Daniel Schulman

Senior Editor

Based in DC, Dan covers politics and national security. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, the Village Voice, the Columbia Journalism Review, and other publications. He is the author of the new Koch brothers biography, Sons of Wichita (Grand Central Publishing). Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.

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Karzai's Anti-Corruption Obstruction

| Thu Aug. 5, 2010 8:02 AM EDT

Here we go again. Remember when Hamid Karzai amped up Afghan-US tensions in February when he moved to bring an independent election watchdog under his control? It was this maneuver that led the Obama administration to rescind an initial White House invite. Now, the Wall Street Journal reports, Karzai has staged a similar power play. Following the arrest of one of Karzai's top security aides on corruption charges, the Afghan president has clamped down on the two NATO-backed anti-corruption units that led the investigation.

Last week, Afghanistan's Major Crimes Task Force (MCTF) and a lesser-known division targeting high-level graft, the Sensitive Investigative Unit, jointly raided the home of Mohammed Zia Saleh, a top official who headed administration for Afghanistan's National Security Council. The Journal explains the allegations against Saleh:

According to several Western officials, U.S.-backed investigators taped a conversation in which Mr. Saleh was negotiating a bribe—in the form of a car—in return for squashing an inquiry into the New Ansari Exchange, a large and influential money-transfer outfit. New Ansari has deep connections with prominent members of the Afghan government and the Karzai family, and, according to investigators, it is also suspected of links to Taliban insurgents and narcotics smugglers. The car, valued at about $10,000, was allegedly a small part of a larger proposed payoff, the officials said.

Saleh's arrest by the anti-corruption units, which are run with the help of American and British adivisors, reportedly enraged Karzai, who viewed it as an assault of Afghan sovereignty. (Karzai apparently wasn't made aware of the operation, which raises its own set of questions.) As in February, when he felt the international community encroaching on the elections watchdog, Karzai swooped in. In this case, he's putting in place a commission that will monitor "all of the activities" of both task forces, while also reviewing past and present investigations. "The president has ordered the commission to look into the overall practices of the MCTF because it seems that there are some aspects of where they went beyond the Afghan legislation and the constitution of Afghanistan," Karzai's top spokesman, Waheed Omar, said earlier this week.

Since the Obama administration ramped up pressure on Karzai to crack down on corruption, the Afghan leader has taken a schizophrenic approach to the issue, making contradictory statements that cast doubt on his commitment. He calls fighting graft a top priority, but later describes Afghanistan's corruption problem is vastly overblown. He convenes an anti-corruption conference, then suggests in his speech that a recent anti-corruption coup (the prosecution of the mayor of Kabul) was a miscarriage of justice. He pledges that "individuals who are involved in corruption will have no place in the government," but chafes when investigators stray too close to his inner circle.

Karzai's latest move seems destined to neuter these two high-level law enforcement organizations—and it has already succeeded in reviving tensions between the Afghan and US governments. It surely sends another mixed message about Karzai's anti-corruption commitment. The Major Crimes Task Force, in particular, has often been cited as one of Afghanistan's anti-corruption success stories by US and Afghan officials alike. Now it's just further evidence that the Obama administration's strategy—of which anti-corruption initiatives are a key pillar—is faring poorly indeed.

Afghanistan's Other War: Army vs. Police

| Mon Jul. 26, 2010 5:05 PM EDT

Reading through the trove of documents released by WikiLeaks Sunday, one could come away with the impression that members of Afghanistan's discipline-challenged security forces spend more time fighting each other than they do the Taliban. Among the 92,000 documents released by the group are dozens of reports detailing so-called "green-on-green" incidents, the military's term for friendly fire episodes involving Afghan personnel. Here the phrase "friendly fire" (what the US military dubs "blue-on-blue" when it involves American or coalition service members) is a bit misleading. While some reported green-on-greens involved accidental shootings—like when a trio of police officers were engaging in "horseplay" and shot an official from Afghanistan's National Security Directorate and another man—many are the result of score-settling and disputes, occasionally drug-fueled, that turn violent. Many of these internecine conflicts pit members of the Afghan National Army (ANA) against the Afghan National Police (ANP). If even remotely representative of the professionalism of the ANA and ANP, these incident reports make Hamid Karzai's goal of taking over primary control of security by 2014 seem like a pipe dream—and seriously call into question whether the Obama administration can deliver on its strategy. What follows are some lowlights (spelling mistakes, etc. in the originals): 

In this episode last November US military personnel—who surely have more important things to do—were forced step in as peacemakers when an altercation between the ANA and ANP turned violent:

ANA [Afghan National Army] and ANP [Afghan National Police] get into a verbal engagement, and the ANP shot the ANA in the Chest.

…ANA are trying to mass on the old bridge however we have elements on the ground… holding both ANP and ANA back.

But right now there is tension b/w ANA and ANP

ANA died of wounds.

You know what they say about drugs making you paranoid. Circa February 2008:

At 1747Z, TF Helmand reported 1x ANP was in the public shower smoking hash. 2 ANA walked in, the ANP felt threatened and a fire fight occurred. The ANP fled the scene and was later shot.

How Contractors are Like Crack: Part 2 of WaPo's National Security Blockbuster

| Tue Jul. 20, 2010 7:46 AM EDT

The next installment in the Washington Post's blockbuster series dropped this morning, this one focused on the national security establishment's unprecedented reliance on contractors. Like Monday's installment, on the unwieldy sprawl of the nation's intelligence bureaucracy, today's article suggests the government has created a beast it cannot fully control. But the government has grown so dependent on contractors that cutting off or even drastically curbing their use is hardly an option. It's kinda like a drug addiction, where you use more and more until you find you can't stop. Indeed, the widespread use of contractors, the Post reports, begs the question of "whether the government is still in control of its most sensitive activities."

Here are some of the key revelations:

Under federal regulations, contractors are prohibited from performing what are known as inherently governmental functions (see Spencer Ackerman's Danger Room post for intel officials' totally lame pushback on this subject):

"But they do, all the time and in every intelligence and counterterrorism agency…"

The main argument for relying on contractors is that though their rates are higher, they ultimately cost the government less than full-time employees with health insurance, 401Ks, and other benefits. That notion, the Post reports, has been thoroughly "repudiated" over the past 9 years:

Hiring contractors was supposed to save the government money. But that has not turned out to be the case. A 2008 study published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence found that contractors made up 29 percent of the workforce in the intelligence agencies but cost the equivalent of 49 percent of their personnel budgets. Gates said that federal workers cost the government 25 percent less than contractors.

Congressional Bloopers: Sheila Jackson-Lee Edition

| Fri Jul. 16, 2010 11:28 AM EDT

Here's Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Tex.) holding forth recently on how "today we have two Vietnams, side by side, north and south, exchanging and working." Wait, what?

Could she be talking about North and South Korea? No, not even remotely. Conservative blogs, meanwhile, are having a field day with this clip, as well as with comments she made at the NAACP's recent conference likening tea partiers to Klan members:

All those who wore sheets a long time ago have now lifted them off and started wearing, uh, clothing, uh, with a name, say, I am part of the tea party. Don't you be fooled. Those who used to wear sheets are now being able to walk down the aisle and speak as a patriot because you will not speak loudly about the lack of integrity of this movement.

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