A top Afghan drug lord jailed in the US since 2008 was for years on payroll of the CIA and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as an informant, the New York Times said on Saturday.
Hajji Juma Khan was paid lavishly to provide information on the Taliban, Afghan corruption and other drug traffickers in his country, and was even brought secretly to the US at one point, federal prosecutors, current and former US officials told the paper.
The US secret relationship with Khan, said the Times, illustrates how the war on drugs and the war on terrorism sometimes collide in Afghanistan, where drug traffickers, the government and the insurgency often overlap.
A small time drug peddler when the US-led invasion of Afghanistan was launched in 2001, Khan grew into a major drug trafficker in the opening years of the foreign military campaign, as US forces focused on anti-insurgent and anti-terrorist forces in the country.
Over the years, Khan grew in influence, buying off the Taliban and corrupt Afghan government officials to protect his expanding drug trade until he became one of the country’s biggest drug lords, the paper said.
At the same time, Khan became an informant for the CIA and the DEA, who were interested in Taliban and drug trafficking operations in the country respectively.
In 2006, he was brought to the US to see if his role as an informant could be taken to a higher level, a former US official said.
He was not arrested because there were no charges pending against him in the US officials said, and during the visit Khan took a side trip to New York for some sightseeing and shopping.
Officials said it was unclear just how much intelligence Khan provided on other drug traffickers and the Taliban leadership, but his relationship with the US continued for some time after that.
Everything changed in 2008, when anti-insurgency pressure eased somewhat and US forces shifted some of their attention to rampant drug trafficking in Afghanistan.
Some US officials said Khan had become too big a trafficker to be ignored, while others said he never provided breakthrough intelligence to his handlers.
Khan was lured to the US in 2008 for another meeting with the DEA, which even paid for his flight to Jakarta, where he was arrested and flown to the US where he is now in plea negotiations with authorities.
He was arrested under a 2006 narco-terrorism law that makes it easier to go after foreign drug traffickers who are not smuggling into the US, but who can be shown have ties to terrorist organizations, the Times said.
Khan’s lawyer denied that his client ever supported the Taliban or worked for the CIA, while a CIA spokesman said the agency “does not, as a rule, comment on matters pending before US courts.”