News & Politics

CIA Bribes Afghan President to Gain Influence, Mostly Ends Up Empowering Warlords and Encouraging Corruption

The massive payments were made in an effort to influence Hamid Karzai and his inner circle, the New York Times reveals.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai in Paris on January 27.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has provided tens of millions of dollars in cash payments to the offices of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the New York Timesreveals. The payments, which have taken place over the last decade, were made in an effort to influence Karzai and his inner circle and ensure the CIA had a role in carrying out overall policy in Afghanistan.

“We called it ‘ghost money,’” Khalil Roman, a former deputy to Karzai, told the New York Times. “It came in secret, and it left in secret.”

While the CIA sought to influence Karzai, the program didn’t exactly work out as planned. As the Times notes, some U.S. officials say that “the cash has fueled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington’s exit strategy from Afghanistan.” It’s all the more striking when you consider that the U.S. denounced Iranian cash payments to Karzai when they were first revealed.

“The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan was the United States,” one U.S. official said.

The CIA’s reasoning was that it needs to win over Karzai to help prosecute the war on Al Qaeda. But corruption was the name of the game: the cash went to warlords, politicians with ties to the drug trade and sometimes the Taliban itself. The Times reports that the cash 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.”

Some of the money most likely lined the pockets of Karzai aides. The whole program began after the Karzai government was built by the U.S. government. Karzai had to make sure he won over warlords who the CIA had paid beforehand, and so the cash payments were made to his office so he could redirect them to those warlords, the New York Times reports.


Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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