narcotics agents, which would boost the number of anti-drug officials inside Afghanistan from a dozen to nearly 80, would bolster a strategy laid out last week by the Obama administration to use U.S. and NATO troops to target "higher level drug lords."
Detailed plans described to members of Congress behind closed doors earlier this month suggest the effort will be modeled after the federal Drug Enforcement Administration's campaign against drug cartels in South America."
Operation ContainmentAcetic anhydride, the most commonly used chemical agent in heroin processing, is virtually irreplaceable, so its production will continue in direct relation to the increased production of poppy production in Afghanistan. India seems to have taken over a large part of this trade route, while authorities in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan routinely seize ton-quantity shipments of diverted acetic anhydride; more recently in Dubai. Another huge source of acetic anhydride production originates in Mexico; and what few people realize, is that according to the DEA, "Mexico remains the only heroin source country that has indigenous acetic anhydride production capability, producing eighty-seven thousand metric tons in 1999 alone."
DEA’s participation in the Five Pillar Plan is an expansion of the DEA-led Operation Containment, initiated in 2002. This program was necessary due to the lack of fully developed institutional systems for drug enforcement in Afghanistan, such as courts and law enforcement agencies. Through Operation Containment, in May 2003, the DEA was also able to establish a 25- member Sensitive Investigative Unit (SIU) in neighboring Uzbekistan, a country critical to containing the threat of Afghan opium entering Central Asia for further transit to Russia and Western Europe. On April 19, 2006, the DEA funded Uzbekistan SIU executed a search warrant in Sarosivo District, Surkhandarya Region, Uzbekistan resulting in one arrest and the seizure of approximately 129.5 kilograms of heroin.
This multi-national cooperative program has been responsible for record seizures and cases against high value targets. Prior to the initiation of Operation Containment, in 2002, only 407 kilograms of heroin were seized. In FY 2005, Operation Containment, which includes the seizures in Afghanistan, resulted in 577 arrests, a 16 percent increase over FY 2004 (498), and the following seizures: 248 labs, approximately 23 times the number seized in FY2004; 43.9 metric tons of opium gum, over 7 times the amount seized in 2004; 14.2 metric tons of precursor chemicals—4 times the amount seized in FY 2004; 11.5 metric tons of heroin—a 2,826 percent increase over what was seized before Operation Containment was put in place, and 1.3 metric tons of morphine base. Unfortunately, additional statistics on what else occurred prior to Operation Containment are not available, as there was no uniform collection of statistics for any seizures that were not heroin. During FY 2005, Operation Containment resulted in the initiation of 146 investigations, and led to the disruption of two Consolidated Priority Organization Targets, including the Haji Bashir Noorzai and Haji Baz Mohammad organizations. Haji Bashir Noorzai's organization was severely disrupted. The Government of Afghanistan, with the assistance of the Department of Justice prosecutors in Kabul, extradited Haji Baz Mohammad to the United States for prosecution. This was the first ever extradition from Afghanistan to the United States. Both Baz Mohammad and Noorzai are incarcerated and are pending federal prosecution.
DEA's Operation Topaz is a coordinated international strategy targeting acetic anhydride. In place since March 2001, a total of thirty-one countries are currently organized participants in the program in addition to regional participants. The DEA reported that as of June 2001, some 125 consignments of acetic anhydride had been tracked totaling 618,902,223 kilograms. As of July 2001, there has been approximately 20 shipments of acetic anhydride totaling 185,000 kilograms either stopped or seized.Acetic anhydride looks and smells a lot like vinegar with a pungent smell. Its only use in Afghanistan is at hundreds of morphine refineries that have increased their annual demand from about two-hundred tons to one-thousand thirty tons during the last six years according to more recent findings. As was previously pointed out, none of these chemical precursors are manufactured in Afghanistan. In all, some eleven-thousand tons of chemicals were required to process opium form morphine in Afghanistan during the year 2007.
The chemicals are smuggled into Afghanistan from China, India, Pakistan (the majority of acetic anhydride is smuggled through Pakistan), and the Central Asian Republics. Sometimes the containers, both fifty gallon steel drums and polyurethane five and ten gallon containers, are labeled as 'cleaning solution' or 'industrial chemical'; but most of the time the containers are simply trucked into Afghanistan without inspection or detection on either side of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. A recent Indian couple who owned a clothing garment business were smuggling containers of acetic anhydride hidden in shipments of their clothing being shipped into Afghanistan.
There are probably hundreds of these similar small time operations going on to make extra money along the way that are nearly impossible to detect. There have been no significant seizures of precursor chemicals in any of the countries bordering Afghanistan since the year 2001. The lack of seizures during the last two years, when record levels of Afghan opium and heroin were being produced, is especially revealing and can be reasonably concluded that smuggling routes and operations are carefully and methodically protected.
“Over 1,000 tons of acetic anhydride is needed to process all of this opium into heroin,” said Hakan Demirbuken, regional monitoring expert with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). “Last year  more than 90 percent of the precursor seizures were at the eastern part of Afghanistan in the provinces of Nangarhar, Khost, and Paktya near the Pakistan border.” There are virtually no seizures across the border, in spite of the fact that the majority of precursor chemicals arrive by way of Pakistan.In late 2007, ten tons of acetic anhydride were seized in the Russian city of Nizhni Novgorod. A fourteen ton shipment was intercepted in March in Karachi, Pakistan, and in April, another five tons were confiscated at the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. Smaller shipments were stopped in several Central Asian countries, according to Jean Luc Lemahieu, chief of the UNODC's Europe and Asia section. The biggest haul came in Slovenia in June, when police seized ninety-eight tons of the chemical in a shipment labeled "fabric softener" headed for Turkey, said Drago Menegalija, representative of the Slovenian police criminal division.
It all amounts to a fraction of what is used in labs, which need 1,300 tons to process about 5,000 tons of opium - 60 percent of the country's production - into 670 tons of morphine or heroin, according to UNODC.India, in particular, appears to be the hot new source for acetic anhydride being shipped into Afghanistan for heroin production. Although international law enforcement have been trying to restrict the trade in the chemical, new and better techniques for heroin production are being researched all the time to make production easier and less expensive. As an example, a new cold-temperature production method has been discovered which might make detection of chemical precursors even more difficult used in the production of heroin. This new cold method for processing heroin is called 'cold synthesis' and is detailed in this document titled A 'cold synthesis' of heroin and implications in heroin signature analysis Utility of trifluoroacetic/acetic anhydride in the acetylation of morphine.
In 2008, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) Annual Report issued from Vienna on March 5th, made note of the fact that there was a disproportionate application of drug laws between different countries and regions; and that its biggest concern as described in the following quote was the board's concern about the production and transshipment of the chemical acetic anhydride:
Continued availability of acetic anhydride in Afghanistan cause for alarm:
The Board warns of the availability of acetic anhydride, one of the main chemicals used in heroin manufacture, inside Afghanistan. Although Afghanistan has no legitimate need for the substance, acetic anhydride finds its way into the heroin-manufacturing areas of Afghanistan. INCB calls on concerned Governments to join forces to stop the trafficking of acetic anhydride into Afghanistan.
The report notes the continuing spread of opium poppy cultivation and an increase in the land surface dedicated to cannabis cultivation from 50,000 hectares in 2006 to 70,000 hectares in 2007. INCB reiterates its call to the Government of Afghanistan to address the ever- increasing drug problem in its country. The report reminds that, under article 14 of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, invoked only in exceptional cases of severe and persistent treaty violations, the INCB can recommend an embargo against a country to the UN Economic and Social Council.