In Defense of Greg Mortensen

by on May 11, 2011 · 109 comments

in Culture, Military, Popular, War and Peace

Three Cups of Tea co-author comes under fire for allegedly embellishing accounts in the book, and his Central Asia Institute is placed under a microscope due to allegations of misuse of the charity’s funds.

Greg Mortensen and Admiral Mike Mullen at a school opening in Afghanistan

Anyone who has read the books Three Cups of Tea and its sequel, Stones Into Schools by Greg Mortenson (Three Cups is co-authored by David Oliver Relin) will tell you how riveting and engrossing both works are.  They have become two of the most important and influential books of our lifetime.  They are incredible and inspiring page turning stories about what’s possible in an area of the world that virtually no one understands.

Doubts about the accounts in the books, however, were raised by an investigation aired by the CBS news program “60 Minutes.” The segment raises concerns voiced primarily by Jon Krakauer, author of Into the Wild and a former contributor to Mortensen’s Central Asia Institute (CAI).

Mortensen established the CAI to raise funds to build, staff, and supply schools throughout Pakistan and later Afghanistan on the condition that all such schools be open to the girls of the communities they serve.  The CAI operates on the principle that “if you educate a boy, you educate an individual.  If you educate a girl, you educate a community.”

For those who have not read the books (and you really should—they’re both required reading for any commissioned military personnel or diplomatic corps heading into Afghanistan, and should be required  reading for everybody), they are the personal story of former mountaineer and Army medic Greg Mortensen; how he stumbled into a remote village in one of the most isolated regions at the foot of the Himalayas in Northern Pakistan; and how his pledge to build a school in this tiny, forgotten village became a life’s mission.

Krakauer and “60 Minutes” examine the accuracy of the story Mortensen tells at the beginning of Three Cups about how he got lost on the descent from a failed attempt to scale K2, the second tallest mountain in the world, and stumbled into the tiny village of Korphe (pronounced kor-FAY) severely dehydrated and weak, his very life in jeopardy.  He tells how the villagers took him in and nursed him back to health.

In that village, he found the children studying out in the open, writing their lessons with sticks in the dirt.  It was there that he pledged to build the first school.

But Krakauer and “60 Minutes” insist that that story, while incredible and inspiring, was a near complete fabrication.  They say that Mortensen never did get lost on that expedition, and that he didn’t hear of Korphe until nearly a year later.  True, he built a school there, but it didn’t happen at all like he told it in the book.

They also accuse him of lying about his “kidnapping” by members of the Taliban; how he was detained for eight days while his captors investigated his story.  “60 Minutes” found members of the group that Mortensen claimed held him prisoner, who all denied the accusation and adamantly denied being members of the Taliban.  They criticize Mortensen for his claims, pointing to a photo he took with the group where he was happily holding an AK-47 assault rifle.  (Read the book—the story makes sense, trust me).

They fail to mention, however, another photo featured in the book of Mortensen and his wife, Tara, on her first visit to Pakistan.  Mortensen is holding their infant daughter, and both he and Tara have an AK-47 in their grasp.  It’s part of the culture there.  It’s merely an adornment.  A symbol of how the rural Pakistanis and Afghanis live.

Krakauer and “60 Minutes” also allege that by using CAI funds to promote his books, Mortensen has personally benefitted from the charity.  They cite nearly $3 million of CAI funds used by Mortensen on travel and other expenses relating to speaking engagements and promotional appearances, while the institute has seen none of the proceeds.  Recently two Montana state legislators filed a lawsuit to seize the assets of the CAI (which is based in Bozeman, Montana)—reportedly nearly $14 million—and place them “in a trust for construction of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”  They are also critical of the institute’s shoddy accounting standards, particularly regarding expenses in Central Asia.

There are a few things that must be understood about how the CAI does its work in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and why Three Cups and Stones are so important particularly to the institute’s work.  First, since the inception of the Central Asia Institute, Mortensen has relied on a ragtag assortment characters to run his operation in Pakistan.  These are mostly people with little formal education themselves, but who have latched on to the mission with full throated enthusiasm and thrown themselves headfirst into the cause because they believe in it.

Without the backing and devotion of these locals Mortensen would have been stuck in neutral and gone nowhere.  And since most of the transactions in-country are conducted in cash without the benefit of computers and accounting software, sometimes accounting records get a bit messy.  Such is the price of doing business in some of the most primitive parts of the world.

Unlike other NGO’s and military operations that hire outside contractors and skilled labor to do the work for them, the institute relies almost entirely on local labor to build their schools and other projects (the CAI has conducted several irrigation projects to help revive farmland).  Mortensen learned very early on that in order to gain the support of the villagers he’s trying to help, they must be included in the planning process and they must be allowed to take ownership of the job.  The CAI provides the funds and the materials, and the locals provide the sweat.  This way they are fully invested in the project, which helps to allay suspicions about the outsiders and their motives.  It becomes a matter of pride and dignity, which is often overlooked by even the most sincere of do-gooders.

Mortensen and his band have become successful at what they do because they have found a way to get around the natural distrust the locals have for American meddlers.  The relationships that he and his crew have formed throughout the years have given them the credibility to venture into even more remote and forlorn places.  Word has spread about what they do, and they are typically welcomed because of it.

Back home in the States, Three Cups and Stones have been vital to the promotion of the CAI and its cause.  Without them the efforts of the CAI would have gone almost completely unnoticed, and their ability to fundraise would have been a fraction of what it is.  But perhaps even more important is that the books and the speaking engagements that have resulted from them have served an even larger and more valuable purpose:  Spreading awareness throughout the United States and the rest of the world.

Three Cups almost single handedly changed U.S. policy in Afghanistan and has brought a broader understanding of how their society works.  It has changed the way we view the war in Afghanistan and how to go about changing the circumstances on the ground.

Three Cups taught us how to treat the Afghanis as human beings—human beings that are just as much victims of al Qaeda and the Taliban as the victims of terror attacks.  It reminded us that by treating the innocent civilians with respect we in turn earn theirs.  The experiences of Mortensen and his CAI as described in the book have nudged the powers that be to reconsider their strategy in Afghanistan and helped lead to a shift in the mission from a strictly military operation to more of a public outreach and nation building strategy.  This new approach will hopefully empower the Afghan people to stand on their own, and will ultimately allow us to bring our troops home sooner than might otherwise be possible.

The Central Asia Institute and the two books are inextricably intertwined.  The institute directly benefits from the promotion of the books through increased awareness and an understanding of its mission, which has served to generate an avalanche of donations.  Perhaps Greg Mortensen did embellish some of the stories in the books.  If he did, he should own up to it.  But that doesn’t diminish the books’ impact and the good works that Mortensen and the CAI have done and continue to do.  They have done more than build schools for girls in a part of the world where girls are neglected.  They’ve changed the mindset of an entire nation and shown us how to potentially bring a sliver of hope to a region that has for centuries been mired in conflict.

{ 101 comments… read them below or add one }

Jack May 11, 2011 at 4:13 pm

It was with sadness I read about the investigation into Mortenson and the CAI. I must say, I am not surprised to hear there was embellishment of the story, but then I am fairly jaded individual. And not nearly as disturbed when I heard Mortenson was a consultant to the Pentagon regarding Afghanistan affairs.

But let us get past the writer, the storyteller, and look at what the book is about, because it is not so much a story about Mortenson, than it is about repaying a kindness, and keeping a promise.

For several years now, I have referenced Three Cups of Tea in my teaching regarding Restorative Justice. It is a prime example of the manner in which RJ works in small tribal communities in which they must get along. Mortenson goes to great lengths to describe how these small communities rely on the work of each other in order to survive…and to do so, they must be willing to forgive transgressions and move forward.

Additionally, it is a story about how one man’s efforts changed so much in those he touched. Whether it was his initial funding sources, or the various communities into which he has gone and built schools. And by doing so, he has done more to encourage gender equality, than all the reports out of the U.N., Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch could combined.

He did step by step, stone by stone, and as the article mentioned, by creating ownership of the projects by the stakeholders. Each accomplishmnet in its own time.

So rather than jump on the condemnation band wagon, I am going to let this little drama play out, and hope for the best. No one is perfect, we all have our foibles and skeletons. Let’s not take away the goodness we have received from Mortenson’s books.

Peace, Jack


Clydene May 11, 2011 at 4:32 pm

I find it very difficult believing anything that Mr. Greg Mortenson says or does.

Since the facts have unfolded he has not addressed the issues of the lies and criminal activity with the use of funds from a 5013c charity for his own personal gain. One only needs to look at the balance sheet to see that he spent $57,000 on teacher salaries in the same year he spent 1.7 million dollars of CAI money on the expenses of his book and speaking tour. One need only read the words of one of the directors at the Central Asia Institute where he said Greg Mortenson used the Charity as his own personal ATM.

Yes, look at the good work, but also look at the lies. He built only 4 schools where he said he built 13. He said he was kidnapped by the Taliban when there was no Taliban in that region of Pakistan until after 2001.

It is only fitting that two politicans from Montana have now sued Greg Mortenson and CAI for misuse of Charity Funds! That he is now being investigateded by the IRS.


Andy Cohen May 11, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Understand how much $57,000 is in Pakistan as opposed to $57,000 here in the States. $57,000 in Central Asia might as well be $1,000,000…….the dollar goes a lot further there than it does here.

To put it into perspective: The first school he built in Korphe cost roughly $12,000 to build.


Clydene May 11, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Andy, he spent 1.7 million dollars on travel in the US to promote his book tour. Some of this coming from Pennies for Peace where children around the nation raised money for schools and ONLY SCHOOLS in Afghanistan and Paskistan. Instead this money was spent on private jets and fancy hotels. I had a friend who just signed in 118 bookstores in the last 6 weeks, and he took public airlines.

OXFAM has an excellent education system set up how much could 1.7 Million Dollars have done for the people in Pakistan and Afghanistan through OXFAM

This is a video of a guide who worked in Pakistan in the same area Greg Mortenson said he was in Pakistan.

Through Google Earth, Maps, Photos and videos Masood Ahmad, experienced trekker and native Pakistani, investigates the claim made in “Three Cups of Tea” that Greg Mortenson took a “wrong turn” and ended up in the village of Korphe in 1993.

He lied about this, he lied about the Taliban, and now he has been caught.
Just like James Frey.


Kate May 22, 2011 at 10:45 pm

I have one question:

Where is NAIMUT GUL MAHSUD? If Mansur Khan Mahsud was defamed, then his uncle is innocent. Where is the uncle? According to McKenzie Funk, a village source said Naimut Gul Mahsud is a known con man and fugitive, that he had received a life sentence for kidnapping a girl, and had escaped prison when he met Mortenson.

Krakauer has gotten it wrong in several of his books. If he is so sure, then where is the uncle? Why did he call Mansur Mahsud in Feb. and tell him he had been defamed, and yet Mansur waited until 12 hours after “TCD” went online to make his “I’m suing for defamation” claim. There is also evidence that Mahsud sent his response to McKenzie’s claim through Krakauer before he copied and pasted his response into the website.

Mansur Mahsud is Krakauer’s bitch, and those of you who are willing to believe a Pakistani man (who today will admit to any Taliban activity now, with our troops all over them?) over a U.S. citizen, go for it.

It’s a set up by Krakauer to destroy Mortenson’s character, keep his own book in the media attention, and for a cherry on top, his best friend’s website “” got millions of clicks over the controversy.

Why aren’t you guys asking how much is JK getting out this controversy?


clydene July 9, 2011 at 8:39 am

Kate said “Mansur Mahsud is Krakauer’s bitch, and those of you who are willing to believe a Pakistani man (who today will admit to any Taliban activity now, with our troops all over them?) over a U.S. citizen, go for it.”

I would believe anyone else BUT Mortenson who steals pennies from children. HOW LOW CAN YOU GO! Read the financials….


Susan Hale Whitmore May 27, 2011 at 11:42 am

First, we know where Mr Mortenson is (at home) and why he has not granted any interviews since the one with Outside – online the weekend of the CBS report (because he’s on doctor’s orders to stay ON oxygen 24/7 and OFF communications 24/7 until he’s ready for the surgery on the hole in his atrium). So let’s ask a different question:

WHERE IS David Oliver Relin? He has always claimed to be the sole author of “3CofT” and remonstrated with Viking when the editor put Mr. Mortenson’s name on as co-author. A month-plus has passed since the melee began and he hasn’t even issued a press release?!!

Second, CAI states on its web site that ALL Pennies for Peace donations have ALWAYS gone into a separate bank account to supply the school children in Afghan and Pakistani projects. And that all staff / admin expenses related to P4P come instead from the CAI general fund. So my question to you:

DO YOU have any EVIDENCE to the contrary?

Here’s some good reading from a Pakistani view:
On the Institute for Gilgit Baltistan Studies site OR Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, by M. Shah of Peshawar, 5/16 — “Tracking Down Mortenson’s Schools in Pakistan”


Wade July 9, 2011 at 8:26 am

Who are you suzy? There is a ton of evidence !Are you lazy or stupid ? Read the financials and afterwards have a chat with Mother Teresa as Greg did three years after her death …cheers


Curtis July 29, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Let’s do the math.

“Another thing that really bugs me is that most of the negative commenters have gotten the math very wrong. Daniel you cite the correct ratio, ie cost of fund raising vs amount raised. ‘CAI spent $1.7 million for Mortenson to travel around promoting CAI and his book, and CAI rec…eived $20 million in donations. That’s a pretty good return on investment if you ask me.’

Many (detractors) have failed to look closely enough and cite 59% being spent on fund-raising and outreach vs 41% on the schools. Those amounts were NOT pct of income, they were pct of *expenses* in 2009. Again as Daniel points out, most of the donations for that year were banked into CAI’s endowment fund and the cost of outreach was nowhere near 59% of the donations! This is a very key metric for NP fund raising expenses that so many complainers have gotten all wrong — across many articles i see so many comments complaining that “only 41% of donationed funds are being spent on the schools”. Again, that is totally incorrect, bad math.

They are looking at the wrong numbers to get the important metric of cost of organizational overhead as a pct of donations going to the organization’s mission. This is a very important point!”


Gary Ghirardi May 11, 2011 at 5:52 pm

I spent a week with a French documentary photographer and filmaker who has worked within the Yanomami people in the Amazon since the late forties and his stories about foreign attempts at “improving” the lives of peoples who live outside of western culture is revealing. The lack of cultural sensitivity and follow-through once these interventions produce the internal fallout should be of no surprise; broken communities, instilled values not useful to their normal lives and much worse. The further facts in the case of Greg Mortensen is the usual pattern of U.S. military and security contracted consultations is often not far behind in these types of feel good stories. In the case of the Amazon the fallout has included numerous “illegal” airfields operating outside official agreements between countries including private corporations running mining exploration operations violating state sovereignty. When are the American people ever going to get the picture. If it is a big story it is likely not what it seems. For children who have the outdoors as their classroom, I can imagine many other things much less worthy of our respect and wonder than conditions such as this.


Sarah May 11, 2011 at 8:37 pm

When I look at Mortenson, I see a commendable individual who has no doubt done some incredible things for this world. However, that does excuse the fact that certain aspects of his story are exaggerated at best. With this aside, I can say that perhaps the only thing we can fault Mortenson for is being human. I believe he was (and still is) a well intentioned individual who was desperate to spread a message and as a result, was taken advantage of an encouraged to perhaps indulge some details from greedy book publishers.


Gennifer May 12, 2011 at 1:48 am

Unfortunately now when I see Mr Mortensen, I see a liar.


Eyenever Sayno May 12, 2011 at 10:42 am

And I see a thief who for years has spent millions of dollars, donated to help some of the most needy children in the world, on private jet charters while flogging his books on tour, then kept for himself the considerable book royalties and appearance fees.

Do you really want to defend his use a children’s charity to cover his expenses while he promotes his brand and pockets the profits?


Andy Cohen May 12, 2011 at 12:27 pm

As I said in the story–but apparently not very effectively–the way I see it is that the books and the CAI are one and the same. By going on the road and promoting the books, and by doing his speaking engagements, Mortensen is simultaneously and by default promoting the Central Asia Institute. Since the books are about the CAI and its work, then by talking about the books he’s talking about the CAI, which in turn leads to increased donations–and that’s proven by the fact that their donations have skyrocketed. One report said that the CAI had over $14 million in the bank.

As for the private jets: It’s pretty easy to criticize someone for using a private jet and accuse them of simply wanting to live “the high life.” But one also has to ask “why” he was using a private jet service. Was it just to satisfy his own ego, or was there some other reason for it? He speaks at some pretty remote locations that are not well served by commercial airlines, and sometimes he has to get across the country for an appearance the next morning. Commercial flights might not be available when and where he needs them. And as much time as he spends on the road, he might just be eager to get back home to his family. It’s not like he’s flying private jets EVERYWHERE he goes.

You have to look at from a business perspective. Sometimes flying a private jet is more cost effective from a time value of money point of view. The opportunity costs of not making an appearance sometimes outweigh the cost of the private jet service. And again, his book promotion and appearances are largely on behalf of the CAI, since he’s talking specifically about what the CAI does, as that is entirely what the books are about.


Wade July 2, 2011 at 7:56 pm

Yea right …Pennies for Jeta …nonsense


Jim Tarvid May 11, 2011 at 8:48 pm

One wonders how much of the vendetta against Greg is motivated by antipathy towards anyone who shows any empathy for Muslims. Greg’s books are filled with stories that kindness works. I find little evidence of kindness towards anyone especially the girls and young women of Afghanistan and Pakistan among his detractors. I find it tragic to watch small people destroy a great vision,


Gennifer May 12, 2011 at 1:49 am

Jim – seriously?


Jim Tarvid May 12, 2011 at 7:59 am

Seriously. All mythic personages suffer from accretion. Not trying to elevate Greg Mortenson but that is true of Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed. He had a ghost writer and a publisher who were perhaps more interested in selling books than writing sacred scripture. That doesn’t stop us from trying to discern the truth and the message I get from Greg is “kindness and understanding work”.


Eyenever Sayno May 12, 2011 at 10:30 am

Read his and CAI’s 2009 Form 990, as I mention in my other post, then see if you still get a warm, fuzzy feeling message.

Private jets, theft through conversion, etc., it’s not a pretty picture.


Susan Hale Whitmore May 27, 2011 at 11:57 am

And as I said above, David Oliver Relin, “a prize-winning journalist” as we are often told, has ALWAYS insisted that he was NOT a ghost writer. He’s maintained that he was brought in by Viking after Mr. Mortenson had submitted four very interesting but not well written chapters. It was not until Mr. Relin received the galleys to proof that he saw (1) not only GM’s name on the cover as co-author, but (2) also GM’s name listed ahead of his own.

This in no way appears to diminish the book’s message that Jim so well describes, but it may go a long way toward answering CBS News’ textual allegations ~ IF Mr Relin would step forward.


Greg Zaller May 11, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Could it be that Greg Mortenson is instead the victim of people so desperate to hear his false story that he was helplessly swept away by it? Donors demand a certain type of result that isn’t reasonable or even possible. Pakistan is the toughest of places to show up in with a pile of money expecting to pay often corrupt people to build and staff schools and have it work out. I’ve been there. An all too common scam in Pakistan is to take do-gooder money and build what is called a “ghost school” to justify the charade. Of course it didn’t go smoothly for Mortenson and of course no one wanted to hear that so he made up story for them.

Effective schools can be setup and operated in Pakistan for $5 a year tuition earned by the students because of their schooling. The donor minded don’t want to hear it. They want heroes and opportunities to convince themselves that their dollars can do some good. Dollars can’t buy caring teachers but a small number can make it possible for caring teachers to teach. I wish that was the moral of this sad Mortenson tale instead of the hand wringing and finger pointing so far.

Greg Zaller


Bob May 12, 2011 at 2:34 am

“Could it be that Greg Mortenson is instead the victim of people so desperate to hear his false story that he was helplessly swept away by it?”

I’ve followed this story in detail since it first broke, and I have to say that the above quote is the most incredible rationalization I’ve seen yet.


Eyenever Sayno May 12, 2011 at 10:26 am

Searching for the truth? Stop wasting time reading “shoot the messengers” apologists and go directly to the source material and see for yourself if what 60 Minutes and Krakauer are saying is true. One really has to look no further than Mortenson and CAI’s 2009 Form 990 tax return for CAI’s 2008/09 fiscal year, available here:

Once downloaded, proceed to page 25, Schedule J, and Mortenson’s additional “Compensation Information.” Note the two boxes checked ‘yes’ for CAI having paid for private jet charters for Mortenson and his “companions.” Now go to page 10 where CAI lists its “Functional Expenses.” Note also the $1.4 million spent on such ‘travel’ (line 17) for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 2009. Now think about that for a minute. $1.4 million of CAI’s precious dollars, donated to help poor kids get an education, spent instead on private jet charter travel in support of Mortenson’s book tour, and in just 12 months! Now consider who ho benefits directly from the sales of all these books? By CAI’s own admission, not one penny of the royalties from the sales of millions of copies of ‘Three Cups’ and ‘Stones’ comes back to the charity.

Want more? Check out page 29, where CAI notes that it spent more than $1.7 million on “book related expenses,” again, promoting a book the royalties from which go directly into Mortenson’s pocket.

Put simply, this is a form of theft called ‘conversion.’

In this case, Mortenson converted dollars donated to his charity into book royalties and appearance fees for himself. And, in a tacit admission that he knows he’s been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, CAI now says that, as of January of this year, Mortenson has begun paying for his own book tour travel. Which of course begs the question: Is he still flying charter? (lol) And more seriously, will he repay the millions of dollars CAI has already spent promoting the books from which he personally receives the direct financial benefit?


snowleopard May 25, 2011 at 11:34 pm


Authors ALL pay the expenses for promoting a book and it is a legitimate business expenses, the air fare (how ever you choose to fly) the hotel, the food, is all legally tax deductable.

When a writer receives an advance on a book, he or she does not see another penny until the publisher has recouped (through sales) the cost of the advance PLUS THE COST OF PROMOTION.

Every time he gave a speech CAI benefited. The $1.7 million spent in promoting the book resulted in millions of dollars in donations. It does not matter if he accepted the speaking fee or not, he’s devoted his life to the work the charity does, and they are the only people who have the right to bitch, and they are not.

Schools go empty because of the difficulty in finding qualified teachers willing to go to remote areas for very small salary.


Jim Tarvid May 12, 2011 at 11:53 am

Having worked as a numerical advocate for women and children in South Asia for 25 years, I am well aware of the issues. Why not back up a link and look at and

A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest – Paul Simon – “The Boxer”.


Eyenever Sayno May 12, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Jim, I have aleady read through all ten years of CAI’s posted Form 99os, but thanks for the link to Charity Navigator. As one reviewer on Charity Navigator’s CAI page put it “The fact that this (CAI) has 4 stars is a major blow to charity navigator’s credibility.” I could not agree more.

A more informative and detailed view of CAI’s activities can be found at The American Institute of Philanthropy:

This pretty much sums up AIP’s position with regard to Mortenson and CAI:

“AIP continues to be concerned about conflicts of interest at Central Asia Institute. Greg Mortenson, who not only benefits personally from sales of his books promoted by the charity, also regularly receives $30,000 in speaker’s fees for his lectures. The charity does not report earning any revenue from speaker’s fees in its 2009 audit or tax form. AIP is concerned that Central Asia Institute looks to be covering expenses related to “domestic outreach and education, lectures and guest appearances…” while apparently not receiving a portion of the related speaker’s fees or any other revenues generated at these events…. No one from Central Asia Institute has responded to these and other questions posed by AIP. As of the end of March, 2011, AIP continues to issue Central Asia Institute a rating of “?” based on the charity’s fiscal year-ended 9/30/2009 reporting. “


Eyenever Sayno May 12, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Oh and that’s a pretty funny quote from “The Boxer” given the actual context:

“I have squandered my resistance
For a pocketful of mumbles,
Such are promises
All lies and jest
Still, a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest.”

Accurately describes Mortenson’s fans, contributors and defenders if you ask me.


Greg Zaller May 12, 2011 at 1:52 pm

At some point the discussion must turn to how to promote genuine and constructive education if any good is to come out of Mortenson’s deception. There needs to be a way to reliably determine the results of a nonprofit’s activity. What if Charity Navigator incorporated some sort of review system like is found on for books? It could become a form of tourism to make reports. In my organization we are moving toward employing a mobile satellite based internet/video terminal that will allow a genuine public view into our schools without having to journey into rural Pakistan. There are probably lots of good ideas that could be tried and that might prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again.


Eyenever Sayno May 12, 2011 at 2:58 pm

I’ve appreciated your many contributions to the discussion around the web, Greg Z., and I like your ideas, especially the mobile video terminal.

I’m sure you’ve seen the discussion of the story of that guy who wanted to donate $40,000, of his late mom’s savings, to CAI to build a school. But there was a catch, the guy wanted it to go to a specific school somewhere of CAI’s choosing, and he wanted to see a budget and receipts, you know, like any of us would do if we were building it ourselves, with our own money. CAI’s response was “Oh, we don’t do that.”

So why not? Why can’t even smaller donations be pooled into a specific school account, with full transparency to the actual pool of donors, with a budget and receipts posted on the web? It could even be a stakeholders-only, password protected website. And I’m sure many of the original donors could be counted on to continue school-specific funding for ongoing costs…. they would feel a part of a truly worthy cause, and would absolutely know that a siginficant portion of their donated dollar is not being converted into somebody’s book royalties.


Greg Zaller May 12, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Complete transparency with money, and everything else for that matter, might have prevented the Mortenson scandal and should be the rule. There is no reason small donors couldn’t combine their contributions on a site for a specific goal but keep in mind that money and buildings are not an end in themselves.

In we shun donations and direct our effort toward lowering the barriers that have been preventing villages from re-inventing themselves. They are deeply motivated for this. That’s a lot more powerful than people working for money. The truth is that money dampens the spirit needed to succeed against all odds.

What if this scandal were to follow the same plot of Toto pulling the curtain back on the Wizard Oz? My hope is that we also discover, like Dorothy and company, the same greatness that they feared and craved has been inside us all along. We don’t need super heroes taking our dollars to save the world, we just need to roll up our sleeves as a global community connected by the internet and get to work. It is the same in Pakistan.


Jane Donley May 12, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Having served in Pakistan in the 60s with the Foreign Service, I’m inclined to grant Greg Mortensen and the CAI full literary license to tell his story any way he wants. The amount of money he receives — to promote education of girls in Pakistan and in Afghanistan as a foundation for freedom and economic development, as opposed to fundamentalist male-only medrasahs — is a pittance compared to the excessive bonuses paid to barons of Wall Street, US banks, and non-tax-paying corporations (GE, Exxon, etc). Long live Mortensen and the CAI, and long live those who work toward a more educated, equitable and peaceful world.


Gary Ghirardi May 12, 2011 at 5:09 pm

As a foundation for freedom and economic development for whom, Jane? Pakistan currently has state owned and operated oil industries. If the U.S. and its NGO’s are laying the foundation for a different model of democracy, are we not leading them into the same circumstances which you describe as “non-tax-paying corporations ?” The interests for U.S. foreign policy are strategic and economic. Helping rural girls is the cream that we gladly lap up like puppies to further this idea that we are bringing these backward peoples a badly needed model of democratization. Does that model include a lack of transparency and pulling closed the curtain again on reasonable revelations of misrepresentation. You are characterizing this man as a hero where much evidence is calling into question his veracity as an honest player. Why can we not look at the issue in more depth than whether his use of funds and operational practices are questionable. This man is pictured above in this article with a U.S. Military Admiral. Why?


Jim Tarvid May 12, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Glad you asked that question? Greg offers an alternative to COIN and night killing raids by special forces which DoD and State find intriguing. That alone would justify the mission.


Gary Ghirardi May 13, 2011 at 7:34 am

Then is Greg Mortenson an aspect of U.S. foreign policy by association or more directly by government initiation of his program, including some of his funding; USAID? Many people work with social justice issues around the world in near anonymity. Is is important to point out that this program steers directly into a waiting media and is represented programmatic goals of educating girls in areas where this would seem to put them in harms way. This does not make sense. It seems more like a recipe for conflict and child endangerment. Are you aware of any disassociated party that has done a followup on how these girls have fared in their communities?


Jim Tarvid May 12, 2011 at 5:47 pm

I did a retrospective on family planning in Pakistan shortly after they joined the Nuclear Club in 1998. I couldn’t get travel approval at the time and State Department people were not even permitted to talk to Pakistani officials. I was constrained to state-side interviews and conversations and weeks in the Thomas Library. I could find little impact of our investment in Family Planning although I could trace huge quantities of condoms to the black market in Kabul. One of the most cost-effective family planning delivery systems in USAID history. I did find one other interesting coincidence. A transfer of $500,000,000 in food aid was followed a few days later by settlement of a $500,000,000 debt for military supplies. This was, of course before Chagai-I.

My point being, Greg’s management and accounting shortcomings matter little in the battle for “hearts and minds”. As you can tell, I love the guy.


Eyenever Sayno May 13, 2011 at 9:11 am

Interesting story and point Jim, but what I got from it was “the ends justifies the means.”

Sorry, I don’t buy that, not for a minute. Especially when the guy’s “management and accounting shortcomings” are really just a smokescreen for out and out theft by conversion, and of one of the worst kinds: Stealing from the very children he purports to care so much about. No matter how endearingly goofy and charmingly disorganinized Mortenson might choose to present himself to the world, I find it wholly unbelieveable that he didn’t know he was promoting his books for his own gain, flying around in private jets and staying in four star accomodations on the charity’s dime.

As for this: “Greg offers an alternative to COIN and night killing raids by special forces which DoD and State find intriguing. That alone would justify the mission.”

It wouldn’t, even if it were true. That being said, the only thing State and DoD find intriguing is the possibility of using Mortenson, and yours and other’s love for the guy, to get a little positive domestic PR, maybe even make it in “Parade,” or “Reader’s Digest,” something they’ve found very hard to come by in these last two wars. As for Mortenson, it’s obviously all about promoting his brand. Almsot humorously, he has no problem getting cozy with DoD while simultaneously playing the government victim card, claiming in his bio to have “endured CIA investigations.” The whole thing is nauseating.


Greg Zaller May 13, 2011 at 8:32 am

“I’m inclined to grant Greg Mortensen and the CAI full literary license to tell his story any way he wants”

The big question which must be asked and answered is, “What are the results?” I believe that those CAI schools that are reported to be closed are in communities already disillusioned with Mortenson’s simplistic marketing formula for peace. Communities in Pakistan are desperate for education as a means to prosperity but Mortenson has handed them a fish (ineffective schools) instead of a fishing pole. These poor girls that are given a Mortenson education in remote villages have nothing they can do with it because their circumstances have not changed. In LWCO we listen first, and give everyone, especially including women, the means to contribute effectively to their communities by earning money, better caring for their families, and solving problems, along with literacy. Women become a resource to be celebrated and honored. Marriage ready students are in such high demand they can negotiate the terms of their marriage. Hope has a foothold.

I so wish I could make this point to the world. This need for heroes and grandiose tales that Mortenson has exploited is the only thing that makes it into the media.


Eyenever Sayno May 13, 2011 at 10:03 am

Greg Z., your final sentence actually explains rather well the attitude expressed in the quote at the top of your post. I think many of us understand the mutual exploitation behind much of the media. Interesting characters and stories drive the ships reader and viewer, while everybody hopes to make some coin out of the alliance. Understanding this, many of us are willing to overlook a guy like Mortenson’s self-promotional deceits up to a point, especially if he’s staying mostly true to his cause. Unfortunately Mortenson’s literary deceits turned out to be just the tip of an unhloy iceberg of theft and personal enrichment, at the expense of women and girls who could really use a helping hand.

Best of luck with LWCO, I really like what I saw on the site:


Get Real May 13, 2011 at 7:58 am

Where to start? This defense of Mortenson is full of holes. You could say it’s one big hole. For example, the assertion that toting around AK-47s is part of the local culture as explanation for why Mortenson’s “captors” gave him an AK-47 to pose with for a photo makes no sense. It’s the only account of a hostage taking in that part of the world in which the captors have given the captive a weapon so they could take a picture. Then there’s the use of shoddy Pakistani book keeping to explain away Mortenson’s misuse of CAI funds to pay for his paid speaking engagements and ads to promote his books. The two are not related. 60 Minutes, Krakaur and now Outside Magazine have thoroughly discredited Mortenson’s tales (which he was telling long before his co-writer “condensed” events, as Mortenson is now saying as explanation for his lies). So it’s unlikely that the U.S. armed forces will keep his books on their reading list. Did Mortenson do good? Yes. Has he swindled donors to CAI? Yes.


Jim Tarvid May 13, 2011 at 10:20 am

The small answer is that most of the information available is anecdotal. There is one dissertation by a former employee of CAI, Genevieve Walsh Chabot -, which is qualitative in nature. It does inform this discussion but contains none of the usual data on enrollment rates, continuation rates, sex ratios etc. For the most part, these schools are “government” schools and my experience is that Pakistanis keep incredibly detailed information.

I like your efforts and wish them success but your website, granted it is relatively new, doesn’t give quantitative data either. Your appraisals, like mine and everybody else’s are subjective. That doesn’t mean they are invalid, but it does mean the error terms are infinite.

My primary field is health and population, not education. In pursuit of population projection estimates, my results are pessimistic compared to the big kids. My projections are based on assumptions about the proximate determinants. Their estimates are based on assumptions that the first order changes in the 90s will persist into the teens and 20s.

I do have data, lots of it, and the second order changes were flattening in the 00s and starting to reverse about 2007. Maybe it’s time we all started trying to quantify our observations.

One practice has kept me out of trouble. I presume my paymasters want me to help the people across the table.

Kindness works


Senge Sering May 13, 2011 at 1:41 pm

“I could live with the inaccuracies and fabrication if that is all that he did… . this man still focused international attention on helping children through education, in a region where help is genuinely needed.” says Pat Coyne

Please visit to learn more about the region where Mortenson started his school projects. We the natives of Gilgit-Baltistan, a region of former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir do have lot of respect for him for providing education to girls in that area. The region has one of the lowest per capita incomes and one of the lowest literacy rates and without support of NGOs like CAI and AKDN, education would be a dream for the majority as more than half of the locals live below the poverty line. Since Pakistan government has failed to provide for the educational needs of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, it is people like Mortenson who became the hope for us


Jack May 13, 2011 at 3:34 pm


Thank you.


wade July 7, 2011 at 10:38 am

Yea right ….Mickey Mouse saves a nation


Andy Cohen May 13, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Wow! What an incredible discussion! This is the kind of thing we need more of. Just phenomenal!


annagrace May 13, 2011 at 3:34 pm

I agree with you Andy. The responses are nuanced and thoughtful and I have read them all. Thanks Andy for posting this article!


Susan Hale Whitmore May 27, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Congratulations, Andy Cohen, for the strong article AND for joining the liveliest discussion I’ve seen so far on this whole brouhaha.

Meanwhile special kudos to Greg Zaller and Jim Tarvid for spurring, encouraging, nay, steering Mr Eyeneversayno to leave his uber-repetitive boilerplate “conversion” posting (seen all over the Web by now) and show himself capable of true discourse on an interesting variety of points. Now I KNOW all things good are possible!

And a special thanks to Snowleopard for explaining the book trade to readers. I would only add a some light concerning the question, “Why does CAI buy GM’s books at retail prices instead of deep discount when giving them away at schools, libraries, and other presentation sites?” The reason: CAI buys them at regular retail outlets so as not to undercut those booksellers in their own or nearby areas. It’s not smart and it’s not nice to buy direct from the publisher when you want the support of a local community. (Hmmm… sounds like relationship building in foreign locales?)

P.S. I’m with Greg Z. on the ways CAI can straighten itself out and get even more done in the future with electronic reporting and the like. And I’m with Jim T. on “As you can tell, I love the guy.”


Julia Bergman May 13, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Greg Mortenson Responds to Allegations by Jon Krakauer:

1. If CAI’s primary mission is to build schools and educate girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan, isn’t public education really about CAI’s fundraising efforts?
CAI has two purposes– as described in the original 1996 certificate of incorporation and in its application for recognition of exemption as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization filed with the Internal Revenue Service– to establish
and support education in remote mountain communities of Central Asia and to educate the public about the importance of these educational activities.
From the beginning, Greg Mortenson’s presentations (educational outreach) have inspired people to support CAI’s mission with time, money and awareness. His presentations and his books help fulfill the stated corporate and charitable purposes of CAI. While it is true that during 2009-2010 a significant amount of CAI’s resources were dedicated to domestic and international educational outreach, the result of that effort makes possible CAI’s ambitious plans overseas for 2011 and beyond.

“CAI plans to establish more than 60 schools in Afghanistan this year,” Mortenson said. “However, in Pakistan, CAI plans to establish about a dozen schools; the emphasis there is not so much on new schools, but to improve the education quality, scholarships, teacher training – human capacity building.

In Afghanistan, we still need new buildings. In many ways our work in Afghanistan at this point resembles where we were 10 to 15 years ago in Pakistan.”

2. Please provide total expenditures broken down in percentages spent on overhead vs. program. Is CAI really spending 59% of earnings on fundraising?
CAI is dedicated to using every dollar as efficiently as possible. In 1996, 100% of donor dollars went to programs, while 0% went to overhead. In 2009, 88% went to programs and 12% to overhead. The average annual percentage CAI has spent on programs throughout its history is 78%. In those figures, the programs category includes money set aside in CAI’s Talim (Pashto for “education”) Fund, a nest egg dedicated and restricted solely for overseas projects. The amount raised and set aside in that fund constitutes about 38% of the total of about $60 million that CAI has raised in the past 15 years and brings total program funding to a level that reflects CAI’s mission and donors’ desires.

With the explosion of support over the past three years, the Talim Fund has grown from $2 million to $20 million, while the number of schools built or significantly supported by CAI increased from 78 to over 170, with plans for more than 70 additional schools in 2011.

3. Every nonprofit must file an annual tax return. According to reports, your nonprofit only filed once in 14 years – is that true?
No. IRS 990 forms filed for every year since CAI’s inception are available on our website,

4. What is your response to allegations that many of the schools you claim to have built do not exist, were built by others, or stand empty?
Every single day, CAI’s work helps to improve the lives of tens of thousands of people, especially girls, in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Throughout the school year (which varies, depending mostly on climate), thousands of students are in classes at CAI schools. Teachers are teaching. And women are meeting at vocational centers, where instructors are providing literacy, health, and myriad other lessons.

At least once a year, a U.S.-based CAI staff or Board member travels to the region to collect documentation, dedicate new schools and check on CAI projects. However, routine checks of the schools are, like the long-term relationships necessary to sustain this type of work, the responsibility of individual in-country project managers in conjunction with local education committees. That includes insuring that education is indeed taking place in these
schools. “In order to function successfully, our first priority is to put the local people in charge,” Mortenson said. “Sometimes that is risky, more risky than some people may be comfortable with. But by empowering the local people and putting them in charge, the results are far more sustainable and lead to a much greater sense of ownership or
pride in the project.”

Recent media reports have alleged that several CAI schools in Baltistan, in northern Pakistan, were either not being used at all or were not receiving funds. Since those reports did not always cite particulars, it is hard to respond with precision except to say that there could be several reasons for that, including:
• Many schools in the remote, mountainous areas close for two months or longer in the winter.
• A disgruntled former manager for programs in Baltistan was not completely honest with Mortenson and

CAI’s Board in recent years about the status of schools for which he was responsible.
“Since 1993, CAI has had 15 primary regional managers running the show or in charge of projects and in only one case, in Baltistan, did that system go awry,” Mortenson said. That case involved a manager who may have,engaged in “a confidence trick.” “Confidence tricks have been around for a long time, since colonial times, including where I grew up in Africa,
where an individual will bend over backwards to help you, refuse to take money for services, befriend you and then after a period of years, begin to test you by committing small infractions to see what your response is,” he said.

“They also make you very dependent on their services as a vital part of the operation.
“One of our great dreams in Baltistan was to set up a hostel in Skardu for students from the outlying regions to continue their education and pursue their dreams. Although the Board approved the original hostel plans, not long after it got started the manager told us he needed more money. Over time this manager said, ‘We have such a great need, we need to make hostel bigger, the price has increased, we need more funding.’ This went on until a
point where CAI discovered he had manipulated the books.

“I trusted him and loved him like a brother. Unfortunately, for the first time in our history CAI wound up on the short end of stick,” he said. “My mistake was that this was the only project CAI has ever done that didn’t have an education committee exercising local control.”

• In one village, the CAI school was closed after more than a decade when locals formed a social welfare organization to help people on numerous fronts. The organization, founded and run by a former CAI student, opened a new school, rendering the original CAI school obsolete.

About the same time as the former Baltistan manager resigned in 2010, some teachers began complaining that they hadn’t been paid. As a result, other CAI workers spent countless hours reconnecting with the communities where that manager had established schools over the past decade. Reinstating those relationships, and trust, takes time.

As for allegations that CAI “claims” schools it did not build, the organization has numerous relationships with communities where schools were built by other entities that were not providing adequate support. Leaders in those communities approached CAI for help to pay teachers and buy school supplies. In some places, CAI also added additional classrooms to existing schools. In such cases, CAI becomes the key supporter of the school, providing money and advice for long-term sustainability. Finally, CAI staff members in the U.S., Pakistan, and Afghanistan have embarked on a comprehensive survey of all schools and programs to insure our information is current and accurate. CAI is also working closely with
officials in the Pakistan and Afghanistan governments to verify the status of all CAI projects.

5. Does CAI pay teachers at CAI schools or are they paid by others and if so, by whom?
In Pakistan, CAI’s regional managers are wired funds for teachers’ salaries, which are then given to the education committees in each village for distribution. In some cases that happens monthly; in more remote areas, the money is distributed by CAI quarterly or semiannually. In addition, some communities charge a small tuition to families that can pay – the equivalent of a couple of U.S. dollars per month or less – and that money is then used to pay additional teachers as the schools grow.

In Afghanistan, CAI helps with construction of the schools, but upon completion, the schools belong to the Afghan government, which is supposed to provide the teachers and pay them.
But in some cases, CAI supplements government funding with additional money for additional teachers. And in the more remote areas, when the government does not make good on its obligation to pay teacher salaries, CAI steps in to pay them and ensure they continue to come to work every day.

6. Please address the allegations that many Board members have resigned.
Over the years, some Board members have resigned due to philosophical and/or managerial differences with other Board members and/or with Greg Mortenson. Since its inception, CAI has had 14 board members, with an average 5.2-year term of service.

7. Also, three Board members, including Greg Mortenson, are too few. Is the organization giving any consideration to beefing up the Board?
Yes, the current CAI Board is in the process of expanding the number of Board members and is reviewing qualifications of potential candidates.

8. How do you defend the fact that of the 11 schools claimed to have been built in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, there were really only three?
CAI has built four schools in Kunar Province and has another five schools under construction, according to its Afghan operations manager, Wakil Karimi. Work on those five has been suspended several times because the ongoing fighting creates a “risky situation.”

“In Kunar, the situation is dangerous and we had to suspend building in some places, pending negotiations with the Taliban,” he said. “Al Qaeda and Taliban, they control roads and just kidnap people for the money. We communicate with Taliban and when they say, ‘you can start your work,’ then we start again.”

Plus, establishing schools in this region is long-term work; three of the four that are now complete took several years from inception to completion. Often a school is established first by providing a teacher, with classes in a tent or rented building.

Meanwhile, CAI staff work with the local education committee to address all community concerns, including those of extremists, and identify land. In some cases, schools were well into this process when negotiations fell apart due to “no land,” or “Taliban not agree,” Karimi said.

The provincial and district education managers have assured CAI they are more than satisfied with CAI’s work in Kunar, as are the communities CAI serves. “Go inside of the village, talk to the local people. Their children are coming to the school. They are the ones who know,” Karimi said.

9. How much of Greg Mortenson’s books were fabricated or embellished?
The contents of Greg Mortenson’s books Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools are based on events that actually happened. Media allegations that Greg did not visit Korphe in 1993 are false; he first visited Korphe in September 1993 after failing to reach the summit of K2 and later built a school there.

And Greg was, in fact, detained and held against his will in 1996, with his passport and money confiscated, although his captors did treat him well, as he accurately described in his book. Greg’s initial rebuttal to some of the allegations can be viewed at

10. Has Greg used funds for private jets unnecessarily?
There are three reasons Greg has used charter planes.
Number one, Greg’s schedule often presents difficult logistical scenarios that are nearly impossible to accomplish with commercial airlines. Generally, he has to fly late at night to accommodate his hectic schedule, which in the past four years put him in an average 126 cities per year, plus international travel and overseas project visits. Number two is his health, which has been in decline for the past 18 months. And number three is security.
Greg has received threats against his life, and commercial travel sometimes presents over-exposure to threatening elements.

Greg began paying his own travel expenses in January 2011.

11. The Board statement that “counsel concluded there is no ‘excess benefit’ – that is, CAI
appropriately receives a greater benefit from Greg’s activities than Greg does himself,” is vague. Please elaborate.
Any time Greg gives a presentation about how he came to dedicate his life to building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan and people are inspired, those people donate to CAI, not Greg personally, in furthering CAI’s mission. In addition, his presentations and his books, although his alone, do help CAI accomplish its stated charitable purposes by educating the public and drawing awareness to the significant needs of that region and the significant
cultural differences between the U.S. and that region.

While Greg has benefitted from this collaboration, CAI has benefited even more.
Greg and the Board initiated a self-imposed analysis and evaluation, with outside advice, of their collaboration in January 2011. The results of the inquiry were presented to the Board on April 13. Based on that assessment and the Board’s longtime confirmation of the effectiveness of its collaboration with Greg, the Board confirmed its intention to continue to refine and address the particulars of their relationship on an ongoing basis.

12. What about the possibility of turning over accountability of running the schools to a local
organization; if there is no organization, then perhaps an organization under the umbrella of CAI?
In Afghanistan, CAI already operates under the auspices of three organizations: CAI; the Marco Polo Foundation, a registered nonprofit that primarily covers central and northern Afghanistan and has schools in Badakhshan (including the Wakhan Corridor and Pamir), Takhar, and Baghlan provinces; and Star of Knowledge, a registered nonprofit that covers Urozgan, Khost, Paktia, Nangarhar, Logar, Wardak, Kunar, Panshjir, Kapisa,
Parvan, and, this year, Bamiyan provinces.

Our Pakistan operations all remain under the auspices of CAI, although they are divided into regions: Baltistan, Gilgit-Hunza, Azad Kashmir, and Punjab. The staff that run the regional operations are all from those areas.


clydene July 9, 2011 at 8:43 am

Why did CAI claim to build 13 schools when they only built 4.
Why did GM spend so little of the Pennies for Peace on Teachers, Schools, Supplies, etc?
Why did he lie about the Taliban kidnapping him? and this is for Daniel Pearl whose wife was pregnant when he was kidnapped and beheaded.


Eyenever Sayno May 14, 2011 at 12:15 am

Julia Bergman posted: “10. Has Greg used funds for private jets unnecessarily?”

Well, that’s a nice attempt at redirection. The real question is “why has CAI been paying millions of dollars for private jets for Mortenson on his book tours at all?” CAI offers three reasons, one is the circular argument that Mortenson’s busy schedule flogging his book on CAI”s dime can’t be met flying commercial, and he’s got to visit more than 150 cities/year to pay for it all… the second justification given for using donated dollars to fly Mortenson around is an outright lie: “Number two is his health, which has been in decline for the past 18 months.” There’s just one little problem: CAI’s Form 990s show that the charity began paying for Mortenson’s private jet charter travel at least as far back as 2008. This is 2011.

It’s also interesting to note the tacit admission of previous wrongdoing that closes CAI’s response to this issue: “Greg began paying his own travel expenses in January 2011.”

In other words, “we had perfectly good reasons to pay out millions of donated dollars to fly Greg Mortenson around like a rock star, perfectly good reasons that is until we got caught.”


Greg Zaller May 16, 2011 at 2:11 pm

I debated responding to Julia Bergman’s post (an ex-board member with her reputation at stake). One big lesson for me from scandal is that it is imperative for us to stick our necks out and challenge malarky in order to prevent these sad tales of deceit from occurring again.

There was nothing new in her post of significance and it was a poor job of spin. None of the essential accusations against CAI and Greg Mortenson have been proven wrong and it is unlikely that they will be. He built his public reputation on lies and more lies. Literally millions of people were let down and a great many of them were children. The money he raised was spent carelessly. It is not a defense to claim his innocence based on what good he has done if he continues to deny his wrong doing. I hope he has the courage to bow his head, apologize, and then move on with his work in an honest and intelligent manner. We all make mistakes.


Julia Bergman May 16, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Tracking Down Mortenson’s Schools In Pakistan

Students at CAI’s Immit Higher Secondary School pose with some of
their school work in April 2011.
May 16, 2011
Special to RFE/RL

IMMIT, Pakistan — Strange but true. Greg Mortenson, the author of
“Three Cups of Tea,” is better known in the United States than in some
of the mountainous areas of Pakistan where he claims to build schools.

But if local people don’t recognize Mortenson’s name, they do know the
name of his charity, the Central Asia Institute (CAI). And a recent
visit to one valley in Pakistan’s remote northwest, near the borders
of Tajikistan and China, suggests that here his schools not only exist
but function normally.

Radio Mashaal sent a reporter to check on some of Mortenson’s schools
after a U.S. television investigative show in April reported his
Montana-based charity is beset by charges of fraud.

CBS News’ “60 Minutes” quoted a private watchdog group as saying that
CAI spends more money on publicity in the United States than on
building schools abroad. The group, which examines U.S. charitable
organizations, also charged that CAI has had only one audited
financial report in its 14 years.

At the same time, “60 Minutes” quoted a former associate of Mortensen
as saying the best-selling author and mountaineer invented much of the
inspirational story he tells to raise funds for building schools in
Central Asia.

Mortenson’s story describes how he was nursed back to health in a
remote Pakistani village after becoming lost while descending K2, the
world’s second-tallest mountain, and how he repaid this kindness by
giving the village its first school. But two porters who accompanied
him on the K2 climb in 1993 told the news show that Mortenson was
never separated from his climbing party as he claims.

The news show also reported that CAI’s tax return for last year listed
141 schools that the charity claimed to have built or supported in
Pakistan and Afghanistan. But “60 Minutes” said that when it looked
into or visited 30 of the schools, it found “some performing well but
roughly one-half were empty, built by someone else, or not receiving
support at all.”

Mortensen has rejected the allegations of fraud, but the scandal has
raised doubts over how many of Mortenson’s schools actually exist. The
schools stretch across northern Pakistan and northeastern Afghanistan,
and many are located in difficult to reach places, so it is hard for
journalists to confirm the truth.

High Praise

Pakistan’s Ishkoman Valley, which we visited, is such a place. To
reach it, one must travel 24 hours by car from Pakistan’s capital,
Islamabad, and up ever-ascending terrain to the northwestern corner of
Gilgit-Baltistan, which itself is part of that vast mountainous region
dubbed the Roof of the World, Trans-Himalaya.

Much of the way is along the famous Karakorum Highway, which follows
the ancient silk route to China, before we branch off at Gilgit to go
farther west to the town of Gahkuch and from there farther north to
the Ishkoman Valley.

There, where three of the world’s most famous mountain ranges meet —
the Himalayas, the Karakorum, and the Hindu Kush — we start to ask

“Are there any schools built by Greg Mortenson here?” we ask a
resident as we enter the hamlet of Immit. The community, home to some
500 families, is supposed to have a CAI-built school.

The resident, Shaukat Ali, gives a blank look. He does not recognize
the name, which clearly sounds foreign to his ears.

We ask, instead, if there is any school built by the Central Asia
Institute. This time the answer, along with an unprompted endorsement
of the CAI’s work, comes pouring out.

“I’ve known about CAI for the past two years, and they set up schools
in different areas and run these schools in a good manner,” Shaukat
Ali offers. “They recruit good teachers and they are doing a good job
in the interest of this region.”

In fact, the school we are looking for is just a little farther along
the road. It is the Immit Higher Secondary School, a seven-room
building made of concrete, with a corrugated roof, and surrounded by a
spacious green lawn.

‘Studying At Their Doorsteps’

Doulat Ali, the head teacher at the secondary school, says the
building was constructed in 2001, the same year as the 9/11 attacks on
the United States. The money was provided by an EU grant through the
Aga Khan Education Service (AKES). But in 2010, the secondary school
was expanded by CAI to include a two-year college, the first in the

The combination of a secondary school and college has revolutionized
education in this remote area. One of the students, Jehan Bibi, who
comes from a village elsewhere in Ishkoman Valley to study here, says
women in particular benefit.

“Our sisters are studying at their doorsteps,” Bibi says. “Previously,
there was no such possibility.”

Many traditional families remain reluctant to send their daughters out
of their own villages for schooling, much less out of the region. The
fact that this college is still geographically within the local
families’ extended network of relatives means women can get permission
to pursue their studies when otherwise it might be denied.

Khairun Nissa, a teacher at the school, says that the most determined
girls tried to study at home while the rest simply stopped studying
after finishing their village school.

“Prior to this [school], almost the majority of students had to sit at
home and study through tutors and then appear for exams at private
schools,” Nissa says. “Now it is altogether a different story.”

According to the principal of the secondary school, Shah Raees Khan,
the CAI remains actively involved with it. He says the charity is
establishing a computer lab in the college and pays the tuition fees
of at least 15 of the students at the college. He says the CAI has
also agreed to pay the school fees of at least 100 students from poor
families to attract them to the school.

Making A ‘Better Future’

Beyond Immit, the villages in Ishkoman Valley become few and farther
apart as the terrain gets steeper and harsher. Some 10 kilometers
north of Immit, we come to the village of Majaweer and spot a
billboard beside the road. The sign identifies a nearby building as a
CAI school and around the building workers are digging a boundary
wall. Inside, a group of male and female teachers is taking tea inside
a staff room.

Majaweer Village School is noticeably empty of students, but the staff
explains that is because the school is currently in recess after
holding exams. But there are plenty of signs the single classroom is
used regularly. The room is carpeted and the walls are hung with
teaching aids divided by discipline: science, arts, music, and

Staff pose in front of the Majaweer school in April

One of the teachers, Zar Wali Shah, says 82 boys and girls study at
the school and that there are at least six teachers. He says the CAI
pays the teachers’ salaries, while the village itself contributed the
land for the school and constructed the building. That follows a
formula the CAI has frequently used in remote areas to engage local
communities in education: the charity provides building materials,
books and teachers’ salaries, while the community matches the deal
with sweat equity.

The school itself is run by a local community association, not the
charity itself. The president of the association, Zardosh, tells us
that the villagers worked five days to build the school.

“We cannot take land with us when we die,” Zardosh says, “so we
donated this [parcel] for a better future for the next generations.”

He adds that when he and the other adult villagers, who are mostly
illiterate, see their children studying, they “think of sacrificing
everything for a better future.”

‘An Angel’

We continue another 15 kilometers up the valley and find another
similar story. In Tishnaloot village, there is another CAI school in
the village center. It, too, is closed following exams and workmen are
busy improving it by building a boundary wall. When it’s in session,
60 students attend, taught by two teachers who are paid by the CAI.

Back in Immit, we meet CAI’s regional representative, Saeedullah Baig,
who is on an inspection tour from Gilgit.

He says that throughout this corner of northwest Pakistan — the
Ghizar district of Gilgit-Baltistan — there are 19 projects either
completed or under way. He also expresses shock at the “60 Minutes”
story that raised doubts about the CAI’s work.

“We do not do much promotion, but you can see for yourself what we
claim to do in any area that is on our list,” Baig says.

He adds that personally, for him, Mortenson is not a human “but an
angel for me and this region.”

Given the difficulty of the terrain, visiting all the schools on
Baig’s list would take weeks or months. But it is not only the news
report that today hangs over the CAI like a cloud. Here in Pakistan, a
national Urdu-language internet daily has reported the charity is in
trouble for reasons similar to those cited by CBS News’ “60 Minutes.”

Doubts Will Remain

The daily “K2,” named for Pakistan’s highest mountain, recently
reported that one of Mortenson’s first local partners has appropriated
some of the CAI’s buildings for his own commercial use.

The newspaper says that Ghulam Mohammad Parvhi has taken over one of
the CAI schools in Skardu district — in the west of the sprawling
Gilgit-Baltistan region — and now charges the students tuition when
previously they received free education. The paper also reported that
in the district capital, Skardu city, he has rented to a university a
dormitory building which CAI constructed to house impoverished

RFE/RL was unable to independently verify the allegations. But they
are in line with charges by the CAI’s critics in the United States
that the charity’s management structure is disorganized and lacks
oversight over its many initiatives. According to “K2,” Parvhi
registered the CAI charity under his own name with the authorities and
so is legally free to do what he wants with the properties.

To get to the truth of such charges will require more trips to the
Roof of the World and months of digging. But if a pattern in
Mortenson’s story seems to emerge from this quick ground check, it is
a pattern of both successes and failings.

Mortenson has unquestionably built highly appreciated new schools in
some of the most inaccessible terrain known to man. To do so, however,
he has had to create a chain of trust, between his charity, its local
partners, and its donors. The same rugged terrain that makes the work
so worthwhile also bedevils it by making oversight exceptionally

Today, if the CAI seems to have trouble overseeing its activities, so
does the public in overseeing the charity. Until journalists — both
in this region and the United States — can piece together a more
complete picture of how well the charity works, the concerns about it
are likely to persist.

written by M. Shah, a Peshawar-based journalist in Pakistan

Comments by: CF from: Montana, US
May 16, 2011 16:52 ReplyThank you for your efforts to ferret out the
real story. It is too easy for programs like “60 Minutes” to throw
questions and doubts out to the public without doing their homework.
Given the terrain, the vastness of the region, the difficulty in
obtaining construction materials, and hiring of qualified teachers, I
am frankly astounded Mr. Mortenson has been able to accomplish all he
has. To build one operational school would be a major challenge, to
build 30 or 50 or 150 is a miracle. I doubt most people realize that
you can’t simply call your local hardware and have materials dropped
at your door like we can in the US. Or that it is so easy to hire a
teacher willing to live in a remote village where electricity is
unreliable, and food and water may not be what you are accustomed to.
No one in their right mind would go to so much effort to establish a
charity like CAI simply to support their own lifestyle. Sure, mistakes
were made in the process. Most likely due to Mr. Mortensons zelous
drive to accomplish so much with so little in such a short time.
I doot know Mr. Mortenson, have never met him, and never finished
reading the entire book. But I do recognize that his detractors are
probably envious, or ill informed as to the hurdles one must face to
even attempt such a task.
Responsible journalism requires one to gather all the facts, sift thru
the personal issues and gossip, and then report the truth.
Thank you for your efforts at responsible journalism.
by: EyeNeverSayNo from: California
May 16, 2011 19:12 ReplyThe real story here isn’t that Mortenson has
been doing some good in bringing education to some folks in some very
remote and challenging regions. Even his harshest critics give
Mortenson credit here, including Krakauer, who’s was careful to point
out that “we’re not talking Bernie Madoff here,” making this whole
article something of a strawman defense.

No, the real story is Mortenons’s conversion of millions of dollars of
CAI’s donated funds into book royalties and appearance fees for

Good journalism would be to read Krakauer’s “Three Cups of Deceit,”
then follow up with the source materials to see if his allegations are
supported in the public record. A good place to start would be CAI’s
lone audited Form 990 tax return, the one from 2009. There one would
find that, by their own admission, nearly three out of every ten
dollars donated to CAI that year was spent directly on the promotion
of Mortenson’s books, much of it on private jet charter travel from
city to city, more than 100/year, where Mortenson’s typically collects
$30,000 per appearance to say a few words about his great works, show
a few slides and, of course, sign books. Millions of donated dollars
have also been spent on print advertising and other promotion of his
books, nearly $2 million in 2009 alone, and yet all of the millions in
book royalties and speaking fees have gone right into Mortenson’s own
pocket, while the charity has been covering his expenses.

Even CAI and Mortenson’s latest defense of his year-long practice of
flying around like a rock star on private jets, paid for with money
donated to help poor women and girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan,
contains a tacit admission of prior wrong doing, closing with this
gem: “Greg began paying his own travel expenses in January 2011.” Of
course there is no word as to whether or not Mortenson plans to
reimburse CAI for the millions of donated dollars he has converted
into book royalties and appearance fees over the years. Now THAT would
be a fine question for a good journalist to ask him sometime.
by: sue gilchrist from: washington state USA
May 16, 2011 19:36 ReplyI am thankful to finally find a fair and true
report of Dr. Greg Mortenson. I have met him both in Seattle, WA and
also at Washington State University. He is an angel, as you report…
We have collected, read, and shared his books (all four, 4,) with as
many people as we could find interested. We have encouraged our local
libraries to buy and promote these life changing books.
As your article reports from the vast and unreachable places in our
world, Greg Mortenson is an angel. THANK YOU for fair journalism.
by: marc from: portland oregon
May 16, 2011 19:57 ReplyLike the other two readers who commented, I do
not doubt that Greg Mortenson did some good work, but what bothers me
most is the 57% rake off that Mortenson’s charity(CAI) is taking from
American donors.
I periodically try to raise money for a Tibetan refugee school in the
Indian Himalayas where I taught a decade ago.
Much of the money is funneled through an American charity, Tibet Fund.
The Tibet Fun takes 7% for administration and fund raising combined
and sends on theremaining 93% for programs.
How many more schools could hav been built, how much more good could
have been if the overhead of CAI could have been kept at a reasonable

“I want to be thoroughly used up before I die”
George Bernard Shaw


Andy Cohen May 16, 2011 at 11:40 pm


Thanks for your updates. As I tried to point out, the truth in this case is so much more complicated than most simple American style “investigations” will show. We don’t understand the landscape–geographical and socio-economical–of the area where the CAI operates, and it makes it difficult to Americans to grasp all of the complex issues that are involved in building ANYTHING with foreign funds in that region.

It’s also hard for Americans to understand that the funding levels at CAI has outpaced their ability to physically build and supply schools. Theoretically they could build 1000 schools, but that’s much easier said than done.

The CAI operates in a way that makes American businesses uncomfortable, but the reality is that it’s the only way to successfully operate in that region. Mortensen and the CAI have had to take a giant leap of faith that the local powers that be will deal in an honest manner, and sadly, as the article you posted points out, that is not always the case. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, Pahrvi is a familiar figure to those who have read the books–he was a pretty shady character from the get-go, so it comes as little surprise that he would commandeer CAI properties for his own gain. Unfortunately that’s the way it goes in Northern Pakistan.

The whole world does not operate to American standards. It doesn’t revolve around the good ‘ol U.S. of A. It’s a concept that us sheltered brats have a difficult time grasping.


EyeNeverSayNo May 17, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Andy Cohen wrote: “The CAI operates in a way that makes American businesses uncomfortable, but the reality is that it’s the only way to successfully operate in that region.”

You’ve got a point Andy. And the water is similarly muddy on the issue of Mortenon’s many apparent fabrications in his books. That’s why the critical focus on Mortenson is best directed toward his and CAI’s finances.

The audited financials from 2009 reveal that the CAI spent $3.9 million building and running schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan that year, and $4.6 million on “domestic outreach and education, lectures and guest appearances throughout the United States” (commonly called “a book tour”), including $1.7 million to directly promote Mortenson’s books with advertising, etc., and another $1.3 million in domestic (private jet) ‘travel’ while Mortenson himself is out flogging his books in more than 100 cities per year, the millions of dollars in royalties from which go directly into his pocket.

It’s a pretty slick way to convert millions of CAI’s donated dollars into millions in book royalties and appearance fees for himself, at least until he got caught. And so it is that Mortenson and the CAI want us all to know that “Greg has been paying for his own travel since January, 2011.”


Greg Zaller May 17, 2011 at 3:29 pm

There is no reason to believe that the cited $3.9 million went toward building and running schools in Pakistan, especially with the corroborated claims of deep corruption. The truth is that there are no credible numbers to base this claim on at this point. has about 4000 students and the annual cost is approximately $20,000 with much of this now earned by the students as part of their schooling. For comparison CAI may have only 5 times more students, but who knows? Millions of dollars, and who knows where it was actually spent? The really important question remains buried even deeper: what was accomplished?


Greg Zaller May 17, 2011 at 7:40 am

It is wrong to assume that America is a benchmark for high standards and that these need to be compromised to operated in other countries. The opposite is the case.

Below is a comment posted elsewhere from a local in Afghanistan. This is not acceptable by any standard. The end does not justify the means because it becomes the means.

By Mahmood, 5-01-11
Dear friends! I was following and reading articles, comments and blogs about recent investigation carried out by “60 Minutes”. I am an Afghan citizen and working in the province of Badakhshan (where Central Asia Institute is active for the last many years). Let me share with readers some of my observations from Badakhshan.

1. There is no doubt, CAI has constructed many schools in Badakhshan and hundreds of thousands of students are benefiting from these schools.

2. The CAI doesn,t seems to an INGO. It has got one small office in Ishkashim district and is headed by a Pakistani guy (sarfraz- an educated person) who was working as a skilled labour in Pakistan and is now heading the organisation in the biggest province of Afghanistan.

3. For the construction of schools in Badakhshan Province , CAI brings all skilled labours from Pakistan without a work permit and valid Afghan visa. They cross to Afghanistan illegally. Greg knows about all these illegal practices but he never tried to stop it.

4. I have visited CAI office in Ishkashim district several times. They don’t have the finance, logistic, procurement, program and administrative teams.The Pakistan person is responsible for everything. He pays to labors less than the market rate and he does,t keep any record for this. According to many reliable sources, he was used to be a poor guy and now have become a millionaire. He is owning many properties in Pakistan. Just recently he has bought a house in Islamabad (at the cost of 200,000 USD)

5. CAI has built relationship with a local police commander in Ishkashim district who is a serial killer and is one the biggest drug smugglers in Badakhshan. CAI has rented his private vehicles for official use in Badakhshan. According to some people, CAI staff members are also involved in drug smuggling

6. I am 100 % agreed with the investigation carried out by “60 Minutes”. Rather I would say it is a tip of the iceberg. I would recommend for a thorough investigation into this matter. You will come across many other hidden stories about corruption. According to the NGO law, all INGOs should submit their detailed financial and narrative reports to Ministry of Economy on a regular basis. CAI has never done this. We have not seen any CAI staff attending coordination meetings in Faizabad Badakhshan.

7. The two books of Greg (three cups of tea, stones into schools) have written on fabricated stories. The projection is more than the real success.Good school buildings will not bring about a change in Badakhshan until you produce good quality teachers – provide students with good quality education. Otherwise, these buildings will not serve the purpose. Some of the constructed buildings are empty and these have been built without needs assessment.

8. Two months back, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle published a fabricated story about CAI activities in Badakhshan: See the link:…. According to this newspaper, CAI was declared the best NGO in Badakhshan by the Provincial Government. In reality, no such ceremony had been happened in Badakhshan. You can reconfirm this with the Governor Office

I would recommend to Obama administration seriously and carry out a comprehensive investigation. The people of America have given a lot of money to CAI but they have the right to know where it has been used and how?



EyeNeverSayNo May 17, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Getting back to the specifics of CAI’s defense of itself…

Julia Bergman posted:

“3. Every nonprofit must file an annual tax return. According to reports, your nonprofit only filed once in 14 years – is that true?

No. IRS 990 forms filed for every year since CAI’s inception are available on our website:

Just like trying to frame the question of Mortenson’s use of private jet aircraft on his book tour, paid for by the charity, as one of necessity rather than propriety (Question #10), this Q&A # 3 is another transparent attempt by the CIA at misdirection. The charge isn’t that the CAI has only filed a single tax return in 14 years, the charge is, and it’s a serious one, that CAI has only filed a single AUDITED tax return in fourteen years.

One AUDITED financial report in 14 years? This is no way to run a charity, or any other business for that matter.

Mortenson has been quoted widely, complaining about a supposed “microscopic focus on a single year’s tax return.” That would be the 2009 Form 990 critics keep referring to… and not so coincidentally, this would be CAI’s only AUDITED tax return. Audits bring out details, and in tax returns the devil is always in the details…. hence the “microscopic focus” on the single audited Form 990.


EyeNeverSayNo May 17, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Mahmood wrote: “Two months back, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle published a fabricated story about CAI activities in Badakhshan… according to this newspaper, CAI was declared the best NGO in Badakhshan by the Provincial Government. In reality, no such ceremony had been happened in Badakhshan.”

Yes, that article was written by the Chronicle’s recently fired Karin Ronnow. While working as a reporter for the Bozeman paper and assigned to cover Mortenson and CAI stories, it turns out Ronnow was also on the CAI payroll, in fact she’s the author of the “Journey of Hope” defense of CAI posted above by Julia Bergman.

As for the charge that this particular story was fabricated, it’s interesting to note that Ronnow’s article has been corrected with an “Editor’s Note,” and most of the story deleted. Here’s the corrected link:

Not surprisingly, Ronnow’s entire story for the Daily Chronicle is still on Mortenson and CAI’s site:

Ronnow’s original January 10, 2011 report includes the following statement:

“Provincial Gov. Baz Mohammad Ahmadi presented the award to a CAI Afghan staff member in the provincial capital on Jan. 4, the worldwide day of literacy, said Greg Mortenson, CAI’s founder and executive director. Before a crowd of more than 1,000 people, provincial leaders declared CAI’s projects “the best, most effective and useful projects of all NGOs in the region,” said Jan Agha Jaheed, who helps direct CAI’s work in Badakhshan and attended the ceremony. ”

All of that above has been deleted from the original article on the Chronicle site, and the editor’s note says the story was edited to correct the fact that it “misidentified the governor.” Okay, sounds like a simple mistake, that is until you look up the name of the current governor, Dr. Shah Waliyullah Adeeb, and find out he took office, replacing the former governor named in the story as having presented the award, two months before this ceremony supposedly took place! That’s a pretty big OOPS! and it supports Mahmood’s contention that Ronnow’s original story in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle was fabricated to support her other employer.


Julia Bergman May 27, 2011 at 1:41 pm
Chris June 4, 2011 at 5:37 am

Boy, the naysayers on here are even more bulldog aggressive than Steve Kroft and the hacks at CBS News!

One commenter brought up a very valid point about Krakauer (sp?). Why haven’t we investigated his claims more thoroughly? And how much do you think his publicist paid for the CBS story? Let’s face it, the bottom line to that “investigative journalism” was less about Mortensen and more about selling JK’s book, “Three Cups of Deceit.” His publicist deserves a lot of credit. But lets face it, Steve Kroft is a hack and “60 Minutes” is what it is, a television show (i.e. entertainment, not journalism).

And while I realize it sounds like I’m shooting the messenger, well, I am. They deserve to be shot. There really isn’t ANYTHING going on in the world more newsworthy than some questionable expenditures by a Montana non-profit???

Why go after Mortensen and try to permanently harm his reputation when he has, in fact, done worlds of good in Central Asia. Has Krakauer done one thing (besides donate to CAI) to make the world a better place? All I know is that he is now getting rich by bashing a New York Times bestseller…talk about jumping on a bandwagon! What has anyone at CBS News done to make the world a better place?

So instead of bashing Mortensen and looking for ways to shut down the CAI, why don’t we look at how we can help girls in the remote parts of the world?

Oh, and Greg Z., you’re just as much of a bandwagon jumper as JK! Stop promoting your LWCO, whatever the heck that is, and start your own dang blog!


Susan Hale Whitmore June 4, 2011 at 10:31 am

Chris ~ Thanks for your entry. Goes to show it’s never too late for affirming the rights of the accused. Carry on!


Wade July 10, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Suzy who are you ?There exists ample evidence this charalatn a liar ! Read the finacials , they don’t require a forensic accountant.”The rights of the accused ” Mortenson was simply asked to acount ,that he refused to answer the most basic inquiries ( Let’s begin with the non existent Taliban and his visit with the corpse of Mother Teresa three years after her death .


Susan Hale Whitmore July 11, 2011 at 6:45 am

Mr. Wade/Story ~ I miss the gentlemanly demeanor you showed us all on Gary Robson’s site. I will go back to read that entry and think good thoughts. Best wishes, Ms Whitmore


Greg Zaller June 4, 2011 at 10:49 am

It’s fortunate that substance absent judgmental comments like this one from Chris above didn’t dominate this blog discussion or it wouldn’t have been so popular or productive.

His approach is probably what silenced the many people that should have spoken out sooner and allowed CAI to correct its course before running off of a cliff . It is important that we understand what happened with CAI for better approaches to emerge.


Selma June 18, 2011 at 3:35 pm

It seems to me that a few bits of dubious and dubiously acquired “facts” from one man with his own agenda (Krakauer) got continually repeated by all branches of media. The same bits. No reporter or columnist ever pursued the story–as is being slightly done here; they only repeated and editorialized on it. (This is how most of journalism works these days. I have other examples.)
Meanwhile, would you prefer -no- schools and education in Pakistan? Regardless of any discrepancies in the actual personal story or any personal use and mismanaging of funds (so what else is new?), it remains a fact that Mortenson faciliated and helped the building and functioning of a number of schools in north Pakistan. He enabled girls to attend these schools for the first time. I am acquainted with 3 American teachers who spent summers at those schools, teaching and doing teacher training. They provided first-hand proof of what Mortenson accomplished. No amount of words by anyone or any media can counteract that substantial truth.


Julia Bergman July 3, 2011 at 3:07 pm

CAI Communiqué (Blog)
Welcome to CAI’s new blog. Beginning today, this is where CAI will post news items and stories about what is happening with the organization both stateside and overseas.

June 28, 2011 – CAI Communiqué Introduction

By way of introduction, I am Karin Ronnow, CAI’s new communications director and editor of this blog. I spent the past 25 years as a newspaper journalist, chasing stories, writing and editing for daily papers in Maine, Georgia and Montana. And since 2007, I have been the writer and editor of CAI’s annual Journey of Hope publication that can be found on the CAI Publications Page.

When “60 Minutes” and Jon Krakauer launched their attacks on CAI and Greg Mortenson on April 17, 2011, the daily newspaper in Bozeman, Montana – where I was the assistant managing editor — told me I had to make a choice: stay with the paper and cut all ties to CAI, or leave. So I left the paper and joined the CAI family. Although this is a new job for me, I am lucky enough to be surrounded by old friends here and overseas. Since I started covering CAI in 2007, I have made nine trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan, collecting stories and documenting the organization’s work promoting education, especially for girls. I have seen so many CAI projects firsthand that I long ago stopped counting. I have also traveled in the US and Europe with Greg on his speaking tour.

Along the way, I have witnessed the difference that this organization makes in the lives of tens of thousands of children every day. Their stories are what inspire me and I intend to share as many of them with you as I can.

But this blog is intended to be more than that. CAI’s goal is to make this an online forum, communications tool and educational resource for Greg Mortenson, CAI staff, CAI supporters and anyone interested in the communities we serve. Be sure to check back often.

Afghan proverb for the day: However tall the mountain is, there’s a road to the top of it.

Greg’s Health Update:
Central Asia Institute supporters have been clamoring for an update on Greg Mortenson’s health. So here’s the latest: Greg had open-heart surgery in early June. As you may have heard or read, while his doctors in Bozeman had diagnosed an atrial septal defect (refer to Executive Director Greg Mortenson Medical Update 05/02/11), otherwise known as a hole in the heart, the problem turned out to be more than that. The doctors found a large aneurism, necessitating a much more serious operation than originally anticipated. But the surgery went well and a week later he was released from the hospital in good condition.

The surgery was a stunning reminder of not only what is possible in modern medicine, but what a toll such massive surgery takes on a body – and soul. There is, quite simply, a lot of healing to be done. It will take weeks, if not months, of recuperation and cardiac rehabilitation. He is healing, slowly but steadily, and we all anxiously await his full recovery. Until then, he remains unavailable for interviews and events.

We are more alike than we are different:

Western Montana has more in common with the remote reaches of northern Pakistan, Afghanistan and southeast Tajikistan than most people realize. First and most obviously, there are the mountains. The peaks in the Himalayas, Hindu Kush, Pamir and Karakoram ranges are much higher than those in the Rocky Mountains. But mountains are mountains.

Then there is the sage, its sweet, clean smell carried along on the mountain winds. There are the dirt roads. And the scree slopes. And the mountain streams. Even magpies – those big, chatty, teasing, black-and-white birds — are as common in the valleys of northern Pakistan as they are in valleys of western Montana.
But it’s not just the landscape, flora and fauna.

As people, we have much in common as well. Mountain people endure long hard winters, herd livestock, grow wheat and potatoes, fish and hunt, and always, always dream of a better future for their children and grandchildren.

Differences exist, too. But the truth is we are more alike than we are different.

Our shared characteristics were reinforced for me during my most recent trip to Pakistan. I spent a month traveling with CAI’s Pakistan project managers, visiting schools and construction sites and drinking many, many cups of tea.

At schools across the valleys of Gilgit-Baltistan, we distributed school supplies and uniforms to students – all paid for with Pennies for Peace funds. We met with teachers and village leaders to discuss what each school needs, and collected requests for more teachers, more classrooms, more desks and more scholarships for higher education. The admiration, concern and prayers for “Dr. Greg” and all CAI staff were overwhelming and heartfelt.

The primary goal of this trip, however, was to survey CAI’s overseas projects – with the aim of eventually visiting every project in the next 12 months or so (except those in areas where foreigners cannot travel). CAI recognizes the importance of these periodic surveys and while overseas managers maintain contact with the schools, make regular visits, and report to CAI in America, the survey is part of CAI’s ongoing monitoring of every single project on its master list.

This spring survey was motivated in part by Greg’s inability to visit projects in person for a few years due to his global outreach efforts and his deteriorating health, concerns about CAI’s project manager in Baltistan (who resigned in 2010), as well as a re-doubling of efforts to provide as much information as possible in response to recent media allegations.

However, making a list and checking it twice sounds simpler than it is. Travel in these areas is time consuming and sometimes dangerous. But with the help of photographer Ellen Jaskol and CAI’s Pakistan staff, we put a big dent in the survey work on this trip. We verified student and teacher numbers at every stop. In addition to having the opportunity to drink tea in villages all over beautiful Gilgit-Baltistan, the best part of this particular journey is that we have crafted a better system to document all CAI projects and account for changes going forward.

Journalists, the good ones anyway, are motivated by a desire to cover a story, collect the facts and make sense of it all for the reader. We are curious by nature, committed to truth and eager to learn – indeed, most journalists learn something new every day, that’s part of what keeps us coming back for more.

And I learned a lot on this trip. Although this was my ninth trip to the region, it was my first time as a CAI employee and not a contracted journalist. My goal was, therefore, different. I saw things through a different lens. And the staff entrusted me with additional information, observations and suggestions.

It has always been the human aspect of the stories behind all of CAI’s work that inspires me. That is the thread that weaves us all together as we strive to promote education in mountain regions that are so much like home — despite being half a world away.

Pakistani proverb for the day: There are two kinds of speeches and two kinds of silences. Speech is either truth or a falsification, and silence is either fruition or heedlessness. If one speaks the truth, his words are better than his silence, but he who invents falsifications, his silence is better than his speech.

Thanks for reading.
-Karin Ronnow

As we develop this feature, please send any comments or questions to


Clydene July 3, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Greg has had months to answer any questions prior to his surgery. He has not. Why have so many employees quit working for CAI.

After viewing the Pennies for Peace program and the 990s I find it hard to believe that he took in Millions and spent less than 100K on the schools supposedly supported by pennies for peace.

He or CAI took credit for building more schools than they did; the schools lay empty with out teachers.

Then there is the whole Taliban issue of his kidnapping.

After all of this how can anyone believe either him or CAI. Too many years of lies.
Although the law suits have dropped CAI, Greg Mortenson is still being sued.

None of the people in our community volunteer center will send him money, and neither will their grand children or children.

Then there is the whole issue of him crossing a glacial river where there was no bridge, climbing mountains where they have absolutely NO RECORD of his “MULTIPLE” climbs.

HE took money and didn’t do what he said he was going to do, and claimed it was because he was so disorganized, but he was organized to take what, about 1 million dollars for expenses for promoting his book from the coffers of CAI and Pennies for Peace and not reimbursing CAI.


Susan Hale Whitmore July 4, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Clydene says, “Greg has had months to answer any questions prior to his surgery.”

Apparently you think that open-heart surgery is best prepared for by staying in the stress (traveling, speaking, planning, negotiating, communicating around the world)
that helped aggravate the original problem (parasite –> hole in the atrium –> hypoxis –> enlargement of hole) and adding new stress (invasive “journalism” raising accusations which then re-echo as Selma describes so well above, triggering endless blah-blah-blah, the publisher’s self-review, at least one legal investigation, and two silly lawsuits.).

EVEN IF 100% of those accusations were 100% true, the heart patient would have to be kept calm and away from new distractions, strengthened through oxygen and nutrition, then placed on antibiotics and other drugs to prevent problems during and after surgery. I’d bet that his surgery was delayed from mid-April to early June precisely because Mr. Mortenson couldn’t bear to walk away from the opportunity to respond in detail.

Similar precautions must be taken after the surgery ~ plus physical therapy and other forms of rehab. It all takes time.

The commenter’s impatience and lack of understanding are not the accused’s problem.
The commenter’s childish regurgitation of vague forms of the original allegations do not make them any truer. I urge Clydene to take a vacation and come back when the reports are ready to read.


gregzaller July 4, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Whitmore’s name appears in the comments to an interview Mortenson gave to Outside Magazine concerning the 60 minutes revelations. In that light it appears disingenuous for her to be putting her focus on why Mortenson can’t speak at this point. What more can a person accused of lying add to the discussion anyway? None of the accusations have been refuted but instead further validated. I agree that we need to use patience but I don’t agree that Clydene’s points should be disregarded based on her belief that someone involved should have made a definitive statement by this time. Tactics of attacking the messenger while ignoring the message give some insight into how Mortenson might have slipped up due to the influence of unquestioning followers such as Whitmore appears to be.

It is unacceptable to give anyone a nod to lie and cheat because of the good they claim to be doing. The end, in fact, does not justify the means. The means are the foundation that the end is built on. CAI was a tower built of many lies and it inevitably toppled. We should learn this lesson.


Susan Hale Whitmore July 7, 2011 at 9:36 am

cf: Clydene on May 11, 4:32pm
cf: Clydene on July 3

1. The commenter has added NO new facts OR ideas in the intervening weeks (unless you count mention of the lawsuits). What then is the benefit of her second comment, Mr. Zaller?

2. The commenter evidences no increased nuance of understanding re the original allegations of April. Instead, everything is as black and white as before. Shouldn’t we encourage people to think rather than regurgitate? That doesn’t require them to change their minds, but it does require an open mind.

3. I chose only the commenter’s first statement to discuss, because it involves the topic I’m most familiar with, thus being able to ADD information. While I had little hope that commenter would accept a peacefully offered opportunity to rethink at least one of her beliefs, I was willing to try. (And the info might be useful to someone else, as well.)

4. Of course I read the Outside – Online interview and yes, I commented on it. At the same time, were I in a position to have advised Mr. Mortenson prior to that interview, I’d’ve said, “STOP! Don’t respond yet. You’re getting at best
85% of the oxygen you’re breathing in, which means your brain isn’t working normally. Calm down, follow doctor’s orders, and have the surgery as soon as possible. Then heal properly. And only THEN formulate your responses.” I’d’ve said the same to ANYONE in his physical condition. Surely you wouldn’t have encouraged someone to take advantage of GM’s impaired state, would you?

cf: “What more can a person accused of lying add to the discussion anyway?”

5. Mr. Zaller, you have finally allowed us to see your true colors: You haven’t actually been “discussing” anything all this time. You’ve simply been defending your original belief that GM is a liar. You masked it with descriptions of experience, morality, and technology ~ but you haven’t “nuanced” an inch since day one. You have my sympathy.

cf: “…unquestioning followers such as Whitmore appears to be.”

6. Follower, yes. Unquestioning, never.

EX: I can’t wait to read Viking’s textual report re the April allegations, not because I believe GM and DOR [you know, the actual author of “3CofT”] will be gloriously acquitted ~ but because I want to know the truth one way or t’other as much as anyone. EX: Same with the MT AG’s report.

Here is an explication that addresses and I hope changes your POV of my POV:

cf: Opionette, Yzzie, “Greg Mortenson: hero or fraud?” June 14… my comment:
My soul is in a little more peace for having read your post.

I have read an average of one article, blog or comment thread per day since April 18th, entering a comment after as many as possible. Depending on the nature of the text, I’ve added either:

>”Thank you for the new information you have provided to this issue,” or
>”Thank you for bringing new questions / ideas to this discussion,” or more frequently (sadly)
>”What happened to ‘innocent until proven guilty’ ??” and
>”You’ve made assumptions, jumped to conclusions, automatically accepted one person’s words over another’s, and clearly not exerted any energy at all to educate yourself on the issue!”

Why this personal campaign? In part because I have come to trust and applaud the work of CAI over the years. In part because I know and love a person who’s known Mr. Mortenson for upwards of 15 years. But MOSTLY because, as you so beautifully put it, “I found the whole episode [on “60 Minutes” etc.] so grotesque: it was treated in absolute terms, which cannot be used when analyzing the human condition. We were asked to make a choice: good or bad, straight or crooked, angel or demon – but nothing in between”

And, I would add, people felt compelled to make the choice RIGHT AWAY, not waiting to learn more, to read the eventual state AG’s report or the Viking textual review, or even for Mr. Mortenson to complete open-heart surgery.

Good work, Yzzie, and many thanks. — shwco


gregzaller July 8, 2011 at 9:04 am

SHW, we should have a frank discussion rather than hurl judgments at each other. I’m not sure what the particular need is for you to attack anyone who doesn’t agree with you, but it has definitely been your MO so far. I also read an article a day on this problem and think about it often, trying to make sense of it. There is plenty to think and talk about now and we don’t need to wait until Mortenson has full oxygen levels and the story has become old lettuce, as his handlers want and you propose. Literally millions of people have been violated by these lies and they should be allowed a chance to speak and process it. Perhaps we can all learn something.

As for me, I started a very very different organization in Pakistan that has a foot print comparable to CAI where we teach that you can only help yourself by helping others. We make heroes out of the poor. You wouldn’t know about it and I don’t care for you to. We don’t take donations because we don’t allow people to buy a piece of it by writing a check. They have to join in. I’ve learn a lot by watching what happened to Mortenson for playing a superhero to collect money and have redoubled my commitment to avoid walking in his footsteps. My organization is transforming with these insights.

As for others, like you, I wish for them to learn that this isn’t about Mortenson at all. It is about a need to have a hero outside ourselves because we fear the one we have inside. This need is so strong in people that they become blind to the truth and will attack anyone who questions their outer projected hero. Certainly this is the case with Mortenson. He could make up any story he wanted and get away with it i.e. he even published about a personal audience he had with Mother Theresa’s corpse three years after her burial and anyone who caught it stayed silent, and he got away with it until now. We all need to discover that we have a version of Greg Mortenson inside of us and he doesn’t need to be a projection on someone else.


clydene July 9, 2011 at 8:46 am

It is pretty black and white…Mortenson lied, misappropriated money and got caught.
Now let the IRS figure it out.


Jim Tarvid July 9, 2011 at 8:57 am

It should be clear by now that we have descended far from a rational discussion into a morass of personal vendettas. I sense a chasm between the values of tender mercy and that of righteous judgement. It is clearly a matter of choosing our friends and lovers. I choose Susan and Greg.

Kindness Works


Julia Bergman July 9, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Illinois woman drops lawsuit against Greg Mortenson and “Three Cups of Tea”
Posted by Kathryn on July 8, 2011 at 6:30pm

Illinois woman drops lawsuit against CAI and Greg Mortenson
CAI passed out bumpersickers at the NEA convention in Chicago which read:

APNewsBreak: Woman drops ‘Three Cups of Tea’ suit
By MATT VOLZ, Associated Press – 2 days ago

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — An Illinois woman has dropped her lawsuit against “Three Cups of Tea” author Greg Mortenson, leaving just one legal claim that millions of people were duped into buying Mortenson’s books and donating to his charity based on lies.
Former teacher Deborah Netter dropped her lawsuit Friday in Illinois federal court. She had sued Mortenson, his co-author and his publisher over claims that she bought the book based on her belief that it contained the truth as to how Mortenson became involved in building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
She cited reports from “60 Minutes” and author Jon Krakauer this spring that alleged Mortenson lied about events in the best-selling book. The reports also questioned whether he financially benefited from the institute and whether his Central Asia Institute built the number of schools it claimed.
Mortenson has denied fabricating stories or profiting from the charity.
Netter’s Chicago attorney, Larry Drury, said Wednesday that Netter voluntarily dropped the case but declined to say why. She was weighing her options, which include joining the first lawsuit filed against Mortenson in Montana, he said.
Mortenson, who is rehabilitating in Montana after open-heart surgery, was not available for comment, family friend and CAI interim director Anne Beyersdorfer said.
“We are relieved that he is relieved of the Illinois action,” Beyersdorfer said.
Montana plaintiffs Michele Reinhart and Dan Donovan are trying to start a class-action lawsuit against Mortenson, co-author David Relin and their publisher, Penguin Group, claiming that if the plaintiffs had known portions of the book were fabricated they would not have given their money to Mortenson and the charity.
Another plaintiff, Jean Price, dropped out of the lawsuit last month.
They are asking a federal judge in Missoula to place all the money from Mortenson book purchases — at least $5 million — into a trust to be used for humanitarian purposes.
“Three Cups of Tea” was released in 2006 and sold more than 3 million copies, helping Mortenson grow the Central Asia Institute by generating more than $50 million in donations.”
***There was an error in the original AP story that said it was Montana Rep. Jean Price and Donovan who were continuing to attempt to sue, but that was an error. Jean Price dropped out because she never bought the book, it is Rep. Michelle Reinhart and Donovan who continue to press the suit.
I have a copy of the lastest amendment to their class action suit and saw the error, called a friend at AP in Bismarck and even though it was 1 a.m. their time, Dale was working and emailed Matt Volz, the AP writer in Bozeman, (who is busy covering the oil spill) but he corrected the story immediately). Goes to show you the professional media does strive for accurracy.
As for Blewett, he had a comment, but if you want to read anything coming out of his pocket, you can Google the story and read his response. He’s not quitting, he hasn’t been paid yet….
———————————————and has political aspirations for his son, the senator from Montana….


Julia Bergman July 9, 2011 at 9:57 pm

July 7, 2011 – Literacy and Liberty
All of us at CAI hope you, dear reader of our new Communiqué, had a safe and happy Fourth of July. Independence Day in the USA underscores the vital roles that teachers, schools and education play in the protection of our freedoms and our constitutional rights. It also reminds us that the acquisition of knowledge must be carefully and universally promoted. This year, those truths were highlighted for us with Karin Ronnow’s reports from the NEA Expo in Chicago.
Pennies and pencils and teachers, oh my

CHICAGO, Ill. — The past few days were all Pennies for Peace (P4P) all the time for Central Asia Institute staff at the National Education Association’s annual convention. For me, the most heartening aspects of representing P4P at the convention were the vocal support, encouragement and, yes, even hugs we got from teachers familiar with P4P and CAI.

Perhaps that’s not surprising to some. After all, the NEA, which represents 3.2 million teacher members, is a longtime supporter of CAI and P4P. In 2009, the association gave Greg Mortenson, CAI’s cofounder, its Mary Hatwood Futrell Award for his work promoting education and equal opportunity for women and girls.

Yet given the unprecedented controversy of the past few months surrounding Greg and CAI, we knew we’d have to answer some tough questions at this year’s conference. And we did. We also heard a few angry remarks and one lecture. But 99 percent of those we met at the NEA convention just wanted to know about Greg’s health post open-heart surgery and about what comes next for P4P and CAI. “I know all about Pennies for Peace,” one teacher told me. “I know all about the controversy. But I love the message of Pennies for Peace and the lessons it teaches. It’s good to see you here. Keep up the good work.”

NEA’s convention, held at McCormick Place just south of downtown on the Lake Michigan shore, was expected to draw about 16,000 teachers this year – including many who have done P4P campaigns. Lynsie Gettel, CAI’s graphics-design coordinator, and I traveled here from CAI’s home office in Bozeman, Mont., and entered the sprawling maze of conference rooms, assembly halls and corridors for the first time on Wednesday, June 29. Having recently returned from visiting CAI schools in remote areas of northern Pakistan, I couldn’t help but be awed, once again, by the vast differences in the way people live on this planet. What a world.

Even with help from CAI support in Illinois, Thursday and Friday were full days for us, nine hours on our feet, passing out information, answering questions and explaining how P4P works. We shared handouts about children who have created their own humanitarian organizations and demonstrated, again, that one person can make a difference in the world. And we talked about the Top 10 Lessons of a P4P campaign, using a great list compiled by folks in Rockford, Ill.

Several Wisconsin teachers who had been involved in the recent clash with their governor spoke of their solidarity with CAI. Many asked, “What can I do to help?” Those teachers seemed particularly enamored with the bumper stickers we passed out, which stated: “IT’S EASIER TO THROW STONES THAN BUILD SCHOOLS.”
One North Carolina teacher who inquired about Greg’s health following his open-heart surgery, commented that she had watched CAI’s rapid growth over the past few years and understood the need for the organization to catch up with itself.

Many of the frequently asked questions at the show have already been answered in the 2011 Spring Journey of Hope, especially the Q&A section, and other topical articles on the website, such as the Outside Magazine article titled “Greg Mortenson Speaks”, CAI Board of Directors Response to “60 Minutes” Questions, and Executive Director Greg Mortenson’s response to “60 Minutes” Questions.

As for Greg’s personal response to other allegations, we explained that Greg’s doctors have given him strict orders to rest and focus on his cardiac rehab. He will address those allegations as soon as he is physically strong enough.

What I can add and did say is drawn from my own experience: I was just overseas in Pakistan. CAI’s projects are real. Schools are open and running. Students are learning. We delivered pencils, notebooks and other school supplies paid for with P4P funds to children in schools across northern Pakistan. Construction has started on school projects in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The need has not abated and neither has our determination to fulfill our promises to our supporters and to the communities with which we partner.

That was enough for all but a handful of people, who weren’t budging from their positions that the media allegations have caused irreversible damage. But they were the minority. By far, the more common response was to wish us well.

One recently retired teacher even teared up when she saw our booth. “I’m just so sorry for the controversy right now,” she said. “You are doing good work. Please keep it up.” But it was two teachers from Georgia who gave me the energy boost I needed midday Friday. After I told them about what it is like to see the schools, to see the faces of the students and know that in 20 years the world will be a different place because of CAI’s efforts, one of them said, “Bless your heart,” and shook my hand. As I reached out to shake the hand of her companion, the woman opened her arms wide and said, “Oh no, honey. You get a hug.”

And with that I was reminded of a lesson Greg gleaned from his early years in Korphe: Listening to others and nurturing personal relationships is key to building bridges and empowering people to think for themselves. It is a lesson that continues to resonate.

Illinois teacher drops claim
Additional good news from Chicago this past weekend includes that teacher Deborah Netter dismissed her claim against CAI co-founder Greg Mortenson, “Three Cups of Tea” co-author David Oliver Relin, and publisher Penguin Group. The plaintiff’s attorney filed the paperwork to dismiss Netter’s class action complaint “without prejudice” on Friday, July 1, 2011.


Clydene July 11, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Everyone will make up their own mind by themselves. The clincher for me that we would never get the straight story out of Mortensen and CAI was the letter that CAI sent us for the donations we made. The letter basically said nothing; it addressed none of the accusations.
Answer this:
How could Mortensen get to Korphe when there was no bridge across a glacial river?
(see what a man working as a guide in Pakistan during the time Mortensen claims he visited Korphe shows how this could not happen)

How did Mortenson get kidnapped by the Taliban years before they were in Pakistan.
(see what Peter Bergen reporter and writer says about Greg Mortensen)

Where did the money go that was suppose to pay for Teachers and Supplies?
Why are the schools empty with no teachers or supplies when CAI has over 20 million dollars in the bank?
Where did the money go?

You can see the IRS filings by Central Asian Institute:
Central Asian Institute is under a Donor Advisory by Charity Navigator:

Several Facts about the lawsuits. US Federal Judge denied Viking/Penguin’s attempt to consolidate the cases to be held in New York. CAI was removed as a defendant, but Greg Mortenson is still being charged for Fraud by the two people in Montana. The IRS findings and the State Attorney General office have not been published.

Many schools have discontinued their Pennies for Peace fund raising and many students have expressed that they feel cheated.

Lastly – Why has no TRUE effort been made by answer these and other questions by CBS 60 Minutes and John Krakauer.

The book by John Krakauer – Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortensen, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way; is now available as a paperback book. Random House, Inc., Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group has published a trade paperback version of the book. At 96 pages it is a quick read.

Before it was only available as a pdf from the Byliner site or as an ebook on Amazon. It is also available as an audiobook on

Greg Mortenson, the bestselling author of Three Cups of Tea, is a man who has built a global reputation as a selfless humanitarian and children’s crusader, and he’s been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. But, as Jon Krakauer demonstrates in this extensively researched and penetrating book, he is not all that he appears to be.

Based on wide-ranging interviews with former employees, board members, and others who have intimate knowledge of Mortenson and his charity, the Central Asia Institute, Three Cups of Deceit uncovers multiple layers of deception behind Mortenson’s public image. Was his crusade really inspired by a desire to repay the kindness of villagers who nursed him back to health when he became lost on his descent down K2? Was he abducted and held for eight days by the Taliban? Has his charity built all of the schools that he has claimed? This book is a passionately argued plea for the truth, and a tragic tale of good intentions gone very wrong.

100% of Jon Krakauer’s proceeds from the sale of Three Cups of Deceit will be donated to the “Stop Girl Trafficking” project at the American Himalayan Foundation (


Clydene July 11, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Fundraising Concerns

This is the legacy that Greg Mortensen leaves on the students who donated to Pennies for Peace.
At least the teachers in this school had the insight to change the focus on their donations. Instead of sending it to a man who paid for Jets to fly him around the country to speak and get money that he never paid back to CAI. Using money donated to a charity for his own purposes.

“It made me feel really cheated,” fifth-grader Kaylee Wallace said of the allegations. “I’ve donated a lot of money over the years.”

Vinland librarian DebbieJo Rock met with each classroom April 19 and 20 to help them understand the situation and hear their feedback.

“It made me feel really cheated,” fifth-grader Kaylee Wallace said of the allegations. “I’ve donated a lot of money over the years.”

Like other students at Vinland, Kaylee began making donations during her first year at the school. In the past three years, Vinland students and the PTSA raised more than $8,000 for the Central Asia Institute.

“I just feel confused, because I don’t know if he’s lying to us or not,” fifth-grader Abbey Singer said. “We hope (Mortenson) does the right thing.”

After the “60 Minutes” episode questioned the authenticity of work reported in “Three Cups of Tea,” Vinland principal Charles McCabe suspended a fundraiser. Breidablik Elementary also suspended its fundraiser and Gordon Elementary changed its benefiting charity to “Quarters for the Quake,” an American Red Cross Japan relief fund.


Clydene July 11, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Julia – Next time you see Greg Mortensen as him how Arin Smith is doing?


Andy Cohen July 11, 2011 at 1:27 pm

As the discussion here begins to degrade, and in reading through some of the more recent responses, it has become clear to me that many of the most vocal critics have never even bothered to read either book, and thus have no idea the difficulties the CAI muddles through to build each school. It is also quite clear that people fail to realize that just because the CAI has $14 million in the bank does not mean that there are $14 million worth of school projects at the ready, just waiting for the first shovel to turn.

Consider that the areas where this group is operating are some of the most remote and primitive in the world. Not only are there no computers to work with, there are no phones. Communication is done by mule train. There are no modern conveniences, such as cell phones, which in this country has become an absolute necessity. If you had read the books you would know that the only means of communication that Mortensen has while in the field is a satellite phone that he tries to use as sparingly as possible due to the expense.

Also consider that there are no set rules and regulations for them to follow. In effect, there is no government presence in the villages where they operate. There is often only a tribal leader or a tribal council of elders. Each village is different, and in each village they face the task of starting from complete scratch to figure out what the rules are and what exactly they can hope to accomplish, if anything. The process can often take several years to earn the trust of the villagers.

The misconception seems to be that the CAI simply shows up in these remote villages with their cast of thousands in tow, complete with building material and equipment to start construction on a new school. In fact the complete opposite is true. And if they did show up with such an attitude they would likely be violently run out of town. Even once they do gain the approval of the local elders to build a school, the CAI often runs up against obscure government officials in Kabul who learn of their efforts and decide to do whatever they can to blockade the construction. They often create new and unheard of permits for the CAI to apply for, or prohibit the sale or transport of material and equipment, usually in an effort to extract a substantial bribe from Mortensen and the CAI, which they refuse to pay.

Americans seem incapable of comprehending that the entire world does not operate in the same manner that we do here in the States. Americans–particularly Conservatives–continue to cling to this notion that “we’re Americans! We’re superior to you, and we know better than you. We’re gonna do things our way, and you’re gonna like it and appreciate it.” Having spent precious little–if any–time outside of the United States, there is no appreciation for different cultures and different ways of life. And there is no appreciation or understanding for the time and effort it takes to build relationships, and the importance those relationships play in any organization’s ability to accomplish their given task, whether that be the CAI or any other group, NGO or otherwise. Without the philosophy of relationship building established by Mortensen, the CAI would have been out of business in Pakistan and Afghanistan long ago. And what Mortensen and the rest of the CAI understand is that we cannot force anyone to do what we want them to do.

No one has been defrauded. The money is presumably still there in the CAI accounts. There are still new school projects being pitched and developed. It’s a long process that does not fit into our society’s demand for instant gratification.

Take a step back and look at the bigger picture. And then think about this: If you had just undergone open heart surgery where your chest had just been cracked open, how capable and eager would you be to step in and deal with a firestorm of nonsense? How would you handle it when your doctors demanded complete rest?


Clydene July 11, 2011 at 2:02 pm

None of the concerns addressed by John Krakauer or CBS 60 Minutes happened over night.

While I feel compassion for Greg Mortensen having open heart surgery. It does not mitigate years of lying. He has had ample chance last fall to meet with CBS and discuss the issue brought forth in their investigation. He has had years to clear up any missunderstanding brought forth by Three Cups of Tea that he could have addressed in Stone to Schools.

Frankly while one would understand that statements made by former employees would be tainted. One of the most remarkable fact is that several people described him setting people against each other. I have seen the same descriptions of this type of behavior in the diagnosis of sociopathy.

While we can be sorry that he required surgery, it does not explain the lack of accounting for money, the illegal use of charitable funds for personal gain. Again, the IRS and the Montana Attorney General will be one of the many agencies who will examine the details or lack there of…


Andy Cohen July 11, 2011 at 2:14 pm

“…..illegal use of charitable funds for personal gain?” Since when is it against the law to use funds to promote the charity itself? This has been covered many times over, and yet you still don’t seem to get it.

By promoting the books, Mortensen and the CAI are directly and overtly promoting the charity. By promoting the charity, they increase donations, which is how the charity functions in the first place: Through charitable donations. The result of the book promotions have been an avalanche of donations into the CAI. And those donations have FAR exceeded whatever funds have been used as promotional expenses.

Without the books and the publicity they’ve achieved the CAI would still be some obscure little charity in Bozeman, Montana, that no one has ever heard of, struggling for a few scraps so that they can build a small handful of schools. Instead they’ve been able to generate financial resources that will fuel their efforts well into the future. Contrary to belief, that’s actually how a charity works.


Clydene July 11, 2011 at 2:32 pm


I have worked on many book signings by authors – Have you?

Not everyone needs to be flown around by private jet. Just so you know in working on IRS reimbursed travel, the standard reimburseable rate is round trip coach, beyond that can be subject to tax. Also CAI funds were used to buy books on Amazon to keep the book in at number 1 and in the top 10. If that is not a use of charity funds, then I don’t know what was.

One previous employee of CAI states that Greg Mortensen (sic) used CAI funds “like a personal ATM.”

You should read what the IRS indicates as use of charitable funds:

Mortensen created an Income Event by taking CAI money for personal gain. That Income Event becomes taxable and will be subject to penalties subject to the auditors of the IRS. The claim that he was so disorganized that he doesn’t have receipts or didn’t know the law won’t fly by them as an explanation.

“The organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests, and no part of a section 501(c)(3) organization’s net earnings may inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.”

Organizations described in section 501(c)(3) are commonly referred to as charitable organizations. Organizations described in section 501(c)(3), other than testing for public safety organizations, are eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions in accordance with Code section 170.

The organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests, and no part of a section 501(c)(3) organization’s net earnings may inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual. If the organization engages in an excess benefit transaction with a person having substantial influence over the organization, an excise tax may be imposed on the person and any organization managers agreeing to the transaction.”


Andy Cohen July 11, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Can’t wait for the government investigations to happen. I’m 100% certain that they’ll determine the expenses to be 100% above board and used for the purposes of promoting and raising funds for the CAI. Has Greg personally profited from these books? Sure, and why shouldn’t he? But the CAI has benefited even more, as evidenced by the $14 million supposedly sitting in their accounts (according to the Bozeman newspaper account some time ago). I seriously doubt that Greg Mortensen has anywhere close to that kind of money in his personal accounts. But he’s done the work and built the charity literally from nothing, and he’s doing all of the publicity work. He’s on the road more days of the year than he’s at home, so why shouldn’t he get paid for the work that he’s done? Why shouldn’t he earn a nice nest egg from the books that he wrote and promoted that oh-by-the-way raised a TON of money for the CAI?

Most of this complaining is just plain sour grapes. Let’s wait and see what any real investigations tell us, if there indeed are any. We’ll see what the lone remaining lawsuit brings. My guess is not much.



Clydene July 11, 2011 at 4:18 pm

I am 100% certain that here will be serious pentalties and fines for Greg Mortensen after the IRS is done with him. If you read Three Cups of Deceit you will read that several accounts have come and left CAI because they don’t want their reputations tainted by the quetionable business practices of Mortensen has done with charity funds. That 14 million that CAI has in the bank will soon be depleted by litigation, fines and penalties.

You obviously don’t know much about CAI and that the money Jean Hoerni created CAI. He contributed the lion’s share, $12,000, to Greg Mortensen’s project to build a school in the remote village of Korphe, and later founded the Central Asia Institute with an endowment of $1 million to continue providing services for them after his death. Hoerni named Greg Mortenson as the first Executive Director of the organization, which continues to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Your lack of knowledge is disturbing at best.

We now know that Greg Mortensen even lied to Jean Hoerni about where the money was going.


Clydene July 11, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Oh yes, and if Greg Mortensen wanted to promote CAI by handing out books at his event he could have purchased them from the publisher at a GREATLY reduced rate, if not free. So why did he buy books from Amazon at Full Price. For his ego….

I wonder who you really are and if you know that your 1099 will need to be disclosed to the IRS, or the third party company that you are using will have to report your income from CAI. It would be very interesting to see how many of the “independent contractors” will be audited along with Greg Mortensen when the IRS if through with them.

If you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas.


Curtis July 29, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Who are you really “Clydene”? Each time you write a negative, you also promote JK’s book.

Is that you JK? Don’t be shy.

I have to thank you for helping slow things down. I believe it may have saved Greg’s life. He was working the usual 24/7 and health concerns were always third or fourth down the list. You’ve done a very good deed and have my thanks.


clydene July 31, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Gosh Curtis, I am honored that you would even believe that I am Jon Krakauer, but I am not. I don’t know what he is doing right now, but I think he working on a new book somewhere.

Next time you see Greg or talk to Julia, ask Greg about Arin Smith?



Susan Hale Whitmore July 11, 2011 at 3:43 pm

cf (above): *snowleopard May 25, 2011 at 11:34 pm*

” Authors ALL pay the expenses for promoting a book and it is a legitimate business expenses, the air fare (how ever you choose to fly) the hotel, the food, is all legally tax deductable.
“When a writer receives an advance on a book, he or she does not see another penny until the publisher has recouped (through sales) the cost of the advance PLUS THE COST OF PROMOTION.
“Every time he gave a speech CAI benefited. The $1.7 million spent in promoting the book resulted in millions of dollars in donations. It does not matter if he accepted the speaking fee or not, he’s devoted his life to the work the charity does, and they are the only people who have the right to bitch, and they are not.”
cf (above): *Susan Hale Whitmore May 27, 2011 at 6:48 pm*”

“And a special thanks to Snowleopard for explaining the book trade to readers. I would only add some light concerning the question, ‘Why does CAI buy GM’s books at retail prices instead of deep discount when giving them away at schools, libraries, and other presentation sites?’ The reason: CAI buys [at least some of ] them at regular retail outlets so as not to undercut those booksellers in their own or nearby areas. It’s not smart and it’s not nice to buy direct from the publisher when you want the support of a local community. (Hmmm… sounds like relationship building in foreign locales?)”


Clydene July 11, 2011 at 3:54 pm

I have a right to bitch as I donated money and bought the book (many copies I gave to friends) under the false pretense that what was written in the books was true.

“he’s devoted his life to the work the charity does”

That is so laughable….what Greg Mortensen has done has fueled his ego…and met with the corpse of Mother Theresa…

Even Jean Hoerni realized that there was something wrong with Greg’s book keeping.

I am not sure why Susan Hale Whitmore is spending so much time supporting a proported liar and a thief. Other than you are working for the Ad Agency that Mortensen hired to clean up his image.

If you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas.


Clydene July 11, 2011 at 4:01 pm

But we all know that Greg Mortensen didn’t buy the books from local book sellers, but from Amazon so he could maintain he standing on their Best Seller List….

Susan Whitmore wrote: “them at regular retail outlets so as not to undercut those booksellers in their own or nearby areas.”

If you are going to tell HALF truths at leaast get the context correct.


gregzaller July 11, 2011 at 8:40 pm

I think this discussion, or argument at this point, is mostly about spin and who is guilt or innocent.

Can we all agree, regardless, that literally millions of people were disappointed, some deeply, and that the damage of broken trust has spilled out to well beyond CAI?

Can we also agree, that if any good is to come of this, people need to learn how to play a larger and more committed role to keep their favorite charities above reproach? I think that if we learn as a result of this episode to ask hard questions and demand real answers some good will come of it. This change is sorely needed everywhere.


Angela Marson July 26, 2011 at 8:17 pm

God has a lot of competition in those who are so quick to judgement. In twenty years the truth will prevail; Mortenson will probably be in prison and tens of thousands of young Pakistani and Afghan women who have been empowered through education thankful for his 18 years effort to help them


Wade July 28, 2011 at 3:06 am

Greg Mortenson will not go to prison,but he will most likely do much soul searching. I would guess he is in considerable agony at this point, confused as to how the train became so far off track. If he excepts responsibity good can still result .We all will have learned a lesson and he will have grown .
We all want to be the hero in our own play. And it is tempting that a ghost writer come along and we allow a bit of fiction . Time to get back on track Greg …No need that you subject yourself to a pubic flogging,but demonstrate your intentions .


Susan Hale Whitmore July 29, 2011 at 8:34 am

Dearest Mr. Wade ~ Your compassion is shining through this time. Be careful! You will soon become someone I am HAPPY to meet along these many threads, instead of the guy I used to DREAD!

No, not being sarcastic at all: You sound so much more comfortable with yourself in this voice. And how’re things going at the ranch? ~ SHW


Julia Bergman July 28, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Greg was profoundly wounded by the aggressive attacks and allegations. He will recover, and the message, the mission and the work will continue.


gregzaller July 28, 2011 at 4:31 pm

“Greg was profoundly wounded by the aggressive attacks and allegations”
Greg was profoundly wounded by aggressive aattacks and allegations because of his dishonesty.

Julia does not mention the literally millions of innocent people who were also wounded by Greg’s dishonesty. Julia also does not acknowledge what the broad effect of mistrust resulting from Greg’s dishonesty will have on all charities.

Julia and CAI also have not provided reliable statistics documenting the positive effect of CAI schools in Pakistan to justify 50 million dollars of donations.

To truly move on, as I hope they will do, Julia. Greg, and CAI should admit their mistakes and the consequences of them.


Curtis July 29, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Let’s do the real math:

“Another thing that really bugs me is that most of the negative commenters have gotten the math very wrong. Daniel you cite the correct ratio, ie cost of fund raising vs amount raised. ‘CAI spent $1.7 million for Mortenson to travel around promoting CAI and his book, and CAI rec…eived $20 million in donations. That’s a pretty good return on investment if you ask me.’

Many (detractors) have failed to look closely enough and cite 59% being spent on fund-raising and outreach vs 41% on the schools. Those amounts were NOT pct of income, they were pct of *expenses* in 2009. Again as Daniel points out, most of the donations for that year were banked into CAI’s endowment fund and the cost of outreach was nowhere near 59% of the donations! This is a very key metric for NP fund raising expenses that so many complainers have gotten all wrong — across many articles i see so many comments complaining that “only 41% of donationed funds are being spent on the schools”. Again, that is totally incorrect, bad math.

They are looking at the wrong numbers to get the important metric of cost of organizational overhead as a pct of donations going to the organization’s mission. This is a very important point!”


gregzaller July 31, 2011 at 9:53 am

A good reply to this post, “let’s do the real math”, can be found by following the link given at the bottom of it to find a wonderful article with a link to The American Institute of Philanthropy article made in May 2010.


Kate O'Hehir May 6, 2012 at 4:59 pm

May 7, 2012

Dust has settled, the lawyers have gone home (penniless for Drury, boo hoo) and GM is back in Afghanistan, doing what he has always done. Right now he is dealing with the Taliban closing down numerous schools in NW Afghanistan. Those are real problems.

He has regained his health, no thanks to anyone but his doctors and family. Might I add that both JK and “60 Minutes” were well aware of GM’s medical condition, and since there was no crime committed, there was no reason to rush the story before he had his scheduled heart surgery.

Unless, the real goal was to destroy the man, by destroying his reputation, his books (and thus his ability to earn an income), which appears to be the case here.

Mortenson and Krakauer had a falling out after Krakauer made his $75,000 donation. He felt that gave him the right to have “input” on how the CAI was run. GM said “No thanks.” So JK waits five years to “out” the problems at CAI?

Why did he not pick up the phone and report the CAI to the IRS? Because he would have received no publicity for that, or his “e-deceit” or launched his buddy’s website.

Morteson is repaying CAI for promotional expenses and back royalties. He did not misuse nor misappropriate CAI funds. Go to if you want real information on where the money went.

Oh, and the AG made sure GM would lose his house by demanding he put a lein on it to the CAI to cover his remaining $497K debt. My question is, for every person who continues to buy the book and then make a donation, the CAI should forgive the “royalty” due because they received greater compensation by the donation.

The AG doesn’t see that as double-dipping because he (running for governor) needed to look like a “tough on crime” guy in a case where there was no crime.


Susan Hale Whitmore May 7, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Go, Kate!

It’s so great to know that GM is well again, is working again, and Tajikistan is now among the beneficiaries thereof.

Also to know that negotiations with the Montana AG are completed and the ever-so-silly “class action” lawsuit is out the window. CAI has a huge endowment and is thus set to carry on its work for years to come. Quiet, productive years, I hope.


Eyenever Sayno December 10, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Interesting now to revisit this discussion, in particular Andy Cohen’s claim of the investigation that he was “100% certain that they’ll determine the expenses to be 100% above board…” And what did the Montana Attorney General find:

1) With regard to Mortenson’s use of chartered private jets to promote his book on his endless book tour the AG found: “The charter flights were paid for through CAI’s credit cards or wire transfer of CAI funds. Over time, these charter costs totaled almost $2 million… At the same time CAI was paying the travel costs, however, many of the event sponsors were paying a separate, additional fee for travel costs… Thus, Mortenson was ‘double dipping.’ His travel expenses were, in many cases, paid twice: by both CAI and event sponsors.”
2) With regard to CAI’s purchases of Mortenson’s books the AG found: “…since 2006 CAI has spent approximately $3.96 million buying copies of the books… purchases were made primarily through online book companies. Mortenson was entitled to purchase books at a discount from the publisher, which would not have generated royalties… Because they were made from retail sellers, CAI’s purchases generated royalties for Mortenson… In addition to the costs of purchasing books, CAI spent approximately $4.93 million since 2006 advertising the books…
3) As for Mortenson’s misuse of CAI funds, the AG found: “(CAI spending and accounting) policies were not effectively implemented and enforced based on evidence of misuse of company accounts by Mortenson, other employees and even some nonemployees, including family members of employees… Mortenson, in particular, consistently failed to comply with either commonly accepted business practices or CAI’s policy manual with respect to documenting expenses charged on CAI’s accounts… Through the years, Mortenson charged substantial personal expenses to CAI. These include expenses for such things as LL Bean clothing, iTunes, luggage, luxurious accommodations, and even vacations…

These and other findings caused the AG to find that Mortenson failed in many important ways to fulfill his corporate officer obligations with regard to Duty of Care and Duty of Loyalty. The AG banned Mortenson from his position as a voting member of CAI’s board and from holding “positions requiring financial oversight.” The AG also ordered Mortenson to “reimburse CAI for the royalties… received in connection with CAI’s purchases to date of 3CT and the Additional Books.” The AG also noted that “potentially all of the royalties earned on the books rightfully belong to the charity…” but that Mortenson had never agreed to turn over all royalties and that CAI had never forced the issue, and despite the AG statement of what was ‘right,’ it would not force Mortenson to do so. The AG ruled: “The total amount Mortenson must pay or contribute to CAI for past royalties, travel expenses, and advertising and promotional costs totals $980,000.”

Mortenson was ordred to liquidate (his private consulting firm’s) bank account and transfer the funds to CAI, in partial satisfaction ofthe debt.” Because mortenson claimed to have insufficient funds to pay his debt, the AG ordered: “Mortenson shall execute a promissory note and a document creating a security interest in his property to secure the balance of his obligation to pay CAI.” In addition the “Attorney General will monitor CAI for three years to assure that it is operating in compliance with the law governing charitable organizations.”

Essentially the MT AG repeated and fund valid all of the charged in Krakauer’s book “Three Cups of Deceit.” Read the AG’s final report for yourself here:


GregZ December 10, 2012 at 6:41 pm

I wonder if Cohen still thinks he is right in spite of common sense all along. All the more sad with the recent suicide of Relin, the author of 3 cups of tea. I wonder what Mortenson did with the money he took in but could not refund.


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