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

December 18, 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.”

 

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