Monday, Dec. 20, 2010
By ROBERT BAER
On Saturday, in answer to a New York Times article, Pakistan's secretive spy agency denied that it had exposed the identity of a senior CIA official in Pakistan, causing him to abruptly leave Pakistan. In a briefing held on background, an official of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) couldn't have made it more categorical: "We absolutely deny this accusation, which is totally unsubstantiated and based on conjecture."
Short of a smoking gun, we'll have to take the Pakistanis' word for it. CIA cover is never perfect, and this wouldn't be the first time that a CIA officer has been forced to leave his post in the middle of the night.
But what can't be dismissed is the suit filed by a Pakistani tribesman in which he accuses the CIA of murdering his brother and his son in a drone attack. According to press reports, none of which have been confirmed by the CIA, it was the appearance of the station chief's name in a filing in this suit, along with unspecified threats, that caused him to be pulled. Regardless, the suit itself could be an ominous sign that the Pakistanis may be coming to the end of their rope in the "war on terror."
Here's why: I have long known that the ISI oversees the judiciary, from the appointment of judges to interfering in cases that harm national security. There are no exceptions. If there were a Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, he'd be behind bars — for life. In other words, it's all but certain that the ISI greenlit the case brought by the tribesman for the death of his brother and son.
The ISI's power in the judiciary hit home for me two years ago. My wife and I were winding our way through the Pakistani court system as part of an adoption. I wondered right from the beginning how often ex-CIA agents had appeared before Pakistan's notoriously conservative judiciary - and what the government would think about us, or if it might even block the adoption. Every lawyer I talked to assured me that the government - the ISI - wouldn't care about a civil case. When I asked whether the ISI intervened in cases touching national security, they only smiled.
In trying to figure out what's happening in Pakistan these days let's not fool ourselves. The ISI is not a rogue agency that does exactly what it wants. It falls squarely under Pakistan's military. The commander and chief controls the budget as well as personnel appointments. At any time, he can remove the ISI's director. And since Pakistan's military is the ultimate executive authority in the country, it would be safe to conclude Pakistan itself permitted the suit against the CIA.
Conceding that I've climbed out on a long speculative limb — but who doesn't when it comes to Pakistan? — we should be wondering just how much purchase we've lost in Pakistan. They want our money, but not our drones. They don't want the United States to fall into the arms of India, but they also do not intend to kowtow to us. They want to be a part of any settlement in Afghanistan, but they won't or can't bring the Taliban under control. But now, with leading elements of the country possibly going after the CIA, whether it's by leaking a name or by fighting it in the courts, we should start wondering whether Pakistan is done with the bargaining on the war on terror.
Baer, a former Middle East CIA field officer, is TIME.com's intelligence columnist and the author of See No Evil and, most recently, The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower
Note: The CIA quickly withdrew its Islamabad station chief from Pakistan on Friday after his identity was revealed in a lawsuit that alleges U.S. responsibility for the wrongful death of civilians as part of its drone operations in the FATA. The station chief had reportedly received death threats from terrorist groups as a result of the lawsuit. The lawyer representing the lawsuit, Shahzad Akbar, said he had received the station chief’s name from local journalists. On Saturday, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) denied accusations made by U.S. officials that the ISI had intentionally exposed the name of the CIA station chief in retaliation for U.S. lawsuits filed last month which named ISI chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha in connection with the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.
Monday, December 20, 2010
EDITORIAL: An unfriendly act
Pakistan is in the midst of yet another controversy. Jonathan Banks, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief in Pakistan, had to flee the country last week after reportedly receiving serious threats to his life. An application against the CIA chief was submitted by a resident of North Waziristan, Karim Khan, to the Secretariat Police Station in Islamabad whereby Mr Khan has alleged that his son and brother were killed in a drone strike and since Mr Banks oversees the drone attacks, he should be held responsible for their deaths. It is now being reported that because of the police’s hesitation to take action against Mr Banks, he was able to leave the country. What remains a mystery though is who could have leaked the name of the CIA chief to the drone victims’ family. According to the New York Times, “The American officials said they strongly suspected that operatives of Pakistan’s powerful spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI], had a hand in revealing the CIA officer’s identity — possibly in retaliation for a civil lawsuit filed in Brooklyn last month implicating the ISI chief [Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha] in the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008.”
Blowing the cover of the CIA chief and his subsequent departure from Pakistan is not a small matter. The Americans will not take it kindly and this would be seen as an unfriendly act by the US’s frontline ally in the war against terror if the ISI did out Mr Banks’ name. Even though the ISI has vehemently denied this allegation by calling it “a slur” that “can create differences between the two organisations [the ISI and CIA]”, it is not unnatural that the finger of suspicion is pointing towards Pakistan’s top spy agency. Mr Banks was reportedly here on a business visa, meaning thereby that he was operating undercover. To find out his identity is no mean task and could not have been done without the help of our intelligence agencies, who are the only ones to have access to such sensitive information. If indeed the ISI exposed the CIA chief in retaliation for the lawsuit filed against the ISI chief in the US, it could have grave repercussions for our country. Complaints against the ISI have been lodged in Pakistani courts over the years yet that has never bothered the spy agency before. It is unclear what prompted the ISI to indulge in this seemingly tit-for-tat move against the Americans. The US is not very happy with Pakistan’s double game vis-à-vis the Taliban in the first place; outing the CIA chief under such circumstances is akin to provocation of a serious nature. There is already immense pressure on Pakistan to launch a military offensive in North Waziristan to take out the Taliban safe havens. Drone attacks have also increased in recent months and the message from the US is loud and clear: if you are not willing to take action against the Taliban, we will.
After the CIA chief debacle, the US might be forced to take some even more drastic action. Given our military establishment’s track record, the possibility of the ISI’s role in this incident cannot be overlooked. If this is true, did the ISI not realise the implications of angering the Americans to an extent that could lead to a stand-off between the superpower and Pakistan? If the ISI is indeed responsible for blowing Mr Banks’ cover, we could be in for a lot of trouble in coming days.
December 17, 2010
New York Times
Pakistani Role Is Suspected in Revealing U.S. Spy’s Name
By MARK MAZZETTI and SALMAN MASOOD
WASHINGTON — The Central Intelligence Agency’s top clandestine officer in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, was removed from the country on Thursday amid an escalating war of recriminations between American and Pakistani spies, with some American officials convinced that the officer’s cover was deliberately blown by Pakistan’s military intelligence agency.
The American spy’s hurried departure is the latest evidence of mounting tensions between two uneasy allies, with the Obama administration’s strategy for ending the war in Afghanistan hinging on the cooperation of Pakistan in the hunt for militants in the mountains that border those two countries. The tensions could intensify in the coming months with the prospect of more American pressure on Pakistan.
As the cloak-and-dagger drama was playing out in Islamabad, 100 miles to the west the C.I.A. was expanding its covert war using armed drones against militants. Since Thursday, C.I.A. missile strikes have killed dozens of suspects in Khyber Agency, a part of the tribal areas in Pakistan that the spy agency had largely spared until now because of its proximity to the sprawling market city of Peshawar.
American officials said the C.I.A. station chief had received a number of death threats since being publicly identified in a legal complaint sent to the Pakistani police this week by the family of victims of earlier drone campaigns.
The American officials said they strongly suspected that operatives of Pakistan’s powerful spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, had a hand in revealing the C.I.A. officer’s identity — possibly in retaliation for a civil lawsuit filed in Brooklyn last month implicating the ISI chief in the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, did not immediately provide details to support their suspicions.
The mistrust between the C.I.A. and ISI, two uneasy but co-dependent allies, could hardly come at a worse time. The Obama administration’s Afghan war strategy depends on greater cooperation from Pakistan to hunt militants in the country’s western mountains, and yet if Pakistan considers Washington’s demands excessive, it could order an end to the C.I.A. drone campaign.
“We will continue to help strengthen Pakistani capacity to root out terrorists,” President Obama said Thursday in a briefing on the war strategy. “Nevertheless, progress has not come fast enough. So we will continue to insist to Pakistani leaders that terrorist safe havens within their borders must be dealt with.”
The job of the C.I.A. station chief in Islamabad is perhaps the spy agency’s most important overseas post, one that requires helping oversee the agency’s covert war and massaging its often testy relationship with the ISI.
That relationship has often frayed in recent years. American officials believe that ISI officers helped plan the deadly July 2008 bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, as well as provided support to Lashkar-e-Taiba militants who carried out the Mumbai attacks later that year.
Michael J. Morell, the C.I.A.’s deputy director, met Thursday with Pakistani officials in Islamabad, but American officials said his visit was not the result of the station chief’s case.
The lawsuit filed in Brooklyn last month, brought by families of American victims of the Mumbai attacks, names the ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, as being complicit in the attacks. The suit asserts that General Pasha and other ISI officers were “purposefully engaged in the direct provision of material support or resources” to the planners of the Mumbai attacks.
A senior Pakistani official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the Pakistani government “believes that the suit in New York does not have a sound legal basis, and is based on conjecture.”
“We did not need to retaliate,” he said. “As far as the government of Pakistan and the ISI are concerned, we look forward to working with the Americans in securing the world from transnational threats, especially the shared threat of terrorism.”
The legal complaint in Pakistan that identified the station chief was filed Monday over drone attacks that killed at least four Pakistanis. The complaint sought police help in keeping the station chief in the country until a lawsuit could be filed. The C.I.A.’s decision to remove the station chief from Islamabad was first reported Friday morning by The Associated Press.
The C.I.A. officer’s name was revealed last month in a news conference by Mirza Shahzad Akbar, the lawyer who filed the complaint this week.
Soon afterward, the name began appearing on a number of Pakistani Web sites generally believed to have a close association with the ISI. One Web site mentioned the C.I.A. officer on Dec. 14 and asked readers to track down pictures of him.
The New York Times generally does not identify American intelligence operatives working undercover.
Mr. Akbar, the lawyer who brought the case against the C.I.A., said it would continue despite the station chief’s absence. He is representing Kareem Khan, a resident of North Waziristan who said that his son and brother were killed in a drone strike.
A vast majority of C.I.A. drone strikes in the tribal areas have occurred in North Waziristan. Mr. Khan is seeking $500 million in compensation, and accusing the C.I.A. officer of running a clandestine spying operation out of the United States Embassy in Islamabad.
“My brother and son were innocent,” Mr. Khan said in a recent interview. “There were no Taliban hiding in my house.”
Western and Pakistani intelligence officials said, however, that the drone attack also killed Haji Omer, a senior commander allied with the Haqqani militant network and Al Qaeda.
Mr. Akbar said that he did not believe that the station chief had been removed from Islamabad for his security. “Obviously, his name had come out in the open, and maybe he feared police action or an action by the Supreme Court,” Mr. Akbar said in an interview.
American officials disagreed. The threats to the station chief “were of such a serious nature that it would be imprudent not to act,” according to a United States intelligence official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
George Little, a C.I.A. spokesman, would not confirm that the station chief had to leave Pakistan, but did say that “station chiefs routinely encounter major risk as they work to keep America safe,” and that “their security is obviously a top priority for the C.I.A., especially when there’s an imminent threat.”
Meanwhile, the C.I.A. has continued to pummel parts of the tribal areas with missiles. On Thursday, a C.I.A. drone launched a strike in the Tirah Valley of the Khyber Agency, where Pakistani militants are believed to have fled to escape military operations in other parts of the tribal belt. Three more strikes followed on Friday, a Pakistani government official said, killing dozens of militant suspects.
Attacks in Khyber are uncommon. Pakistani officials have tried to dissuade the Americans from attacking Khyber and Mohmand Agency, fearing that strikes in those areas could fuel violence in Peshawar. The Khyber Agency is home to Lashkar-e-Islami, a militant organization sometimes allied with the Pakistani Taliban.
Discussing the conclusions of the latest review of the Afghan war strategy, Obama administration officials said this week that the United States would be more aggressive in going after militants in the tribal areas — with or without Pakistan’s help.