CIA Funneled Millions in 'Ghost Money' to Afghan Leader, Warlords
April 30, 2013 NBC Nightly News & Matthew Rosenberg / The New York Times
President Hamid Karzai acknowledged Monday that the Central Intelligence Agency has been dropping off bags of cash at his office for a decade, saying the money was used for "various purposes." The payments are not universally supported in the United States government. American diplomats and soldiers expressed dismay on Monday about the CIA's cash deliveries, which some said fueled corruption.
Brian Williams: Throughout the past decade of deaths and injuries to americans fighting in afghanistan, including a cost to this nation of more than $600 billion, americans have been told our point man there is the popularly elected hamid karzai and we have been reassured he has US interests at heart.
Well, that took a blow today when we woke up to the news that Karzai has been receiving bags of cash from the cia among others. that would be US taxpayer money. our chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell has been following this story and is also in the DC bureau tonight. good evening.
Andrea Mitchell: Good evening, brian. somewhat incredibly Hamid Karzai today confirmed that the cia has been dropping off bags of cash at his national security office for years. he says it isn't millions. it's only $300,000 a month. do the math.
If you multiply that over ten years it adds up to $36 million by karzai's own account. the new york times was first to report the payments today and said the cash was delivered sometimes in suitcases, backpacks and plastic shopping bags.
US officials say the money is used to buy the loyalty of warlords and cover off the book operations. we checked with the white house, state department and cia, none of whom would deny the report. in washington speak that goes to a confirmation.
I asked one official if payments of cash had, in fact, been delivered every day to karzai's office. he said, well, we never said it was every day. one interesting footnote, by the way, iran had also been delivering payments to karzai until about a year ago when tehran cut off karzai supposedly because he was too close to the US. Afghan Leader Confirms Cash Deliveries by CIA Matthew Rosenberg / The New York Times
KABUL, Afghanistan (April 29, 2013) -- President Hamid Karzai acknowledged Monday that the Central Intelligence Agency has been dropping off bags of cash at his office for a decade, saying the money was used for "various purposes" and expressing gratitude to the United States for making the payments.
Mr. Karzai described the sums delivered by the CIA as a "small amount," though he offered few other details. But former and current advisers of the Afghan leader have said the CIA cash deliveries have totaled tens of millions of dollars over the past decade and have been used to pay off warlords, lawmakers and others whose support the Afghan leader depends upon.
The payments are not universally supported in the United States government. American diplomats and soldiers expressed dismay on Monday about the CIA's cash deliveries, which some said fueled corruption. They spoke privately because the CIA effort is classified.
Others were not so restrained. "We've all suspected it," said Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah and a critic of the war effort in Afghanistan. "But for President Karzai to admit it out loud brings us into a bizarro world."
Mr. Karzai's comments, made at a news conference in Helsinki, Finland, where he is traveling, were not without precedent. When it emerged in 2010 that one of his top aides was taking bags of cash from Iran, Mr. Karzai readily confirmed those reports and expressed gratitude for the money. Iran cut off its payments last year after Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership deal with the United States over Iran's objections.
The CIA money continues to flow, Mr. Karzai said Monday. "Yes, the office of national security has been receiving support from the United States for the past 10 years," he told reporters in response to a question. "Not a big amount. A small amount, which has been used for various purposes." He said the money was paid monthly.
Afghan officials who described the payments before Monday's comments from Mr. Karzai said the cash from the CIA was basically used as a slush fund, similarly to the way the Iranian money was. Some went to pay supporters; some went to cover other expenses that officials would prefer to keep off the books, like secret diplomatic trips, officials have said.
After Mr. Karzai's statement on Monday, the presidential palace in Kabul said in a statement that the CIA cash "has been used for different purposes, such as in operations, assisting wounded Afghan soldiers and paying rent." The statement continued, "The assistance has been very useful, and we are thankful to them for it."
The CIA payments open a window to an element of the war that has often gone unnoticed: the agency's use of cash to clandestinely buy the loyalty of Afghans. The agency paid powerful warlords to fight against the Taliban during the 2001 invasion. It then continued paying Afghans to keep battling the Taliban and help track down the remnants of Al Qaeda. Mr. Karzai's brother Ahmed Wali, who was assassinated in 2011, was among those paid by the agency, for instance.
But the cash deliveries to Mr. Karzai's office are of a different magnitude with a far wider impact, helping the palace finance the vast patronage networks that Mr. Karzai has used to build his power base. The payments appear to run directly counter to American efforts to clean up endemic corruption and encourage the Afghan government to be more responsive to the needs of its constituents.
"I thought we were trying to clean up waste, fraud and abuse in Afghanistan," said Mr. Chaffetz, whose House subcommittee has investigated corruption in the country. "We have no credibility on this issue when we're complicit ourselves. I'm sure it was more than a few hundred dollars."
In Afghanistan, reaction to reports of the payments ranged from conspiratorial to bemused. A former adviser to Mr. Karzai said the palace was rife with speculation that the details of the payments had been leaked to settle a bureaucratic or diplomatic score, either by Afghans or by American officials.
Outside official circles, some Afghans offered a lighter take. "They make it sound as if it was a charity money dashed by a spy agency," wrote Sayed Salahuddin, an Afghan journalist, on Twitter, referring to the palace statement that money had been used to help wounded soldiers. "They must have ‘treated' many people."
Jawad Sukhanyar contributed reporting from Kabul.
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