A Brief History of CIA "Ghost Money"
By Asawin Suebsaeng / motherjones.com
Apr 30, 2013

On Monday morning, the New York Times ran a story reporting that for the past decade the CIA has been funneling tens of millions of dollars, off-the-books, directly to the office of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The payments, occasionally dropped off in plastic bags, were part of the intelligence agency's attempts to buy access in Karzai's government and encourage support for the war against Al Qaeda and extremist elements. The CIA continued to transfer hundreds of thousands in cash, even as it became increasingly clear that the cash wasn't doing much to curb Karzai's tendency to defy and frustrate the United States government. Afghan officials have used the payments for an assortment of expenses, including underwriting "informal negotiations" and buying off warlords, some of whom are connected to the Taliban.

"We called it 'ghost money,'" Khalil Roman, Karzai's former deputy chief of staff, told the Times. "It came in secret, and it left in secret."

Since the news broke, Karzai released a statement admitting his office accepted the funds, but claiming that the small fortune was used only for legitimate and noble purposes, such as rental costs and helping "injured people." (Years ago, it was reported that Karzai's now deceased half-brother was a paid CIA asset.)

The Times report notes that though intelligence agencies will often pay foreign officials for information or influence, pouring satchels of "ghost money" directly into a foreign leader's office is a less common practice. However sketchy this sounds (and however corruption-infected the Karzai government may be), such transfers do not violate American law. "Under US law, there are statues that prohibit the payment of bribes in securing contracts, if you're [a part of] a corporation; but such laws don't necessarily apply to the US government itself," John Prados, a senior research fellow at the National Security Archive at George Washington University, says. "There is no provision in any executive order that governs the intelligence community that prevents this kind of thing...Cash is the mainstay of American covert operations in Afghanistan."

And this is not new. Here are a few other episodes in recent history in which the CIA has secretly sent wads of "ghost money" to the offices of foreign leaders:

Iran

Following the Western-backed coup in 1953 against democratically elected Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh, CIA officer Kermit "Kim" Roosevelt, Jr. (grandson of Teddy) sent over $1 million cash to General Fazlollah Zahedi, who replaced Mossadegh as prime minister.

South Vietnam

As American intervention in Vietnam deepened, the CIA lavished three-quarters of a million dollars on South Vietnamese leader Nguyen Van Thieu between 1968 and 1969. He had come to power following years of chaos caused by the CIA-supported coup against South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963.

The Congo/Zaire

Being a vicious anti-communist authoritarian, President Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire received CIA dollars of appreciation during several decades of the Cold War. He rose to power in the early 1960s with the help of a lot of foreign-supplied guns and cash, much of which was provided to him by you know who.

Jordan

Between the 1957 and 1977, the CIA allegedly paid millions of dollars to King Hussein of Jordan. Accounts of how these annual payments were used vary greatly. Some reports detail payments for extra security for the royal family, sports cars, and intel gathering.

Panama

Manuel Noriega, former US friend and military ruler of Panama, was on the agency payroll during his epic streak of racketeering, drug running, and money-laundering, as he turned Panama into his own private piggy bank. Shortly before Christmas 1989, President George H.W. Bush ordered the invasion that got rid of him.

This is the kind of thing that "ghost money" buys you.

3.5 ·
1
Trending Today
Trump Is a Symptom of a Sickness That Is Raging All Across The World
1 min · 13,081 views today · This is why we are here. And this is what we need to remember. 
How Mindfulness Empowers Us
2 min · 12,965 views today · Many traditions speak of the opposing forces within us, vying for our attention. Native American stories speak of two wolves, the angry wolf and the loving wolf, who both live...
What Is My Activism Really About? to Love, Serve and Remember
Tim Hjersted · 4,573 views today · I have made a promise to this world that I will carry with me to my last days. It is my vow to lessen the suffering of the world while I am here - it is to ensure that every...
Deconstructing Hierarchies: On Contrived Leadership and Arbitrary Positions of Power
Colin Jenkins · 3,036 views today · Bosses don't grow on trees. They don't magically appear at your job. They aren't born into their roles. They are created. They are manufactured to fulfill arbitrary positions...
Escape! From the Cult of Materialism (2016)
50 min · 2,781 views today · Does the philosophy of materialism work to destroy our identities, experience, and environment? Join narrator Daphne Ellis on a radical romp through the evidence and decide for...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 2,130 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss: Bracing for Trump's Anti-Worker, Corporate Agenda
Colin Jenkins · 1,926 views today · Rich people don’t have to have a life-and-death relationship with the truth and its questions; they can ignore the truth and still thrive materially. I am not surprised many...
Why It's Crucial for Women to Heal the Mother Wound
Bethany Webster · 1,421 views today · The issue at the core of women’s empowerment is the mother wound
Looking Forward to the Day That Nationalism Is as Reviled as Racism
Tim Hjersted · 1,066 views today · Nationalism is a form of geographical racism that makes some lives matter more than others, and explicitly justifies that logic without apology. While today, not even lying...
Thoughts on the Eve of the Trump Regime
Mark Corske · 1,021 views today · A blend of dread, disgust, rage, and despair for the future, all in a state of shocked disbelief—if you feel something like this facing the Trump regime’s ascent to power...
Stunning Photos By Alexander Semenov Showcase The Alien Beauty Of Jellyfish
Earth Porm · 982 views today · Jellyfish appear like beautiful aliens in Alexander Semenov’s photography, calling a new attraction to a magical species of marine life. Alexander Semenov is a marine...
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 725 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 617 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
The Myth of Romantic Love May Be Ruining Your Health
Susanne Vosmer · 543 views today · Romantic love in Western societies is often portrayed in a stereotypical way: two yearning halves, who search for each other to find their complete, original state. Few find...
The Invention of Capitalism: How a Self-Sufficient Peasantry was Whipped Into Industrial Wage Slaves
Yasha Levine · 529 views today · “…everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.” —Arthur Young; 1771 Our popular economic wisdom says that...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 513 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
Positive Thinking in a Dark Age: A Guide to Gracefully Losing Faith in a Collapsing Dominant Culture
Jim Tull · 431 views today · I recall a Buddhist parable involving a stick that appears from a distance to be a snake, causing fear to rise in the perceiver. As the perception shifts upon closer...
10 Female Revolutionaries That You Probably Didn't Learn About In History class
Kathleen Harris · 354 views today · We all know male revolutionaries like Che Guevara, but history often tends to gloss over the contributions of female revolutionaries that have sacrificed their time, efforts...
Supporters 'Ecstatic' After Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning's Sentence
Nika Knight · 348 views today · Whistleblower to be released from military prison in May
Watch How Europeans Carved Up African Land They Never Owned
56 min · 301 views today · Watch how Europeans gave away African land they never owned, then expressed anger when Africans resisted. The film is called Africa: A Voyage of Discovery, Episode 6: The...
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
A Brief History of CIA "Ghost Money"