Americans are well aware of their monthly bills. But what they probably didn’t know — until now — is that every month they are also, via taxes, contributing to a slush fund for Afghan president Hamid Karzai. That, in a nutshell, is the story the New York Times broke on April 28.
“For more than a decade,” reported the Times, “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.”
“We called it ‘ghost money,’” Khalil Roman, Karzai’s deputy chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, told the paper. “It came in secret, and it left in secret.”
According to current and former Afghan and American officials, most speaking on condition of anonymity, U.S. taxpayers have thus far forked over “tens of millions of dollars” to Karzai’s office, where his National Security Council disburses the cash with no American oversight whatsoever, said the Times.
The council’s administrative chief, Mohammed Zia Salehi, was arrested in 2010 for his role in smuggling cash to the Taliban and trading in opium. Karzai quickly secured his release, and the CIA persuaded the Obama administration to stop hounding Karzai about corruption. Afterward, Salehi began telling colleagues that he was “an enemy of the FBI, and a hero to the CIA.”
That, the Times observed, “succinctly summed up America’s conflicting priorities” in Afghanistan. On the one hand, Washington claims to want an effective, honest government in Kabul. On the other hand, the CIA, through its cash payments, is fueling corruption — “The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan was the United States,” one American official told the Times — and getting no return on its investment.
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