Report: CIA pumps ‘ghost money’ to Afghan president’s office

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For more than a decade, suitcases, plastic bags, and backpacks filled with tens of millions of U.S. dollars were delivered monthly to the office of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai as a “courtesy” from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), The New York Times reported, citing current and former Afghan advisers on Monday.

Karazi’s former chief of staff, who served between 2002 until 2005, Khalil Roman told NYT that the money which they called “ghost money” came in “as secret, and it left in secret.”

Although the “ghost money” was snuck to buy influence for the CIA, a U.S. official told NYT that instead the money fuelled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington’s exit strategy from Afghanistan.

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

When asked for a statement by the U.S. newspaper, the CIA declined to make any comment over this matter. According to the newspaper, the CIA is known to support some of Karzai’s relatives.

For more than a decade the cash was dropped off every month or so at the Afghan president’s office, the newspaper said.

Handing out cash has been standard procedure for the CIA in Afghanistan since the start of the war.

The cash payments to the president’s office do not appear to be subject to oversight and restrictions placed on official American aid to the country or the CIA’s formal assistance programs, like financing Afghan intelligence agencies, and do not appear to violate U.S. laws, said the New York Times.

There was no evidence that Karzai personally received any of the money, Afghan officials told the newspaper. The cash was handled by his National Security Council, it added.

U.S. and Afghan officials familiar with the payments were quoted as saying that the main goal in providing the cash was to maintain access to Karzai and his inner circle and to guarantee the CIA’s influence at the presidential palace, which wields tremendous power in Afghanistan’s highly centralized government.

Much of the money went to warlords and politicians, many with ties to the drug trade and in some cases the Taliban, the New York Times said. U.S. and Afghan officials were quoted assaying the CIA supported the same patronage networks that U.S. diplomats and law enforcement agents struggled to dismantle, leaving the government in the grip of organized crime.

In 2010, Karzai said his office received cash in bags from Iran, but that it was a transparent form of aid that helped cover expenses at the presidential palace. He said at the time that the United States made similar payments.

The latest New York Times report said much of the Iranian cash, like the CIA money, went to pay war lords and politicians.

For most of Karzai’s 11-year reign, there has been little interest in anti-corruption in the army or police. The country’s two most powerful institutions receive billions of dollars from donors annually, according to Reuters, but struggle just to recruit and maintain a force bled by high rates of desertion.