The U.S. citizen who shot to death two motorcyclists in the eastern city of Lahore last month works with the CIA, Pakistani and U.S. officials said Monday — a revelation that could further aggravate anti-American sentiment in the nuclear-armed nation and complicate Washington’s efforts to secure his release.
Pakistani authorities said they learned of Raymond Davis’ links to the CIA after his arrest on charges that he murdered two Pakistani men he said were trying to rob him at gunpoint, according to a senior Pakistani intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to publicly discuss the case.
Until Monday, U.S. officials in Pakistan and Washington had fended off questions about Davis’ role in Pakistan, saying only that he was a member of the “technical and administrative staff” at the embassy in Islamabad, the capital, and therefore was entitled to diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention of 1961.
After the Pakistani statements Monday, U.S. officials provided some information about Davis’ work in Pakistan. A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, described Davis, 36, a former member of the Army Special Forces, as a contractor with the CIA.
A second U.S. official also confirmed that Davis was a CIA contractor, and said Davis provided security for CIA officials in Pakistan. Davis, who was authorized to carry a weapon in Pakistan, provided protection for officers who, for example, were going to meetings or traveling to the airport, the second official said.
A U.S. official in Islamabad emphasized that Davis should receive protection from prosecution because he “was designated by our government as a member of the embassy’s technical and administrative staff. That’s all that matters.”
Worried about the potential for large-scale unrest that could erupt if Davis is released, Pakistani authorities have avoided making any definitive decisions on the claim of immunity and have put responsibility for the American’s fate in the hands of the country’s courts. Davis has been jailed since the Jan. 27 shootings in Pakistan’s second-largest city, which occurred at a busy intersection.
The case has created rifts within the country’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party, further weakening its already tenuous hold on governance of a country racked by militancy and a shattered economy. Party stalwart Shah Mehmood Qureshi lost his post as foreign minister after insisting that Davis could not legally be granted immunity, a stance that rankled top party leaders. The Lahore High Court wants the government to make a final determination on the immunity claim and report its findings by March 14.
The disclosure that Davis works with the CIA is likely to make it more difficult for the Pakistani government to justify his release, given the public’s preoccupation with conspiracy theories about trigger-happy CIA agents and contractors with the American security firm formerly known as Blackwater roaming the streets.
It may also complicate relations between the CIA and Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Cooperation between the two agencies includes intelligence sharing that supports Washington’s drone missile campaign against Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas along the Afghan border.
Reports of Davis’ ties with the CIA first surfaced Sunday in the Guardian, a British newspaper, although the Pakistani media from the start have been rife with speculation that he was a spy. Much of that speculation has been fueled by items found in Davis’ Honda Civic after his arrest: a Glock 9-millimeter handgun, 75 rounds of ammunition, a global positioning system device, bolt cutters, a survival kit and a satellite phone. When police looked through the digital camera found in Davis’ car, they discovered photos of Pakistani government installations near the Indian border.
At the time of the incident, Davis had been working out of the U.S. Consulate in Lahore. He says he fired in self-defense after the two men, Faizan Haider and Fahim Shamshad, pulled up on a motorcycle and one of them drew a gun. Davis fired several shots through his car’s windshield, then got out of the car and continued to fire, witnesses said. A police report on the incident says Haider was shot three times in the front of his body and twice in the back. Shamshad was also shot five times, twice in the back. Pakistani police officials have said Haider and Shamshad belonged to a local robbery gang and were carrying stolen cellphones.
Police believe the shootings were unjustified because, though both men had loaded guns, neither of their pistols contained a bullet in the chamber. Also, both men had been shot in the back.
“If the accused really acted in self-defense, he could have fired one or two shots to the lower limbs of the victims, particularly since he is an expert in using weapons,” says a police investigation report recommending that Davis be charged with murder.
Pakistani police also had been seeking the driver of a consulate SUV that struck and killed a bystander while rushing to the scene of the shooting. Pakistani media have recently reported that the driver, a U.S. Embassy employee, is now back in the U.S.
Davis is being held in Lahore’s 4,000-inmate Kot Lakhpat jail, where most of the prisoners are militants, a U.S. official said. He has been moved to a separate part of the compound, where guards have been barred from carrying firearms for fear that one of them may kill Davis, the official said. Dogs are being used to either smell or taste Davis’ food to ensure it hasn’t been poisoned, the official added.
“The Pakistanis have a solemn obligation to protect Ray Davis,” the official said. “If they’re not going to release him — which they certainly should, based on his diplomatic immunity — surely they can find a safer place for him.”
According to a senior Obama administration official, the U.S. notified Pakistan that Davis was a member of its staff there on Jan. 20, 2010, and he therefore qualified for diplomatic immunity. After that, Pakistan’s only recourse would have been to declare him “unacceptable” and ask him to leave, the American official said.
The case has put immense strain on a diplomatic relationship already marked by deep mutual mistrust. Members of Congress recently threatened to suspend military and economic aid to Pakistan over the crisis, though in recent days, Washington has struck a more conciliatory tone and stressed the importance of maintaining strong ties with Islamabad. The U.S. views Pakistan as a key ally in the war against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan and in the battle against Al Qaeda militants and their allies in Pakistan’s volatile northwest.
Rodriguez reported from Islamabad and Dilanian from Washington.