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CIA pays officials around Karzai

Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Afghanistan's national security adviser and Salehi's boss, said in an interview that he had spoken with Salehi on Thursday and that Salehi denied working with the CIA. "I don't think that Salehi is a spy," Spanta said, adding that Salehi was "shocked and he absolutely rejected it."

U.S. officials did not dispute that Salehi was on the CIA payroll, which was first reported by The New York Times. But officials sought to draw a distinction between agency payments and corruption probes.

"The United States government had nothing to do with the activities for which this individual is being investigated," the second U.S. official said. "It's not news that we sometimes pay people overseas who help the United States do what it needs to get done. . . . Nor should it be surprising, in a place like Afghanistan, that some influential figures can be both helpful and - on their own, separate and apart - corrupt to some degree."

The flow of CIA money into the region dates to the agency's support for mujaheddin fighters who ousted Soviet forces three decades ago.

The spigot was tightened during the 1990s but reopened after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Much of the money went to support warlords whose militias helped to overthrow the Taliban regime, which had provided sanctuary for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda training camps. Salehi had served as an interpreter for one of the most prominent of those warlords, Abdurrashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek whose forces played a critical role in the campaign against the Taliban.

The CIA bankrolled Afghanistan's intelligence service, and its financial ties to government officials has proliferated in recent years.

"There are probably not too many officials we haven't met and contacted and paid," a former CIA official said.

The CIA has a long-standing relationship - though not a financial one - with Karzai himself. The agency's station chief in Kabul traveled with Karzai during the war against the Taliban, at one point shielding him from the blast of a misdirected bomb. The station chief has since served two tours in the Afghan capital at Karzai's behest.

Partlow reported from Kabul.

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