CIA Payments Undercut U.S. Efforts to Strengthen Governance in Afghanistan

The truth behind the incoherence in American policy in Afghanistan is beginning to come out.

The CIA has been paying many top Afghan officials for information and favor for many years, according to reports in the New York Times on Thursday and The Washington Post on Friday.

Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti, “Karzai Aide in Corruption Inquiry Is Tied to C.I.A.,” New York Times, August 25, 2010.

Greg Miller and Joshua Partlow, “CIA making secret payments to members of Karzai administration,” August 27, 2010.

While it is not unusual for intelligence agencies to pay informants, the revelations suggest that in Afghanistan such payments have been and are being made to many high-ranking Afghan officials.

This strategy has not worked. These revelations are astounding.

In Afghanistan, as elsewhere, good governance is not possible without law. As the part of the U.S. government that believes in law (the uniformed military, the State Department, the Justice Department) battles the part of the U.S. government that does not believe in law (the CIA, other agencies that do not operate within a framework of respect for law), we are in a stalemate.

This battle is being carried out through the different parts of the U.S. government and the Afghan actors they control or influence. The result is incoherence.

The most telling sentence from the New York Times article is the following: “Mr. Karzai denies any monetary relationship with the C.I.A. and any links to the drug trade.(emphasis added)”

With the government under his control, of course, Karzai would hardly need “a monetary relationship” with the CIA.

Could one element of Karzai’s relationship with the United States perhaps be characterized as “a Noriega-style relationship” with the CIA? It is a possibility worth considering.

Sooner or later, U.S. policymakers are going to notice the elephant in the room, and start taking necessary action. Let’s hope they do so in time.

The Trenchant Observer

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The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.