By Merle L. Pribbenow
On October 27, 2009, The New York Times published a dramatic article about Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. The article alleged that the president’s
brother is a major Afghan drug trafficker as well as being a paid asset
of the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The byline to the article listed three names, including that of James Risen, the well-known author of State of War,
a recent and controversial book about US intelligence operations under
the Bush Administration. And like the sensational allegations Risen
made in State of War, the Times article was based almost entirely on anonymous sources.
While noting that Ahmed Wali Karzai categorically denied any involvement in drug trafficking, and that he also denied being a paid agent of the CIA, the article went on to quote unnamed U.S. “military and political” officials as stating that the Agency’s relationship with Karzai had become a source of “anger and frustration among American military officers and other officials of the Obama administration.” While admitting that the evidence against Wali Karzai was “largely circumstantial,” the article charged that Karzai’s alleged involvement in the opium trade meant that Karzai was viewed as a “malevolent force” in Afghanistan (a peculiar and incendiary choice of words). The article also repeated critical comments made by anonymous US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) sources about the US government’s failure to take action against Karzai and his alleged narcotics connections.
As a retired CIA officer who served in South Vietnam, the Times story struck a very familiar chord with me. Several decades ago, strikingly similar wartime allegations were made against a powerful government official, Lieutenant General Dang Van Quang, who was very close to South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu. Although I retired from the CIA more than a decade ago and have absolutely no personal knowledge, one way or the other, about the accuracy of the charges made against President Karzai’s brother, I believe that before the press, the American public, and senior Obama administration officials blindly accept as accurate the charges made in the Times article, it might be useful to review the earlier Vietnamese case. Lessons from General Quang’s case may be applicable to the allegations being made about President Karzai’s brother.