tv Q A CSPAN April 22, 2012 11:00pm-12:00am EDT
legislation to reform the industry in the state of the media. this week on "q & a", douglas wissing discusses his latest book, "funding the enemy: how u.s. taxpayers bankroll the taliban." >> douglas wissing, you have a quote in your book about afghanistan were you say they were not telling the american public that they called the press briefings "feeding the chickens." what chickens are they feeding? >> the american people to get scraps of information.
it is different from the on- the-ground reality that you found. the soldiers would tell you the truth. >> what is the theme of this book? >> they said the u.s. government was wasting tens of billions of dollars on mismanaged development. networkthis tossed between distracted american officials, u.s. corporations, and the taliban. everybody was in on it. we were finding our own enemy. the soldiers would say we're funding both sides of the war. the more reading i did, think- tank government documents and think tank reports, they were right.
>> how did to get into this in the first place? >> i had seen an article about a type of army team. the article i saw was by the texas national guard. they were talking about the texans going out there and starting a wheat seed farm. i know what occurs at various altitudes. i have seen failed development projects. i was looking at this article
thinking that will not work. i thought it was odd. i stepped it in my briefcase. i noticed there was a team from the indiana national guard that was also going out. i live in indiana and found this in my briefcase. i tracked them down outside of columbus. they said you have to come this afternoon or tomorrow morning. i had a few moments the next day. it is an hour from my house. i thought this would be another group of people that do not really know what they're doing. i met with the command team. i thought i would be talking with people as they were packing step up. they were a relatively small group. i learned that they were much different than what i anticipated.
they have had a lot of cultural training at indiana university. they spoke a little bit of pashto. they have cultural training. i asked them what kind of projects are you going to do? they said we do not know yet. they had me. i was out there. it was 50 pounds of body armor. that is how i got there. what i quickly learned is that the thing that was unique about the development team soldiers was that they have their own security. they had a fleet of armored
vehicles that were mind resistance vehicles. -- mine-resistant vehicles. they had a full platoon of security soldiers. they have these agricultural specialists. only about 10% of the american soldiers would break the wires. the development team was out in the afghan villages interacting with afghans all the time. it was a great window into all kinds of aspects. we were in the most violent province in afghanistan. you got to deal with combat issues. he got to deal with development issues. you have to deal with afghan american interactions.
in some cases we would be meeting with a sub governor that everyone knew was also taliban. the complexities of this extraordinary war that we have been engaged in for a decade, the cooperation of between the state department and the pentagon, how did that work out tax those were all right there in that one group. it was an extraordinary blend to look at a lot of things. >> i live in bloomington indiana. >> what is your profession? >> i'm a journalist, a writer. >> what other work have you done? >> i have been involved with a historic preservation. i have done work with a number
of books on indiana. i did a book on tibet about a famous explorer. i have a printing company. >> when did you go to afghanistan? >> 2009 and pre-9/11. >> how long did you spend there? >> pre-9/11 about six weeks. >> how much money had u.s. taxpayers spent in afghanistan? >> president obama referenced $1 trillion. that number is subject to a lot of debate for afghanistan alone. that is relating to the ongoing costs. >> how many americans have been
killed? >> around 2000. >> injured? >> tens of thousands. >> you right at the last page of your book, you say none of it looks promising. a decade of stupidity has brought this to this point. >> there is this toxic system that is now really embedded and deeply entrenched. there are a lot of beneficiaries. to start breaking that apart, we have an almost wholly corrupt government that we are supporting. they have gotten very fast on manipulating this. once said that we are embarrassing ourselves because we cannot get a handle on it. we have the development context. they are making sure neri
amount of money. did the karzai government is doing extremely well. it is a system. >> how does it work? the money comes from the congress. the military controls a lot. we are on a short location. six months a year everybody has a to do list. this is among the top things. the have to spend your budget are you cannot get more. it is a lot about spend, spend, spend. yet six months to add a line to your resonate. we do not really track what the outcomes are. we track the input. we cannot ask how many are still live a year later. the big question we do not ask
is what is the impact on the insurgency? have we had an impact? that is this a system that is hard to find. >> how does our arrogance show up in? >> we think we can spend a specialist in for three months and he can do it. we know it is the right thing to do. we do not often ask the afghans what they want. we think we are rich. we are always right. >> what is your attitude before you went to afghanistan? were you against the war or for it? >> i do not think i exactly knew.
i knew the mission was to bind the people to the karzai government. that is problematic to me. afghanistan does not have a tradition. the government is also correct. >> explain the corruption thing. >> they have a corruption index. they rank countries from most corrupt to least corrupt. afghanistan was at the top of the chart. in 2009, they may be slipped a little bit. through the years, they climbed
the rankings to be with the most corrupt places on earth. >> can you see this when you are their? can you see the money and what they have done with it? >> i remember being in an old british fort by the capital of the province. you could look down. it was on a hill. you can see these fast new compounds. >> what about the drug story? what have we done about fighting the drug is? >> we have gone back and forth. we really empower the drug lords to drive out. after they were gone, it left them.
to have power again. there are times where we have narcotics. there would be arguments within the military. we would have something grotesquely wasteful. it would be completely ineffective in terms of counter narcotics. it was a lot about burning up money. do the people that live there use the opium? >> not that much. >> when you met with the national guard, where were you?
the dream, sir." it was what they wanted to do, going to the combat outpost. >> what was your reaction when you heard this charge that one man over there killed 17 people? >> when i heard about the alleged incident, i thought it would be a guy that had liable deployments. i thought it would be a guy that had ieds and mild brain traumas. i thought it would be a guy with troops in combat. i did not think that he had been a sniper. it was a whole different personality profile. when the name was released, that
was the case. >> you say as america has upped its in afghanistan, the insurgency has continued to grow in power and influence. how do you know? >> government documents primarily. sometimes non-governmental governments. the military has to make sure that taliban has three provinces. there are 16,000 ieds planted last year. >> explain exactly what can ied is. >> it is a very bottom, a mine, often made of homemade explosives. very inexpensive.
>> what kind of damage does it do? does it explode on impact? >> different ways. now they use pressure plate. they used to use cell phones. we have ways of blocking that. they can blow up a 37,000 pound armored vehicle. they are immense. >> mrip is a vehicle with a v shaped bottom to defect the blast. they have a machine gunner on top. >> have these made a difference? >> they have saved a lot of legs and lives. what they cannot protect is from the pressure that comes from the blast. you get a lot of these mild
brain traumas. >> in your book, every chapter ends with a scene. explain that technique. >> there is a technique of telling a big story with a small one. this is a way to bring in afghanistan to the reader to explain exactly what it feels like, what you encounter. there is the nice story, this is what it is like in
afghanistan. >> there is one scene at the end as you leave the country, the story of going to the airport, the money and all that. tell that story. >> going to the airport is not that up typically. -- not that tough, typically. if you're in kabul and you have to get out of the country, it is complicated. kidnapping is endemic. you can get kidnapped. you have to get a trust for the driver. he makes a spread out of your guest house. he makes a rush on the street which is ambush alley because there are so many attacks. you finally get to the airport. you avoid eye contact.
>> why? you do not want any more attention. there is security to go through. a dog sniffs you. you get to the point where they are going through your baggage. it goes very slowly. my afghan driver was great. $5 and them we're done with your security check. you ask about corruption. everybody needs money to do anything to get your kids in school. it is a bribe.
some people say it is like a tip. the tips get pretty big. each porter has to have the tip. it is a couple of bucks. it is a lot of money in afghanistan. you finally get there. there is more security, more checks. there are giant throngs trying to get on the last flight leaving. >> how many different passage you have to make before you got onto the seat? >> 7. >> how much total? >> not a vast amount of money, 20 bucks total. >> how many searches did you have before you are in your
seat? >> 5. >> once you're in your seat, somebody said i want to see your boarding pass and it was handwritten. what was that? >> you finally go through this throng and i was lucky because there is this hoard. i boarded up with a couple of them. i got a boarding a pass. it was hand written. when i found my seat, i can see there's this giant line of people. i predicted they would be coming down the aisle and try to find someone to throw off the flight. i figured my hand written boarding pass would not be good. >> the two camps to write about the ct and coin camps.
what do they mean? >> there has been an argument between the counter-terrorism people, vice-president joe biden is often considered the most vocal of that group, the counter insurgency group. the lines are very blurred. there's a lot of counter- terrorism. it would be like our special ops team, the drones, involved in the counterinsurgency programs. we funded them both pretty well. >> what is dominating now? >> it seems like we are definitely tilting toward counter-terrorism. the counterinsurgency has an acronym naturally call w.inning
h.earts a.nd m.inds. even talk to a group about digging a well. that seems to be declining pretty rapidly. >> if you live in the united states and you're paying attention to this story, what is it that people living here who have not been there do not see that you have seen. what would the reaction be if they saw a close? >> people would not expect to find a pizza hut or an espresso bar on the front line. it is pretty common. our lodge's air base has a strip mall where you can buy all sorts of things.
you can take classes on combat outposts where in between rocket attacks again take accounting classes. i think they would really be amazed at the money that gets wasted. the projects that it finds it. >> how you see this? -- the projects that get funded that don anything. >> how do you see this? >> you can watch a project go through the process. going out to afghan contractors. we watched the process. they talked about one in a
village. the request went out. there were 75 of them. it was for a serious of piled up rocks. the villagers pile up rocks. the afghans have learnt that we did not know. it was all about spending money. what happened is that contacting operation had changed. the maximum you could spend was $200,000. suddenly the bids come in at $199,000. the money gets melted away through payoffs and various.
probably. it is many groups. >> what is the population of afghanistan? >> it does not make sense for a long time. the estimate is between 25 million and 30 million. >> how many of those are members of the taliban? >> there are lots of people on the fence. the taliban is your cousin or brother. you cover your bets. what does that mean?
would try to parse that into moderate taliban and things to make our point slide out of. >> here is a photograph, we'll put it on the screen. it says you lost it. what are they talking about? did you take it? >> yes. it says you lost the game. it is on a barrier beside a heli-pad. i took this photograph early one morning. a soldier spray-painted this on their. it seemed to encapsulate a lot of what was going on after 10 years of war.
>> you talk about the tunnel between thte embarssy buildings in kabul. what was that seem meant to describe? >> i have been out in eastern afghanistan. someone had a range for me to stay on. there to par's to the compound. there is a road that goes between them. it used to be that people used to walk across the road. security got so bad, they build a tunnel between the two sides. and they are tunnel people. they have to use underground tunnel.
the big thing that you got in the embassy was i got an overnight accommodation in a trailer. the big thing was it had a private bathroom. that seemed like an incredibly exotic thing. a wife was telling us how excited her husband was in an email that he had a toilet. >> how many different ones were you imbedded with? >> i was imbedded with five. there are military civilian organizations that have the same kind of security. things shift dramatically.
in the personalities sometimes brings a totally different way of doing things. each one of these development teams were much different. just as i talked about the texas team that had this idea about the 11,000 feet. you have the team interested in doing low-budget high impact projects. different groups have different ideas. >> like what? give us an example.
>> we can use this major project. we're talking about airlifting into an area where literacy is 10% and there are virtually no roads. they're doing a massive kind of thing obverses the indiana team that would do honeybee projects for teaching afghan women how to raise honeybees to help them with their families or how to get wheat seeds to increase their yields. it is sustainable. it is pretty simple. the afghans lost a couple of generations of farmers between the russians and the civil war. a lot of their traditional irrigation was destroyed. they have an extraordinary order to edition. they were torn down.
the knowledge that was lost. >> we have a picture from your book about some farmers. where is this? >> this is your typical afghan farm scene. people are working the soil with implements like that. they might have a donkey sometimes. >> you would fly in a combine? >> yes. they did not do that project. they realize it did not work
out for a whole bunch of reasons. we did not understand that it was vast communal grazing for the people. we did figure it out. the wheat seed farms did not happen. they did grazing and livestock. >> is there any system of checks and balances a once money comes in and we go around to check things? to see if schools are still being built? >> i had an experience where the team had veterinarian experts with them. what they are expecting to do is a series of veterinary clinics around the province. when the agribusiness a right, they said where are the clinics?
they will work out of there to improve livestock. they did not know that they have lost the location of where they were. he was it pretty hard-nosed prosecutor. he was used to making things happen. he kept after the usaid. they admitted they lost the files. they finally came up for the it locations. the team began to track these down. they found virtually everyone had been vandalized. >> as congress see this? >> it is in the documents.
but how many have you spend time reading? >> about 1.5 years. >> word you get them? >> they are online. >> what grade would you give the coverage? >> they have continued to cover it. they have done through various parts of it. it is retyping the press release. it is without digging that this has been sustained. i would give them a c for these reasons.
>> from your experience, when you're back here, they listen to the announcements. what tells you that you're not getting the full story? what do you look for? >> when it focuses on it, it is a happy story. let's use the well as an example. we drill tens of thousands of well as all over afghanistan. everybody drilled it. what could be nicer? what we did not figure out was we were lowering the water table.
we're rendering plants that have been terrible. we lower the water table. the u.s. geological service did in aging project. they discovered the water was 20,000 years old. they said this is a very dramatic story. >> you have a photograph in your book. this has some to do with water. >> we were doing a reconnaissance flight. this is a very arid country. where it is brown and green is where there is irrigation. or it is gray and dry is where there is not. the importance of water is crucial.
>> how many roads have rebuilt? >> how many are still usable is a question. we would build them badly. it was about spend. we would not any budget for maintenance. there is a process called descoping were you except wherever they have done so they can lower the base of the road. very soon they are unusual. >> you speak of a province of
there, the provincially construction team everybody was there. it isn't taliban country. it is a little dangerous. a lot of people were on a bank. suddenly there was a gunshot. everybody thought it was an attack. then they looked around and realized it was one of the afghan national army guys accidentally discharged his
rifle. the soldiers would say you need to keep something solid between yourself and them. accidental discharges are pretty rife. so the guy, i think, shot himself int h the foot. there are no ricochet wounds. they realize the bullet has penetrated the concrete. 4 inches in. the concrete is worthless and i talked to an engineer about it. he showed me a bag of concrete. >> they used elephant concrete. that is what they get out of pakistan. he said whenever we see these in teabags, we shut it down. it will work. >> what do you think based on your experience over there,
you're there how many months? >> about three months. >> what do you think the afghanistan people think about the united states? >> and afghans scholar sent me an e-mail. they are tired of being lied to. they are tired of the foreigners claiming they're going to do something nice for them but in reaching themselves. >> there are foreigners and the viewpoints. there is a concept between the
aid world where we spent about $60 billion on development in afghanistan. the estimate is only about 10% of that ever got to the afghan people. >> where did they go? >> it relates to these contracts for large development corporations. american, some international. >> who forms these corporations? >> former usaid officials. >> what is usaid. >> it is armed to distribute foreign aid. >> they have a grant to do what? >> to help stand up afghan ministries, to mentor them, to organize land title process that is really confused because of the turmoil, it to do alternative lifestyle products. >> if you can make a ton of money if you are an afghan farmer, why we do care about the rest of it?
>> had not been successful. >> we are funding the poppies? >> indirectly. if someone who thinks so we're doing is terrific, you would that be? what would they say? >> we're making progress. >> they do not even use the term "winning" any more. >> what is succeeding in this case? >> excellent question.
>> does anyone define it? >> it gets pretty hazy pretty fast. >> the headline was it is time for karzai to pick the u.s. out of afghanistan. he wrote about the fact that we were kicked out of iraq. what was your reaction? >> in might be a good thing. >> is it time for us to leave? >> yes. >> you talk about the history of different world governments
involved in afghanistan. give us a brief breakdown. >> working this, and had a rough time. the british tried to subdue afghanistan going back to the early 19th century. >> why were they interested? >> they were sparring with the czar and the russians. they're moving down. the islamic republic was under and they were worried about encroaching on india. it seems to become a very crucial part of that. >> people reject the british. how times did they lose? >> the british have lost a couple of wars there. they came to a stalemate during world war i. the british basically withdrew. >> what about the russians and how much did we support the other side?
>> they are islamic holy warriors. they go into great deal tells of people who are now fighting. we were setting as people up. it is pretty hard core. >> how much of the weaponry are things they're using years ago? >> it is a new generation. >> who is funding the taliban? >> you are in part. >> who else? >> i spent some time with the afghan finance which is a multi agency group that is headquartered with kabul. one of the spokespersons told me
tommy thompson had gotten involved with the help of the military to help modernize the women's hospital. we were going to improve its. there is no sanitation. people were defecating in corners. women were birthing on plastic sheets. an officer has been part of this. he was told this was one of our premier projects. he was a health official in mexico. he said he'd never seen anything like this. he said i never have to see this again. tommy thompson was thing to tell the women of afghanistan.
it is reify. -- riefy. i looked it up. reify is the confusion of a concept with reality. that is the word everyone was using in afghanistan. we were confusing a concept with reality. it sounds so great at the podium at the pentagon, but not in afghanistan. >> do not believe it? are they consciously misleading the american people? >> we are in an election cycle. sometimes elections make for bad strategy. >> co back to the checks and balances. congress has been over there. did you run into any members of congress?
>> i did not. i did spend some time with some people out of holbrook's office. we are missing parts. we would send money out but we cannot send people to oversee its. usaid was given an enormous amount of money but they had virtually no staff people to oversee its. at one point, each staffer was overseeing $27.5 million worth of contracts.
locally they were ever seen $1.2 million. it was a war zone. you cannot even look at the project without having a big military exports. we did not have any soldiers there. it was tough to oversee it. i was in one meeting where the brigade commander -- not long after president obama took office -- they said we're going to give you a whole bunch of development money. we are going to do this. he said how many contractors can oversee this? people know. >> we talked about tea and other things. the stories came out that he was misusing the money. we have not heard from him since. do you know him facts do you
know what his impact was over there? what did you think of that story? >> people get incredibly emotional about that story. we want hope. i saw him speak a few weeks before the story broke about the scandal. it was an overflow crowd of people that were so passionate. there were lots of military there. i believe he had a video introduction before he spoke. the story never really held water to people who knew about afghanistan.
it never quite added up. it was tough to tell people that. they wanted that story and hope. we want to believe that we can make a difference with our way of thinking. >> will we see him again? >> is there any reaction from your early days? >> i've heard from a number of the soldiers. there are consultants involved. they felt i told the truth. >> and where did you go to college?
>> indiana university. >> what to do steady? >> political science. >> do you have a family? what i have two sons and three grandchildren. >> the name of the book is "funding the enemy: how u.s. taxpayers bankroll the taliban." our guest has been douglas wissing. thank you very much. [captioning performed by national captioning institute] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2012] >> for a dvd copy of the program, 1-877-662-7726. for free transcripts or to give us your comments about this program, visit us at www.q-and-
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