How CIA Money Financed Al Qaeda, After Funds Intended To Help Afghanistan Were Used In Ransom Deal Instead

In an almost farcical but not entirely unprecedented twist of fate, payments from the CIA intended to stabilize Afghanistan have instead been funneled to al Qaeda. According to a New York Times report, $1 million of CIA money given to a secret Afghan fund designed to strengthen President Hamid Karzai’s rule was included, unbeknownst to the agency, in a $5 million ransom deal for an Afghan diplomat held by al Qaeda. The 2010 payoff allowed al Qaeda, bedraggled after intensive CIA drone offensives, to replenish their cache of weaponry.

During Karzai's presidency, the money was delivered surreptitiously to the presidential palace in Kabul, the Times reports. Intended to be used to secure the support of warlords, legislators, and other interest groups in the fractious nation, and to bankroll covert diplomatic expeditions, the substantial payments (ranging from a couple thousand dollars to over $1 million) arrived monthly.

Then in 2010, an opportunity arose for the Afghan government to bargain for the return of a senior diplomat held hostage by al Qaeda. Abdul Khaliq Farahi was Afghan consul general in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 2008 when insurgents seized him. Swiftly passed on to al Qaeda operatives, he was held for two years before another insurgency faction offered to negotiate a financial exchange that would ensure his release. One fifth of the $5 million demanded in the successful deal came from the CIA’s fund, while Pakistan, Iran, and Persian Gulf states provided the remaining sum.

Correspondence regarding the deal was discovered in a collection of documents seized during the Navy SEALs' 2011 raid on Osama Bin Laden's Abbottabad lair, which resulted in the al Qaeda chief’s death. Letters between Bin Laden and al Qaeda’s general manager Atiyah Abd al-Rahman that were included in the seized information cache shed light on the fate of the CIA’s money.

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“God blessed us with a good amount of money this month,” Rahman wrote to Bin Laden in June 2010, months before news of Farahi's release broke. Rahman stated that the money would be used for weapons and other necessities, according to the Times. Bin Laden was notably circumspect, counseling caution because he suspected the U.S.-funded payments could be a trap. He wrote:

There is a possibility — not a very strong one — that the Americans are aware of the money delivery and that they accepted the arrangement of the payment on the basis that the money will be moving under air surveillance.
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This was not the case. Rather, as the Times notes, it was another of several cases in which the U.S. government, due to “poor oversight and loose financial controls” unwittingly financed the enemy. In the 2012 book Funding the Enemy: How U.S. Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban, Douglas A. Wissing analyzed how an estimated $1 billion a year of foreign aid made it into the hands of the country’s opponents due to a variety of porous projects: inefficient counter-insurgency agendas, poorly though-out USAID schemes, corrupt officials, security extortion syndicates.

In another recent bungle, U.S. arms intended for Kurdish soldiers were intercepted by ISIS in October, according to The Guardian. At the time, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Steve Warren downplayed the significance of the botched shipment. “One bundle worth of equipment is not enough equipment to give the enemy any type of advantage at all. It’s a relatively small amount of supplies. This is stuff [ISIS] already has,” he said.


During and after the Farahi ransom negotiations, the CIA money drop continued to land at Kabul's presidential palace monthly. Karzai stepped down last year, and was replaced by current president Ashraf Ghani. Since Ghani was inaugurated in September 2014, the payments have slowed considerably, Afghan officials told the Times.

Meanwhile the U.S. military’s planned 2015 withdrawal from Afghanistan is likely to be slowed substantially, at Ghani's behest. Many of the nearly 10,000 remaining troops will probably stay on in the unstable country well into next year, Newsweek reports, with a new timeline likely to be announced this month.

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