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Posted at 7:13 PM ET, 09/30/2010

CIA hired Karzai brother before 9/11, Woodward says

By Jeff Stein

Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half-brother of Afghanistan’s president and boss of the strategically important Kandahar province, has been on the CIA payroll for over a decade, Bob Woodward writes in his new book, “Obama’s Wars.”

By the fall of 2008, Woodward says, “Ahmed Wali Karzai had been on the CIA payroll for years, beginning before 9/11. He had belonged to the CIA's small network of paid agents and informants inside Afghanistan. In addition, the CIA paid him money through his half-brother, the president.”

Hamid Karzai was plucked from obscurity and installed as president after U.S.-backed Afghan forces chased the Taliban from power following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

There have been many accounts of his brother’s relationship with the CIA over the years, leaving the impression that he is a CIA “agent,” i.e., a controlled asset of the spy agency.

But Woodward’s account of the CIA’s relationship with Karzai, who has also been accused repeatedly -- but not charged with -- protecting the illicit opium trade, is more nuanced.

“He was not in any sense a controlled agent who always responded to U.S. and CIA requests and pressure,” Woodward writes. “He was his own man, playing all sides against the others -- the United States, the drug dealers, the Taliban and even his brother if necessary.”

Still, the spymasters in Langley went with him.

“It was necessary to employ some thugs if the United States was going to have a role in a land of thugs,” they concluded. “Cutting him off might break Wali Karzai’s control of the city, and Kandahar might be lost entirely.

“Lose Kandahar,” they thought, “and we possibly lose the war.”

Last week NATO and Afghan troops launched a major military offensive around Kandahar city, with uncertain results.

Woodward’s portrait of Ahmed Wali Karzai dovetails in part with an account provided to SpyTalk last year by Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, a former FBI agent and ranking Republican on a House panel overseeing terrorism and human intelligence issues.

Rogers, who has regularly visited Afghanistan, where his brother, an Army general, also served, depicted Ahmed Wali Karzai as someone who "cooperates" with U.S. intelligence, but is not a controlled agent.

"There's a difference between being an intelligence asset and somebody who cooperates," said Rogers. "Asset is an overstatement ... He is a public official who cooperates ... He cooperates when he's talked to -- that's different than an asset."

An American lawyer for Ahmed Wali Karzai rejected the depiction of his client as a paid CIA asset of any kind.

"It is absolutely false that Ahmad Wali Karzai is, or has been, on the CIA payroll," said Gerald Posner by e-mail.

"Since 9/11, it should be noted that Ahmad Wali has worked with virtually all aspects of U.S. and coalition forces, from regular Army, to special forces, to intelligence personnel, and diplomats as well. ..."

Posner added, "Ahmad Wali would be very surprised if the world’s most sophisticated intelligence gathering agency, the CIA, had not made contacts with him over time, but they have never identified themselves as such."

Poser also rejected depictions of Karzai as "the landlord in Kandahar for CIA or military facilities rented by the United States," as Woodward wrote.

"He is not the owner of those properties, and does not collect rent from those groups. He has no role in the Kandahar Strike Force. He receives no American taxpayer monies of any type," Posner said.

CIA spokesman George Little reiterated today that, “We don’t, as a rule, comment on these kinds of allegations, which have circulated for a long time.”

But a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, praised Karzai's contribution to the war effort, saying he "has made decisive contributions to counter-terror efforts in Afghanistan, and he’s helped save Afghan and American lives."

"No one’s saying he’s perfect, but nobody’s found anything yet that would land him in court," the official added. "And Americans have looked. Afghanistan is a tough place. It’s clear that he’s focused on improving security in his country. He deserves praise for that.”

By Jeff Stein  | September 30, 2010; 7:13 PM ET
Categories:  Foreign policy, Intelligence, Media  
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I'll be darned if I can figure what's what in Afghanistan when I try to peer through opacity of a dense opium haze, but I understand the progression of a well told tale, but I can't imagine how the denouement can be other than unsatisfactory.

And why Woodward is writing a story out of context, at this late stage in his career, is further mystifying.

Posted by: inojk | September 30, 2010 10:56 PM | Report abuse

The first part of the column is right on the mark, if you accept the parsing of the words at less than face value. Posner is full of bull, but he gets paid to say it, not believe it. And no one is perfect, but some are less imperfect than others.

In the spy vocabulary, there is really is no precise word, even in jargon, that describes the kind of nuanced relationship that exists between a senior CIA officer and a senior foreigner, though "agent of influence" is probably what the file says. And agents of influence are never paid -- an agent salary would be an insult to someone making hundreds of millions a year in the drug trafficking and other businesses. But, gee, you must have a lot of expenses doing all those voluntary good works in our favor, so let us reimburse you for those -- would a million a year cover your bills? Sounds like a lot, but do you think that $80K a month even covers AWK's tab for bribes? And there is never a transaction, not a manila envelope in exchange for a receipt -- it just "appears," perhaps in the trunk of your car while you are having lunch, and you know who it is from.
Bottom line: Who cares? Since Steve Kappes destroyed the Agency's ability to "do that risky agent stuff," the COS only attends Embassy meetings and "does lunch" once in a while with his counterparts. And I am sure that AWK is a more engaging luncheon partner than the chief of the NDS or the ANP. Just consider it one of those perks for having to suffer through your year in Kabul.

Posted by: DCNative41 | October 1, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

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