With Bags of Cash, C.I.A.
Seeks Influence in
By MATTHEW ROSENBERG
April 28, 2013
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
“The biggest source of corruption in
At the time, in 2010, American officials jumped on the payments as evidence of an aggressive Iranian campaign to buy influence and poison
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
It is not clear that the
But the C.I.A. has continued to pay, believing it needs Mr. Karzai’s ear to run its clandestine war against Al Qaeda and its allies, according to American and Afghan officials.
Like the Iranian cash, much of the C.I.A.’s money goes to paying off warlords and politicians, many of whom have ties to the drug trade and, in some cases, the Taliban. The result, American and Afghan officials said, is that the agency has greased the wheels of the same patronage networks that American diplomats and law enforcement agents have struggled unsuccessfully to dismantle, leaving the government in the grips of what are basically organized crime syndicates.
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.
Handing out cash has been standard procedure for the C.I.A. in
“We paid them to overthrow the Taliban,” the American official said.
The C.I.A. then kept paying the Afghans to keep fighting. For instance, Mr. Karzai’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, was paid by the C.I.A. to run the Kandahar Strike Force, a militia used by the agency to combat militants, until his assassination in 2011.
A number of senior officials on the Afghan National Security Council are also individually on the agency’s payroll, Afghan officials said.
While intelligence agencies often pay foreign officials to provide information, dropping off bags of cash at a foreign leader’s office to curry favor is a more unusual arrangement.
Afghan officials said the practice grew out of the unique circumstances in
By late 2002, Mr. Karzai and his aides were pressing for the payments to be routed through the president’s office, allowing him to buy the warlords’ loyalty, a former adviser to Mr. Karzai said.
Then, in December 2002, Iranians showed up at the palace in a sport utility vehicle packed with cash, the former adviser said.
The C.I.A. began dropping off cash at the palace the following month, and the sums grew from there, Afghan officials said.
Payments ordinarily range from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, the officials said, though none could provide exact figures. The money is used to cover a slew of off-the-books expenses, like paying off lawmakers or underwriting delicate diplomatic trips or informal negotiations.
Much of it also still goes to keeping old warlords in line. One is Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek whose militia served as a C.I.A. proxy force in 2001. He receives nearly $100,000 a month from the palace, two Afghan officials said. Other officials said the amount was significantly lower.
Mr. Dostum, who declined requests for comment, had previously said he was given $80,000 a month to serve as Mr. Karzai’s emissary in northern
Some of the cash also probably ends up in the pockets of the Karzai aides who handle it, Afghan and Western officials said, though they would not identify any by name.
That is not a significant concern for the C.I.A., said American officials familiar with the agency’s operations. “They’ll work with criminals if they think they have to,” one American former official said.
Interestingly, the cash from
When word of the Iranian cash leaked out in October 2010, Mr. Karzai told reporters that he was grateful for it. He then added: “The
At the time, Mr. Karzai’s aides said he was referring to the billions in formal aid the
No one mentions the agency’s money at cabinet meetings. It is handled by a small clique at the National Security Council, including its administrative chief, Mohammed Zia Salehi, Afghan officials said.
Mr. Salehi, though, is better known for being arrested in 2010 in connection with a sprawling, American-led investigation that tied together Afghan cash smuggling, Taliban finances and the opium trade. Mr. Karzai had him released within hours, and the C.I.A. then helped persuade the Obama administration to back off its anticorruption push, American officials said.
After his release, Mr. Salehi jokingly came up with a motto that succinctly summed up
Mazzetti contributed reporting from
Leader Confirms Cash Deliveries by C.I.A.
By MATTHEW ROSENBERG
April 29, 2013
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
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
Mr. Karzai’s comments, made at a news conference in
The C.I.A. money continues to flow, Mr. Karzai said Monday. “Yes, the office of national security has been receiving support from the
Afghan officials who described the payments before Monday’s comments from Mr. Karzai said the cash from the C.I.A. 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
The C.I.A. 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
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.”
Sukhanyar contributed reporting from