Multiple reporters pressed State Department Deputy Spokesman Patrick Ventrell on Tuesday about reports of the CIA giving Afghan President Karzai bags of cash for “various purposes” in addition to other U.S. aid. “Doesn’t this fuel corruption?” one reporter asked. Ventrell said that he would not make “broad statements” or “judgements” and repeated that nation building has been a common practice in this region and that it takes on many forms. Another reporter argued, “If Russia were to pay cash to India or whoever and said, ‘Here, here’s some money, we want influence in your country’s decision-making and in how you guys run your country,’ would you consider that corruption?” Ventrell said that he would not respond to a “hypothetical.” “It’s not a hypothetical,” the reporter retorted.
QUESTION: President Karzai has admitted that his – that the U.S. gives his office cash funds, cash payments, outside of the other aid that the U.S. is giving. Doesn’t this fuel corruption?
MR. VENTRELL: We talked a little bit about this yesterday, and I said I didn’t have anything for you one way or another. What I can say in terms of our efforts to reduce corruption and to increase transparency – you know that’s been a focus of this Department and something we’ve worked very hard on – and this goes back to the mutual accountability framework to which the international community and the Afghan Government agreed at Tokyo. That was the Tokyo conference. And we expect the Government of Afghanistan will follow through on these important commitments. So we continue to work with our international partners, and we remain committed to supporting Afghanistan’s anti-corruption efforts. And this is sort of, broadly speaking, about increasing transparency and accountability, building judicial capacity and rule of law. We’ve been clear that there’s more work to be done, and we’ll continue to help Afghan authorities in that regard.
QUESTION: Yes. But if you are providing – if the United States is providing actual cash, which is an invitation to disaster, wouldn’t it be a good idea to take the step that the U.S. can take immediately and stop that?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I said I didn’t have any information for you on that one way or another. This Department and the work that we do is to implement sustainable development programs and to help build up Afghan institutions and do so in a way that will help them function as they increasingly – as Afghans take the lead for their security across the country and manage their own affairs. And that’s the focus of our efforts in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Patrick. Do you consider off-the-books cash, paid by one government to another in order to gain influence, no matter who it is; do you consider that a form of corruption in itself?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I’m not going to make a broad –
QUESTION: If Russia were to pay cash to India or whoever and said, “Here, here’s some money, we want influence in your country’s decision-making and in how you guys run your country,” would you consider that corruption?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, Brad, I’m not going to make a broad sweeping statement on a hypothetical.
QUESTION: No? It sounded like you said –
MR. VENTRELL: What I will say is that in certain –
QUESTION: You’re saying that isn’t happening anywhere in the world?
MR. VENTRELL: — war zone and transitional economies, there are times where development work and other stuff is done in cash-predominant societies. But I’m not going to make some broad sweeping statement about a hypothetical.
QUESTION: It’s not a hypothetical.
QUESTION: Have you not been in touch with the CIA? I mean, have you even asked – have you asked your colleagues over at CIA, there are these reports? I mean, President Karzai’s admitted they’re true, but have you actually gone to your colleagues in CIA and asked them to state what their policy is and what they’ve been doing over the last decade?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I don’t think we talk about our interagency discussions with our colleagues in the intelligence community or elsewhere in the Administration. Be happy to refer you to them if you want more information on their position. Said, go ahead.
QUESTION: Why did they – do you think that they continue the practice when they actually tried this in Iraq? I mean, we understand the urgency that sometimes you need to infuse some funds to deal with urgent conditions and so on, but it had disastrous consequences. So apparently, they are still using it in Afghanistan, not really learning a great deal from lessons learned.
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I’m not going to sort of do a broad historical analysis here. The bottom line is we do our development aid in the best way we can that is sustainable and is helpful to the local societies we’re working with.