In the summer of 1971, members of the General Accounting Office (GAO), the federal agency tasked with investigating government programs, visited US Air Force and US Marine Corps bases on Okinawa to assess the severity of drug use among military personnel. They discovered approximately one in ten Marines had been criminally investigated for drug usage and, between January 1970 and August 1971, 465 Marines had been kicked out of the military for drug offenses. In the Air Force, at least 18% of personnel had used drugs – but the report’s authors speculated the number was likely higher because no urine checks were being implemented.
One of those who admitted using drugs was an airman who voluntarily entered a narcotics amnesty program because “he was working with nuclear material and felt that he should not be working at his assigned position.” During the US occupation of Okinawa, there were approximately 1000 nuclear warheads on the island; prior mishaps involving these weapons included a Nike surface-to-air missile accidentally fired from Naha Air Base in 1959.
According to the GAO report, superior officers often tolerated their personnel’s use of marijuana because they feared a crackdown on the drug would encourage them to turn to heroin. The GAO team also described lukewarm efforts among Okinawan officials to eliminate narcotics; despite the US military having trained 60 local nationals to perform customs inspections, they were still not actively investigating drugs because they perceived them as a problem limited to within American forces.