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There are likely not more than a few who are surprised by Hamid Karzai’s recent complaint, as reported in today’s New York Times, that a previous assurance that the regular deliveries of bags of cash from the CIA would be continued, despite a storm of criticism.  The deliveries, he said, were “an easy source of petty cash” and were often used to pay off warlords and power brokers. Later he added that it was regularly dipped into for rent money for various officials, medical treatment for wounded members of the presidential guard and to buy, of all things, scholarships. 

In the millions received every year it was nothing special, apparently, although the monies received from the State Department were accounted for and audited, the CIA slush fund never was.  Handy that, wouldn’t you think?  Some critics say it could have been, over the years, in the millions, and could easily have found its way into the hands of organized crime and opium dealers.  I repeat this with the smirk you might expect.  Intelligence agencies, as we have come to know, are no strangers to drug dealers.  In fact, until their piles of offshore booty reached the self-sustaining level, whenever that was, their covert activities were regularly funded in this manner, despite the whistle-blowers losing their jobs and often, lives.

Although in no way shocked myself, I was amused to discover, in the same paper’s book review section, in an essay on the recent biography of famed CIA operative William Colby, comments concerning his time in 1950’s Italy, where as a high ranking operative in that atmosphere of anti-Communist paranoia, he acted like a “medieval doge”, whose principal problem, according to a colleague, was ” finding bags and car trunks large enough to hold the sheer bulk of lire involved in the payoffs to government officials”.  This immediately recalled the remark, in the recent Oscar winning film Argo, where one character jokes to another that the Shah’s plane could barely achieve liftoff in his escape as it was so loaded down with gold bars.   That in turn reminded me of former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s admission, some years ago under pressure, that he had indeed received brown paper bags of cash from a lobbyist in a hotel room, but as it was after he’d left the post of Prime Minister, it did not count as a  bribe.

Corruption in public officials is nothing new or shocking, it would seem, in this modern or any other world, unless perhaps it includes the sexual slavery of children, and I do not seek to reinstate any return to the naivete that might have once, in fairytale land, made it so.  The dark side, as I have argued here, exists to be embraced. experienced, and ultimately rejected.  The free will option on this planet remains supreme.  We must choose the good, the kind, the merciful, not out of fear, but out of understanding and compassion.  I am assuming the laughter, even that of the thigh-slapping variety, is a necessary and welcome component of that compassion.