CIA, Pakistan look to repair widening rift

April 12, 2011

The CIA has agreed to reveal more about its operatives and their activities in Pakistan, and pledged expanded cooperation on drone strikes, in an effort to repair a widening rift between two counterterrorism allies, U.S. and Pakistani officials said.

But U.S. officials insisted that there was no plan to suspend or restrict the CIA’s drone campaign, and that the agency has not been asked to pull any of its employees out of Pakistan.

The modest CIA concessions come at a time when the agency and its Pakistani counterpart seem increasingly at odds over the scale and direction of the covert war against al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal belt.

The frayed relationship was the focus of a nearly four-hour meeting Monday at CIA headquarters between agency director Leon E. Panetta and Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate.

Although both sides cited progress, there were also indications that major points of disagreement remain unresolved. In particular, officials provided conflicting accounts of whether the CIA’s Predator program would face new constraints.

A senior Pakistani official said the drone campaign “is frozen for the moment” until the two sides agree on new rules that would reduce the number of CIA missile strikes.

Most of those killed over the past year have been “just foot soldiers,” the Pakistani official said. He also accused the CIA of inflating the importance of targets to justify the strikes — of saying, for example, “he was an expert on bomb-making, he was the IT brain.”

But asked whether Pasha had formally requested a halt, the official said, “not in those words.”

U.S. officials said that aside from pledging to give Pakistan greater visibility into the decisions behind drone strikes, there are no new restrictions on the CIA’s ability to fire. “Panetta has an obligation to protect the American people, and he isn’t going to call an end to any operations that support that objective,” said a U.S. official briefed on the meeting between the two spy chiefs.

The official also dismissed reports that Pasha had demanded a reduction in the number of CIA officers deployed to Pakistan, saying, “That did not come up.”

The agency’s willingness to disclose the names and assignments of more of its operatives is designed to quell Pakistani anger that erupted after Raymond Davis, an agency security contractor, fatally shot two Pakistani men in Lahore.

Under the new terms, the agency is expected to provide information on contractors in the country and on some — but not all — of the staff officers who serve undercover as part of the CIA’s clandestine service.

The Davis case prompted a crackdown by Pakistani authorities who were convinced that Davis was part of a broader contingent of contractors working for the CIA on operations aimed at gathering intelligence on the country’s nuclear program and ties to militant groups.

In the northwestern city of Peshawar, security officials said they had recently stopped and questioned more than 20 Americans as part of a new effort to determine their identity and purpose in the country.

Outrage over the Davis case was compounded when the CIA launched a drone strike that inflicted heavy casualties in North Waziristan on March 17, one day after Pakistan reluctantly allowed Davis to go free.

“We did the miracle of getting Mr. Davis released and the next morning we get the token of gratitude,” the Pakistani official said, adding that some of those killed were “helping the security forces” of Pakistan.

The New America Foundation, an independent organization that tracks the drone campaign, estimates that the attack killed at least 11 militants and civilians. U.S. officials insist that no civilians were killed.

Correspondent Pamela Constable in Kabul contributed to this report.

Greg Miller covers the intelligence beat for The Washington Post.
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