North Korean Meth, Motorcycle Gangs, Army Snipers, and a Guy Named Rambo

At first glance, the meeting that occurred on January 24, 2013 could have been about any ordinary business deal. A multinational organization based in Hong Kong had cornered the market on a lucrative commodity. 

They needed distributors to bring their product to America, and so the organization dispatched a pair of representatives to Bangkok to meet with a potential client. That client claimed to have all the right connections in New York and money to burn.

But the deal was not ordinary. The businessmen were allegedly members of a triad crime syndicate, the would-be client was an informant for the DEA, and their lucrative commodity was a massive stockpile of ultra-pure North Korean methamphetamine stashed somewhere in the Philippines. The arrangement would eventually come to involve a shady pair of British drug merchants living in Thailand, the leader of an outlaw motorcycle gang, and a team of assassins led by an ex-Army sniper nicknamed "Rambo."

Two federal conspiracy cases unsealed in late 2013 paint a lurid picture of a stranger-than-fiction international underworld that uses North Korea as a haven for meth production. According to court documents and DEA sources, the meeting in Thailand last January was a pivotal moment in an ongoing investigation that stretches from Southeast Asia to West Africa. So far eight men have been arrested and extradited to face conspiracy charges in Manhattan federal court.

News of the cases was widely reported in the days after the indictments were revealed, but scrutiny of the evidence and extensive interviews with ex-diplomats, DEA officials, and independent experts has shed light on the shadowy dynamics of the international drug trade that extends through North Korea. Authorities have suspected for years that state-owned factories are used to make meth on an industrial scale. But now it appears the North Korean regime is outsourcing the work to transnational drug cartels, allowing them to operate with impunity inside the hermit kingdom in exchange for a cut of the action.

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