Is cooperation with CIA-FBI posing a threat to Pak strategic interests?
By By Ansar Abbasi, The News, 2/25/2008
ISLAMABAD: While Pakistan might have benefited from hardcore actionable intelligence provided by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the FBI in countering terrorism, one possible negative aspect has been the creation of a vast network of CIA and FBI agents – mostly Pakistanis.
Though intelligence cooperation between Pakistan and the US multiplied extensively after 9/11 and was aimed at the Taliban and al-Qaeda, many in Pakistan fear the network for these foreign agencies within Pakistan was also being used for other tasks, some probably falling into the definition of interference in our internal affairs.
Top authorities in Pakistan are said to be in knowledge of this phenomenal spread in the American spy agencies’ network as the country's intelligence agencies have already reported this matter and even identified a number of those on the payroll of the US agencies.
Besides others, a large number of retired Army officers, including ex-brigadiers, are presently working here as American spies. An official of an intelligence agency, however, explained that spy agencies of different countries had their worldwide networks and they handled spy matters according to their resources and needs because importance of spying had increased tremendously after 9/11.
Because of the alleged presence of al-Qaeda-Taliban in Pakistan, the interest of the foreign intelligence agencies here has gone up. The official added that the US had the largest intelligence network in the world and Pakistan was also benefiting from this because through this network the CIA and FBI shared intelligence with Pakistan and gave important information to nab terrorists.
Pakistan allowed concessions to the US as part of intelligence cooperation in the controversial war on terror but some official sources are of the view that these concessions and their parameters were not being adhered to within the agreed limits.
Foreign Office spokesman Muhammad Sadiq, when contacted, said he had no information of this sort. He said intelligence cooperation between Islamabad and Washington was a fact but doubted that the local agents could be hired. He, however, said if there was any interference in our matters by any foreign spying agencies, it was illegal and not allowed. Sadiq said the ISPR would be in a better position to respond to such questions.
Director General ISPR and military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas, when asked about the feared massive expansion of local CIA and FBI agents in Pakistan after 9/11, said, "I don't think so." He added that the government would never allow the CIA or FBI to expand their network in Pakistan. "I deny this," the military spokesman said.
A defence source, however, recently told this correspondent it was a routine operation of all agencies around the world to recruit agents for espionage in every country. He said CIA and FBI did not need to come to Pakistan and start recruiting their local agents here because they could do the same while sitting in Washington. "These things are neither cut and dried nor done in black and white but this always happens and cannot be denied," the source said
Caretaker Interior Minister Lt Gen (retd) Hamid Nawaz, when approached said the US influence was not only in Pakistan but also in almost every other country. He acknowledged that there was a feeling that the network of US intelligence agents had spread here but he had no proof with him to substantiate this. He, however, admitted that the US influence was there in all areas.
The retired general, who has also been secretary defence for some years and left the job much after 9/11, said there was a standard rule that no foreign intelligence agent could subvert against the state.
Elizabeth Colton, the Press Attache of the US embassy in Islamabad, told this correspondent, in response to a set of questions sent to her, that the Embassy could not discuss intelligence issues with the media.
She said the Embassy had no comment on the questions sent to her which included one asking whether the Embassy or its legal section had any role in recruiting Pakistanis for CIA and FBI.
The Embassy was also asked whether they shared the concerns of some Pakistani authorities that the US intelligence agencies, which were given some concessions in the tribal belt of Pakistan, were crossing their limits and hurting the strategic interests of Pakistan.
US National Intelligence Director Mike McConnel was quoted to have admitted recently that the US administration had already spent $50 billion during the current year on spying. A considerable chunk of this budget for spying is believed to have been spent on the US war on terror. Part of this money would have also travelled to Pakistan to pay off the CIA/FBI local agents, who are said to be paid well.
Parts of the US media have been reporting on this subject and the most significant report was in The Washington Post in 2002 when the influential newspaper claimed that the United States had organised its own espionage network in Pakistan due to lack of cooperation from the ISI in locating the al-Qaeda and Taliban fugitives.
"The FBI decided to set up a Spider Group, a band of former Pakistani Army officers and others, after it concluded that lack of cooperation from the ISI made it impossible to hunt down Taliban and al-Qaeda fugitives in the tribal areas of the country.”
Quoting a federal law-enforcement official in Washington, the newspaper reported that the US move marked an attempt by the FBI to develop "free flow of information" to US agents who previously had worked under some restriction with Pakistan's official Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
The Spider Group, the report said, was also asked to recruit locals in Pakistan's tribal areas, where hundreds of wanted "terrorists" are allegedly holed up under the patronage of tribal chiefs. Members of the Spider Group include a mix of Muslim and Christian retired Army and intelligence officers and have been trained and equipped by the FBI.
Background interviews reveal that today the CIA's intelligence local network is far more extensive than that of the FBI. The sources said that during the initial years of War on Terror, the Americans were not satisfied with the intelligence gathering of local agencies in the tribal areas of Pakistan, so they launched their own agencies that had now developed a vast network in the country.
A source quoted an incident in which the CIA officials once distributed awards amongst Pakistani intelligence people in the headquarters of the agency in Langley, Virginia. "This is perhaps unprecedented," the source said.
A spymaster of one of the country's intelligence agency reported to the Interior Ministry that a provincial head of a private security agency, besides others, was spying for the CIA. The security agency was contacted and the said official was removed. It was also reported that a large number of private security agencies personnel were doing espionage work.
A retired lieutenant general confided to this correspondent on condition of not being named that during his career he had gone to the US twice for military related training, where he was openly offered to work for the US. "I was praised and offered that why don't I join them," he said, adding that once an official encouraged him to inform the US about the problems of Pakistan's defence without even talking to his seniors.
He said the same intelligence officials asked him to settle his children in the US for better life and education. "I was openly told that I should not be worried about their expenses," the retired general said.
Meanwhile, a local journalist Azaz Syed told this correspondent that quite a few years back, he approached the legal section of the US embassy in Islamabad, after reading an advertisement in an international publication for recruitment of FBI agents for South Asia. For the purpose of doing an investigative story, he offered his services for FBI. He said he offered his services to spy on Taliban in exchange for information from the US embassy but the diplomat interviewing him was not interested in Taliban but wanted info about civil bureaucracy. He was not ready to give any information either.
"I was told that I would get assignments relating to civil bureaucracy and in return would be paid well," Syed said, adding that later he did a story for an Urdu newspaper with which he was associated at that point of time.
The US Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – the spy military plane – are yet another source of concern for many here. The UAVs were allowed to do espionage in tribal areas of Pakistan for "specific jobs" only but since the UAVs were not caught by radars, these spy planes crossed their limits a number of times.
Initially, the Pakistan Air Force objected to such US surveillance but the government decided otherwise because of US insistence that it was inevitable to track down the so-called al-Qaeda targets.
The sources revealed that the murdered top tribal leader resisting the US war on terror, Nek Muhammad, became the target of a UAV despite the peace deal he had signed with the then corps commander Lt Gen Safdar Hussain.
Getting uncomfortable with the UAV activities, some Pakistani officials have expressed their concerns at the highest level. The Pakistan Army is trying to develop its own UAV but so far these planes are not up to the required international standards.
Pakistan has also been trying to buy these UAVs but some international forces are creating impediments in such deals. Once Pakistan contacted South Africa to purchase these small aircraft but the price demanded was $10 million, which was far higher than the price of the equipment.
The UAV intelligence capacity and its advantage of not being traced by radars, some believe, could pose serious threats to Pakistan's strategic interests.