Do bags of cash ever help the CIA get what it wants?

On Monday, the New York Times revealed that the CIA has been funneling tens of millions of dollars to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The cash payments -- delivered to his office every month -- arrived in suitcases, backpacks, and plastic bags, and were meant to buy the mercurial leader's loyalty. But according to the Times, the Langley-approved gravy train did more to fuel corruption in Afghanistan than anything else -- the very corruption the U.S. government has been crusading against.

None of this should be all that surprising. The CIA has a long history of showering cash on friendly heads of state, often with results that bear an uncanny resemblance to the CIA's efforts in Kabul. The agency got its first taste of what a few good suitcase-toting men could accomplish in 1948, as communists threatened to win elections in Italy, by launching a cash-transfer program that delivered large sums to its favored political party, the Christian Democrats. And it worked. The Christian Democrats beat the communists and cruised to victory. But this early success would later prove elusive. When, in 1970, the agency tried to reprise its campaign in Italy, it played an unwitting role in funding a failed neofascist coup and right-wing terrorism.

It's a pattern -- blinding success followed by crushing defeat -- that has become all too familiar in the agency's history.

When, in 1953, the CIA succeeded in overthrowing Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran, it was regarded as the agency's finest moment. In one fell swoop, the CIA had stymied Soviet influence in the Middle East and secured a vital portion of global oil supplies. It gave the agency the impression that its freewheeling agents could topple governments on a whim -- not unlike how the CIA brought down the Taliban in Afghanistan -- and that American dollars would keep American interests safe. With the coup safely completed, Kim Roosevelt, the CIA officer who masterminded the coup, delivered $1 million in cash to Fazlollah Zahedi, who took over from Mossadegh as prime minister. Cash in hand, Zahedi promptly proceeded to do away with the opposition. And we all know what happened next, in 1979.

As in Tehran, the CIA found in Saigon that toppling a government was far easier than picking up the pieces afterwards. After a CIA-backed coup in 1963 overthrew Ngo Dinh Diem, chaos ensued, with one coup unleashing another amid the turmoil. Eventually, Nguyen Van Thieu consolidated power, and the CIA was quick to get behind him, dispensing $725,000 to the South Vietnamese leader between 1968 and 1969.  It was yet another losing investment to add to the agency's portfolio.

When the CIA has had difficulty fomenting coups, it has relied on a far more precise tool -- assassination.

Patrice Lumumba, for instance, posed a problem for the Eisenhower administration, which feared that the Congolese leader would create a Cuba in Africa. Though the Soviets were skeptical of Lumumba's communist credentials, Eisenhower ordered Lumumba killed, a mission the CIA successfully supported in 1961 via a promising new protege, Mobutu Sese Seko. With Lumumba out of the way and $250,000 in cash, guns, and ammunition from the CIA, Mobutu took control of the country and initiated a rapacious, murderous three-decade rule. Mobutu -- who was put on the CIA payroll --  proved a reliable Cold War ally for the United States, but he also laid the groundwork for the chaos and violence that has come to define modern-day Congo.

Perhaps one day the CIA will learn from its mistakes.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images


U.S. manufactured false intel on chemical weapons in Syria, winks Dennis Kucinich

Allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria may be supported by the United States, France, Britain, Israel, and Qatar, but former Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich thinks they might just be Western-manufactured pretexts for war.

The anti-war Democrat, who went on a fact-finding mission to Syria in June 2011, sent out a little-noticed tweet on Thursday imploring his followers to "Google 'Syria #FalseFlag #Chemical Weapons'" if they're "trying to make sense of what's happening."

I took the former lawmaker's Googling advice and turned up a collection of stories implying that the United States fabricated evidence of a chemical attack (see: WikiLeaks Supporters Forum) or staged it in conjunction with the Qatari government (see: InfoWars, a conspiratorial website and radio show that Kucinich has been a well-received guest on).

It's not clear which theory Kucinich subscribes to (efforts to reach him were not successful), but the ex-congressman is not alone in his skepticism about claims that sarin gas was used in Syria, despite his status as a fringe voice in U.S. politics.

In Congress, key lawmakers remain divided on the right U.S. response in Syria, as our own Kevin Baron reports, with Republicans such as Sen. Lindsey Graham urging the president to respond immediately and Democrats such as Sen. Claire McCaskill urging patience. Today, White House spokesman Jay Carney said "much more" work needs to be done to verify the intelligence assessment that Assad's regime used chemical weapons.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has also weighed in on the topic, rejecting calls for intervention based on the lack of evidence on hand about the deployment of sarin. "Perhaps there are some states that believe any methods are good as long as they can help overthrow the Syrian regime. However, the subject of the use of weapons of mass destruction is far too serious," he said. "I think it is unacceptable to use it, to speculate on it for geopolitical purposes."

Kucinich's remarks are part of an ongoing effort to provide a counternarrative to the idea that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is an absolute tyrant and his opposition are well-intentioned freedom fighters.

"I've read where President Assad has made certain commitments, and I would imagine that when things finally settle down, that President Assad will move in a direction of democratic reforms," Kucinich predicted in a controversial interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2011.

Kucinich also came under fire during his fact-finding mission to Syria, when the state-sponsored news outlet SANA quoted him saying Assad is "highly loved and appreciated by the Syrians." (Kucinich actually said "people still have a love and respect" for Assad, a somewhat -- but only somewhat -- less glowing appraisal of the strongman.)

Everyone should certainly be cautious about jumping to conclusions regarding chemical weapons in Syria, since it's not yet clear how they were used or who used them. But, of course, there's a difference between exercising caution and drumming up rumors that the chemical weapons evidence was somehow manufactured by the West without any proof.