As the US and key stakeholders in the Middle East debate the best way to leverage the fight against ISIS in the service of a larger geopolitical agenda, a NY Times piece out today serves as a reminder (in case recent events haven’t made it clear enough) of just how pervasive examples of Western foreign policy blowback have become. As The Times reports, some $1 million in cash funneled to the Afghan government by the CIA ended up in the hands of al Qaeda who, after consulting with Bin Laden, promptly used the money to purchase weapons. 

Via NY Times:

In the spring of 2010, Afghan officials struck a deal to free an Afghan diplomat held hostage by Al Qaeda. But the price was steep — $5 million — and senior security officials were scrambling to come up with the money.

They first turned to a secret fund that the Central Intelligence Agency bankrolled with monthly cash deliveries to the presidential palace in Kabul, according to several Afghan officials involved in the episode. The Afghan government, they said, had already squirreled away about $1 million from that fund.

Within weeks, that money and $4 million more provided from other countries was handed over to Al Qaeda, replenishing its coffers after a relentless C.I.A. campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan had decimated the militant network’s upper ranks.

“God blessed us with a good amount of money this month,” Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, the group’s general manager, wrote in a letter to Osama bin Laden in June 2010, noting that the cash would be used for weapons and other operational needs.

This appears to be further proof that in addition to funding insurgents on purpose when it suits Washington’s foreign policy agenda, the agency also funds such groups accidentally, even as they simultaneously spend billions in taxpayer dollars firing Hellfires from the stratosphere in a failed attempt to destroy the very same weapons they just inadvertently bought. As The Times notes, this kind of thing happens all the time:

The C.I.A.’s contribution to Qaeda’s bottom line, though, was no well-laid trap. It was just another in a long list of examples of how the United States, largely because of poor oversight and loose financial controls, has sometimes inadvertently financed the very militants it is fighting. 

The “well-laid trap” bit there refers to the fact that had the CIA been able to exercise any manner of control over the cash once operatives dropped it off at the palace of puppet leader Hamid Karzai, they might have actually been able to use it to locate high level targets, and although Bin Laden was aware of the potential for such a ruse and suggested that the money should be laundered, he wasn’t all that concerned:

“It seems a bit strange somewhat because in a country like Afghanistan, usually they would not pay this kind of money to free one of their men,” he wrote.

“Is any of his relatives a big official?” 

“There is a possibility — not a very strong one — that the Americans are aware of the money delivery.” 

Ok, so everyone makes mistakes and sometimes those mistakes end up landing millions of dollars in the hands of extremists, but the important thing is to learn from such missteps and ensure that in the future, we make good decisions as it relates to covert cash transfers. Once again, here’s The Times:

The C.I.A., meanwhile, continued dropping off bags of cash — ranging each time from a few hundred thousand dollars to more than $1 million — at the presidential palace every month until last year, when President Hamid Karzai stepped down.

The money was used to buy the loyalty of warlords, legislators and other prominent — and potentially troublesome — Afghans, helping the palace finance a vast patronage network that secured Mr. Karzai’s power base. It was also used to cover expenses that needed to be kept off the books, such as clandestine diplomatic trips, and for more mundane costs, including rent payments for the guesthouses where some senior officials lived.

Well, as long as someone got a rent subsidy.

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