Saturday, December 18, 2010

Top U.S. Spy Leaves Pakistan After His Name Is Revealed

By MARK MAZZETTI and SALMAN MASOOD

Published: December 17, 2010

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 C.I.A. 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.
American officials said that the C.I.A. 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 the spy agency’s campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
But 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 C.I.A. officer’s identity — possibly in retaliation for a civil lawsuit filed in Brooklyn last month implicating the I.S.I. 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 I.S.I. 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 intensifying mistrust between the C.I.A. and I.S.I., 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 C.I.A.’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 I.S.I. 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 I.S.I. chief, Lt Gen.Ahmed Shuja Pasha, as being complicit in the terror attacks.
The legal complaint that named the station chief, who was working undercover and whose name is classified, was filed on Monday over attacks that killed at least two 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.
Mr. Akbar said in an interview that he did not believe security was the reason for the C.I.A. 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,” Mr. Akbar said. The breach of security comes as attacks attributed to American drones in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas continued to intensify, with three strikes on Friday killing at least 26 militants, according to civilian and intelligence officials in Khyber and a local tribesmen.
But the threats against the station chief “were of such a serious nature that it would be imprudent not to act,” according to one American intelligence official who spoke on 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.”
Mr. Akbar, who said the case would continue despite the station chief’s absence, is representing Kareem Khan, a resident of North Waziristan who claimed that his son and brother were killed in a drone strike. The complaint also named Leon Panetta, the agency director, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
Mr. Khan, a resident of Mir Ali in North Waziristan, which has often been a target of drone strikes, is seeking $500 million as compensation for the deaths, accusing the C.I.A. officer of running a clandestine spying operation out of the United States embassy in Islamabad. He also alleged that the C.I.A. officer was in the country on a business passport.
“My brother and son were innocent,” Mr. Khan had said in a recent interview. “There were no Taliban hiding in my house.”
For several years, drone attacks have been a regular element of American tactics to counter militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas, but the number of such strikes has increased markedly this year.
Two British converts to Islam appeared to be among many killed in drone attacks in recent days, officials in North Waziristan said on Friday.
Two officials, a senior civilian Pakistani official based in Peshawar and a security official, who both spoke in return for anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters, said the Britons were believed to have assumed Islamic names — Abu Bakar, said to be his late 40s, and Mansoor in his mid-20s — after their conversion to Islam in Britain a few years ago.
The two Britons are believed to have traveled to North Waziristan a year ago to join Al Qaeda, the officials said, and died when a missile struck the vehicle in which they were traveling along with two local militants who were also killed.
The officials said the vehicle seemed to have been electronically tracked as it traveled from Afghanistan. The attacks took places in the Dattkhel area, well inside Pakistan.
The British Foreign Office said diplomats were aware of the reports and were trying to confirm them.
The report was the second in recent months suggesting the presence of some foreigners among militants fighting American forces in the border area. In July, American forces in Afghanistan detained a German citizen, Ahmed Sidiqi, 36, said to have ties to the men who helped plot the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Then in October, Pakistani officials said that several German citizens were killed in a drone strike in Pakistan.
The attack earlier this week was followed on Thursday by a drone strike in the Terah valley in the Khyber region along the Afghan border where Pakistani militants have fled to escape military operations in the Swat, Khyber, Orakzai and South Waziristan tribal regions.
In three more strikes in the same area on Friday, a government official said 26 militants were killed, the fourth attack in the area two days.
Almost all American drone attacks this year have been in the North Waziristan tribal region, a known sanctuary for Al Qaeda and Taliban militants.
The attacks in Khyber are uncommon. The area is home to Lashkar-e-Islami, a militant organization sometimes allied with the Pakistani Taliban, but which has often clashed with other groups.
As it published its year-end review of its Afghan war strategy on Thursday, the Obama administration indicated that it planned to step up attacks on Al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents in the area.
That would mean using Predator and Reaper drones in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and possibly carrying out Special Forces operations along the border, officials indicated.
Mark Mazzetti reported from Washington and Salman Masood from Islamabad, Pakistan. Ismail Khan contributed reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan, Alan Cowell from Paris, and J. David Goodman from New York.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 17, 2010
An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the actions of a lawyer representing a Pakistani man over deaths allegedly connected with a drone attack. The lawyer filed a complaint with police in Islamabad on Monday and had threatened to file a lawsuit last month; he has not yet filed the suit.

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