Scamming Washington

Scamming Washington

Don’t be embarrassed that you answered that email from that "Nigerian princess"—over the past decade, the US government has been suckered into much bigger scams.


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Note to Readers:  Who hasn’t received one—or 100—of those “Nigerian” letters offering you, in florid prose, millions of potential dollars and with nary a catch in sight? But who knew that the highest officials in Washington have been receiving them as well—and from our war zones rather than Africa. Today, is proud to release examples of such letters from a treasure trove of documents shown to us by the new website ScamiLeaks.  (For unknown reasons, the British Guardian, the New York Times, and Der Spiegel all refused to take part in this process, and so it’s been left to TomDispatch to release a selection of them to the world.)

Though we lack the staff of those papers, we have nonetheless done due diligence. We investigated each of the letters that follow and now believe that Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, was never trapped in a Kabul airport bathroom, that “Iraqi parliamentarian” Sami Malouf does not exist, and that the letter writer who calls herself Serena Massoud could not be the lost granddaughter of the Afghan leader Ahmad Shah Massoud whom al-Qaeda operatives assassinated two days before the 9/11 attacks. Curiously enough, however, all the Washington or Pentagon scandals the letter writers mention involving lost, squandered, or stolen money turn out to be perfectly real.  In fact, they represent one of the true scams of our time.

Below, then, are three of the letters we have chosen as representative from the enormous archive that ScamiLeaks will soon release to the world.  We have touched none of them, not even to correct various obvious grammatical errors and misspellings. We have only added a small number of links not in the originals, so that readers can explore the corruption scandals the letter writers refer to. We do not know whether any of the Washington officials addressed responded to these letters or were taken in by them (as they evidently were by scam after scam in our war zones these last ten years).

Whatever you make of the three letters below, consider them collectively a little parable about the fallout from our now decade-old set of wars in the Greater Middle East. – Tom

To My Closest of Friends President and Professor Barack Obama,

I send this missive to you with deepest urgency.  My embarrassment at importuning you in any way in your busy life is beyond expression. Please excuse my rushedness, but I, your friend and associate, Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, have lost my wallet, passport, and Kabul Bank deposit book in the men’s room of Kabul International Airport.

It is to my dismay to discover, in addition, that the $31 billion in small bills I had secured within the sleeves of my chapan, thanks to your most generous heart and the reconstruction abilities of the American contractor, is now gone as well.  Without it, I cannot return to the presidential palace.Please let me ask whether you can at moment soonest respond at this email address and let me know that you are willing to deposit a new $33 billion in the Kabul Bank for me.  I will then, of course, provide you with the necessary account numbers and transmission information.  (Lest you would think me in any way dishonest, my dear friend, I hasten to point out that Kabul Bank is the shining light of Afghan Banking and the extra $2 billion above and beyond the lost $31 billion, are deeply necessary if I am to present alms on my way from the airport to the Palace.)

As we are the closest of companions, I reassure you immediately and in no uncertain terms that this money of yours, a mere pittance compared to what is surely available to the President of the United States, is Absolutely Safe in the Kabul Bank (whose small troubles will soon be straightened out) and will in no way be lost to you.  If you remit the said sum to me with all due speed, I will return it to you with $2 billion in interest within the month.  You have my sincerest promise of that.

Act with great haste, my erstwhile companion!

Your Friend and Associate in Need,

Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan


Attention: Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Gythner, Washington CD

From: Barrister Hammad al-Saad, First Assistant and Secretary to Parliamentarian Sami Malouf, Baghdad, Iraq

With due respect, Good News!

Thanks to a dead business associate who lacks all heirs, an accountant for my lawerly firm, Al-Azawi & Sons, has discovered an abandoned sum of $6.6 billion (SIX BILLION SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS) in U.S. bills in a deserted warehouse on the outskirts of Baghdad owned by said dead associate.   They are all shrink-wrapped $100 (ONE HUNDRED DOLLAR) bills with your Benjamin on the front cover.  No one has claimed this money.

It has come to our attention that one of your Predecessors also lost $6.6 billion (SIX BILLION SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS) in shrink-wrapped $100 (ONE HUNDRD DOLLAR) bills with same Benjamin on cover, which were shipped to my country by C-130 cargo plane in 2003.  In the discrepitude of Iraq at that moment, such a misplacement is not strange. 

However, your loss of such moneys must weigh deeply on you.  We wish to alleviate that weight and return to you the rightful sums.  This can happen almost immediately.  In order to ship Benjamin to you, we must, of course, avoid Iraqi customs, which is sorrowfully corrupt.

To do this we need a few small fees from you, esteemed Gythner, to grease other palms with friendship and hire such a plane as to return your sums. I, Barrister Hammad Al-Saad, will personally fly this money to you. This is 100% (ONE HUNDRED PERCENT) risk free!

Do not worry.  You are in our thoughts momentarily.  Please contact us to firm up details and to exchange pleasantries on necessary fees!

Yours Most Fully Sincerely and Honorably,

Hammad Al-Saad


To: David Petreaus, Director-General of the Central Intelligence Agency

From: Serena Massoud, Granddaughter of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Lion of the Panjshi

My dearest,

I beg your indulgence, Kind General, I am the Lost Granddaughter of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the erstwhile, sadly al-Qaeda assassinated Lion of Panjshir.  Mine is a dismal tale to tell and it is yours to be patient, I hope with utter nonindifference, while I explain.

Let me preface this dawn of the weighted heart by assuring you that it will be worth all your whiles. I, Serena Massoud, out of my full heart and deep love for America and the CIA, and You — I, a poor Afghan woman awash in her times, wish to return to you $125 million. This, you will agree, is part of the $360 million that, according to one of your most esteemed news sources, “has ended up in the hands of people the American-led coalition has spent nearly a decade battling: the Taliban, criminals, and power brokers with ties to both.”

I must beg your forgiveness. To explain how such fundings came almost into my own hands and how—with barely no effort on your part—you will get them back, I have a tangled tale to tell of a dark and stormy decade in my country whose breezes and gales buffeted me.  But if I told it all to you, dear General, you would stumble into Incredulity.

Let me just state that, after many and various adventures of the terrible kind, I found myself, against my uttermost will, in the grips of marriage to Omar Fahim Dadulah, whom you would know as a War Lord. He was a man of Evil Incarnate and his treatment of yours truly was not to be described. He was, moreover, In League With the Taliban, and among those whom Navy Times so rightly describes as absorbing your moneys with obscure nefariousness of purpose.

Without straining your patience, My Darling Director-General, in the end he was expectably poisoned by the self-same proclaimed Taliban and, as death came upon him, called me to his bedside.  He then informed me in tones too solemn to mistake of that fund of $125 million, the very dollars which you have slipped upon the Taliban in trucking fees and safety passes and the like, which he had hidden in a spot unmentionable and which he meant for me.

I beg of you, my dearest General, lend me a helping hand to assist me in claiming this money. Be my guardian, let me be your orphan ward, and receive the money in your account. Also promise to invest a small part of it for me in a lucrative business since I am still a young woman and make arrangements for me to come over to your country to further my education and secure a beloved citizenship permit.

I have seen the photos of you. Your chest of medals is the light of my day. It is with the most profound and sincerity that I make this gesture to you from deep within my loving soul. Your open heart has touched me. I eagerly await your tiptoed words.

Humbly Yrs and Only Yrs,

Serena Masoud

A Further Note: The “Nigerian” letter scam is, in its own way, remarkable.  Smart grifters from another land generally pose as highly (or strategically) placed individuals, but also ignorant yokels and innocents with a minimalist grasp of over-the-top nineteenth-century English. It’s a highly skilled compositional con and it works, evidently to the tune of tens of millions of dollars yearly. If you want to explore how it operates, fleecing significant numbers of people, the website is most useful. (Click here.) For a wonderful older essay on the charms of those scam letters, check out Douglas Cruickshank’s “I crave your distinguished indulgence (and all your cash)” at

If, on the other hand, you prefer to explore the scams Washington has been involved in these last endless years of war, you could start with Adam Weinstein’s recent Mother Jones piece “The All-Time Ten Worst Military Contracting Boondoggles.” The individual scams from this period are a dime a dozen (or rather, unfortunately, billions of dollars a dozen, making the “Nigerians” look like the rubes they aren’t). These would include, to mention just a few examples, that missing $31 to $60 billion in contractor waste and fraud in the Afghan and Iraq war zones; the $6.6 billion (evidently largely Iraqi oil money held in U.S. banks) that the Bush administration sent in pallets of shrink-wrapped bills to Iraq, and which then went missing-in-action; the $360 million in U.S. taxpayer dollars that, according to a special military task force, headed directly for the Taliban and other Afghan lovelies; the $65 billion that went into the development of the F-22, the most expensive fighter jet ever built not to be used—since May, all of the F-22s in the U.S. fleet have been grounded indefinitely; and the more than $140 billion in contracts the Pentagon awarded to companies in 2010 without a hint of competitive bidding, up from $50 billion in 2001. 

Believe me, the “Nigerians” have a great deal to learn from the Pentagon and from U.S. operations in the Greater Middle East, as do the real rubes in the larger scam of things, gullible American taxpayers!

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