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The Karzai Chameleon and the CIA


That Karzai is doing anything to hold onto power, even at the expense of democracy should not surprise. It was his ability to adjust to any circumstances and still grip power that first attracted the CIA to him. In Washington, anything more than four years past is ancient history, so let’s delve into truly ancient history, when Hamid Karzai represented the Taliban before the world community. From George Washington University’s National Security Archives, see page 2, under “Pre-Embassy Bombings,” here.

With regard to allegations that Karzai’s brother, perhaps Afghanistan’s most powerful drug lord, is on the CIA payroll, I have no direct knowledge. But, if true (and it would not surprise), it does touch on an unresolved policy debate which surfaces every few years: Should the CIA deal with bad people to get information? 

The problem is complex. For those inclined to say no, the purpose of the CIA isn’t to count how many kindergarteners in the Nimruz governorate have memorized the words to kumbaya, but to learn as much about our adversaries as possible. This sometimes means bribing, blackmailing, or co-opting bad guys. This means having a relationship and sometimes paying bad people — drug lords, murderers, and mafioso — a regular stipend. The problem with the CIA, however — and I worry this is the case in Afghanistan — is when the desire to maintain the source leads the CIA organizationally to try to protect that source. This was certainly the case in Iraq, where the CIA actively sought to promote several very bad people with whom it had relations. It also is one of the biggest legacies of President Clinton’s decision to use the CIA to train Palestinian security forces as this, in effect, meant that the CIA developed relations with terrorists and then got upset when the Israelis started to whack those same terrorists. To date, there does not seem to be any check-and-balance within the CIA to force the institution and the case officers to see the forest through the trees, and to allow the downfall of sources when their power begins to erode the credibility or stability of a government.


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