According to a New York Times report released on Sunday, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has allegedly funneled tens of millions of dollars to the office of Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the past decade. The purpose of the secret cash transfer was to buy influence over the Afghan government, but there is little evidence to suggest that this endeavor has been successful. In fact, U.S. officials admitted that the undocumented transfer of funds has actually fueled corruption, undermined the U.S. exit strategy, and further empowered tribal warlords.
Current and former aides of President Karzai confirm that the CIA has been delivering monthly cash payments packaged in suitcases, backpacks, and even plastic shopping bags, dating back to January 2003. The makeshift packaging and absence of a paper trail gave rise to the term “ghost money” because the cash always “came in secret and it left in secret”, said Khalil Roman, former chief of staff for President Karazi. In response to this, an unnamed U.S. official even said, “the biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan was the United States”.
The practice of flooding volatile nations with cash is nothing new for the United States or the CIA. During the Cold War era, the U.S. provided several nations with covert funds in order to further American interests overseas, including hundreds of millions of dollars to the CIA-backed mujahideen in Afghanistan, a group that later became a breeding ground for anti-American extremism.
Since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. has been providing under-the-table cash to aid its supporters in these nations. The CIA and some American officials defend the cash flow as a necessary step in ensuring Afghan cooperation in the War on Terror. When the U.S. first invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the CIA paid Afghan warlords and foreign officials for their support and services. “We paid them to overthrow the Taliban,” an American official said.
However, there was little to no oversight over how the funds were used. The New York Times reports that much of the cash went directly to warlords and politicians, many of whom have clear ties to the drug trade and even the Taliban. In one example, President Karzai’s half-brother Ahmed Karzai was paid with CIA funds from 2001 up until his assassination in 2011. While he continued to receive covert funding from the CIA, Ahmed Karzai was the suspect of a 2007 DEA investigation for narcotics trafficking with links to terrorism. The investigation was later dropped, at the request of the White House and the CIA.
It is true that these secret cash payments only represent a minuscule fraction of the total United States commitment to Afghanistan, which include $73 billion in foreign aid since 9/11, in addition to the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the ongoing war. But more than the monetary cost, it is important to ask why the CIA had to use covert funding to buy influence within the Afghan government. If the United States is truly protecting Afghanistan as it claims, why does the CIA feel forced to bribe President Karzai?