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.”
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.”