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Wednesday, December 01, 2004

It was very clandestine

I'm currently reading Steve Coll's Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. Here are some choice quotes that should reassure you, I guess, that our screwed-up government isn't just a recent Bush innovation:

Page 89:
In January 1984, CIA director William Casey briefed President Reagan and his national security cabinet about the progress of their covert Afghan war. It had been four years since the first Lee Enfield rifles arrived in Karachi. Mujahedin warriors had killed or wounded about seventeen thousand Soviet soldiers to date, by the CIA's classified estimate. They controlled 62 percent of the countryside and had become so effective that the Soviets would have to triple or quadruple their deployments in Afghanistan to put the rebellion down. Soviet forces had so far lost about 350 to 400 aircraft in combat, the CIA estimated. The mujahedin had also destroyed about 2,750 Soviet tanks and armored carriers and just under 8,000 trucks, jeeps, and other vehicles. The war had already cost the Soviet government about $12 billion in direct expenses. All this mayhem had been purchased by U.S. taxpayers for $200 million so far, plus another $200 million contributed by [Saudi] Prince Turki's GID, Casey reported. Islamabad station chief Howard Hart's argument that covert action in Afghanistan was proving cost effective had never been laid out so starkly for the White House.
Of course, the current White House realizes that there's much more profit to be had for arms merchants to be on the Soviet side of the equation--and why just one quagmire when you can have two?

Page 91:
The [Afghan covert action] program's maniacal champion was Representative Charlie Wilson, a tall, boisterous Texas Democrat in polished cowboy boots who was in the midst of what he later called "the longest midlife crisis in history." An alcoholic, Wilson abused government privileges to travel the world first class with former beauty queens who had earned such titles as Miss Sea and Ski and Miss Humble Oil.
The former Miss Northern Hemisphere, also known as Snowflake, recalled a trip to Peshawar: It was "just very, very exciting to be in that room with those men with their huge white teeth," and "it was very clandestine."

From pages 96-97:
Casey mumbled...He had taken a blow to the throat while boxing as a boy and he had a thick palate...Even President Reagan couldn't understand him. During an early briefing Casey delivered to the national security cabinet, Reagan slipped Vice President Bush a note: "Did you understand a word he said?" Reagan later told William F. Buckley, "My problem with Bill was that I didn't understand him at meetings. Now, you can ask a person to repeat himself once. You can ask him twice. But you can't ask him a third time. You start to sound rude. So I'd just nod my head, but I didn't know what he was actually saying." Such was the dialogue for six years between the president and his intelligence chief in a nuclear-armed nation running secret wars on four continents.