[THS] Jailed Afghan Drug Lord Was Informer on U.S. Payroll
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Sun Dec 12 13:24:34 CET 2010
Jailed Afghan Drug Lord Was Informer on U.S. Payroll
David Guttenfelder/Associated Press
A poppy field in Afghanistan.
By JAMES RISEN
Published: December 11, 2010
WASHINGTON When Hajji Juma Khan was arrested and transported to New York
to face charges under a new American narco-terrorism law in 2008, federal
prosecutors described him as perhaps the biggest and most dangerous drug lord in
Afghanistan, a shadowy figure who had helped keep the Taliban in business with a
steady stream of money and weapons.
Confiscated opium is destroyed. Opium and heroin production soared after the fall of
But what the government did not say was that Mr. Juma Khan was also a longtime
American informer, who provided information about the Taliban, Afghan corruption
and other drug traffickers. Central Intelligence Agency officers and Drug
Enforcement Administration agents relied on him as a valued source for years, even
as he was building one of Afghanistans biggest drug operations after the United
States-led invasion of the country, according to current and former American officials.
Along the way, he was also paid a large amount of cash by the United States.
At the height of his power, Mr. Juma Khan was secretly flown to Washington for a
series of clandestine meetings with C.I.A. and D.E.A. officials in 2006. Even then, the
United States was receiving reports that he was on his way to becoming
Afghanistans most important narcotics trafficker by taking over the drug operations
of his rivals and paying off Taliban leaders and corrupt politicians in President Hamid
In a series of videotaped meetings in Washington hotels, Mr. Juma Khan offered
tantalizing leads to the C.I.A. and D.E.A., in return for what he hoped would be
protected status as an American asset, according to American officials. And then,
before he left the United States, he took a side trip to New York to see the sights and
do some shopping, according to two people briefed on the case.
The relationship between the United States government and Mr. Juma Khan is
another illustration of how the war on drugs and the war on terrorism have
sometimes collided, particularly in Afghanistan, where drug dealing, the insurgency
and the government often overlap.
To be sure, American intelligence has worked closely with figures other than Mr.
Juma Khan suspected of drug trade ties, including Ahmed Wali Karzai, the
presidents half brother, and Hajji Bashir Noorzai, who was arrested in 2005. Mr.
Karzai has denied being involved in the drug trade.
A Shifting Policy
Afghan drug lords have often been useful sources of information about the Taliban.
But relying on them has also put the United States in the position of looking the other
way as these informers ply their trade in a country that by many accounts has
become a narco-state.
The case of Mr. Juma Khan also shows how counternarcotics policy has repeatedly
shifted during the nine-year American occupation of Afghanistan, getting caught
between the conflicting priorities of counterterrorism and nation building, so much so
that Mr. Juma Khan was never sure which way to jump, according to officials who
spoke on the condition that they not be identified.
When asked about Mr. Juma Khans relationship with the C.I.A., a spokesman for the
spy agency said that the C.I.A. does not, as a rule, comment on matters pending
before U.S. courts. A D.E.A. spokesman also declined to comment on his agencys
relationship with Mr. Juma Khan.
His New York lawyer, Steven Zissou, denied that Mr. Juma Khan had ever supported
the Taliban or worked for the C.I.A.
There have been many things said about Hajji Juma Khan, Mr. Zissou said, and
most of what has been said, including that he worked for the C.I.A., is false. What is
true is that H. J. K. has never been an enemy of the United States and has never
supported the Taliban or any other group that threatens Americans.
A spokeswoman for the United States Attorneys Office for the Southern District of
New York, which is handling Mr. Juma Khans prosecution, declined to comment.
However, defending the relationship, one American official said, Youre not going to
get intelligence in a war zone from Ward Cleaver or Florence Nightingale.
At first, Mr. Juma Khan, an illiterate trafficker in his mid-50s from Afghanistans
remote Nimroz Province, in the border region where southwestern Afghanistan meets
both Iran and Pakistan, was a big winner from the American-led invasion. He had
been a provincial drug smuggler in southwestern Afghanistan in the 1990s, when the
Taliban governed the country. But it was not until after the Talibans ouster that he
rose to national prominence, taking advantage of a record surge in opium production
in Afghanistan after the invasion.
Briefly detained by American forces after the 2001 fall of the Taliban, he was quickly
released, even though American officials knew at the time that he was involved in
narcotics trafficking, according to several current and former American officials.
During the first few years of its occupation of Afghanistan, the United States was
focused entirely on capturing or killing leaders of Al Qaeda, and it ignored drug
trafficking, because American military commanders believed that policing drugs got in
the way of their core counterterrorism mission.
Opium and heroin production soared, and the narcotics trade came to account for
nearly half of the Afghan economy.
Concerns, but No Action
By 2004, Mr. Juma Khan had gained control over routes from southern Afghanistan
to Pakistans Makran Coast, where heroin is loaded onto freighters for the trip to the
Middle East, as well as overland routes through western Afghanistan to Iran and
Turkey. To keep his routes open and the drugs flowing, he lavished bribes on all the
warring factions, from the Taliban to the Pakistani intelligence service to the Karzai
government, according to current and former American officials.
The scale of his drug organization grew to stunning levels, according to the federal
indictment against him. It was in both the wholesale and the retail drug businesses,
providing raw materials for other drug organizations while also processing finished
drugs on its own.
Bush administration officials first began to talk about him publicly in 2004, when
Robert B. Charles, then the assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and
law enforcement, told Time magazine that Mr. Juma Khan was a drug lord obviously
very tightly tied to the Taliban.
Such high-level concern did not lead to any action against Mr. Juma Khan. But Mr.
Noorzai, one of his rivals, was lured to New York and arrested in 2005, which allowed
Mr. Juma Khan to expand his empire.
In a 2006 confidential report to the drug agency reviewed by The New York Times,
an Afghan informer stated that Mr. Juma Khan was working with Ahmed Wali Karzai,
the political boss of southern Afghanistan, to take control of the drug trafficking
operations left behind by Mr. Noorzai. Some current and former American
counternarcotics officials say they believe that Mr. Karzai provided security and
protection for Mr. Juma Khans operations.
Mr. Karzai denied any involvement with the drug trade and said that he had never
met Mr. Juma Khan. I have never even seen his face, he said through a
spokesman. He denied having any business or security arrangement with him. Ask
them for proof instead of lies, he added.
Mr. Juma Khans reported efforts to take over from Mr. Noorzai came just as he went
to Washington to meet with the C.I.A. and the drug agency, former American officials
say. By then, Mr. Juma Khan had been working as an informer for both agencies for
several years, officials said. He had met repeatedly with C.I.A. officers in Afghanistan
beginning in 2001 or 2002, and had also developed a relationship with the drug
agencys country attaché in Kabul, former American officials say.
He had been paid large amounts of cash by the United States, according to people
with knowledge of the case. Along with other tribal leaders in his region, he was
given a share of as much as $2 million in payments to help oppose the Taliban. The
payments are said to have been made by either the C.I.A. or the United States
The 2006 Washington meetings were an opportunity for both sides to determine, in
face-to-face talks, whether they could take their relationship to a new level of even
I think this was an opportunity to drill down and see what he would be able to
provide, one former American official said. I think it was kind of like saying, O.K.,
what have you got?
Business, Not Ideology
While the C.I.A. wanted information about the Taliban, the drug agency had its own
agenda for the Washington meetings information about other Afghan traffickers
Mr. Juma Khan worked with, as well as contacts on the supply lines through Turkey
One reason the Americans could justify bringing Mr. Juma Khan to Washington was
that they claimed to have no solid evidence that he was smuggling drugs into the
United States, and there were no criminal charges pending against him in this
It is not clear how much intelligence Mr. Juma Khan provided on other drug
traffickers or on the Taliban leadership. But the relationship between the C.I.A. and
the D.E.A. and Mr. Juma Khan continued for some time after the Washington
sessions, officials say.
In fact, when the drug agency contacted him again in October 2008 to invite him to
another meeting, he went willingly, believing that the Americans wanted to continue
the discussions they had with him in Washington. He even paid his own way to
Jakarta, Indonesia, to meet with the agency, current and former officials said.
But this time, instead of enjoying fancy hotels and friendly talks, Mr. Juma Khan was
arrested and flown to New York, and this time he was not allowed to go shopping.
It is unclear why the government decided to go after Mr. Juma Khan. Some officials
suggest that he never came through with breakthrough intelligence. Others say that
he became so big that he was hard to ignore, and that the United States shifted its
priorities to make pursuing drug dealers a higher priority.
The Justice Department has used a 2006 narco-terrorism law against Mr. Juma Khan,
one that makes it easier for American prosecutors to go after foreign drug traffickers
who are not smuggling directly into the United States if the government can show
they have ties to terrorist organizations.
The federal indictment shows that the drug agency eventually got a cooperating
informer who could provide evidence that Mr. Juma Khan was making payoffs to the
Taliban to keep his drug operation going, something intelligence operatives had
known for years.
The federal indictment against Mr. Juma Khan said the payments were in exchange
for protection for the organizations drug trafficking operations. The alleged payoffs
were what linked him to the Taliban and permitted the government to make its case.
But even some current and former American counternarcotics officials are skeptical of
the governments claims that Mr. Juma Khan was a strong supporter of the Taliban.
He was not ideological, one former official said. He made payments to them. He
made payments to government officials. It was part of the business.
Now, plea negotiations are quietly under way. A plea bargain might keep many of
the details of his relationship to the United States out of the public record.
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