The head of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Afghanistan Bureau has taken on a quasi-diplomatic role in U.S. relations with President Hamid Karzai in the midst of an American-backed effort to root out corruption in the fledgling democracy.
Known to some of his colleagues by the nickname “Spider,” the station chief is a former Marine in his 50s, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Their relationship was cemented in December 2001, when the U.S. military accidentally ordered a bomb drop on a meeting between Karzai and other tribal leaders, and “Spider” leapt on Karzai to shield him, saving the soon-to-be Afghan president. Now, “Spider” is brought in at critical times, including in May when the White House tapped him to calm the Afghan president after he lashed out at the U.S.
“Karzai needs constant reassurance,” a former colleague of the station chief told the newspaper, and “Spider” is his “security blanket.”
The Rolling Stone article that ultimately got Gen. Stanley McCrystal fired discussed the close relationship between Karzai and the former top military officer in Afghanistan. McCrystal had accompanied Karzai on more than 10 trips around the country in the months leading up to the article, and in February had drove to the president’s palace to have him sign off on a large military operation in Marja.
With McCrystal out, “Spider” may be the only other senior American who had a close relationship with Karzai at a critical time when the U.S. is working to make the war a success and crack down on corruption.
On Sunday, Karzai admitted that he intervened on behalf of an aide who had been detained on graft charges by two Afghan anticorruption units that are backed by the United States. A U.S. Senate panel froze about $4 billion in nonurgent aid in June after a report that huge sums of money were being flown out of the country.
The CIA does not discuss individual officers serving overseas, and did not make him available for an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
(Ed. note: this article has been updated).