CIA, Pakistani spy chiefs meet amid tensions

Laura Rozen
April 12, 2011

CIA Director Leon Panetta met with his Pakistani counterpart in Washington for four hours yesterday, in an airing of differences that the CIA characterized as constructive.

The meeting -- between Panetta, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, and Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate -- came amid continued fall-out from the arrest of CIA contractor Ray Davis and the case's exposure of covert CIA intelligence-gathering against Pakistani militant groups.

"Director Panetta and General Pasha held productive discussions ... and the CIA-ISI relationship remains on solid footing," CIA spokesman George Little told the Envoy Monday. "The United States and Pakistan share a wide range of mutual interests, and today's exchange emphasized the need to continue to work closely together, including on our common fight against terrorist networks that threaten both countries."

U.S. officials acknowledge, however, that the Pakistanis are seeking more "visibility" into CIA operations in Pakistan. Namely, the Pakistanis insist the U.S. inform them -- and get advanced approval for -- of any covert intelligence collection being conducted against Pakistani militant groups. The U.S. suspects some of these groups of having continued links to elements of the Pakistani security services.

CIA security contractor Davis, arrested in Pakistan in January after murdering two people he alleged were trying to rob him, was reportedly part of such a clandestine CIA unit, seeking to infiltrate Pakistani-militant group Lashkar e-Taiba, which was implicated in the 2008 Mumbai terrorism attacks. Davis was released from Pakistani prison last month after a "blood money" deal in which the families of the two men he killed were paid over $2 million.

In the wake of the Davis case, Pakistan is requesting the U.S. sharply reduce the number of CIA and other covert personnel operating in the country, the New York Times reported Monday: "In all, about 335 American personnel -- CIA officers and contractors and Special Operations forces -- were being asked to leave the country, said a Pakistani official closely involved in the decision."

Longtime Washington Post national security correspondent David Ignatius, who has recently completed a book on Pakistan, writes that what Pakistani intelligence officials want is more U.S. openness about operations on its soil -- such as Washington affords allies Israel, France and Jordan.

"The Pakistani military wants the CIA to stop 'unilateral' operations inside its territory — meaning drone attacks as well as undercover ground operations — that don't have specific prior clearance," Ignatius writes at the Washington Post.

"Over the past two years that I have been interviewing ISI officials, they have made the same basic point in every conversation, which is that Pakistan wants more respect and openness from the U.S. side as part of its cooperation in the joint fight against Islamic extremists," he continued, warning failure to do so would cause a real breach.

A U.S. official said that the Pakistani message is heard in Washington and being taken seriously.

"The Pakistanis have asked for more visibility into some things, and that request is being talked about -- along with a host of other topics, including ways to further expand the partnership," a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity. He added that in the end, both countries realize continued cooperation is essential for their security. "The stakes are too high."

Unclear from yesterday's powwow is what answers Pasha has for Panetta on reported evidence that links Pakistani state security elements to jihadi groups implicated in attacks on coalition forces and UN workers in Afghanistan and in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

"The likeliest outcome of this most recent impasse is that the U.S. will appear to bend publicly, while the Pakistanis bend privately," suggested Business Insider's John Ellis.

(In this Aug. 27, 2008 file photo released by the U.S. Department of Defense, Pakistani ISI chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, right, is seen on the flight deck aboard USS Abraham Lincoln, in the Persian Gulf with, from left, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and Navy Rear Adm. Scott van Buskirk, and Pakistani Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani. Pasha, leader of Pakistan's spy service was accused in a pair of lawsuits filed in the United States of nurturing terrorists involved in the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, India. The wrongful death suits were filed in federal court in Brooklyn by relatives of victims in the Nov. 2008 Mumbai attacks, which left 166 people and nine attackers dead.: U.S. Navy, Spc. 1st Class William John Kipp Jr., File/AP Photo.)