CIA Agent In Islamabad Leaves After His Cover Blown
WASHINGTON: The Central Intelligence Agency’s top clandestine officer in Islamabad was pulled 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 CIA officer hastily left Pakistan on the same day that an Obama administration review of the Afghanistan war concluded that the war could not be won without greater cooperation from Islamabad in rooting out militants in Pakistan’s western mountains.
On Thursday and Friday, the United States appeared to make good on promises to expand its own efforts to attack the militants, with drone strikes hitting Khyber agency in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas. Most drone strikes this year have targeted North Waziristan, and attacks on Khyber in recent years have been rare. Pakistani government officials said at least 26 militants were killed in the most recent attacks.
The outing of the CIA station chief is tied to the spy agency’s campaign of drone strikes, which are very unpopular in Pakistan, although the government has given its tacit approval for them.
American officials said that the CIA station chief had received a number of death threats after he was named publicly in a legal complaint sent to Pakistani police this week by the family of victims of an earlier drone strike.
The officials said there is strong suspicion that operatives of Pakistan’s powerful spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, 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 in the Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008.
The American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, did not immediately provide details to support their suspicions.
A senior Pakistani official, also speaking on 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.”
“As far as the Government of Pakistan and the ISI are concerned,” he said, “we look forward to working with the Americans in securing the world from transnational threats, especially the shared threat of terrorism.”
The Associated Press was the first to report Friday that the station chief had left the country.
The intensifying mistrust between the CIA and ISI, two uneasy but co-dependent allies, could hardly come at a worse time. The Obama administration relies on Pakistan’s support for the armed drone program, which this year has launched a record number of strikes in North Waziristan against terror suspects.
“We will continue to help strengthen Pakistani capacity to root out terrorists,” President Obama said on Thursday. “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.”
Michael J. Morell, the CIA’s deputy director, met with Pakistani officials in Islamabad on Thursday, but American officials said his visit was not the result of the station chief’s case.
The relationship between the spy services 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, as well as provided support to Lashkar-e-Taiba militants who carried out the Mumbai attacks later that year.
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 terror attacks.
The legal complaint in Pakistan that named the CIA station chief, who was working undercover and whose name is classified, was filed on Monday over an attack late last year 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 agent’s name had already been revealed in a news conference last month by Mirza Shahzad Akbar, the lawyer who filed the complaint this week, and the name had been reported in local media.
Akbar said in an interview that he did not believe security was the reason for the CIA agent’s leaving. “Obviously, his name had come out in the open and maybe he feared police action or an action by the Supreme Court,” Akbar said.