CIA reportedly pays Afghan officials
Practice seen as a method to cultivate sources
WASHINGTON — The CIA has multiple members of the Afghan government on its payroll in order to help it keep track of various factions within the Afghan government, according to former US officials.
These individuals confirmed reports that the agency has used payments to cultivate intelligence sources across the Afghan government, a practice that has raised concerns at a time when the United States is fighting corruption there.
The New York Times and the Washington Post have reported the agency is paying Mohammed Zia Salehi, the chief of administration for Afghanistan’s National Security Council, for information.
Salehi is accused of accepting a car in exchange for his help in exerting pressure on Afghan officials to ease off in another corruption case.
The United States has said it views Salehi’s arrest as a test case of Karzai’s willingness to battle corruption in his government. But the revelation that he has also received payments from the US spy agency demonstrates the complex relationship Washington has developed with the Afghan government.
George Little, spokesman for the CIA, would neither confirm nor deny the report, saying that speculation about such matters was dangerous.
“This agency — acting in strict accord with American law — plays an essential role in promoting our nation’s goals in Afghanistan, including security and stability,’’ he said. “Speculation about who may help us achieve that is both dangerous and counterproductive.’’
But a current and several former US government officials said the United States has little choice but to cut deals with corrupt individuals.
“The real issue here is clearly defining the US government’s priorities in Afghanistan,’’ said one of current US officials, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to talk about classified intelligence matters.
“Some people seem to think the starting point is the fight against corruption,’’ the official said. “No one’s arguing against efforts to promote good governance, but the main reason we’re there is to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda groups with American blood on their hands. Preventing the return of a terrorist safe haven has to be at the top of the list. Security is the precondition for all our other objectives in Afghanistan.’’
The official said it was not news that the United States secretly makes payments to foreign government figures. “Nor should it be surprising, in a place like Afghanistan, that some influential figures can be both helpful and — on their own, separate and apart — corrupt to some degree,’’ the official said. “That’s the real world, dangerous and imperfect.’’
Three former senior intelligence officials also said it was common practice for the intelligence community to develop sources of information within fragile or hostile foreign governments. The former officials spoke anonymously because they are not authorized to talk about classified matters to the media.
One of the officials explained that from 2003 to 2004, the CIA had “a third of Iraq’s original coalition government on the payroll.’’ He added, “One of the first things we attempted to do when we went into Iraq is buy the loyalty of the former Ba’athists, so they wouldn’t fight us. You buy the leadership’’
Ali A. Jalali, Afghan interior minister from 2003 to 2005 and now a professor in the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at National Defense University, said the CIA has placed many Afghan officials on the payroll over the years.
He said he doubted Karzai would be surprised if Salehi were on the CIA payroll, as alleged. “When Karzai was fighting against the Taliban, he was supported by the agency,’’ he said.