The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) secretly delivered “tens of millions of dollars” to the office of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai for more than a decade after the removal of the Taliban regime, claimed the New York Times on Sunday, citing current and former advisers to Karazi, who came into power in December 2001.
According to the investigation, the CIA would pack stacks of American dollars into suitcases, backpacks and even plastic grocery bags, before smuggling them into Afghanistan and dropping them off at Karzai’s office every month.
NYT also said that the U.S. was not alone in delivering cash to the Afghan president. With Karzai himself admitting that Iran regularly gave bags of cash to one of his top aides a few years ago.
“We called it ‘ghost money,’ ” added Khalil Roman, who served as Karzai’s chief of staff from 2002 until 2005. “It came in secret, and it left in secret.”
The so-called "ghost money" was reportedly meant to buy influence for the CIA in regards to everyday governing. However NYT said that much of the C.I.A.’s money instead went to paying off warlords and politicians, many of whom have ties to the drug trade and, in some cases, the Taliban.
“The cash has fueled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington’s exit strategy from Afghanistan,” told some American officials to NYT.
Nevertheless, NYT noted that the cash payments to the president's office did not appear to be subject to oversight and restrictions placed on official American aid to the country or the CIA's formal assistance programs; and also did not appear to violate any U.S. laws.
Handing out cash has been standard procedure for the C.I.A. in Afghanistan since the start of the war, said the investigation. During the 2001 invasion, agency cash bought the services of numerous warlords, including Muhammad Qasim Fahim, the current first vice president.
A number of senior officials on the Afghan National Security Council are also individually on the agency’s payroll, some Afghan officials added to the investigation.
Nonetheless, it is not clear whether the CIA managed to receive what they were paying for. According to NYT, despite receiving payments from both the U.S. and Iran, President Karzai remains defiant against both countries on a number of issues.
For instance, Karzai signed a strategic partnership deal with the United States last year despite Iran’s objections, directly leading the Iranians to halt their payments. The Afghan president is now also seeking control over the Afghan militias raised by the C.I.A. to target operatives of Al Qaeda and insurgent commanders, potentially upending a critical part of the Obama administration’s plans.