The Worst Country Your Money Can Buy
The New York Times has an interesting report up today about the bags of cash that the CIA has been delivering to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for years now:
KABUL, Afghanistan — For more than a decade, wads of American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags have been dropped off every month or so at the offices of Afghanistan’s president — courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency.
All told, tens of millions of dollars have flowed from the C.I.A. to the office of President Hamid Karzai, according to current and former advisers to the Afghan leader.
“We called it ‘ghost money,’ ” said Khalil Roman, who served as Mr. Karzai’s deputy chief of staff from 2002 until 2005. “It came in secret, and it left in secret.”
The C.I.A., which declined to comment for this article, has long been known to support some relatives and close aides of Mr. Karzai. But the new accounts of off-the-books cash delivered directly to his office show payments on a vaster scale, and with a far greater impact on everyday governing.
Moreover, there is little evidence that the payments bought the influence the C.I.A. sought. Instead, some American officials said, the cash has fueled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington’s exit strategy from Afghanistan.
“The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,” one American official said, “was the United States.”
The United States was not alone in delivering cash to the president. Mr. Karzai acknowledged a few years ago that Iran regularly gave bags of cash to one of his top aides.
At the time, in 2010, American officials jumped on the payments as evidence of an aggressive Iranian campaign to buy influence and poison Afghanistan’s relations with the United States. What they did not say was that the C.I.A. was also plying the presidential palace with cash — and unlike the Iranians, it still is.
American and Afghan officials familiar with the payments said the agency’s main goal in providing the cash has been to maintain access to Mr. Karzai and his inner circle and to guarantee the agency’s influence at the presidential palace, which wields tremendous power in Afghanistan’s highly centralized government. The officials spoke about the money only on the condition of anonymity.
It is not clear that the United States is getting what it pays for. Mr. Karzai’s willingness to defy the United States — and the Iranians, for that matter — on an array of issues seems to have only grown as the cash has piled up. Instead of securing his good graces, the payments may well illustrate the opposite: Mr. Karzai is seemingly unable to be bought.
The cash does not appear to be subject to the oversight and restrictions placed on official American aid to the country or even the C.I.A.’s formal assistance programs, like financing Afghan intelligence agencies. And while there is no evidence that Mr. Karzai has personally taken any of the money — Afghan officials say the cash is handled by his National Security Council — the payments do in some cases work directly at odds with the aims of other parts of the American government in Afghanistan, even if they do not appear to violate American law.
In a follow-up piece, Karzai acknowledges the payments exist, but tried to downplay them:
KABUL, Afghanistan – President Hamid Karzai acknowledged on 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 C.I.A. as a “small amount,” though he offered few other details. But former and current advisers of the Afghan leader have said the C.I.A. 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 C.I.A.’s cash deliveries, which some said fueled corruption. They spoke privately because the C.I.A. 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.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure we haven’t been getting our money’s worth out of this guy.