Comment: US-Pakistani Spy Relations Just Short of Open War
December 19, 2009 3 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | intelNews.org |
Officially, the United States and Pakistan are allies in the so-called “war on terrorism”. But diplomats and intelligence agents on the ground tell a very different story. For several months now, Washington and Islamabad have engaged in a low-intensity intelligence war, with the Pakistanis accusing the Americans of failing to share actionable intelligence, and the Americans blaming Pakistani security services for maintaining clandestine links with Taliban groups. On at least one occasion, a senior advisor to the US-backed Afghan leadership has claimed that Pakistani intelligence services provide assistance to suicide bombers willing to strike targets in Kabul and other cities and towns in Afghanistan.
This undeclared war, which began shortly before the 2008 ousting of American-supported Pakistani dictator General Pervez Musharraf, has intensified to a stage short of open war. On November 18, just two days prior to Central Intelligence Agency director Leon Panetta’s official visit to Pakistan, Pakistani Naval Police officers arrested Abdul Ghafoor, an employee of the US embassy in Islamabad, who was reportedly caught monitoring Pakistan’s Naval Headquarters at Zafar Chowk, a site targeted by a suicide bomber on December 3. Pakistani news outlets reported that Ghafoor was carrying a camera with him, and was riding a motorcycle “with a number plate that was found to be fake when checked”. Not surprisingly, the November 20 meeting in the Pakistani capital between Panetta and Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, was said to be confrontational and marred by serious differences between the two agencies.
Since the November 20 meeting between the two men –the second in less than two months– US-Pakistani intelligence and diplomatic relationships took a drastic turn for the worse. On Thursday, Indian news agency Asian News International (ANI) cited US officials who accused military and security agencies in Islamabad of conducting what they called a “blatant harassment campaign [against] American diplomats”. The officials said they are witnessing what appears to be a systematic effort by Pakistani government bureaucrats to delay approving or extending the visas of “several top [US] officials, including military attaches, CIA officers, development experts, junior level diplomats and others”. According to ANI, at least 100 US officials have faced visa issuance or extension issues “in the recent past”. The alleged “harassment campaign” is also said to include “frequent checking of American diplomatic vehicles in major cities across the country”, a practice which “irks [US] officials” –and may partially explain why Abdul Ghafoor was riding a stolen vehicle when he was arrested on November 18.
It is true that the CIA has financed close to a third of the ISI’s overall operations budget since 9/11, but this has not warmed up the latter to US intelligence directives and goals, nor has it enabled the US intelligence agency to work out the ISI’s modus operandi and administrative culture. On their part, the Pakistanis claim the Americans are responsible for the break in relations, by acting all “arrogant [and] think[ing] of themselves as omnipotent”, according to one Pakistani security official. The official relayed an episode, which he said is indicative of the attitude of US security agents in Pakistan: only last week, he told ANI, several Americans in an SUV fled by driving off once police in Islamabad tried to search their car at a suburban checkpoint. The Americans were probably CIA agents riding in a vehicle without diplomatic license plates (usually, official diplomatic cars cannot be searched by local law enforcement agents).
But the incident, if true, may point to a deterioration in intelligence relations that is now moving beyond intelligence-sharing constraints and bureaucratic stalling. In fact, the available evidence points to a low-intensity confrontation that increasingly resembles an undeclared war between two agencies that are supposedly fighting on the same side of the fence.
* Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis has been writing and teaching on the politics of intelligence for over ten years. His areas of academic expertise include the institutional analysis of the intelligence community; the interception of communications; and the history of intelligence with particular reference to international espionage during the Cold War. He is co-founder and Senior Editor of intelNews.org. His latest writings for intelNews.org are available here.