Mysterious “Corrupt-istan”

The New York Times' Dexter Filkins weighed in on Sept. 4 with a strange Week in Review piece on Afghan corruption. It reads rather like setting out the equation 2+2=? and carrying on as if it's Fermat's Last Theorem. To explain why the United States supports the drug-running, kleptocratic leaders of "Corrupt-istan," Filkins explicates the official (and heretofore "unquestioned") U.S. point of view, which is that "ordinary Afghans don't view public corruption in quite the same way that Americans and others do in the West." Allegedly, Filkins' official sources inform us, Afghans are more tolerant:

Yet Filkins' Afghan sources want to kill their top 50 officials because they hate getting ripped off. So why do the Americans enable these corrupt Afghan leaders? Such a puzzle! Filkins won't spell it out, but thanks to the interwebs, there is a rich lode of information available explaining the tradition of U.S. officials—particularly CIA operations leaders—working closely with drug dealers. One could start with the CIA Inspector General's


Careful readers will note that the CIA denies that it had a relationship to Los Angeles cocaine dealer Ricky Ross, and further denies any connections with Ross's Nicaraguan connections. This is to be expected. But reading deeper into the document, one discovers that the CIA



admit to at least

when dealing with known drug dealers:

Strange how the meat of the matter turns out to have been the error in the original printed report. The final version does not specify the numbers of cases in which each operational error was made. Still, that 1998 I.G. report was the first time the agency admitted that it sometimes maybe worked with guys it could have known were drug dealers. The admission, buried in the text and footnotes, was barely reported by the media—which (as the tenacious

) prefers to work from the executive summary. The 1998 report was a watershed, though, forcing the intelligence community to adopt new excuses for the crimes of its operatives. By 2002, the "they're not Mother Teresa" argument was given full-throated airing by such incorruptible paragons as Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Huge progress. And one can learn just how much progress this was by paging through the original

chaired by Sen. John F. Kerry, published in April of 1989. Nearly a decade before that first admission, the boys from Langley were steadfast—and utterly incredible—in their denial. Fortunately for the Company, Kerry's report went largely unnoticed by the mainstream media, landing, for example, on page A20 of the

New York Times.

The 1980s were a golden time for the CIA. Under William Casey, its hands were untied after those dreadful 1970s reforms. Under the old rules, CIA guys were supposed to report violations of law by CIA employees (place eye roll here). President Ronald Reagan, taking Casey's advice (and the advice of a number of other old CIA hands whose styles had been cramped by this legal technicality), lifted that requirement with an executive order. The 1998 report again:

These procedures, with then-A.G. William French Smith, consisted of

Neither Edwin Meese nor Dick Thornburgh were more curious. But one should not think that Central America was the Company's only dalliance with drug dealers. One should recall that, during that same decade, the CIA set up and directed a war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. Our allies? Some of the same warlords we now fight and claim are Taliban drug dealers. Our other allies? Correct, grasshopper!—the other warlords, also corrupt and also poppy-producing. So it would be very difficult indeed for CIA field agents today to find leaders not well-entrenched in the nation's shadow economy. That economy was all but invented by the U.S. government a generation ago, and its chieftains are the nation's rulers. How could we come back now and denounce them as "corrupt?" Like the stoner kid said in that

they learned it by watching us. But if one thinks 1980s drug dealing was the agency's first foray into the business, one is sadly ill-informed. Head over to

and enter the name "Alfred W. McCoy" in the search box. Up pop several books under the title

The Politics of Heroin


. The latest edition was published in 2003. The first edition, published in 1972, examined in detail the doings of the agency in Indochina during the 1950s and ‘60s. McCoy found a close working relationship between CIA people and drug traffickers then, up to and including shipping arrangements (see:

) and other logistical support impossible for the natives. Fifteen years after that, the late

Wall Street Journal

reporter Jonathan Kwitny published an in-depth study of the collapse of Australia's

.  His

The Crimes of Patriots

discovered a fairly shocking number of U.S. flag officers intertwined with a bank whose drug money laundering was not only its major purpose, but its reason for being. One of the bank's founders—the one who


suspiciously commit suicide—was a U.S. Special Forces veteran. It is probably not insignificant that the infamous Bank of Credit and Commerce International, founded in Pakistan in 1972, reached its peak just about the time Nugan Hand collapsed. Kerry later

the nest of cheesy spies, terrorists, arms traffickers and drug dealers—

—on that bank's VIP list. BCCI was the link between

, the Saudi royal family, George H.W. Bush, and Abu Nidal. Like

The Wire

's Det. Lester Freamon said, "You follow drugs, you get drug addicts and drug dealers. But you start to follow the money, and you don't know where the fuck it's gonna take you." To anyone who has absorbed even a little of this history—which is all (if not well-known) well-established and undeniable—Filkins' piece is as frustrating as it is predictable. Throughout the U.S. intelligence agencies' 60-plus-year history of abetting criminals, the only consistent things are it's policy and that it will not be revealed in the mainstream media with any forthrightness. Why a guy like Filkins won't delve into this is easy to understand. The last guy who tried, Gary Webb, late of the

San Jose Mercury News

, was forced out of his job, ended up at an alt-weekly, and shot himself to death in 2004. Robert Parry, one of the first who tried, toils now in relative obscurity. It's simply not a good career move to explore certain facts. The reason for the media's overall reticence is harder to fathom. The drug-dealing CIA story has always been what a news story should be: sexy, shocking, and explanatory of larger truths and trends. Now that's it's been out in the open, for any 12-year-old to stumble across, for more than a decade, stories like Filkins' graduate from irritating to bewildering. And the line the


has taken—that U.S. policy in places like Afghanistan is unfathomable—becomes less credible with every adolescent click of the mouse.

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