PAKISTAN’S main spy agency has denied it unmasked the CIA’s station chief in Islamabad, and warned such allegations could damage its already fragile counterterrorism alliance with the United States.
The CIA has pulled its top spy out of Pakistan amid death threats after his name emerged publicly a few weeks ago from a Pakistani man threatening to sue the CIA over the alleged deaths of his son and brother in a 2009 US missile strike.
The attorney involved with the complaint said he learned the name from Pakistani journalists. But the station chief’s outing has spurred questions whether Pakistan’s spy service might have leaked the information.
Lawsuits filed last month in New York City in connection with the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, India, also may have raised tensions by naming Pakistan’s intelligence chief as a defendant.
The recall of the top American intelligence official in Pakistan comes at a delicate time.
The White House over the past week released the results of a review of progress in the war in neighbouring Afghanistan. The report included the conclusion that the existence of safe havens for militants on Pakistan’s side of the border remained a major obstacle to defeating the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Pakistan’s assistance in clearing those militant hideouts – and providing intelligence to help the US pinpoint targets for its covert, drone-fired missile strikes – is considered crucial. A breakdown in the relationship with Pakistani intelligence could be a major blow to the US.
An official with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, its lead spy agency and a powerful force in the country, said any suggestions it outed the station chief were “a slur”. In particular, he denied the notion that the U.S. lawsuits had spurred the ISI to retaliate.
Such “unfounded stories can create differences between the two organisations”, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not cleared to brief the media.
The US lawsuits were filed last month, and the plaintiffs include relatives of victims in the Mumbai attacks, which left 166 people and nine attackers dead. The assault has been blamed on the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is listed as a defendant in the suit.
But they also list the ISI and its chief, General Ahmed Shuja Pasha. The suits repeat long-standing allegations that the ISI “has long nurtured and used international terrorist groups”, including Lashkar.
“Defendant ISI provided critical planning, material support, control and coordination of the attacks,” the lawsuits allege in pursuing wrongful death and additional claims against the ISI, Pasha and others.
The lawsuits claim at one point that a safe house in Pakistan used in connection with the attacks was part of the ISI’s Karachi Project – “an initiative by which anti-Indian groups were tasked and/or supported by the ISI in a surreptitious fashion to engage in acts of international terrorism”.
Pakistan has denied any government agency was involved in the attacks in India, its archrival with whom it has fought three wars since 1947.
Islamabad has detained seven suspects in the case, but their trials have stalled in the country’s slow-moving court system. India has convicted the sole surviving gunman in the attack.