There’s a moral quandary at the core of Western human intelligence practices.
Should intelligence agencies dirty their hands by working with and perhaps even paying human rights abusers and those engaged in illicit activities?
Many human rights activists and progressives would say absolutely not, but the issue isn’t so cut-and-dry. While in an ideal world the CIA would not work with those with blood on their hands, often it is these very same people whom it is necessary to compromise to gain insight into decision-making and activities.
In one prominent example, the CIA partnered with a terrorist who had killed Americans in order to attain information which helped France capture Carlos the Jackal, one of the most notorious terrorists of the pre-9/11-era.
The important thing for intelligence operators is not to lose sight of the forest for the trees.
Manuel Noriega, for example, was a US intelligence asset as his military career developed and even when he became Panama’s dictator. But, as he grew increasingly erratic, the CIA cut him loose. Ultimately, he became a target rather than a partner.
The same is true of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Afghan warlord and Mujahedin commander with whom the CIA worked briefly during Afghanistan’s fight against the Soviets — before concerns about his megalomania, sociopathic cruelty, and the blowback from these characteristics became too much even for Langley.
In Pakistan, too, the CIA has developed a love-hate, but increasingly hate-hate, relationship with its former contacts in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.
Now, it seems, the US intelligence community is beginning to have buyer’s remorse with regard to some of its key partners in Iraqi Kurdistan. The United States has long worked with Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Masud Barzani, who, alongside rival Jalal Talabani, controlled Iraqi Kurdistan.
Both men were nepotistic, and each appointed their sons to key administrative and security positions: Barzani placed his oldest son Masrour in charge of the security services and later installed him as chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council, and Talabani placed his older son Bafil (Pavel) in charge of his party’s intelligence service.
Jalal Talabani, however, eventually forced his son into a London exile out of concern about his increasingly erratic and violent behavior. (Talabani nephew Lahur, however, continues to run a local anti-terrorism force).
Barzani, however, is far more a tribal leader and has been reticent to hold his children accountable for their actions. He has raised them to believe they are superior. He schooled them in their own private school where they learned, socialized, and interacted primarily with family members. Masrour Barzani’s erratic behavior is no secret.
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