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Conman posing as Taliban scams U.S. in sham negotiations

by Magnifico Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 10:27:38 AM EST

The United States was scammed out of "a lot of money" by an impostor from Pakistan posing to be a high ranking Taliban leader, The New York Times reports this morning.

The man, posing as Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, held secret talks with U.S., NATO, and Afghan officials, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and then after three meetings disappeared.

Not surprisingly, these so-called "high-level discussions... appear to have achieved little" and American officials have "given up hope that the Afghan was Mr. Mansour, or even a member of the Taliban leadership."

Promoted by Colman: I have no idea what to do with this, other than to bury my head under a pillow. So screwed up.


As recently as last month, American and Afghan officials held high hopes for the talks. Senior American officials, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, said the talks indicated that Taliban leaders, whose rank-and-file fighters are under extraordinary pressure from the American-led offensive, were at least willing to discuss an end to the war...

Last month, White House officials asked The New York Times to withhold Mr. Mansour's name from an article about the peace talks, expressing concern that the talks would be jeopardized -- and Mr. Mansour's life put at risk -- if his involvement were publicized.

No one knows who this international con artist is. Was he a Taliban agent? Or an agent from the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service? Or, maybe just some guy playing the Americans as suckers for a quick bit of cash.

The NY Times was unable to learn how the Americans discovered the man was an impostor. However according to Afghan officials, mysterious Mansour's identity was first established by showing photos of the man to Taliban detainees who agreed it was the real Mansour.

I think this constitutes as another high level failure on part of the United States intelligence community. Sadly, this is nothing new to the U.S.-led coalition war effort in Afghanistan. In March 2009, a leaked analysis by the RAND Corporation Rand concluded Intelligence failures are crippling the fight against insurgents in Afghanistan. The report called "for a substantial overhaul of how military intelligence is gathered, organised and acted on." Nothing seems to have become of its recommendations.

For in December 2009, a double-agent killed seven people in a suicide attack inside a CIA outpost in Khost, Afghanistan.

Another report, "Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan" (pdf),  released in January 2010 by the Center for a New American Security found that:

Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy...  The vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade. Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the correlations between various development projects and the levels of cooperation among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers - whether aid workers or Afghan soldiers - U.S. intelligence officers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high level decision-makers seeking the knowledge, analysis, and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency.

As of September 2009, the CIA was adding to the nearly 700 of its people deployed in Afghanistan, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time. Not only that, but "the intelligence expansion goes beyond the CIA to involve every major spy service, officials said". "U.S. intelligence official said that spy agencies 'anticipated the surge in demand for intelligence.'"

Since the end of the Cold War, the CIA has been in search of a mission to justify its existence. The Clinton administration used the "agency as its own private Internet", the NY Times reported in 1995. "The clandestine service, unhappy at being thought of as a billion-dollar news bureau, conceived a plan... The spies proposed narrowing and sharpening their focus on what the C.I.A. calls hard targets."

"The clandestine service is the heart and soul of the agency," says Robert M. Gates, Director of Central Intelligence from 1991 to 1993.

15 years later, Gates is now the Defense War Secretary directing President Obama's war strategy in Afghanistan.

As for the CIA? Well "the CIA finds job security in Afghanistan" observed Robert Haddick writing in his column at Foreign Policy in October 2009. All options that President Obama has considered last year for his Afghanistan policy, had in common "a requirement for greater CIA participation... Afghanistan seems bound to provide job security for the CIA."

Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that a wider role for the CIA in Pakistan was being sought by the United States.

The number of CIA personnel in Pakistan has grown substantially in recent years. The exact number is highly classified. The push for more forces reflects, in part, the increased need for intelligence to support the CIA drone program that has killed hundreds of militants with missile strikes.

CIA Director Leon Panetta has downplayed any suggestions that Pakistan's ISI is helping the insurgent groups that the U.S. and NATO are fighting. "We're getting good cooperation," he said. But just last week, an investigation by The Nation uncovered yet another link between the ISI and the Taliban. "The ISI was making sure that the relations between the Taliban factions weren't destroyed by anyone's betrayal."

The United States is funding the Taliban through contractors that pay the Taliban for 'security', according to Richard Holbrooke, special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"All the contractors for development projects pay the Taliban for protection and use of the roads, so American and coalition dollars help finance the Taliban," Holbrooke, special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told a meeting of White House insiders in October, 2009...

In almost any area with a significant Taliban presence, large chunks of donor funds are being diverted to the insurgents, by various mechanisms, to ensure that projects can progress without interference.

The war in Afghanistan is self-perpetuating. The United States is funding both sides of the war with borrowed money while back home, the nation is locked in a long recession with high unemployment with no end in sight.

The U.S. intelligence community seems to be more interested in perpetuating its own interests in Afghanistan by drawing out the war as long as possible. Despite reports citing the need for accurate intelligence in Afghanistan to make any 'progress' in the war effort, the intelligence community is still getting it wrong as the latest episode with the mysterious Mansour impostor demonstrates.

When President Obama set the nation on this course last year with his war escalation, he promised Vice President Biden that he would not become trapped in the plan if it was not working. Biden warned Obama during Afghan war review not to get 'locked into Vietnam', Bob Woodward reported in the Washington Post in September 2010.

When Obama came down from the residence and saw Biden, he started laughing.

"What you're about to do is a presidential order," Biden advised. It was not a continuation of the debate anymore. "This is not what you think. This is an order." If he didn't stick to those orders, there was no exit. Without them - and this was Biden's main argument - "we're locked into Vietnam."

It might not work. "You may get to the point where you've got to make a really tough goddamned decision, man."

"I'm not signing on to a failure," Obama said. "If what I proposed is not working, I'm not going to be like these other presidents and stick to it based upon my ego or my politics - my political security."

How can the president be certain that anything he is being told regarding the situation in Afghanistan or Pakistan is true? The intelligence community has a vested interest in prolonging this war.

President Obama's Afghanistan strategy does not appear to be working. Some schmuck just made a fool of the United States by posing as a high ranking Taliban official and made off with "a lot of money". Just another small part of a much larger failure.

 
Cross-posted from Daily Kos.

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The Americans must simply give up their (bipartisan) imperialism...it simply is too costly for them, in addition to which they are hopelessly outmatched and out of their element whenever they venture into a foreign country of any sort (witness how friendly Canada negotiated circles around them during the US-Canada TLE/FTA talks...)

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill
by r------ on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 08:49:06 AM EST
European Tribune - Conman posing as Taliban scams U.S. in sham negotiations
The man, posing as Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, held secret talks with U.S., NATO, and Afghan officials, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and then after three meetings disappeared.
Uh, so the locals were fooled, too?

Of all the ways of organizing banking, the worst is the one we have today — Mervyn King, 25 October 2010
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 10:59:09 AM EST
To what extent is Karzai a local?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 11:21:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Okay, you have a point. But then under what definition is he an asset?

How about the other unnamed "Afghan officials"?

Of all the ways of organizing banking, the worst is the one we have today — Mervyn King, 25 October 2010

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 11:35:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Who knows? Hell, the whole thing could be an operation to move cash from CIA to friends of Karzai.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 11:37:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Or to friends of the CIA.

Of all the ways of organizing banking, the worst is the one we have today — Mervyn King, 25 October 2010
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 11:39:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Who wants to work on the screenplay?

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 11:47:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah but who would you get to make it, Im sure The CIA has plenty of connections in the propaganda Film industry, and aren't going to like being made to look stupid.

Perhaps the Chinese film industry. :)

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 11:55:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There's been a couple of Turkish films painting a less than perfectly flattering picture of the American military intelligence.

You'd have to relocate it to Iraq, but that shouldn't substantially change the story...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 11:59:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ceebs:
Im sure The CIA has plenty of connections in the propaganda Film industry, and aren't going to like being made to look stupid.
You forget the Coen brothers' Burn after Reading.

Of all the ways of organizing banking, the worst is the one we have today — Mervyn King, 25 October 2010
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 12:22:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I found it too confusing.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Wed Nov 24th, 2010 at 04:53:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Karzai has been a player in Afghan and Pashtun politics for a very, very, long time.  Hereditary member of the local Kandahar area elites who was deeply involved in anti-Soviet mujaheddin movement, then was very close to the Taliban in their intitial rise to power, and then broke with them to start playing footsie with the Northern Alliance, and got to power by being the least unacceptable of possible choices to all the various factions. The guy is a corrupt, slippery SOB, but unless you're going to argue that no member of the traditional Afghan elites is a local, he's as much of an insider as it gets.
by MarekNYC on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 11:59:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The talks were with Afghan officials, that was the whole point.

This whole story was a topic of much (relatively astonished) discussion in my office today... people weren't sure whether it was more hilarious, or more disturbing.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 02:28:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I go with disturbing.

Of all the ways of organizing banking, the worst is the one we have today — Mervyn King, 25 October 2010
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 02:39:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm going with hilarious. It probably does less damage than whatever else the Americans were going to do with the money.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 03:02:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In a (Dutch) interview with Woodward, it was noted that Woodward had observed (very casually) in his book that Obama had actually been duped by Petraeus, as the good general advised the president against a policy while the general had not even investigated the suggested scenario. Woodward also expressed his bafflement that Petraeus and Obama are practically not talking to each other.

Some serious smoke and mirrors going on here.

by Nomad on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 11:04:51 AM EST
The more I read this story, the more stunned I am about it The sheer bottle of the man who's done this

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 11:38:42 AM EST
Well, on first reading I thought it was "Colman posing as a Taliban scams US..."

I was thinking he must have grown a hell of a beard to convince them. But, as you say, bottle probably was necessary.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 12:12:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, same here.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 01:13:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Given that so many recognised him as "genuine", I rather suspect that it was pretty organised. It might even have been the real bloke or a senior staffer who turned up, took the money and then decided the offer wasn't good enough, so in order to not ruin the relationship made out they'd been scammed instead.

Give it 6 months and they can do it all again probably.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 01:11:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
or you end up fighting yourself

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 11:39:37 AM EST
From neocon Reuel Marc Gerecht, note the date.

The Atlantic | July/August 2001 | The Counterterrorist Myth | Reuel Marc Gerecht

The United States has spent billions of dollars on counterterrorism since the U.S. embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, in August of 1998. Tens of millions have been spent on covert operations specifically targeting Usama bin Ladin and his terrorist organization, al-Qa'ida. Senior U.S. officials boldly claim--even after the suicide attack last October on the USS Cole, in the port of Aden--that the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are clandestinely "picking apart" bin Ladin's organization "limb by limb." But having worked for the CIA for nearly nine years on Middle Eastern matters (I left the Directorate of Operations because of frustration with the Agency's many problems), I would argue that America's counterterrorism program in the Middle East and its environs is a myth.

Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier, is on the cultural periphery of the Middle East. It is just down the Grand Trunk Road from the legendary Khyber Pass, the gateway to Afghanistan. Peshawar is where bin Ladin cut his teeth in the Islamic jihad, when, in the mid-1980s, he became the financier and logistics man for the Maktab al-Khidamat, The Office of Services, an overt organization trying to recruit and aid Muslim, chiefly Arab, volunteers for the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. The friendships and associations made in The Office of Services gave birth to the clandestine al-Qa'ida, The Base, whose explicit aim is to wage a jihad against the West, especially the United States.

According to Afghan contacts and Pakistani officials, bin Ladin's men regularly move through Peshawar and use it as a hub for phone, fax, and modem communication with the outside world. Members of the embassy-bombing teams in Africa probably planned to flee back to Pakistan. Once there they would likely have made their way into bin Ladin's open arms through al-Qa'ida's numerous friends in Peshawar. Every tribe and region of Afghanistan is represented in this city, which is dominated by the Pathans, the pre-eminent tribe in the Northwest Frontier and southern Afghanistan. Peshawar is also a power base of the Taliban, Afghanistan's fundamentalist rulers. Knowing the city's ins and outs would be indispensable to any U.S. effort to capture or kill bin Ladin and his closest associates. Intelligence collection on al-Qa'ida can't be of much real value unless the agent network covers Peshawar.

During a recent visit, at sunset, when the city's cloistered alleys go black except for an occasional flashing neon sign, I would walk through Afghan neighborhoods. Even in the darkness I had a case officer's worst sensation--eyes following me everywhere. To escape the crowds I would pop into carpet, copper, and jewelry shops and every cybercafé I could find. These were poorly lit one- or two-room walk-ups where young men surfed Western porn. No matter where I went, the feeling never left me. I couldn't see how the CIA as it is today had any chance of running a successful counterterrorist operation against bin Ladin in Peshawar, the Dodge City of Central Asia.

Westerners cannot visit the cinder-block, mud-brick side of the Muslim world--whence bin Ladin's foot soldiers mostly come--without announcing who they are. No case officer stationed in Pakistan can penetrate either the Afghan communities in Peshawar or the Northwest Frontier's numerous religious schools, which feed manpower and ideas to bin Ladin and the Taliban, and seriously expect to gather useful information about radical Islamic terrorism--let alone recruit foreign agents.

Even a Muslim CIA officer with native-language abilities (and the Agency, according to several active-duty case officers, has very few operatives from Middle Eastern backgrounds) could do little more in this environment than a blond, blue-eyed all-American. Case officers cannot long escape the embassies and consulates in which they serve. A U.S. official overseas, photographed and registered with the local intelligence and security services, can't travel much, particularly in a police-rich country like Pakistan, without the "host" services' knowing about it. An officer who tries to go native, pretending to be a true-believing radical Muslim searching for brothers in the cause, will make a fool of himself quickly.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 12:30:55 PM EST
The war in Afghanistan is self-perpetuating. The United States is funding both sides of the war with borrowed money while back home, the nation is locked in a long recession with high unemployment with no end in sight.

The U.S. intelligence community seems to be more interested in perpetuating its own interests in Afghanistan by drawing out the war as long as possible.

You make a compelling, if dispiriting, case.

We're screwed.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 01:17:38 PM EST
I don't think that Afghanistan is what will screw the US over. In terms of American lives lost, it's barely even a rounding error (Afghans is another story, but unfortunately they cost the Americans nothing). In terms of political capital, well it's not like the US has any left to lose after Bush. And while the treasure wasted there is significant, the military would have just found another way to get its pork if Afghanistan hadn't been there.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 01:42:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am reading the different reports about NATO planning to leave - "hand over to Afghanistani forces" - in 2014 as Obama planning to declare victory next year and start pulling out troops in time for the 2012 election.

Attempts to buy of the Pashtun insurgency indicates a similar strategy as in Iraq. Pay the winning insurgents not to attack while the US pulls out. Since Awakening Councils has already been used, maybe they will use a different term for the temporarily bought insurgents.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 03:14:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Disappeared with the money" raises all kinds of interesting questions.

What kind of money? Gold? Cash? Travellers' cheques? A bank transfer? Drugs? Weapons?

Presumably it wasn't one of those shiny suitcases full of notes you see in movies.

And even if it was - what was he going to spend it on, in Afghanistan? And how was he going to get it out of the country with being mugged?

It all seems rather implausible.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 09:47:16 PM EST
Cash, presumably. US$ 1 million in 20-dollar bills weighs about fifty kilo. That's two to three big suitcases, and a car for transport.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 10:06:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It would be interesting getting that through customs.

It probably went next to the drugs on the next military flight home.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Nov 23rd, 2010 at 11:01:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cash in $100 bills is a fair presumption, considering how the US carried on in Iraq:

How the US sent $12bn in cash to Iraq. And watched it vanish | World news | The Guardian

The US flew nearly $12bn in shrink-wrapped $100 bills into Iraq, then distributed the cash with no proper control over who was receiving it and how it was being spent.

The staggering scale of the biggest transfer of cash in the history of the Federal Reserve has been graphically laid bare by a US congressional committee.

If it is not recycled within the CIA, it could be used to finance war in Afghanistan or a life of luxury in any country with low costs and corruptible customs officers.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Wed Nov 24th, 2010 at 02:40:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why don't they use Euros? 500 Euro bills are much more convenient...
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Wed Nov 24th, 2010 at 02:49:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They can't print those. Well, they could, but...

Appearances notwithstanding, not all European spies are total idiots. Some of them would notice if you started taking that sort of €-denominated paper money out of the €-zone banking system. Plus, the American empire is based on dollar hegemony. Wouldn't want to teach the locals to expect their bribes in €. That might do Bad Things to The American WayTM.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Nov 24th, 2010 at 05:28:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I've no idea of the figures, but would the numbers really be significant compared with the number used in the drug trade?
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Wed Nov 24th, 2010 at 06:33:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, probably not. But in the drug trade, the money comes from a lot of small sources and are laundered to a few central end-points. This would go the other way around. Probably doesn't make any difference, though. But it still doesn't make any sense for the Americans to condition the locals to expect bribes in €.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Nov 24th, 2010 at 06:55:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, by the time they're done divvying up the loot between the principal participants and paying all the relevant hush money, I'm not sure the gains will be that outrageous for the individuals involved. And wire transfers are your friends, if you want to get money across borders without nosey customs officers asking annoying questions about their origin.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Nov 24th, 2010 at 05:32:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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