ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The public outing of the CIA station chief here threatened on Monday to deepen the rift between the United States and Pakistan, with U.S. officials saying they believed the disclosure had been made deliberately by Pakistan’s main spy agency.
If true, the leak would be a sign that Pakistan’s powerful security establishment, far from feeling chastened by the killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison city last week, is seeking to demonstrate its leverage over Washington and retaliate for the unilateral U.S. operation.
The two countries are allies but their relationship has been plagued by mistrust over the last 50 years.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday that the United States' relationship with Pakistan is both important and complicated in the aftermath of the U.S led raid that killed Osama bin Laden. (May 9)
Can we trust Pakistan?
Less than six months ago, the identity of the previous CIA station chief in Islamabad was also disclosed in an act that U.S. officials blamed on their counterparts in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI.
The new station chief, who runs one of the largest U.S. intelligence-gathering operations in the world, played an instrumental role in overseeing efforts to confirm bin Laden’s location before last week’s raid.
The discovery of bin Laden’s presence in a Pakistani city was considered a huge embarrassment for Pakistan’s military. The United States viewed it as an opportunity to press Pakistan, the recipient of billions of dollars in annual American aid, to crack down harder on militants. Outrage among Pakistanis over the operation was also seen as a rare chance for the weak civilian government in Islamabad to stake its claim in foreign and security policy, long the domain of the army.
But the nation’s security establishment has reacted with furor, not humility, people familiar with top Pakistani generals’ thinking said Monday. Their response has been two-pronged: to shift blame for the bin Laden episode to the government of President Asif Ali Zardari and, according to American officials, to strike back against U.S. allegations that Pakistani spies were either complicit in sheltering bin Laden or incompetent.
The CIA station chief’s name was first aired by a private Pakistani television station on Friday, and a misspelled version of the name was published the next day in the Nation newspaper, which is considered close to the security establishment. The Washington Post does not typically publish the names of intelligence officers working undercover.
Pakistani intelligence officials could not be reached for comment on the U.S. allegation. American officials acknowledged that they had no hard evidence, but a U.S. official said that the suspicion was “based on past history.” The official indicated that evidence has accumulated in recent months that the ISI was behind the exposure of the station chief last year.
In that instance, the CIA pulled the officer out of Pakistan. But it is not clear whether the agency will do the same now. The prior chief was nearing the end of his assignment in Pakistan when he was recalled to agency headquarters. The current CIA leader in Islamabad has been there only about five months. He was described as a veteran officer known for his blunt manner and extensive operations experience in Russia.