The says they've found Russia’s Afghan bagman, and he’s livin’ large, people.
Now Rahmatullah Azizi stands as a central piece of a puzzle rocking Washington, named in American intelligence reports and confirmed by Afghan officials as a key middleman who for years handed out money from a Russian military intelligence unit to reward Taliban-linked fighters for targeting American troops in Afghanistan, according to American and Afghan officials. As security agencies connected the dots of the bounty scheme and narrowed in on him, they carried out sweeping raids to arrest dozens of his relatives and associates about six months ago, but discovered that Mr. Azizi had sneaked out of Afghanistan and was likely back in Russia. What they did find in one of his homes, in Kabul, was about half a million dollars in cash.
Cookie jar? Mattress? Between the sofa cushions?
A friend who has known him since his early days in Kunduz, as well as later in Russia, said he had started off with smuggling small shipments of drugs into Iran in his 20s, but that venture was not very successful. He had returned to northern Afghanistan, and somehow won contracts from the American-led coalition forces to build stretches of a couple roads in Kunduz, before making his way to Russia...
None of those interviewed who know Mr. Azizi were surprised when his associates were raided about six months ago and one of his brothers taken into custody with the half a million dollars in cash. As one of his friends put it, he had gone from “not even having a blanket” to having multiple houses, fancy cars, and security escorts.
The evolving reaction to this story from down in Camp Runamuck seems to have settled for the moment on FAKE NEWS! HOAX! DEEP STATE! RUSSIA, RUSSIA, RUSSIA! This was to be expected because, ultimately, it’s all they have. This, of course, requires us to forget the several administration inmates* who already have admitted that the intelligence exists and that the president* has been/hasn’t been/never was briefed on the subject.
But I’m also sensing some stirring of the port bow from folks who believe that the president*’s obsequiousness toward Russia never was as important as it was made out to be. As a child of the Church Committee, and the Pike Committee, and the House Select Committee on Assassinations, and as someone rather steeped in the notion that, in the not distant past, the intelligence “community” has bungled and/or manipulated the country into one dark corner after another, I understand the impulse. I, too, am uneasy living with the precedent of spooks in revolt against an elected president*...any elected president. I have been to Dealey Plaza.
But this isn’t the babies-in-incubators fable from Gulf War I, and it’s not the vast Iraqi lagoons of bacteria and acres of anthrax that Colin Powell sold to the U.N. before George W. Bush launched his fiasco. We are not swimming in the Gulf of Tonkin here. There seems to be no doubt that this program existed, and it certainly is in keeping with the way the Putin government does business around the world. The hash that the White House has made of its response is perfectly consonant with how this administration* has managed its affairs, and how this president* has handled the duties of his office.
For decades, in extremis, the intelligence community often has operated on the premise that the American people will believe anything. Now, confronted with a president* who has built his whole public life on that same philosophy, the IC is staking his claim and asserting its ownership. Everything about this presidency* is sui generis, so we all just ride with it, I guess.
Respond to this post on the Esquire Politics Facebook page .