(Counterinsurgency skeptic Matthew Yglesias, meanwhile, says that “this raises, in a very pointed way, the issue of whether COIN-in-practice stands any realistic chance of resembling the theory and rhetoric.”)

Exum makes clear that he has no independent knowledge about the CIA-Karzai relationship, but his reference to the views of “numerous military officials” supports the idea that the Times article is rooted in military sources. One of the few sources quoted by name is Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, who does not tie Ahmed Wali Karzai and the CIA together (at least not on the record) but makes clear that the military has little use for the president’s brother. “The only way to clean up Chicago is to get rid of Capone,” he says. Another top military officer is quoted, anonymously, linking Karzai to the drug trade—something American officials have been reluctant to do publicly.

At Time’s Swampland blog, Joe Klein engages in some speculation about the story behind the story:

This has been in the wind for a while. And you’ve got to wonder why it has broken now, two weeks before the Afghan presidential runoff.

The most obvious conspiracy theory—and these are rarely right—is that the U.S. has decided to let this news slip now to adversely affect [Hamid] Karzai in the coming election.

A less obvious but, to my mind, more plausible theory is that the U.S. needed to make Ahmed Wali Karzai radioactive so that he could no longer run and ruin Kandahar province as its shadow governor.

Or, it may just be that the Times finally managed to nail a story that more than a few journalists had been pursuing.

Klein is right to dismiss the first theory—as frustrated as the U.S. is with Hamid Karzai, it’s not at all clear that his defeat would bolster the prospects for America’s mission. As for the others, it’s too early to say—it’s also not clear whether the story will make Ahmed Wali Karzai “radioactive” in Afghanistan, where it may not register as much of a surprise. In any case, in the coming days and weeks, it will be fascinating to learn more about this story—both how it came about, and its ultimate ramifications.

Greg Marx is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.