Top CIA spy in Pakistan pulled amid threats after public accusation over attack
Saturday, December 18, 2010; 6:44 AM
U.S. officials said Friday they are increasingly convinced that Pakistan's intelligence service deliberately exposed the identity of the CIA's top spy in Pakistan, triggering death threats and forcing the agency to pull him from his post.
The allegation marks a new low in the relationship between the CIA and its Pakistani counterpart at a time when both intelligence services are under pressure to root out militant groups and the CIA is waging a vastly accelerated campaign of drone strikes.
The CIA officer was rushed out of the agency's massive station in Islamabad on the same day that President Obama issued a new warning to Pakistan's leaders that "terrorist safe havens within their borders must be dealt with."
Obama's speech was followed Friday with fresh evidence that the United States will continue pounding militant groups when Pakistan can't or won't. Three CIA drone attacks reportedly killed as many as 54 suspected militants in the Khyber tribal area near the Afghan border, an unusually large casualty count.
The CIA station chief was first identified in news reports in Pakistan last month when he was named by a Pakistani attorney representing a North Waziristan resident who said two relatives and a friend were killed in drone strikes. The resident threatened to file a lawsuit against the agency and this week asked Pakistani police to file a criminal complaint against the station chief and prevent him from leaving the country.
It was unclear whether the threat of potential arrest contributed to the agency's decision to remove the officer from Islamabad.
A U.S. intelligence official said the officer became the target of death threats after his cover was blown. The station chief, the official said, was recalled to CIA headquarters because "terrorist threats against him in Pakistan were of such a serious nature that it would be imprudent not to act."
There has been speculation for weeks in the Pakistani and Indian news media that Pakistan's spy service, known as the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, had played a role in encouraging the North Waziristan resident to bring suit and had provided the station chief's name.
U.S. officials said Friday for the first time that they were increasingly persuaded that was the case. The ISI, as the Pakistani service is known, may have done so in retaliation for a civil lawsuit filed in New York last month accusing ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha of being involved in the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, U.S. officials suggested. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity.
An ISI official denied Saturday that the Pakistani service had leaked the station chief's name. "We take very strong exception to this story that has come out, and we deny it," the official said. "It is totally unsubstantiated, and it is likely to cause further rifts between the two organizations."
The ISI official said the identity of the station chief was known to many people in Islamabad, including foreign and local journalists and other people outside government. "If there is an official complaint that the CIA has, then they should use official channels rather than leaking it to newspapers," the official said.
The CIA requested that the recalled station chief, who is still undercover despite being named in multiple overseas media reports, not be identified. The officer, 43, was described by current and former colleagues as a case officer who had previously served in Stockholm and Baghdad and was regarded as a rising talent in the agency's clandestine service.