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Federal agents announced Friday that they had seized more than a half ton of "China white" heroin worth upward of $3 billion in the largest intercept of the drug in U.S. history.

Four suspects arrested in the bust were arraigned Friday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco and held without bail.An interpreter speaking Mandarin read them the charges - possession of heroin with intent to distribute and conspiracy to distribute heroin. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole and a $4 million fine. A warrant was issued for a fifth suspect.

Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Bob Bender said 1,080 pounds of heroin was seized. U.S. Customs, explaining a higher figure it had released, said the shipment weighed in at 1,285 pounds including the wrappers and boxes in which it came. The weight of the heroin itself, Customs said, was 1,080 pounds.

DEA spokesman Cornelius Dougherty in Washington, D.C., called it "the largest single heroin seizure in the states."

Bender said it "ripped the heart out of a sophisticated, organized Chinese gang."

U.S. Customs Commissioner Carol Hallet jetted in from Washington for a showy news conference at Customs House. Standing near the 59 boxes of heroin - and flanked by agents armed with automatic weapons - she called the bust "staggering."

The street value of the dope, Hallet said, is "more than the GNP of many countries, and about equal to the annual profits of AT&T, or the combined profits of Boeing and Texaco."

She said the heroin could have supplied "every single addict in the United States for one month."

Throughout the day, various agencies had estimated the value of the heroin anywhere between $2.7 billion and $4 billion. During the news conference, Hallet settled on the figure of $3 billion.

The world's largest heroin bust was 2,816 pounds seized Feb. 11, 1988, in Bangkok, Thailand. The previous U.S. record was the seizure of 820 pounds in New York Feb. 21, 1981.