Top Afghan officials have been on the CIA’s payroll for over a decade, often paid in cash in US dollars. The clandestine financial support was provided to key Afghan officials and even insurgent warlords in return for opposing the Taliban.
A New York Times report has revealed that unparalleled corruption in the Afghan government has been encouraged by the US Central Intelligence Agency. Since the start of the decade-long war, CIA agents have delivered cash to Afghan officials in “suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags.”
“We called it ‘ghost money,’” said Khalil Roman, President Hamid Karzai’s former chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, adding that it “came in secret, and it left in secret.” There is no evidence that President Karzai was a recipient of any of the money, as Afghan officials claim the cash was distributed by president’s National Security Council, the report said.
Some senior National Security Council officials have also been on the CIA’s payroll, and the payoffs have only increased over time: “We paid them to overthrow the Taliban,” a US official told the NYT.
Cash was also paid out to lesser Afghan politicians and officials reportedly connected to drug production and trafficking, those with alleged ties to the Taliban, and to insurgent warlords bribed not to interfere in covert operations. “They [CIA] will work with criminals if they think they have to,” a former US official said.
Neither the CIA nor the US State Department commented on the report.
Once the invasion began in 2001 the CIA paid cash to buy the services of numerous warlords, one of whom was allegedly Afghanistan’s first vice president, Muhammad Qasim Fahim. Another Afghan official on the CIA payroll was President Karzai’s half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, who headed the anti-insurgent Kandahar Strike Force militia until he was assassinated in 2011.
By late 2002 the payments were being routed through the president’s office, allowing Karzai to buy off the warlords’ loyalty, a former presidential adviser told the NYT.
“The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan, was the United States,” an anonymous US official said.
Adding to the apparently suspicious nature of the CIA bribery program in Afghanistan, the NYT said that the cash “does not appear to be subject to the oversight and restrictions placed on official American aid to the country or even the CIA’s formal assistance programs, like financing Afghan intelligence agencies.”
Starting in 2002, Iran also attempted to buy off officials in the Karzai government, paying them in cash for assistance. The scheme continued for a decade, but Tehran was ultimately outmatched by the Washington in terms of sheer spending power and the standing of the US Dollar.
In 2010, leaked reports of Tehran paying off Afghani officials forced President Karzai to acknowledge that “The United States is doing the same thing. They are providing cash to some of our offices.” Tehran reportedly continued to pay off officials within Karzai’s inner circle – spending about $10 million a year – until 2012, when Karzai signed a strategic partnership deal with the US.
Iran ceased their payoffs, but the CIA continued to buy Afghan support for its clandestine front in the War on Terror.
In December 2012, President Karzai criticized US tactics in Afghanistan, accusing American forces of contributing to violence and corruption in his country: “Now whether this corruption in Afghanistan is an accident, a byproduct of the situation in the past 10 years or is it perpetrated also on purpose is today my main question.”