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Shopping Bags Full of Money

By tonyrussell - Posted on 27 May 2013

Afghan president confirms he received tens of millions of dollars from the CIA in suitcases and sacks 'for access to Karzai's inner circle'       

      - Headline, The Daily Mail, 29 April 2013


Each year the Hur Chamber of Commerce confers its coveted “Golden Scissors Award” to that federal department or agency which has done the most to cut through government red tape.  The award is normally not conferred until December, but this year the Chamber judged that one agency has already distinguished itself so markedly that the outcome of the competition is no longer in doubt.


In announcing that the Central Intelligence Agency is the 2013 winner, Robert Spinner, the Chamber’s president, heaped praise upon the agency, calling it “a model for the entire federal government.”


“We in the business community have long decried government bureaucracy,” said Spinner, “but the CIA has shown that it is possible for government to transcend itself, working with the same ‘can do’ attitude that distinguishes private enterprise.  Our hats are off to them.”


The announcement comes less than a month after the New York Times revealed that for the last decade the CIA has handed out tens of millions of dollars to Afghan officials in monthly payments.  Wads of money were delivered in backpacks, suitcases, and plastic shopping bags.  


The cash--variously described as “payments,” “bribes,” and “assistance”--is apparently not subject to the oversight, restrictions, and accountability of official American aid.  


“That’s the beauty of it, said a CIA official.  “Nobody on our end asks what we do with the money they give us, and we don’t even count it when we’re packing the shopping bags.  The money all goes directly to President Karzai and whomever he wants to share it with, and he doesn’t have to account for it to anyone on that end either.”  It was this chain of creative shortcuts that drew special praise from the Chamber.  


Disgruntled Afghans who didn’t get their own shopping bags full of money complain that the payoffs have “fueled corruption and empowered warlords who may be linked to the Taliban as well as politicians with ties to the drug trade.”  


Equally bitter are American officials who didn’t get an opportunity to pass out money bags themselves.  They have gone so far as to charge that “the biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan has been the United States.”


Afghan President Hamid Karzai, however, described the bags of money as “multi-purpose assistance.”  


“It really hasn’t been that much money,” Karzai added.  “Most of it went to providing assistance to the wounded, the sick, and the disabled.”  He was unable to supply documentation for this assertion, of course, since he too has been cutting red tape.


A CIA spokesperson said that the agency stood ready, if asked, to provide training and technical support to the Department of Defense in developing streamlined financial disbursements of the sort for which his agency has just been recognized.  


“You have to remember,” he said, “that the cost of the war in Afghanistan--our CIA cash not included--runs about $60 billion a year.  The military’s expenditures make ours look like a drop in the ocean.”


Despite the popularity of the Chamber of Commerce choice, not everyone has been so positive about revelations of the CIA’s so-called “ghost money” payments.  One elderly county resident, claiming to remember “ a time when the Constitution still meant something,” denounced the CIA ‘s actions as “yet another sign that in the Founders’ system of checks and balances, the checks have been replaced by cash.”


Full disclosure:  a former correspondent for the Hur Herald is said to be attempting to organize a march of the unemployed on CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.  Marchers will carry their own empty shopping bags to the headquarters, hoping to have them filled, while singing “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”


© Tony Russell, 2013

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