On March 14, The New York Times published an article entitled, “C.I.A. Cash Ended Up in Coffers of Al Qaeda,” detailing how the government of Afghanistan used “a secret fund that the Central Intelligence Agency bankrolled” to help pay a $5 million ransom to Al Qaeda, which had kidnapped an Afghan diplomat. Responding to the headline, those who suggest the US government is deliberately funding Al Qaeda in order to create an enemy whose existence it can then cite to justify intervention chortled at the Times’ use of the passive voice. “Oh, come on,” the marginalized conspiracy theorists groaned, “it just ‘ended up’ in their hands, now did it?”
The New York Times often runs terrible headlines, but I would suggest that those who believe this article, based on documents that were reportedly recovered in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, provides evidence for their theory that the United States is funding Al Qaeda on purpose, are quite mistaken. And the see-through-the-spectacle analysis they apply to Washington? It could also be applied to one of its long-time foes, were their analysis coherent and consistent. Reading past the headline, one discovers that while the Afghan government did indeed take $1 million from that secret fund to pay off an Al Qaeda ransom, “$4 million more [was] provided from other countries.” Pakistan “contributed nearly half the ransom,” the paper notes, while the remainder that didn’t come from the CIA “came from Iran and Persian Gulf states, which had also contributed to the Afghan president’s secret fund.”
Are we to believe the Islamic Republic of Iran is deliberately funding Al Qaeda as well? Not only did it help pay the ransom, it contributed to the same secret slush fund as the CIA. That money just “ended up” in the hands of a group whose existence Tehran has cited to justify intervening in both Syria and Iraq? Yes, actually: I don’t believe the evidence that’s not the case is any stronger with respect to Iran than it is with respect to the United States.
If Washington (or Tehran) wanted to fund Al Qaeda, it wouldn’t need to go the indirect route of dropping bags of cash outside Hamid Karzai’s office in Kabul in the hope that some of it would in turn, on occasion, be used to pay off 20 percent of a ransom: It could just end its policy of not paying the ransoms itself. Many have called for it do just that and it would be far from alone in doing so.
“Paying Ransoms, Europe Bankrolls Qaeda Terror,” The New York Times reported last July, noting that Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland have all paid ransoms directly to Al Qaeda and its affiliates: $165 million since 2008, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, and $66 million in 2013 alone. “Only a handful of countries have resisted paying,” the Times observed, “led by the United States and Britain.” If the U.S. empire really does have a deliberate policy of funding Al Qaeda, this stance is perplexing: Here is a clear and convenient opportunity to hand over millions of dollars to extremists, openly, in a way that much of the public would find morally defensible, and it’s not . . . because? I’m sure someone has a theory — I just doubt it’s any good.