Monday, April 29, 2019

Mike Pompeo and the CIA's Business Model

A recent speech entitled "Why Diplomacy Matters" (a rather ironic title once you learn what was said in the speech) given at Texas A&M University by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gives us an inside view of how this gentleman did business while he was at the helm of the Central Intelligence Agency.  While it should come as no particular surprise to anyone, it is interesting to see exactly how a former Director of the CIA interpreted the business model of the world's largest intelligence agency.

Before we get to the key part of this speech, let's open by looking at how Mr. Pompeo warmed up his Texas audience and how he worked to attract students into serving in America's global diplomatic mission:

"It’s great to be in Texas, one of the greatest countries in the world. (Laughter and applause.) Yeah, I just came back from South America, now Texas, and I’ll return to the United States in the morning, yes. (Laughter.)

Seeing you all here reminds me of a George Patton quote. He said, “Give me an Army of West Point graduates and I’ll win a battle. But if you give me a handful of Texas Aggies, I’ll win a war.” (Cheers.) That’s tough to take from a West Point graduate. (Laughter).

Look, I understand that this institution has sent more of its graduates into the military than any other university other than our military academies. It’s because you all are tough, you’re committed, and you want to serve. You should be proud of that, and I love it. And it’s why I really wanted to be here today…everyone here – Cadets, Bush school students, anyone looking to give back to America – should consider potentially one day working for the United States Department of State.

Now, I know, I get it, diplomacy doesn’t sound as thrilling as firing anti-tank weapons, flying F-16s, crawling through mud. There’s no “Top Gun” version of the State Department. Instead we get “Madame Secretary.” No offense to Tea Leoni, those of you who are her fans.

But there’s a good reason that many former military officers end up working as diplomats serving our country. It’s because the work that we do is important for our soldiers, the soldiers need us, and we need them. Neither diplomacy nor the military can succeed at delivering for presidents and for our country without the other....

In other words: Diplomacy and military strength go hand in hand. They are indeed intimately related. Each relies on the other."

Here's an interesting quote that followed his comments on how the State Department was responsible for putting the strongest sanctions in history on North Korea and how the department was working to "...warn our friends and partners against buying Chinese 5G technology..." (i.e. Huawei) because these companies "...will take (Americans') private information and transfer it to the Chinese Government..."  I guess it's better to have our private data fall into the hands of the American intelligence network and its Five Eyes partner nations.

Here's the final reason why the Department of State is so important:

"The State Department helps with our American diplomats promoting and protecting our values – indeed, our very way of life.

The U.S. is the global standard-bearer for democracy, for freedom, for liberty, and for human rights as well. If we don’t speak up, no one else will." (my bold)

As you will see in the next section of this posting, his comments about the United States being the global standard-bearer are rather hypocritical at best.

Now, we move to the question and answer section of the speech.  Here is the key question:

Question:  "Hi, Mr. Secretary. My name is Ben Allen (ph), and I’m a civil engineering student. My question for you is: How do you balance condemnations with concessions in diplomacy with a controversial government such as Saudi Arabia? Thank you.

Secretary Pompeo:  "So I always begin with a deep understanding that no secretary of state gets through their first day without recognizing it’s a tough world out there. We don’t appreciate how glorious it is to be here in the United States of America on a consistent enough basis and with enough fervor. Maybe you do here at Texas A&M, but I think too many Americans don’t understand how blessed we are. These are – are many, many tough places out there."

Having said that, not all tough places are the same. They each present a different set of challenges. I – it reminds me, you would know this as – it’s a bit of an aside. But in terms of how you think about problem sets, I – when I was a cadet, what’s the first – what’s the cadet motto at West Point? You will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do. I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. (Laughter.) It’s – it was like – we had entire training courses. (Applause.) It reminds you of the glory of the American experiment.

And so when you deal with these countries, you have to just recognize they’re not all the same. Some of these difficult, nasty places want to partner with the United States and just haven’t gotten to the right place yet, just haven’t been able to move their own institutions. And some of them may only be trying half as much as they ought to be trying, but they’re trying to move in the right direction. That presents a very different way of thinking about how the United States ought to address them. In those cases, we ought to assist them." (my bold)

In case you missed it, here it is again:

...and there you have it, the CIA's business model of lying cheating and stealing straight from the mouth of a former CIA director.

Friday, April 26, 2019

What Saudi Arabia and the United States Have in Common

Updated August 2019

Let's open this posting by looking at a press release from the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) which you can find here and here:

The execution of these Saudi nationals was ratified by royal decree granted by King Salman.  According to AP, the 37 people beheaded for terrorism crimes were mostly Shiite, the Islamic sect that is the religion of Iran as opposed to Wahhabism, a puritanical form of Sunni Islam that is practiced in Saudi Arabia.  This is the largest mass execution of Shiites in the history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and it also marked the largest number of executions in a single day since January 2, 2016 when the Kingdom executed 47 people for terrorism-related crimes.

From Reprieve, a United Kingdom-based human rights and justice organization, three of the men executed were juveniles (under the age of 18 when the alleged crimes were committed) as shown here:

"Abdulkarim al-Hawaj was charged with participating in demonstrations, incitement via social media and preparing banners with anti-state slogans. He was beaten, tortured with electricity and chained with his hands above his head until he ‘confessed’ to terrorism offences.

Mujtaba al-Sweikat was arrested at King Fahd International Airport, on his way to begin his studies at Western Michigan University. He was severely beaten all over his body, including the soles of his feet, and convicted on the basis of a confession extracted through torture.

Salman Qureish was arrested shortly after his 18th birthday, accused of crimes that took place when he was a juvenile. He was denied basic legal rights and sentenced to death in a mass trial, despite repeated interventions on his behalf by the United Nations."

Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of 1966, juveniles who are under the age of 18 at the time of the commitment of a crime are exempt from the death penalty as shown in Article 6(5):

'Sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age and shall not be carried out on pregnant women."

Interestingly, Saudi Arabia has neither signed nor acceded to this international law, a rare exception to the 172 nations that have acceded to or ratified the ICCPR.  It is also interesting to note that the United States has far from a clean track record when it comes to the executions of juveniles as shown on this list:

For your information, the United States ratified the ICCPR on June 8, 1992.  The United States also declined to sign a United Nations resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty with the ultimate goal of abolishing its use on December 18, 2018, in contrast to 117 nations that voted in favour of the resolution as shown here:

According to Amnesty International, the executed men were convicted after sham trials that violated international fair trial standards because they relied on confessions extracted through the use of torture.  One of the executed men was beaten to the point where he lost hearing in one ear and another was beaten while blindfolded, forced to stand in stress positions and deprived of sleep.

Here is a graphic showing the number of people executed in Saudi Arabia since 2013:

Of the 149 executions in 2018, 74 were Saudi citizens while the rest were foreign nationals, 22 percent of which were Pakistani (33 individuals).

As shown in this article, Saudi executions can be rather brutal:

Up to May 2019, according to the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, 107 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia with at least 44 being foreign nationals, the majority of whom were convicted of drug related charges.  It is expected that there will be executions of additional  individuals including three Islamic scholars and opposition figures.  In 2018, Saudi Arabia executed 149 people, 124 more people than were executed in the United States over the entire year as shown here:

Let's close with this summary from the SPA press release, justifying the use of the death penalty in this case:

"As they were referred to the judiciary, following establishing accusations against them for committing such crimes, legal deeds against them were issued upholding these accusations and thus verdicts were made to execute them, through corroboration, and carrying out the punishment of waging war on Aziz Mahdi Abdullah Al Rafi Al-Amri  and  Khaled Abdulkarim Saleh Al-Tuwaijri.    

The verdicts were ratified by the pertinent court of appeals as well as the supreme court and a royal order was issued to carry out the legally approved sentences, following verifying the accusations with the culprits.

Executions have taken place, accordingly, in various regions of the Kingdom, on Tuesday April 23, 2019.

As it announces that, the Ministry of Interior reiterates that this country will not desist of deterring anyone who may think of trying to harm its security or stability as well as the nationals or the residents, either, on its territories, adding that it is resolutely and firmly continuing to seek justice through carrying out the rules of the sacred Sharia, on anyone who may crosses the set limits of Allah, it also warns against anyone whose self may rationalize to him committing such terrorist and criminal acts, that the Sharia prescribed punishments shall be imposed upon him/her."
As you can see, the United States and Saudi Arabia have more in common than one might think.  The use of the death penalty certainly does create interesting bedfellows, doesn't it?

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Pro-Israel Skew in the American Mainstream Media

A recent study "50 Years of Occupation" by 416Labs analyzes 50 years of reporting on Israel and Palestine by five major United States newspapers including the Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and Chicago Tribune, looking to see whether these five news sources have been balanced in their coverage of Israel and Palestine since the June 1967 Six Day War.  With news being a very significant shaper of public opinion, this study is key to understanding how our views on the five-decade-long occupation of the West Bank and Gaza are framed.

The study involves the use of Natural Language Processing or NLP which uses computers to sift through massive amounts of data, tabulating the most commonly used words and word pairs and the positive or negative sentiments.  The authors used NLP techniques to assess news coverage as follows:

1.) Sentiment analysis - measures the degree to which individual words and sentences can be classified as "positive", "negative" or "neutral".  NLP is used to categorize a text's overall sentiment polarity by summing the number of positive, negative and neutral words.  Scores were calculated with reference to a standard list of words that have been classified as either positive or negative with words external to the list being classified as neutral.  Negative sentiment was assigned to headlines with a score of less than zero and positive sentiment was assigned to headlines with a score of greater than zero.

2.) Unigrams and Bigrams (n-grams) - headlines are filtered to remove "stop words" like "a" or "the"  and n-grams (unigrams/bigrams) that are associated with the headlines.  Words with a higher frequency provide insights into the themes and content of the articles.  Bigrams provide insight into how certain terms tend to cluster together (i.e. West and Bank).  N-grams were used in three contexts - overall aggregate basis across all five newspapers, by publication and by decade.  

Here are some of the interesting results of the study:

1.) the number of headlines citing Israel over the 50 year period is more than four times the headlines citing Palestine as shown here:

This clearly shows that the Israeli narrative finds far greater coverage in the U.S. media than the Palestinian narrative.

Here is a table showing the sentiment scores for both Israel and Palestine:

On average, the sentiment score for both Israel and Palestine is negative, however, headlines for Israel were more positive than those for Palestine.  A total of 44 percent of all Israeli headlines were negative compared to 48 percent of unique Palestine headlines.  Only 11.1 percent of Israel headlines were positive compared to 10.7 percent of Palestine-related headlines.

When looking at n-grams, the major themes captured by both unigrams and bigrams extracted from headlines from both Israel and Palestine included terms that related to violence, state/security institutions, government officials and diplomatic overtures.   

Here is a sample listing of the top 30 bigrams linked to Israel:

Peace Talks
Aid Israel
Peace Plan
US Israel
Mideast Peace
Visit Israel
Talks Israel

Here is a sample listing of the top 30 bigrams linked to Palestine:

Palestinian Police
Palestinians Killed
Killed Gaza
Killed West
Shot Dead
Palestinian Guerrillas
Gaza Hamas

Here is a quote from the paper about the differences in bigrams between Israel and Palestine:

"Another key theme that arises is the privileging of Israeli voices and, invariably, Israeli narratives. To put it in quantifiable terms, the bigram “Israel Says” and “Says Israel”, are two of the most frequent bigrams in the corpus, implying that Israeli sources are a standard part of headline construction. For example, the overall frequency of the term, ‘Says Israel’ and variations of it are almost two and a half times as likely to appear in the Israeli corpus as the term ‘Says Palestinian” and its affiliated bigrams in the Palestine dataset. Hence, it is evident that not only do Israeli voices and sources outnumber Palestinian ones but are also a critical part in reporting on matters related to Israel." (my bold)

The authors also noted a significant decline in the use of the term "occupation" as the decades passed; from the late 1960s until the end of the 1980s, there was a 42 percent decline in the instances of the word occupation and its affiliated unigrams and a further drop of 70 percent from the 1990s to the 2010s, resulting in a total drop of 85 percent.

Let's close this posting with a quote from the conclusion of the study:

"Our results support previous research and claims that the U.S. mainstream media’s coverage of the issue favours Israel by providing greater access to Israeli officials, focusing on Israeli narratives both in terms of the quantity of coverage as well as the overall sentiment, as conveyed by headlines.

This is in marked contrast to the Palestinians, who are consistently underrepresented as well as covered more negatively. Furthermore, key elements of the conflict are understated, likely not to provide readers of these publications the full nature and complexities of Israel’s over 50- year occupation of the Palestinians."

This study shows us that the pro-Israel narrative has become so firmly entrenched in the American mainstream media that it is almost impossible for news consumers to discern the truth about the situation in Israel and Palestine.  This has greatly benefitted Washington which has made it abundantly clear that it sides with Israel in this fifty year-old conflict.  

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

US Power Wielding - Unconventional Warfare and Financial Power

Updated October 2019

Back in December 2008, WikiLeaks released a relatively little-noted document "US Army Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare".  This 248-page, nine chapter publication was the September 2008 revision of the U.S. Army Field Manual 3-05.130, the keystone doctrine for Army special operations forces operations in unconventional warfare.  

This document defines unconventional warfare as:

"Operations conducted by, with or through irregular forces against a variety of state and no-state opponents."

These operations are conducted:

" support of a resistance movement, an insurgency, and ongoing or pending conventional military operations"

Such operations have the following common conceptual core:

"...working by, with, or through irregular surrogates in a clandestine and/or covert manner against opposing actors."

In Chapter 2, the document outlines the instruments of United States national power which help the United States to achieve its national strategic objectives.  These instruments of national power include diplomacy, information, intelligence, economic, financial, law enforcement and military.  For the purposes of this posting, let's focus on one of these instruments as follows, the Financial Instrument of National Power .  Here's how the document describes this instrument:

"The financial instrument of national power promotes the conditions for prosperity and stability in the United States and encourages prosperity and stability in the rest of the world. The Department of the Treasury (Treasury) is the primary federal agency responsible for the economic and financial prosperity and security of the United States and as such is responsible for a wide range of activities, including advising the President on economic and financial issues, promoting the President’s growth agenda, and enhancing corporate governance in financial institutions. In the international arena, the Treasury works with other federal agencies, the governments of other nations, and the international financial institutions to encourage economic growth; raise standards of living; and predict and prevent, to the extent possible, economic and financial crises."

I like that "encourages prosperity and stability in the rest of the world".  That is true, unless you happen to live in a nation which doesn't share Washington's viewpoint.  Just ask people living in one of many nations who are currently subject to one or another of Washington's long list of sanctions as shown here (current to mid-2017):

The document proceeds to note the following:

"The application of economic or financial incentives is among the most powerful ideas in the U.S. arsenal of power. Although some U.S. adversaries are irreconcilable to accommodation with U.S. interests and must be engaged in other ways, many declared or potential adversaries can be persuaded or dissuaded by economic or financial means to become declared or potential allies (or at least neutralized)…the ability of the United States government to affect the economic environment is enormous, and it has economic weapons at its disposal. Unconventional warfare planners must carefully coordinate the introduction and withholding of economic and financial assets into the Unconventional Warfare Operational Area (UWOA) with their interagency partners. For example, direct application of USAID grants to specific human groups can alter negative behaviors or cement positive affiliations. At the highest levels of diplomatic and financial interaction, the United States Government’s ability to influence international financial institutions—with corresponding effects to exchange rates, interest rates, credit availability, and money supplies—can cement multinational coalitions for unconventional warfare campaigns or dissuade adversary nation-state governments from supporting specific actors in the UWOA." (my bolds)

As you can see, the United States is willing to use financial blackmail including exchange and interest rate manipulation, credit availability and the supply of money to either persuade certain nations to join its unconventional warfare campaign or to dissuade adversarial nations from supporting the "other side" of an unconventional warfare strategy.

Here is a screen capture of page 2-8 of the document outlining how the United States can use financial incentives to manipulate other nations (ARSOF = Army Special Operations Forces and UW = Unconventional Warfare, DOS = Department of State, IC = Intelligence Community):

Note this sentence:

"Government can apply unilateral and indirect financial power through persuasive influence to international and domestic financial institutions regarding availability and terms of loans, grants, or other financial assistance to foreign state and nonstate actors."

It is also interesting to note that the document clearly states that the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and Bank for International Settlements are basically functioning as organizations that Washington can use to drive its global agenda and as yet another tool in America's quest for global hegemony.  This isn't terribly surprising in the case of the World Bank since we find the following on its website:

In addition, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control whose sole responsibility is as follows:

" administer and enforce economic and trade sanctions based on U.S. foreign policy and national security goals against targeted foreign countries and regimes, terrorists, international narcotics traffickers, those engaged in activities related to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and other threats the national security..."

...has a "long history of conducting economic warfare valuation to any Army Special Operations Forces unconventional warfare.".

This Army manual, leaked over a decade ago by WikiLeaks, gives us a very clear view of how Washington uses financial manipulation through its influence on the World Bank, IMF, OECD and other "global" groups to wage unconventional warfare on any nation that doesn't share its view of how the world should function and that threatens America's control of the globe.  The use of financial blackmail to bend countries to America's narrative and overthrow nations who do not succumb to America's wishes is not terribly surprising, however, it is interesting to actually see one key aspect of Washington's unconventional warfare methodology in print.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Iran and the CIA's Worst Nightmare

While the world was distracted by all things Mueller, there was a significant news event that took place in Iran.

Here is the news item as reported by Iran's Presstv:

Note that the news item refers to a November 2018 report on Yahoo which you can find here:

Let's look at some some key details from Yahoo's lengthy article:

"From around 2009 to 2013, the U.S. intelligence community experienced crippling intelligence failures related to the secret internet-based communications system, a key means for remote messaging between CIA officers and their sources on the ground worldwide. The previously unreported global problem originated in Iran and spiderwebbed to other countries, and was left unrepaired — despite warnings about what was happening — until more than two dozen sources died in China in 2011 and 2012 as a result, according to 11 former intelligence and national security officials.

The disaster ensnared every corner of the national security bureaucracy — from multiple intelligence agencies, congressional intelligence committees and independent contractors to internal government watchdogs — forcing a slow-moving, complex government machine to grapple with the deadly dangers of emerging technologies....

A former senior intelligence official with direct knowledge of the compromise said it had global implications for the CIA. “You start thinking twice about people, from China to Russia to Iran to North Korea,” said the former official. The CIA was worried about its network “totally unwinding worldwide.”

Yahoo News’ reporting on this global communications failure is based on conversations with eleven former U.S. intelligence and government officials directly familiar with the matter who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive operations. Multiple former intelligence officials said that the damage from the potential global compromise was serious — even catastrophic — and will persist for years.

More than just a question of a single failure, the fiasco illustrates a breakdown that was never properly addressed. The government’s inability to address the communication system’s insecurities until after sources were rolled up in China was disastrous. “We’re still dealing with the fallout,” said one former national security official. “Dozens of people around the world were killed because of this.”(my bolds)

In September 2009, the Obama Administration announced that Iran had a secret underground nuclear enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom.  This facility was located in an underground tunnel complex on the grounds of an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps base and was slated to enrich uranium in 2874 centrifuges.  Here is how the Guardian reported the news:

The letter from Iran stated that the facility would not enrich uranium beyond the 5 percent level.  On the eve of a showdown meeting with Iran, Barack Obama demanded that the IAEA be given access to the plant, stating that Iran was breaking the rules and not living up to its international responsibilities.

This breach of secrecy resulted in the Iranians looking for foreign spies that may have passed the information to the West.  Unfortunately for the CIA, the communication system being used to communicate with its agents was flawed and was easily breached by the sophisticated counterintelligence technology being used by other nations.  As a result of this negligence, Iran was able to identify and dismantle a CIA network in Iran, arresting a significant number of intelligence officers and CIA assets in May and November 2011 as shown here:

....and here:

According to two former U.S. intelligences officials, the Iranians recruited a double agent who led them to the CIA communications system.  This system allowed CIA officers to communicate remotely in dangerous operational environments like Iran where person-to-person meetings are risky.  Interestingly, it is believed that the Iranians used Google to identify the website that the CIA was using to communicate with its agents.  From there, Iran's intelligence services searched the internet for other websites with similar components, eventually allowing them to locate other secret CIA websites.  From there, Iran was able to track who was visiting these websites, allowing them to unravel the CIA's network.

What is ironic about this (and particularly so given the intelligence community issues that were raised after the September 11, 2001 attacks) is that John Reidy, a contractor at the CIA, advised his employer in 2009 - 2010 that there were potential serious security weaknesses in the CIA's communications network.  For this, he was punished by being fired, resulting in his appeal to the intelligence community inspector general as shown here:

Ultimately, this breach of security discovered by the Iranians led to the execution and imprisonment of some of the CIA's informants and forced the CIA to exfiltrate others. 

Let's close by looking at one last quote from the Presstv's coverage of the most recent revelations about the CIA's global intelligence network:

'Iran’s intelligence minister specifically highlighted a quote from American national security analyst Irvin McCullough, who described the major American intelligence setback as "one of the most catastrophic intelligence failures” since the September 11 attacks in 2001. 
Alavi said that further details of the operations would be publicized soon, adding that a similar successful counter-espionage operation had been carried out against Britain's MI6 intelligence service.

The Iranian minister added that the breakthrough comes as his ministry has shifted from focusing on defensive operations to conducting offensive counter-intelligence operations, some of which had even “expanded deep” into Israel.

Iran has been successful in protecting itself from the spillover of terrorism and foreign-backed conflict — constant features of life in a number of regional countries — due to high vigilance by its intelligence and security forces." (my bolds)

It is unfortunate that the Central Intelligence Agency seems incapable of learning from its past mistakes. 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Colossal Failure in Afghanistan

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction or SIGAR just released the third edition of its High-Risk List to the 116th Congress of the United States and the Secretaries of both State and Defense.  In this report, SIGAR identifies the most serious threats to the American government's $132 billion reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.  This information is of particular interest and importance given that negotiations are currently underway to end the United States' involvement in Afghanistan, involvement that began on October 7, 2001, making this the longest military engagement in American history.

The report opens with this rather sobering summary of the past, present and future in Afghanistan:

"The $132 billion appropriated since 2002 for Afghanistan’s reconstruction has been used to train and equip Afghan security forces, strengthen government institutions, promote the rule of law, protect women’s rights, improve health and education, and stimulate economic development, among other objectives.

Yet the gains from our nation’s investment in Afghanistan’s reconstruction face multiple threats: continued insecurity, endemic corruption, weak Afghan institutions, the insidious impact of the narcotics trade, and inadequate coordination and oversight by donors.

While an equitable and sustainable peace agreement in Afghanistan could end much of the violence that presents the greatest threat to the reconstruction effort, a peace agreement may bring its own set of challenges to sustaining the gains that the United States, its Coalition partners, and the Afghan government have achieved over that time." (my bold)

Here is a listing of the eight current high risk areas:

1.) Widespread Insecurity - whether a peace plan is put into place or not, Afghanistan is likely to continue to experience multiple violent extremist organizations.  The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces require annual funding of between $4 billion and $5 billion to remain viable.

2.) Underdeveloped Civil Policing Capability - The United States has spent more effort reconstructing the Afghan National Army than on the Afghan National Police meaning that there is no strategy for a competent civil police force backed by rule of law.  Sustaining a national police force will require significant foreign funding.

3.) Endemic Corruption - Corruption is endemic and forms a significant threat to the Afghan government.  This means that reconstruction programs will continue to be subverted and are likely to fail.  Here is a graphic from Transparency International showing where Afghanistan lies on the global spectrum when it comes to corruption:

Afghanistan has the world's 9th lowest corruption score as shown on this list:

4.) Sluggish Economic Growth - Afghanistan's legal economy is sluggish and there are numerous barriers to further economic growth.

5.) Illicit Narcotics Trade - Afghanistan remains the world's largest producer of opium poppies and had the two highest years of cultivation in 2017 and 2018.  Funds from the illicit drug trade fund the Taliban, corrupt members of the Afghan government, military and police and also employ 600,000 Afghanis.

6.) Threats to Women's Rights - More than $1 billion has been spent since 2002 to advance the status of women in Afghanistan but gains made so far are fragile, particularly in rural areas, and are likely to be unprotected should the Taliban be part of a peace settlement.

7.) Challenge of Reintegration - The social, economic and political reintegration of tens of thousands of former fighters back into Afghan society will be difficult, particularly in light of the nation's weak economy and political uncertainty and distrust.  

8.) Restricted Oversight - If a peace settlement includes reductions in foreign personnel providing oversight on foreign funded programs, problems in the nation will only increase thanks to high levels of corruption.

Let's look at some examples of where U.S. tax dollars have been spent in Afghanistan.  Since 2001, an estimated $780 billion has been appropriated for Afghanistan including war funding, diplomatic and consular programs, military and embassy construction projects etcetera.  Of this $738 billion or 95 percent of the total was obligated by the Department of Defense.  Reconstruction costs make up 15 percent of total U.S. funds obligated for Afghanistan since 2001 and are broken down as follows:

1.) Security - $83.1 billion (63 percent of the total) to build up Afghan military and police.  In fiscal 2019, 82 percent of the funds appropriated for Afghanistan reconstruction were spent on assisting the security sector.  The "success" of this program can be put into perspective with this map showing the areas of Afghanistan that are under control of the Taliban, the original target of Operation Enduring Freedom:

2.) Governance and Economic Development - $33.9 billion (26 percent of the total).  In fiscal 2018, only 12 percent of the funds appropriated for Afghanistan reconstruction were spent on improving the nation's economy. 

3.) Counternarcotics Programs - $8.9 billion (7 percent of the total).

The remaining 4 percent of reconstruction funds have been spent to support civilian operations, humanitarian initiatives and in combating society-wide corruption.

Let's close by looking at a few quotes from the report that show just how dire the situation in Afghanistan still is nearly 18 years after Operation Enduring Freedom began and how unlikely a peace settlement is likely to change the situation on the ground:

1.) Failure to successfully reintegrate an estimated 60,000 Taliban fighters and their families, and other illegal armed groups, could undermine the successful implementation of any peace agreement.

2.) The opium trade plays a significant role in the Afghan economy and it is difficult to see how a peace accord between the Afghan government and the insurgency would translate into the collapse or contraction of the illicit drug trade. The country requires a growing economy or favorable economic conditions to provide farmers and former insurgents with legitimate employment and a reliable income to replace opium poppy cultivation. The Afghan government also needs to pursue major drug traffickers, which it has not done consistently or successfully. According to the Department of Justice, “certain influential people are above the law.”

3.) Effective policing will require a force that gives citizens the presumption of innocence rather than anticipating and taking preemptive offensive operations against perceived threats. U.S. agencies, such as the Justice Department, currently lack the personnel numbers and para-military strength to accompany Afghan National Police trainees into high-threat districts.

4.) In a post-settlement environment, depending on the terms of an agreement, there may also be the challenge of integrating former Taliban fighters into the national security forces and society.  These issues could become more acute should international financial and military support decline sharply before, during, or after peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Let's close this sobering view of Afghanistan's future with an excerpt from the prepared remarks given by the the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, John F. Sopko that accompanied the release of the report:

"If the U.S. reduces its presence in Afghanistan but feels compelled to provide significant financial support for reconstruction, there may be little choice but to provide a greater proportion of funding as on-budget assistance. But if that road is taken, assistance should be conditioned on an independent finding that adequate monitoring mechanisms and internal controls for the Afghan ministry or multilateral trust fund in question are in place.

If those conditions are lacking and assistance is provided anyway, we may as well set the cash ablaze on the streets of Kabul for all the good it will do.

I urge Congress to not just think about how much money should be given, but also to think about how that money will be provided and monitored. If the need for oversight is ignored or sidelined, both the American taxpayer and the Afghan people will suffer, even with a successful peace agreement."  (my bold)

At the very least, it appears that 18 years of war has accomplished almost nothing when it comes to meaningful and permanent changes in Afghanistan despite the spending of hundreds of billions of hard-earned taxpayers' dollars.