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August 26, 2010

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Well, thanks to getting mentioned in the Times as a CIA operative, he will probably cease to be a corruption problem soon. Or even alive.

One way to start to address the problem, I suppose.

Not so sure. Who do you think will off him? I imagine most of his colleagues are on that same payroll. And it's not as if insurgents didn't want him dead already, regardless. They assumed he, and Karzai et al, are on the payroll as a matter of course.

They are largely correct in this assumption.

Mentioned in, IIRC, "The Accidental Guerrilla":

US OFFICER IN IRAQ: Have you seen any foreign fighters in your village?
IRAQI: Yes. You.

"Assumed" is one thing. Having what they can consider proof would seem to raise his priority.

Not to mention the possibility that others within the Karzai government might decide that it was a convenient lever to use (even if they themselves are on the CIA payroll).

The CIA is where he belongs.

Can't slip a Kinks reference past ya.

Just out of curiosity, how much of what the CIA is doing is covert vs. overt operations? I know that the implication is that the CIA payments are in fact covert, but the article didn't exactly spell it out as such.

If covert, then we can't exactly stake out the high ground on this one, can we?

Why do we have the CIA again?

To break the law.

I thought that was what the FBI was for, so confusing.

Espionage on behalf of a foreign power that is... openly occupying the country with its military, seeking to establish predominance over the means of force inside it? So what? Does anyone think the CIA is not hard at work in Afghanistan, including every Afghan and every American? The CIA doesn't/shouldn't operate in countries where the U.S. is fighting a war?

So what?

As far as I know, the stated purpose of our continued occupation in Afghanistan is to help create a viable democratic nation. Getting caught using our intelligence service to bribe their high-ranking government officials directly undermines that mission, because it further deligitimizes the American-backed Karzai government. The legitimacy of that government (in the eyes of Afghans) is vital to winning their support. Winning their support is vital to reducing the Taliban's influence. Reducing the Taliban's influence will etc etc

As for your last two questions, I don't believe anyone here said that they thought the CIA is not hard at work in Afghanistan, nor did anyone say the CIA shouldn't or doesn't operate in bla blah blah. Such questions are besides the point of the question raised by the post.

What Julian said.

Mike D: Are you suggesting that putting top Afghan government officials on the payroll of a foreign power is not corrupting?

Actually Julian, Eric raised the issue of espionage, and that is what I was responding to. I'm suggesting that when a power is fielding armies in a country to extend the government's writ and does so entirely with the government's approval, who wouldn't expect them also to try to influence government officials? If the government's legitimacy problem stems from the perception that it is American-backed, then obviously we are screwed. But that's not the point here, and it's not the kind of corruption that so hinders Kabul's legitimacy, which Afghans face on an everyday basis, where government officials extract resources directly from the population and deliver few or no benefits. It is not a taking of Afghans' wealth for officials in their government to take money from the outside power that is currently occupying and trying to subdue insurgent forces. Afghans must take such American influence in their government as a given. The issue is not that the U.S. augments its war by putting agents in the Kabul government on its payroll, but instead that in this case it has done so with an official that is now seen to be a major node of the kind of corruption that does negatively affect Afghans on a day-to-day basis. That is obviously a development that could color Afghans' perception of any American influence in government, but it's not the same as saying that the issue here is simply that the U.S. pays agents in the Afghan government to gain influence in it, or that that may amount espionage. The issue is that that influence-renting has here overlapped with the plundering corruption of domestic Afghan power holders. The problem is that basically no one who has any influence or intelligence to sell to the U.S. isn't also domestically corrupt, because Karzai himself is. But that is a separate issue from whether it would somehow be surprising to Afghans if Americans turned out to be exerting influence on their government.

Mike D,

Although your commen runs rather long, you more or less repeated the same point over and over again, yet didn't respond to my question once.

Are you suggesting that putting top Afghan government officials on the payroll of a foreign power is not corrupting?

Regarding espionage, it is generally understood that selling state secrets to a foreign power is considered espionage. There are formal, above-board channels for Afghan government officials to share information with US government and military officials.

None of those involve surreptitiously putting Afghan government officials on the CIA payroll in exchange for clandestine services.

Eric, I'm saying that in the context of an overt military occupation that has the host government's support, seeing the occupier's efforts to influence the host government as corrupting is kind of, I don't know, precious? Do Afghans not already think their government is basically a vassal of the U.S.? Isn't it one? Karzai's main complaint with Washington is that it has expressed a desire to diminish the level of its activity in Afghanistan over the relatively short term. But no, formally I'm not saying it isn't corrupting. That's why I said so what instead of no it isn't. But that was regarding espionage. With corruption simply as regards America influencing Kabul (leaving the issue of who we seek out), it's more like, well what is it you think we're doing there?

Eric, I'm saying that in the context of an overt military occupation that has the host government's support, seeing the occupier's efforts to influence the host government as corrupting is kind of, I don't know, precious?

When you use the euphemism "efforts to influence," then perhaps, yes. As if secretly putting someone on the CIA payroll is the same as, say, having the POTUS discuss policy with the leader is the same thing.

Do Afghans not already think their government is basically a vassal of the U.S.? Isn't it one?

Yes! And the point I made is that, given this obvious state of affairs, it is telling that an article discussing corruption does not acknowledge the fact that the occupation itself is corrupting, and that putting Afghan govt officials on the CIA payroll is even moreso.

With corruption simply as regards America influencing Kabul (leaving the issue of who we seek out), it's more like, well what is it you think we're doing there?

Again, putting someone on the CIA payroll is different than holding summits, but in a sense, they are both corrupting when the former occurs in the context of a large occupying army.

But that's my point: we discuss corruption while ignoring...well, I'd say the elephant in the room, but really, it's the room itself, elephant and all.

Again, to cite my post, it's the same way Odierno says - without blinking - that we must stay in Iraq for decades in order to prevent...foreign interference! Because we're not foreign, apparently.

And in a story about a corrupt Afghan official, nowwhere does it mention that secretly being on the CIA payroll is itself a pretty glaring form of corruption.

That is true even if Afghans expect and assume that such corruption is rife. The correctness of their assumptions has no bearing on the quality of the thing itself.

Note to Afghans: yes, America is spying on your government. We're also patrolling your villages with our Marines.

You fail to distinguish between different kinds of influence.

A lawyer may influence a jury by submitting evidence, calling witnesses, making opening or closing arguments, and so on. Bribing a jury is illegal.

Similarly, I believe but am not sure that there are Afghan laws against bribery of government officials, even if they are laws "more honor'd in the breach than the observance." You may (and many do) decry the corruption in Afghanistan, but that does not change the fact that American participation in that corruption directly undermines our stated purpose for occupying Afghanistan.

Afghans might be tolerant of the U.S. seeking to influence the government of Afghanistan by providing aid, having diplomatic talks, etc, while simultaneously objecting to America secretly bribing government officials.

That is why the distinction counts.

If we were merely spying on the Afghan government (without the cooperation of Afghan government officials), Afghans might be less upset. However, we are also bribing their officials. In the former case, the blame may lie solely with the U.S. In the former, Afghans also have further reason to distrust their "democratically elected" government.

Secondly, even if we were only spying on Afghanistan (which Afghans wouldn't like), they could easily disapprove of the spying but approve of the Marines. Marines might provide safety, well-building and other infrastructure, etc. Spying (which would be less offensive to Afghans that what we were strictly doing) and Marine patrols are not equivalent.

Eric, yes, it's the room itself - the very thing we're trying to do in the country - that you're holding up as 'corruption.' You yourself say it: not just the payoffs, but the occupation itself that is 'corrupting.' Fine, we get it, it's a doomed enterprise if it rests on limiting "corruption," (a claim that itself is very much subject to empirical scrutiny), because, see, the whole enterprise comprises "corruption." Yay, you can construct a solipsism! That move just makes corruption a useless frame for this discussion, a circular argument built on assumptions -- the very definition of preciousness -- not a real look at the efficacy of policies and instruments within the mission,. A debater's point that swallows the whole discussion. I think you know I'm right.

I believe but am not sure that there are Afghan laws against bribery of government officials

Afghans might be tolerant of the U.S. seeking to influence the government of Afghanistan by providing aid, having diplomatic talks, etc, while simultaneously objecting to America secretly bribing government officials.

Or they might reserve their ire for when we bribe officials who shake them down regularly. These actually are questions we can find the answers to.

The thing itself, I am saying, is richer, better armed Afghans associated with the government shaking down poorer Afghans for what they can get out of them. Americans giving money to Kabul officials to get them to give them information or advocate for policies is really a different thing. You can call both corruption if you want, but that doesn't make them the same things-in-themselves. The story seems to be describing the first as corruption and not the second, and you have a fair point that they both might better be described as such, but that doesn't make them the same things-in-themselves. Category != identity. What matters is what (who) gets the Afghans' goats. Ba-dum-chunk.

A debater's point that swallows the whole discussion. I think you know I'm right.

I'm not actually sure what your point is, to be honest.

You think these points are obvious, and yet they are never mentioned in the mainstream media, or by our policymakers.

If they were emphasized via those outlets/sources, then my raising the issue would be unnecessary.

However, given that the myopia of exceptionalism blinds Americans - from the top to the bottom - to these realities, it bears mentioning.

Fine, we get it, it's a doomed enterprise if it rests on limiting "corruption," (a claim that itself is very much subject to empirical scrutiny), because, see, the whole enterprise comprises "corruption."

See, I actually think that there are distinctions, which I've said all along.

As Julian adds (and I mentioned, repeatedly, and again) there are different ways to influence.

Putting someone on the CIA payroll is worse than offering aid to the Afghan government. In an article discussing the corruption of the official on the CIA payroll, it would merit pointing out that putting someone on the CIA payroll is itself corrupting. Even, as I said upthread, "moreso" than just the corrupting influence of the occupation itself.

I'm all for the distinction, not for ignoring it. But the very thing itself was ignored in the article altogether. Which is not helpful, nor is it a debater's point to point it out.

The story seems to be describing the first as corruption and not the second, and you have a fair point that they both might better be described as such, but that doesn't make them the same things-in-themselves.

This is a fair point, and not one that I have disagreed with now or in the past.

Not all corruption is the same.

The corrupting influence of an occupation is one thing. The corrupting influence of putting certain Afghan officials on the CIA payroll in order to get secret info and have them lobby for CIA preferred positions is another. Shaking down ordinary Afghans is yet another.

That's a valid point, but I never disagreed with it.

What gets me about this is how no one seems to be "outraged" that "US and Afghan officials" have outed a CIA asset in a foreign country. Why is no one talking about threats to national security, and launching a witchhunt to find and incarcerate the perpetrators of this leak?

The real story here is that a "dog bites man" story (Afghan official is corrupt! Afghan official is on US Payroll! Not shocking) story gets front page play in the New York Times. This is a case of the media playing along with someones' agenda, and the only question is what the real purpose of the "story" is.

My guess -- Salehi got caught playing both sides of the fence, taking money not just from the US, but also from the Taliban and/or Pakistan and/or Iran. The "story" is a warning to the rest of those who are on the US payroll....

Ultimately I think it is fair for an article to more or less explicitly define its terms as it sees fit, and here it defined corruption as that kind of corruption that Afghans experience at the hands of other Afghans every day. Depending on Afghan attitudes, your point could amount to either a very good one, or a mere quibble, depending on whether the mere fact of the U.S. paying this person in the first place (separate from the fact that he was internally corrupt already) is a distinction that overwhelms your inclusive understanding of 'corruption,' or fits nicely inside it, or somewhere in between.

FWIW, I'm not sure I would describe the counterparts of the agents of a foreign power in the U.S. government as 'corrupt.' Spies, as per your earlier point, or traitors perhaps, but not necessarily 'corrupt.'

Ultimately I think it is fair for an article to more or less explicitly define its terms as it sees fit, and here it defined corruption as that kind of corruption that Afghans experience at the hands of other Afghans every day.

It is fair only its dedication to reality and truth. If I define foreign interference in Iraq as anything other than US interference (or British, or Polish, or Australian, etc.), is that fair? If so, of what importance is fairness?

FWIW, I'm not sure I would describe the counterparts of the agents of a foreign power in the U.S. government as 'corrupt.' Spies, as per your earlier point, or traitors perhaps, but not necessarily 'corrupt.'

Interesting. I'm not sure I would agree with that distinction.

Depending on Afghan attitudes, your point could amount to either a very good one, or a mere quibble, depending on whether the mere fact of the U.S. paying this person in the first place (separate from the fact that he was internally corrupt already) is a distinction that overwhelms your inclusive understanding of 'corruption,' or fits nicely inside it, or somewhere in between.

Well, I still claim that regardless of Afghan attitudes, putting a government official from a foreign country on the payroll of the US' spy agency is corrupting.

Certainly, the US would view it as such if a foreign country were to do so with US government officials.

I don't think the terms 'foreign influence' and 'corruption' are equally unambiguous. One is rather more dependent on expectations of the actions of particular individuals by those in the rightful position to judge. When a U.S. newspaper is reporting on corruption in a country precisely because corruption, or perceptions thereof, are thought (by some) to be crucial factors in the prospects of the war effort's success, and derive their value from that thinking, it is entirely appropriate for them to define the matter in just those terms that make it salient to the war effort, and hence to the paper's understanding of the source of the news value. Afghanistan has been corrupt for a long time; it didn't always make the front page. I actually don't think you can claim to be in a position to say objectively what is 'corrupting' in Afghanistan. Afghan's attitudes might well coincide with yours, making this oversight material on the Times' part, but even then you couldn't claim to be any more correct in your claim as a result, since you've now said that it is simply so regardless of Afghan attitudes toward the situation.

I don't think the terms 'foreign influence' and 'corruption' are equally unambiguous

Again with the euphemisms. "Foreign influence"? Really?

When a U.S. newspaper is reporting on corruption in a country precisely because corruption, or perceptions thereof, are thought (by some) to be crucial factors in the prospects of the war effort's success, and derive their value from that thinking, it is entirely appropriate for them to define the matter in just those terms that make it salient to the war effort, and hence to the paper's understanding of the source of the news value.

Right, except that part of the longstanding problem has been the corrupting influence of outside powers. Mostly Pakistan until 2002, but now us as well.

And if you read Afghan voices, like Zaeef's book, they view Pakistan and the US as corrupting influences.

I actually don't think you can claim to be in a position to say objectively what is 'corrupting' in Afghanistan.

I'm not sure what this means. Are you saying that there is an argument that Afghans wouldn't view a govt. official being on either CIA or ISI payroll as corruption? Huh?

Afghan's attitudes might well coincide with yours, making this oversight material on the Times' part, but even then you couldn't claim to be any more correct in your claim as a result, since you've now said that it is simply so regardless of Afghan attitudes toward the situation.

Wait, weren't you the one talking about debating points, but now you're arguing that there is no objective definition of corruption, only Afghan perceptions matter. But, which Afghan perceptions?

Do they all matter? If so, are you really claiming that none would view high ranking govt officials being on the payroll of foreign spy agencies as corruption? Seriously?

What the hell? I was just trying to address your semantic analogy of corruption to foreign interference. I mistyped. The point holds.

Anyway, now you're arguing perceptions. Fair enough, as I've said; Afghans may think of us as corrupting in these payments, or other actions, and still not as much so as their local extortionists, but you can't fall back on it anyway b/c now you're on to arguing that it doesn't matter what they think. It's not scoring a debating point to say what I think of that argument.

Which Afghan perceptions? The ones that may be decisive in determining the outcome of the war, according to the narrative(s) justifying this reporting's prominence in the paper, of course.

Why the hell would I say that none might think it corrupting, even if I did say that all Afghan's perceptions matter. If they all mattered, it could still be salient that far more didn't than did think that (not that I have any idea what the reality is).

Anyway, now you're arguing perceptions.

I was actually responding to your point about perceptions. I certainly did not bring Afghan perceptions into the conversation, you did, so don't blame me.

Fair enough, as I've said; Afghans may think of us as corrupting in these payments, or other actions, and still not as much so as their local extortionists, but you can't fall back on it anyway b/c now you're on to arguing that it doesn't matter what they think.

Actually, one can argue both:

1. Afghans perceive this as corruption.

2. Even if Afghans perceive this as sundaes with cherries on top, it is still corruption.

And what's your ultimate point here?

That because Afghans might perceive some corruption as worse, that the Times was right to completely ignore the corrupting influence of putting top Afghan govt. officials on the CIA payroll for clandestine services to a foreign power?

Or that it's not corruption at all because it's possible that Afghans comprising a decisive cohort do not view being secretly on the CIA payroll as corruption?

If either of those is the case, then let's agree to disagree - as I still hold that it's corruption, and it's worth mentioning, and to ignore it is symptomatic of exeptionalist myopia.

If there's another point you're making, I'm not getting it.

I'm saying that for the purposes of the article, the definition of corruption used was appropriate.

Paul Lukasiac at 1116:

"My guess -- Salehi got caught playing both sides of the fence, taking money not just from the US, but also from the Taliban and/or Pakistan and/or Iran. The "story" is a warning to the rest of those who are on the US payroll...."

I think's that is most likely correct, although there's no end to how far such speculation could lead, e.g. was Salehi shopped by an envious rival among his own clique, who wants a bigger piece of the action for himself? And so forth.


Mike D at 1217:

"When a U.S. newspaper is reporting on corruption...it is entirely appropriate for them to define the matter in just those terms that make it salient to the war effort."

Maybe, if the NYT's highest purpose is to serve the war effort. But couldn't a US citizen objectively regard such misreportage as itself corrupt?

Roland: not to serve the effort, but to report on its dynamics on ther terms that are taken to be salient by the readership.

I want to add that while my position is mine, I do take Eric's point fully on board on reflection. It's just that I also understand why Filkins took the definition of corruption that he did in the story, because the point is to draw ostensibly dissimilar things into factually reported proximity and make us reflect on the implications of that. But I certainly don't deny that Eric has an arguablre point. It's just that I don't have any problem with the definition of corruption being a local one. If this type of payment is seen by Afghans as cprrupt in the same way, then it is a reporting failure. On the other hand, it still is (as Eric concedes) a different animal, so i still see that as a basis for a distinction in the reporting. As I mentioned, I truly wouldn't have included "corrupt," corrupting," or "corruption" among the first ten or fifteen descriptors to apply to the recently revealed Russian spy ring. Iguess I just see corruption as a function of internally-driven economic avarice dominating the public acts of officials in any given country. That's probably what's at the root of my take on this.

As I mentioned, I truly wouldn't have included "corrupt," corrupting," or "corruption" among the first ten or fifteen descriptors to apply to the recently revealed Russian spy ring. Iguess I just see corruption as a function of internally-driven economic avarice dominating the public acts of officials in any given country. That's probably what's at the root of my take on this.

Suffice to say, Mike, if the article had described the Afghan official as a spy conducting espionage on behalf of the CIA, I probably would not have objected to the seeming double standard/exceptionalist myopia.

I honestly don't know what else to say it describes him as. It says he's being paid by our flagship national-security intelligence agency. It was unable to report exactly what the service rendered was, but i think what is reported constitutes the thing you ant mentioned. Unless what you want is a value or legal judgment attached. I know journalistic objectivity is a outmoded relic of a bygone age and never really existed anyway, so that would be perfectly fair for you to want. On the value judgment I personally don't have a problem with us spying on even friendly governments, while I openly have a problem with them doing it to us (I'm old-school like that), though in this case I'd defer to Afghans' feelings on the matter, because it is apparently so important how they feel about "corruption" (and presumably espionage). On the legal issue, as I said above there's probably a clear answer to the question under Afghan law, I just can't speak to it. Is it Filkins' job to find that out and render a legal determination in an article about what seems to be a good candidate for activity that falls under such a law? Perhaps.

Yeah, I think we should just agree to disagree.

I think putting high Afghan officials on the CIA payroll surreptitiously is corrupting, you don't.

To each his own.

I don't think it's necessarily not corrupting, I just think it's not the same variant of corruption that the article is trying to report on under its term "corruption," and that in order to retain clarity about the relationships between the things it'a reporting on, it's okay for it to stick to that definition internally and not lump them. But I acknowledge the contrary argument; I don't claim to be objectively right about that, so yeah, agree to disagree.

A public official accepting money that creates a conflict of interest sounds close enough to corruption for my purposes, whether the money is coming from a private party or a covert agency of a foreign government.

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