Pakistan’s detention of suspected CIA informants stems from Bin Laden raid frustrations, analysts say
The detention of Pakistanis suspected of supplying information to the CIA in advance of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden reflects the deep embarrassment within their country’s military and intelligence circles over the unilateral U.S. operation, analysts said Wednesday.
Pakistan’s military has faced intense domestic criticism in recent weeks from lawmakers and commentators over its failure to detect the secret helicopter-borne U.S. commando team that slipped into the military city of Abbottabad on May 2 and killed the Al Qaeda leader. The country’s confidence in the military was further eroded by insurgents’ brazen attack on a naval base in Karachi three weeks later and the shooting last week of an unarmed man by Pakistani rangers.
The detentions, first reported by the New York Times late Tuesday, illustrate the resentment Pakistan’s military feels toward the U.S. for carrying out the Bin Laden mission without notifying or involving Islamabad, experts say.
“Pakistan’s intelligence agencies and the army are very much annoyed because of the unilateral action to get Bin Laden,” Lahore-based security analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi said. “Think of this from the point of view of the Pakistani army, which has never faced such embarrassment before. The army finds itself in a very difficult situation domestically, and it’s that domestic context that is influencing all these decisions.”
U.S. intelligence officials in Washington were tight-lipped Wednesday about the arrests, with the CIA declining to comment.
At least one CIA informant, a doctor, was among those detained, said a U.S. official who receives regular intelligence briefings but was not authorized to speak publicly. The official said the informant had refused a U.S. offer to move him out of Pakistan for his protection after the Bin Laden raid. The official declined to say what role the doctor played in helping the CIA.
It’s not unusual for governments to file criminal charges against citizens who help a foreign intelligence service, even if both nations agree the cause is just. Swiss prosecutors, for example, considered criminal charges against a Swiss family that received millions of dollars to help the CIA bring down a nuclear smuggling ring led by A.Q. Khan, the father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb.
And the U.S. prosecuted Navy intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard for spying for Israel, one of America’s closest allies. Pollard was sentenced to life in prison in 1987.
The detentions in Pakistan were reportedly made by the country’s primary intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence. A Pakistani intelligence official refused to comment on the move. Army spokesman Brig. Azmat Ali said 30 to 40 people had been detained over the last six weeks by authorities investigating the raid, but he said he didn’t know whether any of them were suspected of being CIA informants.
Ali said the detainees included people who lived near the compound, but he said he could not confirm a report by the Associated Press that one of the men was the owner of a safe house used by the CIA to monitor the site before the raid. He said no one had been charged so far.
“The investigation will decide whether they were innocent or not, what they were doing,” Ali said. “Whether anything criminal was done — that has yet to be clarified.”
The detentions point up the widening rift between the U.S. and Pakistan, and in particular their respective intelligence agencies. Though the countries ostensibly are allies in fighting terrorism, each harbors a deep mistrust of the other. Pakistan has lashed out at the U.S. for what it perceives as gross violations of its sovereignty, citing the Bin Laden raid as well as the Obama administration’s reliance on drone missile strikes against Al Qaeda and Taliban militants hiding out in tribal lands along the Afghan border.
The U.S., meanwhile, continues to criticize the Pakistanis as selective in battling militants — pursuing those who threaten Pakistan while maintaining ties with groups that view the West and India as their principal targets.
The latest case of possible collusion between militants and elements of Pakistan’s security forces involved an attempt to capture or kill members of the Haqqani militant network at two bomb-making factories in Pakistani territory. The operation was thwarted because the suspects apparently had been tipped off. U.S. officials gave their Pakistani intelligence counterparts the location of the facilities, but the suspects were gone by the time Pakistani troops arrived.
“There are suspicions and there are questions, but I think there was clearly disappointment on our part,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told the Associated Press.
Pakistan’s apparent reluctance to pursue militants who target the West has led to more calls in Congress to place restrictions on billions of dollars in U.S. military and economic aid.
In a speech Tuesday before the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, lambasted Pakistan’s degree of cooperation since the Bin Laden raid. He said Congress should place restrictions on the $3 billion the U.S. gives Pakistan each year in military and civilian aid.
Rogers said he believed that elements of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services “provided some level of assistance to Osama bin Laden.”
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, said he could not confirm the arrests but added, “Why are they spending money and effort attempting to locate people who were helping to fight Al Qaeda, when Al Qaeda is an enemy of theirs?”
The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would give Congress authority to review the administration’s outline for how hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for Pakistan would be spent and ultimately to decide whether the money should be handed over.
Such restrictions, however, would only worsen the already tenuous U.S.-Pakistani partnership, said security analyst Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani lieutenant general.
“It would only push Pakistanis to distance themselves further from the Americans,” he said. “Cutting off aid is not just about the money — it’s about the attitude of trying to punish Pakistan rather than coming to an understanding.”
Rodriguez reported from Islamabad and Dilanian from Washington.