Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the CIA has been rightly criticized for its shortcomings, including its incorrect conclusion that Iraq's Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. But recent disclosures that the CIA has delivered tens of millions of dollars stuffed in suitcases, backpacks and plastic shopping bags to the office of Afghan President Hamid Karzai are just as egregious. It's difficult for the United States to press Karzai to stamp out government corruption when the CIA is bribing him with piles of cash.
As the New York Times reported, for more than a decade CIA operatives made regular deliveries of cash directly to Karzai, who has shamelessly admitted he accepted the money for vague "various purposes." Those purposes included paying off Afghan warlords and lawmakers to ensure their loyalty. But that loyalty did not extend to Karzai's CIA benefactors, whose influence with the Afghan president has never been particularly strong.
In fact, the CIA was competing with Iranian influence-peddlers who were delivering their own gifts of cash to Karzai's inner circle. At least the Iranians stopped their deliveries in 2010. The CIA just kept on giving and receiving little or no cooperation in return.
The CIA bribery campaign undermines efforts by the State Department to preach an anticorruption gospel among U.S. allies. It also is a disservice to members of the U.S. military fighting and dying to stabilize Afghanistan against an enemy that could be receiving indirect financial assistance from the CIA.
It would be naive to believe that cash does not change hands in covert operations overseen by the nation's intelligence community. The CIA and other agencies routinely pay for help and information. But the New York Times' account of the payments to Karzai is eye-catching for the amount and duration of the cash payments he has been given, with virtually no accountability. Congress, which is so concerned about the federal deficit and spending money wisely at home, should be just interested in learning why millions are being wasted in Afghanistan to prop up a leader who does what he wants with the money — even if those desires run counter to why American troops have spent years there in the first place.