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Profile: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)
Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was a participant or observer in the following events:
Mahmud Ali Durrani, Pakistan’s national security adviser, visits India and meets with Indian officials. He tells them that neither the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, nor any other part of the Pakistani government had a role in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier this year (see July 7, 2008). The Indian government and other governments have blamed the ISI working with the Taliban for the bombing (see August 1, 2008). However, Durrani does admit, “We have some contacts with bad guys and perhaps one of them did it.” This comment is not made publicly, but it is mentioned in a US State Department cable about the meeting that is leaked by WikiLeaks in 2011. According to the cable, Durrani later repeats the comment to a US official. [Hindu, 5/20/2011]
It is reported that the US is attempting to place former ISI Director Hamid Gul on a United Nations Security Council list of people and organizations that assist al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban. Additionally, the US is trying to add four other former ISI officials to the list. If a person is added to the list, all UN countries are supposed to freeze the person’s assets and deny them visas. However, all 15 Security Council members must sign off on additions to the list, including permanent member China. In the past, China has not always signed off on additions that the Pakistani government does not want on the list, due to China’s close ties to Pakistan. There is no indication that Gul or any of the others have actually been added to the list. [Reuters, 12/7/2008; Hindu, 12/9/2008]
Charges against Gul - A document listing the charges against Gul is leaked to some Pakistani newspapers. He is accused of helping to relocate al-Qaeda fighters from Iraq to Pakistan’s tribal region earlier in the year, providing financial and military support to the Taliban, and helping to recruit fighters to attack US forces in Afghanistan. It is also claimed he is in contact with Baitullah Mahsud, leader of Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban). [Reuters, 12/7/2008] Gul strongly denies the allegations. He was head of the ISI from 1987 to 1989 (see April 1987). Since then, he has maintained a high public profile in Pakistan, generally speaking in support of Islamist militant groups, and even defending Osama bin Laden on occasion. According to the Washington Post, both Indian and US officials say that Gul has maintained particularly close ties to the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba, and he is believed to have played an advisory role in several of that group’s recent attacks. [Washington Post, 12/9/2008] The names of the other four ex-ISI officials the US wants to add to the UN list have not been made public. However, ex-ISI official Khalid Khawaja says he suspects he is one of the other names. “I openly say I have links” to the Taliban and other militants, Khawaja says, but he denies there is anything illegal about his activities. [Reuters, 12/7/2008] The US could also place Gul on its own terrorist blacklist, but if it has done so, it has not made this public.
In a Newsweek interview, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari calls former ISI Director Hamid Gul a “political ideologue of terror.” He is asked about reports that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked him to arrest Gul, due to Gul’s alleged links to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Zardari replies: “Hamid Gul is an actor who is definitely not in our good books. Hamid Gul is somebody who was never appreciated by our government. She [Rice] did not go into specifics, if I may share that with you.… He has not been accused in the Mumbai incident.… I think he is more of a political ideologue of terror rather than a physical supporter.” Zardari also strongly denies that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, had any role in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008). [Newsweek, 12/12/2008] In fact, Gul has been accused in regards to the “Mumbai incident,” which is a reference to the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India. Several days prior to Zardari’s interview, it was reported that India is seeking Gul’s arrest for a role in that attack along with that of some other Pakistanis. The Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba has been accused of having a role in the attack, and Gul is widely seen as a frequent adviser to this group. Gul denies any link to the attack, or any other attack. Also several days before Zardari’s interview, it was reported the US is attempting to add Gul’s name to a terrorist watchlist for actual roles in attacks and not just being a “political ideologue of terror” (see December 7, 2008). [Washington Post, 12/9/2008] In 2010, it will be reported that Gul has been linked to many recent militant attacks (see July 26, 2010).
The US places a $5 million bounty on the head of militant leader Sirajuddin Haqqani. Haqqani has been slowly taking over leadership of the Haqqani network from his aging father Jalaluddin Haqqani. The Haqqani network is a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban and is based in Pakistan. The US State Department announcement of the bounty claims that Sirajuddin Haqqani “maintains close ties to al-Qaeda,” and it further claims that he admitted planning a January 2008 attack on a hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed six people, including a US citizen (see January 14, 2008), and he also admitted planning the April 2008 assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai (see April 27, 2008). [US Department of State, 3/25/2009] However, the US has yet to officially blacklist the Haqqani network itself. Nor has the US put a bounty on Jalaluddin Haqqani, even though he continues to lead the network with Sirajuddin. US intelligence believes the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has long-standing links to the Haqqani network, and to Jalaluddin Haqqani in particular (see July 28, 2008).
The New York Times reports that there is fresh evidence the Pakistani government supports many Islamist militant groups who are fighting US forces. Pakistani support for militants has mainly run through the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
US Pressure Not Effective - Shortly after Asif Ali Zardari became president of Pakistan in September 2008 (see September 9, 2008), he faced accusations by the US that the ISI helped the militants bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008 and July 28, 2008). Zardari promised that the ISI would be “handled” and anyone working with militants would be fired. Some top ISI officials were replaced, including ISI Director Nadeem Taj (see September 30, 2008). However, many US and even Pakistani officials have since complained to the Times that there has been little effect seen. The Times reports that “new details reveal that the spy agency is aiding a broader array of militant networks with more diverse types of support than was previously known—even months after Pakistani officials said that the days of the ISI’s playing a ‘double game’ had ended.”
The Mysterious S Wing - US officials say that it is unlikely that the highest ranking Pakistani officials are managing relationships with militants. Instead, most of the contacts are done by the S Wing of the ISI. Very little is publicly known about the S Wing. [New York Times, 3/26/2009] However, a later Times article will note, “Pakistani military officials give the spy service’s ‘S Wing’—which runs external operations against the Afghan government and India—broad autonomy, a buffer that allows top military officials deniability.” [New York Times, 7/26/2010] The groups S Wing is believed to support include:
The Taliban. Taliban leaders are believed to be given safe haven in the Pakistani town of Quetta.
The Haqqani network. This is a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban, based in Pakistan’s tribal region. Its leader is Jalaluddin Haqqani, who has been an ISI asset since the 1980s.
The Gulbuddin Hekmatyar network. Like the Haqqani network, Hekmatyar’s network is based in Pakistan but attacks US forces in Afghanistan in alliance with Taliban forces.
Lashkar-e-Taiba. This Pakistani militant group is not very active in Afghanistan, but it has been linked to a number of attacks, including the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India.
The ISI’s S Wing gives these groups funding, training, protection, and intelligence. The groups are tipped off to planned US drone strikes and other attacks. S Wing operatives even search radical madrassas (boarding schools) in Pakistan to find new recruits for the groups. Most shockingly, ISI officials regularly sit in on meetings of Taliban leaders and other militant leaders and help decide strategy. This practice has become so widely known that in recent months, the British government has repeatedly asked the ISI to use its influence with the Taliban to scale back attacks in Afghanistan before the August presidential elections there.
Opposition to Tehrik-i-Taliban - Not all militants are supported, however. For instance, the Pakistani government generally opposes the Tehrik-i-Taliban (also known as the Pakistani Taliban), even though it is linked to the Taliban and other groups Pakistan does support, because this group has the goal of overthrowing Pakistan’s government. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair recently told US senators, “There are some [groups the Pakistani government] believe have to be hit and that we should cooperate on hitting, and there are others they think don’t constitute as much of a threat to them and that they think are best left alone.”
Pakistan's Reasoning - Publicly, Pakistan denies all support for militant groups. But privately, unnamed Pakistani officials tell the Times that “the contacts were less threatening than the American officials depicted and were part of a strategy to maintain influence in Afghanistan for the day when American forces would withdraw and leave what they fear could be a power vacuum to be filled by India, Pakistan’s archenemy.” One official says that Pakistan needs groups like the Taliban as “proxy forces to preserve our interests.” [New York Times, 3/26/2009]
In 2009, US intelligence locates Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti), a trusted courier working for Osama bin Laden, somewhere in northwest Pakistan. This is done by remote monitoring of his cell phone calls and e-mails, after his full real name was discovered in 2007 (see 2007). His brother Abrar, who is also involved with al-Qaeda, is discovered as well. However, their exact location in Pakistan is still unknown and will not be discovered until 2010 (see July 2010). [CNN, 5/2/2011; MSNBC, 5/4/2011]
Assistance from Pakistani Government - The Washington Post will later report that the Pakistani government has been secretly assisting US intelligence with data collection for a number of years. The US can collect wireless phone calls on its own in Pakistan, but the Pakistani government helps the US collect landline calls and e-mails as well. In 2009, the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, allegedly notices several suspicious calls spoken in Arabic to the Middle East. The phone number is discovered to belong to Ahmed. An unnamed US official will later say: “The Pakistanis indeed provided information that was useful to the US government as it collected intelligence on the bin Laden compound. That information helped fill in some gaps.” [Washington Post, 5/11/2011]
Ahmed's General Location Discovered; Exact Locale Is Still a Mystery - However, Ahmed normally drives an hour or two before inserting the battery in his cell phone, and he frequently changes the SIM cards in his phone. As a result, US intelligence concludes he is living somewhere in northwest Pakistan, but it cannot figure out exactly where. One of these calls comes from the general vicinity of Abbottabad, where Ahmed will eventually be found to be living with Osama bin Laden (see August 1, 2010). But since other calls come from other towns, intelligence analysts cannot limit their search to just Abbottabad. [Washington Post, 5/11/2011; ABC News, 5/19/2011]
Extensive Surveillance Effort Begins - A senior Obama administration official will later say the two brothers’ “extensive operational security” keeps investigators from determining exactly where they live. “The fact that they were being so careful reinforced our belief that we were on the right track.” This official will add, “We couldn’t trail [Ahmed], so we had to set up an elaborate surveillance effort.” [CNN, 5/2/2011]
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton circulates a diplomatic cable that states Pakistani intelligence continues to support some Islamist militant groups. The cable is sent to US ambassadors and other US diplomats, and contains “talking points” to raise with host governments. In Pakistan, the diplomats are told to press the Pakistani government to take action against the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban operating in Pakistan, and to enforce sanctions against Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistani militant group linked to the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India. The cable reads, “Although Pakistani senior officials have publicly disavowed support for these groups, some officials from the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) continue to maintain ties with a wide array of extremist organizations, in particular the Taliban, [Lashkar-e-Toiba], and other extremist organizations. These extremist organizations continue to find refuge in Pakistan and exploit Pakistan’s extensive network of charities, NGOs, and madrassas.” (A madrassa is an Islamic boarding school.) The contents of the cable will be made public by Wikileaks, a non-profit whistleblower group, in 2010. [Daily Telegraph, 5/31/2011]
President Obama asks the Pakistani government for permission to launch raids on the ground against strongholds of militant leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, but the request is refused. Haqqani has become the de facto leader of the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban. Although it is based in Pakistan’s tribal region, it launches attacks on US troops in Afghanistan. The US has put a $5 million bounty on Haqqani’s head, and attempts to kill him with drone strikes have been unsuccessful (see for instance September 8, 2008). Obama makes the request in a letter to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, which is hand delivered by National Security Adviser General Jim Jones. General David Petraeus, head of US forces in the region, follows up with a meeting with General Ashfaq Kayani, head of Pakistan’s military. However, Pakistan says no. A senior Pakistani official says that a fight with the Haqqani network would create too many problems for Pakistan’s over-stretched army. “We have drawn a red line and would not accept any cross-border strikes by US forces,” he says. However, US intelligence believes that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, is actually allied with the Haqqani network and has been for over 20 years. [Daily Beast, 1/6/2010] US intelligence believes that in 2008, the Haqqani network and the ISI worked together to bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008 and August 1, 2008). Later in the month, a suicide bomber will kill nine people at a CIA base in Afghanistan, and US intelligence will suspect that the Haqqani network was involved in the attack (see December 30, 2009) and the ISI may have played a role as well (see January 6, 2010).
It is reported that a preliminary investigation into the suicide bombing that killed nine at a CIA base in Afghanistan (see December 30, 2009) suggests that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, may have played a role. The Jordanian triple agent who blew himself up in the bombing used an unusually compact and powerful type of bomb. According to senior Afghan sources, a preliminary US investigation shows that a chemical fingerprint of the bomb matches a type of explosive used by the ISI. One senior government source says, “It is not possible that the [bomber] received that type of explosive without the help of ISI.” US and Pakistani officials have refused to publicly comment on any suggestions of ISI involvement. [Daily Beast, 1/6/2010]
US officials privately brief British Prime Minister David Cameron. In his first visit to Washington, DC, as prime minister, Cameron is briefed by General James Cartwright, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. According to a later account by the Guardian, Cartwright tells Cameron that the ISI, Pakistani’s intelligence agency, is at least tolerating terrorism, and may be promoting it. The Guardian will add that Cameron “was not just told in Washington that organizations like Lashkar-e-Toiba were able to launch attacks on India and Britain from Pakistan. Cameron was also warned that Pakistan was providing a haven for al-Qaeda leaders, possibly including Osama bin Laden.” [Guardian, 5/2/2011] Exactly one week after this briefing, Cameron will publicly accuse Pakistan of supporting and exporting terrorism (see July 28, 2010). This briefing takes place the same month US intelligence makes a key intelligence breakthrough that soon leads to bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see July 2010 and May 2, 2011).
A Washington Post article suggests that Hamid Gul, head of the ISI from 1987 to 1989, has been frequently linked to recent Islamist militant activity. The ISI is Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and in the 1980s Gul worked closely with the US to support the mujahedeen in Afghanistan and defeat the Soviets there (see April 1987). The Post article states that “more than two decades later, it appears that General Gul is still at work. [Newly leaked] documents indicate that he has worked tirelessly to reactivate his old networks, employing familiar allies like Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose networks of thousands of fighters are responsible for waves of violence in Afghanistan.” The Post is referring to thousands of classified US government documents made public by WikiLeaks, a non-profit whistleblower group. The documents often appear to be raw intelligence that sometimes turns out to be inaccurate. But nonetheless, the Post notes that “General Gul is mentioned so many times in the reports, if they are to be believed, that it seems unlikely that Pakistan’s current military and intelligence officials could not know of at least some of his wide-ranging activities.”
Link to Recent Taliban and Al-Qaeda Activity - For example, according to one intelligence report, Gul met with a group of militants in South Waziristan (in Pakistan’s tribal region), on January 5, 2009. He allegedly met with Taliban and al-Qaeda figures, and planned an attack to avenge the death of al-Qaeda leader Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam), who had been killed several days earlier by a US drone strike (see January 1, 2009). The group discussed driving a truck rigged with explosives into Afghanistan to be used against US forces there. According to another report, in January 2008, Gul directed the Taliban to kidnap high-level United Nations personnel in Afghanistan to trade for captured Pakistani soldiers. [Washington Post, 7/26/2010]
Gul Frequently Mentioned in Intelligence Reports - Gul lives openly in an exclusive district of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, and he frequently shares his pro-Taliban views with reporters. But a Der Spiegel article published on this day notes that the nearly 92,000 documents recently published by WikiLeaks “suggest that Gul is more than just a garrulous old man. If the accusations are true, Gul isn’t just an ally of the Taliban in spirit, but is also supplying them with weapons and thereby actively taking part in the fight against Western forces. Gul is effectively being accused of being an important helper of the Taliban, and possibly even one of their leaders.” In fact, “The name Hamid Gul appears more often than virtually any other” in the documents. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 7/26/2010]
Gul Still Linked to Pakistani Government? - Gul denies all the allegations. Pakistani officials also deny that Gul still works with the ISI in any way. But the Post reports: “Despite his denials, General Gul keeps close ties to his former employers. When a reporter visited General Gul this spring for an interview at his home, the former spy master canceled the appointment. According to his son, he had to attend meetings at army headquarters.” [Washington Post, 7/26/2010] In late 2008, the US government attempted to put Gul on a United Nations list of terrorist supporters, but apparently that move has been blocked by other countries (see December 7, 2008).
Speaking publicly in India, British Prime Minister David Cameron claims that the Pakistani government is exporting terrorism. He says, “We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that [Pakistan] is allowed to look both ways and is able to promote the export of terror, whether to India or Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world. That is why this relationship is important. But it should be a relationship based on a very clear message: that it is not right to have any relationship with groups that are promoting terror. Democratic states that want to be part of the developed world cannot do that. The message to Pakistan from the US and from [Britain] is very clear on that point.” He also says that “[G]roups like the Taliban, the Haqqani network, or Lakshar-e-Taiba should not be allowed to launch attacks on Indian and British citizens in India or in Britain.” All three militant groups mentioned have been accused of terrorist bombings and there are claims the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has been backing them.
Cameron Does Not Back Down - Later in the day, Cameron is asked in an interview if Pakistan exports terrorism. He replies, “I choose my words very carefully. It is unacceptable for anything to happen within Pakistan that is about supporting terrorism elsewhere. It is well-documented that that has been the case in the past, and we have to make sure that the Pakistan authorities are not looking two ways.”
Diplomatic Row Ensues - Pakistani officials immediately take offense and reject the validity of Cameron’s statement. The Guardian reports that Cameron’s unusually blunt comments spark a “furious diplomatic row” between Britain and Pakistan. Cameron’s comments appear to be based on a briefing he was given by US officials one week earlier (see July 21, 2010). [Guardian, 7/28/2010]
Pakistani intelligence begins monitoring Tahir Shehzad, an apparent al-Qaeda facilitator who lives in the town of Abbottabad, Pakistan. Shehzad lives only about two miles away from where Osama bin Laden is hiding, but apparently Pakistani investigators are not aware of bin Laden’s hideout at this time.
Who Is Shehzad? - Shehzad works as a clerk in Abbottabad’s main post office. One relative will later say that Shehzad was “a jihadist through and through.” According to an article published in April 2011, shortly before the US raid on bin Laden’s hideout, Shehzad is first suspected in 2010 when he is spotted with an “Arab terror suspect.” The name of this suspect has not yet been made public. [Associated Press, 4/14/2011; News (Islamabad), 5/3/2011; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 5/18/2011] Another account will claim that Shehzad was monitored after he was received suspiciously large cash transfers. [London Times, 5/23/2011] Shehzad will be arrested in January 2011 after he leaves Abbottabad to meet two suspected militants from France in a nearby town. He will then confess the location of Indonesian militant leader Umar Patek, who is arrested in Abbottabad that same month (see January 25, 2011).
Alternate Account for Bin Laden Intel? - The News, a Pakistani newspaper, will later report that anonymous Pakistani government sources claim the surveillance and then arrest of Shehzad led Pakistani investigators to bin Laden’s hideout before the US raid that kills bin Laden in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). Furthermore, these same sources claim that the Shehzad lead is the real intelligence coup that led to the US raid. [News (Islamabad), 5/3/2011] An unnamed CIA official will later say, “It is quite possible a false or partial narrative was given of how bin Laden was found. … Intelligence can only function in silence and in the dark - protecting source and method is very important.” [London Times, 5/23/2011]
An unnamed senior NATO official says that Osama bin Laden is hiding in a house somewhere in northwest Pakistan. Al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is also hiding in a house somewhere nearby, but not in the same place as bin Laden. The official says, “Nobody in al-Qaeda is living in a cave.” This person adds that al-Qaeda’s top leadership is likely living in relative comfort, protected by locals and some members of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Additionally, top Taliban leader Mullah Omar lives in the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Karachi. It is unknown how the NATO official would know all this, but CNN says the person has access to classified information. [CNN, 10/18/2010] When a US raid kills bin Laden in May 2011, he will be found in a house in northwest Pakistan (see May 2, 2011), and there will be accusations that the ISI must have protected him there (see May 2, 2011 and After).
Abdul Hameed Sohail at his house in Abbottabad. [Source: Associated Press]On January 25, 2011, radical militant Umar Patek is arrested by Pakistani intelligence agents in a house in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Patek is Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist suspect at the time, because he is the only major suspect wanted for the 2002 Bali bombing who has not yet been killed or captured. The US issued a $1 million bounty on him in 2005 (see October 6, 2005 and After). Patek has $1 million in cash on him when he is arrested, and he is shot in the leg during the arrest. News of Patek’s arrest will become public in late March 2011 (see March 30, 2011). [Associated Press, 5/4/2011; Independent, 5/8/2011] The CIA worked with other countries to get Patek. But Patek stays imprisoned in Pakistan, unlike many other terrorist suspects captured in Pakistan who are deported to the US or elsewhere. [Associated Press, 3/30/2011]
Is Patek There to See to Bin Laden? - After Osama bin Laden is killed in Abbottabad in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), an unnamed senior US counterterrorism official will say that Patek’s presence in the town “appears to have been pure coincidence” and there is no evidence that Patek was meeting with bin Laden there. However, Indonesian Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro will later say, “The information we have is that Umar Patek… was in Pakistan with his Filipino wife trying to meet Osama Bin Laden.” Indonesian counterterrorism official Chairul Akbar will further explain that Patek was there to meet bin Laden and get his “support and protection.” Akbar says that Patek “was instructed to go to Abbottabad to meet other militants.” He will also claim that Patek may have met other al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, but he had not yet met with bin Laden before his arrest. [Associated Press, 5/4/2011] Patek’s arrest takes place less than two miles away from where bin Laden is hiding. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 5/18/2011]
Link to Bin Laden's Key Courier - The Independent will report after bin Laden’s death that Patek met with Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti), an al-Qaeda courier who is living with bin Laden in an Abbottabad compound at the time. By this time, US intelligence is intensively monitoring the compound and everyone in it (see August 2010-May 2, 2011). However, the compound is not searched by the Pakistanis during the raid that got Patek, or in the months afterward. [Independent, 5/3/2011]
Link to Another Al-Qaeda Courier - Additionally, two French men, Sharaf Deen and Zohaib Afza, are arrested in Lahore, Pakistan, on January 23, 2001. One of them was born in Pakistan and the other was a convert to Islam. A Pakistani named Tahir Shehzad is arrested with them. Investigators will later say that they trailed Shehzad from Abbottabad to Lahore, and that the French men planned to travel with Patek to Pakistan’s tribal region where many al-Qaeda leaders are hiding. Shehzad gave up Patek’s location, which led to his arrest two days later. Later press reports will call Shehzad an “alleged al-Qaeda facilitator” who worked as a clerk in the Abbottabad post office. Pakistani intelligence had Shehzad under surveillance since 2010, when he was seen in Abbottabad with an “Arab terror suspect” (see August 2010). [Associated Press, 4/14/2011; Associated Press, 4/14/2011; News (Islamabad), 5/3/2011]
Waiting in Abbottabad for Someone? - Abbottabad resident Abdul Hameed Sohail will later tell the press that his son found Patek and Patek’s wife cold and shivering in the street, and he ended up feeling sorry for them and let them stay in his house. They were given an upstairs room, and for nine days they rarely left the room or even ate the food that he left for them. Finally, Pakistani officials raided the house, shot Patek, and took him away. Sohail is not arrested. However, his son Kashif is arrested as an accomplice, and will still be in custody three months later. Patek and his wife had arrived in Pakistan five months earlier, traveling with forged passports, but it is not known where they were in Pakistan prior to Abbottabad. (Nor is it known what happens to his wife.) [Associated Press, 4/14/2011; News (Islamabad), 5/3/2011; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 5/18/2011]
CIA Tip Off - It also will later be reported that the CIA gave key information to Pakistan about Patek being in Pakistan, which led to his arrest. It may be that the CIA gave the information that Patek had gone to Pakistan five months earlier under another name. [Associated Press, 3/30/2011] In hindsight, this is interesting since the CIA is part of the surveillance of bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound at the time, and news of Patek’s arrest could have threatened the effort to find bin Laden.
Entity Tags: Kashif Sohail, Osama bin Laden, Chairul Akbar, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, Umar Patek, Abdul Hameed Sohail, Al-Qaeda, Zohaib Afza, Purnomo Yusgiantoro, Tahir Shehzad
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
CIA Director Leon Panetta meets with Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, head of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. The meeting, at CIA headquarters, is meant to help repair relations between tUS and Pakistan. A CIA contractor named Raymond Davis caused a major diplomatic crisis after he shot and killed two Pakistanis in disputed circumstances. He was held in Pakistan for two months and released on March 16. Pasha asks Panetta to be more forthcoming about what the CIA is doing in Pakistan. Panetta promises to respond to Pasha’s concerns. But at the time, the US government is secretly planning to raid Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see March 30-April 19, 2011), and Panetta does not say a word about this. His goal is to appease Pasha so relations with Pakistan will be improved by the time the bin Laden raid takes place. [Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011] Bin Laden will be killed less than a month later (see May 2, 2011).
In the days and hours after the US Special Forces raid that kills Osama bin Laden in his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hideout (see May 2, 2011), some US officials question whether anyone within the Pakistani government knew that bin Laden was hiding there.
John Brennan, the White House’s top counterterrorism adviser, says that bin Laden’s presence in the Abbottabad compound “raises questions” about what some Pakistani officials might have known. He adds that while Pakistani officials “seem surprised” to hear that bin Laden was hiding there, he wonders how “a compound of that size in that area” could exist without arousing suspicions.
Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent who was investigating al-Qaeda well before 9/11, notes that Abbottabad is heavily populated by current and former Pakistani military officers. He says, “There’s no way he could have been sitting there without the knowledge of some people in the ISI and the Pakistani military.”
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) similarly comments, “The ability of Osama bin Laden to live in a compound so close to Pakistan’s capital is astounding—and we need to understand who knew his location, when they knew it, and whether Pakistani officials were helping to protect him.” [MSNBC, 5/2/2011]
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says that she is troubled by the possibility that the Pakistani government may be engaging in “duplicitous behavior” with the US. “It would be very difficult [for bin Laden] to live there for up to five or six years and no one know [he’s] there. I would have a hard time believing that they did not know,” she says. As chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee, she is one of only a small number of people in Congress given top secret security briefings. [Time, 5/3/2011]
An anonymous senior Obama administration official says, “It’s hard to believe that [General Ashfaq Parvez] Kayani and [Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja] Pasha actually knew that bin Laden was there.” Kayani is the head of the Pakistani army and Pasha is the head of the ISI. “[But] there are degrees of knowing, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we find out that someone close to Pasha knew.” [New York Times, 5/6/2011]
Richard Clarke, the US counterterrorism “tsar” on 9/11, says, “I think there’s a real possibility that we’ll find that there were former members of the Pakistani military and military intelligence who were sympathizers with al-Qaeda and with various other terrorist groups, and that they were running their own sort of renegade support system for al-Qaeda.” [ABC News, 5/7/2011]
About one month after bin Laden’s death, Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI) says he believes elements of the ISI and Pakistan’s military protected bin Laden. He says this is based on “information I’ve seen.” As chairperson of the House Intelligence Committee, he is one of only a small number of people in Congress given top secret security briefings. He adds that he has not seen any evidence that top Pakistani civilian or military leaders were involved in hiding bin Laden. [New York Times, 6/14/2011]
Representative C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (D-MD) says that some members of the ISI or Pakistan’s military were involved in hiding bin Laden. As the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, he also is one of only a small number of people in Congress given top secret security briefings. [New York Times, 6/23/2011]
However, most US officials are hesitant to openly accuse Pakistan, for political reasons. The New York Times reports, “One [unnamed] senior administration official privately acknowledged that the administration sees its relationship with Pakistan as too crucial to risk a wholesale break, even if it turned out that past or present Pakistani intelligence officials did know about bin Laden’s whereabouts.” [New York Times, 5/6/2011] Pakistani officials deny that the Pakistani government had any knowledge that bin Laden was living at the compound. [MSNBC, 5/2/2011]
Entity Tags: C.A. Ruppersberger, Dianne Feinstein, Ali Soufan, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Ahmad Shuja Pasha, Osama bin Laden, Frank R. Lautenberg, John O. Brennan, Mike Rogers, Pakistan
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Shortly after the announcment of Osama bin Laden’s death on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011), some commentators are surprised to find that bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, is only 800 yards away from Kakul, an elite military academy that is Pakistan’s equivalent of the West Point academy in the US. [New York Times, 5/6/2011] This fact made targeting the compound with a drone strike very problematic. One unnamed CIA official says, “All [a drone-fired missile] has to be is about 1,000 yards off and it hits the Pakistan Military Academy.” Additionally, Abbottabad is home to two regimental compounds, and many military families live there. [Washington Post, 5/6/2011]
Too Long Not to Know - Hassan Abbas, a former Pakistani official who now teaches at Columbia University, says that there was a tight net of security around Abbottabad because of concerns about terrorist attacks on the many sensitive military installations there. The town was thoroughly covered with security guards and soldiers. Abbas says, “If he was there since 2005, that is too long a time for local police and intelligence not to know.”
"Willful Blindness" at Best - Former CIA officer Arthur Keller, who worked on the search for bin Laden, says the locale of bin Laden’s compound raises questions. He says that bin Laden must have known that the area has a high concentration of military institutions, officers, and retired officers, including some from the ISI’s S Wing. The ISI is Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and the S Wing is the part of the ISI many experts believe has worked with and protected some Islamist militant leaders (see March 26, 2009). Keller says that bin Laden also had to be aware that the town has a higher level of security, checkpoints, and so on, than many other Pakistani towns. While living near a military academy helped ensure bin Laden’s compound would not get hit by a US drone, there were safer towns to hide from drones. According to the New York Times, Keller does not understand why bin Laden would live in Abbottabad “unless he had some assurance of protection or patronage from military or intelligence officers.” Keller says, “At best, it was willful blindness on the part of the ISI.” [New York Times, 5/6/2011]
An unnamed “senior intelligence official” claims that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has used Abbottabad, Pakistan, to hide assets in safehouses. “This area had been used as ISI’s safe house…” He even alleges the very compound Osama bin Laden hid in (see May 2, 2011) was used by the ISI, “but it was not under their use any more because they keep on changing their locations.” Another unnamed official says, “It may not be the same house, but the same compound or area [has been] used by the ISI.” It is not specified which country or countries these intelligence officials work for. [Gulf News, 5/3/2011]
The government of Afghanistan says that the Pakistani government must have been aware of Osama bin Laden’s location prior to the US raid that killed him (see May 2, 2011). Defense Ministry spokesperson General Mohammad Zahir Azimi says, “Not only Pakistan, with its strong intelligence service, but even a very weak government with a weak intelligence service would have known who was living in that house in such a location.” Relations are tense between Pakistan and Afghanistan. In 2008, the Afghan government blamed the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, for a role in a bombing in Kabul that killed 54 (see July 7, 2008). The US and other countries have also blamed the ISI for that bombing (see August 1, 2008). The Afghan government also complains in general that Pakistan is giving sanctuary to Taliban militants. [Associated Press, 5/4/2011]
Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says that he believes even senior Pakistani officials knew where Osama bin Laden was hidden (see May 2, 2011) and they still know the location of other top militants.
Knowledge at High Levels - Levin says: “At high levels, high levels being the intelligence service… they knew it.… I can’t prove it. [But] I can’t imagine how someone higher up didn’t know it. The thing that astounds me more than anything else is the idea that people in Pakistan higher up in the intelligence service [the ISI] or their police or their local officials didn’t know he was there. I find that difficult to believe.”
Possible Hearings - He says that the Senate Armed Services Committee has started a preliminary investigation into the issue of Pakistan’s possible knowledge of bin Laden’s location before his death, and the committee may hold public hearings on the issue in the future.
Pakistan Shelters Other Militant Leaders - Levin adds that he has “no doubt” that people at the highest levels of Pakistan’s government are protecting others, including top Taliban head Mullah Omar and leaders of the Haqqani network, which is a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. He says that Omar and others “live openly” in Pakistan. “They cross the border into Afghanistan and kill us. And the Pakistan government knows where they’re at, they’re openly living in north Waziristan. The Pakistan government knows where the so-called Quetta Shura is, which is the Afghan Taliban leadership in Pakistan.”
Denials Predicted - He concludes: “[T]he government of Pakistan is going to continue to say they didn’t know bin Laden was there. It’s kind of hard to believe that higher level people didn’t know, but they’ll continue to say that. But what they won’t say is that they don’t know where the Haqqani terrorists are because they do know, and they’ve told us they know.” [ABC News, 5/5/2011]
Amrullah Saleh, head of the NDS (National Directorate of Security), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, from 2004 to 2010, claims that the Pakistani government is hiding the top Taliban leaders. He says that he is certain Taliban top head Mullah Omar is hiding in a safe house in Karachi, Pakistan, run by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. “He is protected by ISI. [ISI head Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja] Pasha knows as I am talking to you where is Mullah Omar and he keeps daily briefs from his officers about the location of senior Taliban leaders, simple.” [Guardian, 5/5/2011] Saleh’s comments come shortly after the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan (see May 2, 2011).
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani announces that he has ordered the Pakistani army to investigate how Osama bin Laden managed to hide in Pakistan for many years (see May 2, 2011). The investigation will be carried out by the army’s adjutant general, Lieutenant General Javed Iqbal. However, at the same time, Gillani says that it is “disingenuous” to blame any part of the Pakistani government for being “in cahoots” with al-Qaeda. “Allegations of complicity or incompetence are absurd. We didn’t invite Osama bin Laden to Pakistan,” he says. He specifically defends the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, which has been repeatedly accused of supporting some Islamist militants, saying: “The ISI is a national asset and has the full support of the government. We are proud of its considerable contribution to the anti-terror campaign.” [Guardian, 5/9/2011]
Former US Representative Michael D. Barnes (D-MD) claims that ex-Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto firmly believed Osama bin Laden was being protected by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Barnes says that he was a good friend of Bhutto before her assassination in 2007, and he regularly socialized with her when she visited the US. He says that on more than one occasion, she told him that she was virtually certain bin Laden was not living in a remote mountain cave. Instead, she claimed: “He’s living comfortably somewhere in Pakistan. He’s being supported and protected by Pakistani intelligence. You can bet on it.” She also complained that the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the ISI were “in cahoots,” working together to attack US forces in Afghanistan. She felt her own life could be in danger (see December 27, 2007) because of her opposition to this covert Pakistani policy. [Washington Post, 5/13/2011]
A cell phone could link Osama bin Laden to an Islamist militant group with ties to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the New York Times reports. The US military raid that killed bin Laden in his Abbottabad hideout on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011) also killed a courier who had links to Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen, an Islamist militant group in Pakistan with links to the ISI. This suggests that the ISI may have been indirectly linked to bin Laden in his hideout.
Links to Harkat Could Lead to ISI - The cell phone of bin Laden’s trusted courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (also known as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti) was recovered by US forces during the raid. The New York Times reports that senior US officials say the cell phone contains contacts to Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen. This group has long been considered an asset of the ISI. Tracing the phone calls, US intelligence analysts determined Harkat leaders in communication with Ahmed had called ISI officials. One Harkat leader met an ISI official in person. No “smoking gun” showing the ISI protected bin Laden has been found so far. However, the Times says that this raises “tantalizing questions about whether the group and others like it helped shelter and support bin Laden on behalf of Pakistan’s spy agency, given that it had mentored Harkat and allowed it to operate in Pakistan for at least 20 years.”
Harkat Has Strong Local Presence - Harkat is said to have a strong presence in the area around Abbottabad. The group has training camps and other facilities in Mansehra, only a few miles away. Bin Laden’s courier Ahmed appears to have stopped by a camp in Mansehra belonging to a Harkat splinter group, Jaish-e-Mohammed. Members of Harkat are able to move freely within Pakistan. Even now, the group’s top leader, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, lives openly in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, about 30 miles away from Abbottabad. Analysts suspect this support network could explain why bin Laden chose to hide where he did. Harkat also has a presence in Pakistan’s tribal region where many al-Qaeda operatives are believed to live, so bin Laden could have used it to send money and messages back and forth to the tribal region.
Harkat 'Very, Very Close to the ISI' - Former CIA officer Bruce Riedel says that Harkat “is one of the oldest and closest allies of al-Qaeda, and they are very, very close to the ISI. The question of ISI and Pakistani Army complicity in bin Laden’s hide-out now hangs like a dark cloud over the entire relationship” between Pakistan and the US. [New York Times, 6/23/2011]
The New York Times reports that two unnamed former leaders of Pakistani militant groups are convinced the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, helped hide Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see May 2, 2011). One leader spent about 10 years with Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, a Pakistani militant group linked to the courier who lived with bin Laden in his Abbottabad hideout. The other leader was a secret informant for the Pakistani military while working for Pakistani militant groups for about 15 years until a few years ago. The newspaper reports that the two leaders “offered no proof of their belief that bin Laden was under Pakistani military protection. But their views were informed by their years of work with the ISI and their knowledge of how the spy agency routinely handled militant leaders it considered assets—placing them under protective custody in cities, often close to military installations. The treatment amounts to a kind of house arrest, to ensure both the security of the asset and his low profile to avoid embarrassment to his protectors.” [New York Times, 6/23/2011]
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