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Belmont Club

Going Native

November 25th, 2009 - 10:10 am

Pundita quotes and analyzes an article by Mark Mazzetti written more than a year ago describing the CIA’s relationship with Pakistan. Mazzetti basically asks the question who is running who?  According to Mazzetti the question of what the CIA in Islamabad is doing is uppermost in the minds of CIA station in Kabul.

As American and allied casualty rates in Afghanistan have grown in the last two years, the I.S.I. has become a subject of fierce debate within the C.I.A. Many in the spy agency — particularly those stationed in Afghanistan — accuse their agency colleagues at the Islamabad station of actually being too cozy with their I.S.I. counterparts.

There have been bitter fights between the C.I.A. station chiefs in Kabul and Islamabad, particularly about the significance of the militant threat in the tribal areas. At times, the view from Kabul has been not only that the I.S.I. is actively aiding the militants, but that C.I.A. officers in Pakistan refuse to confront the I.S.I. over the issue.

The issue has flared up again with accusations by the Washington Times that Mullah Omar is hiding in Karachi. Pakistani officials have denied the accusations. But the Washington Time’s sources seemed credible enough.

Two senior U.S. intelligence officials and one former senior CIA officer told The Washington Times that Mullah Omar traveled to Karachi last month after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. He inaugurated a new senior leadership council in Karachi, a city that so far has escaped U.S. and Pakistani counterterrorism campaigns, the officials said.

The officials, two of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic, said Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, the ISI, helped the Taliban leaders move from Quetta, where they were exposed to attacks by unmanned U.S. drones.

Karachi is outside the “boxes” of surveillance described by Mazzetti in his 2008 article. “The Pakistani government has long restricted where the C.I.A. can fly Predator surveillance drones inside Pakistan, limiting flight paths to approved “boxes” on a grid map. The C.I.A.’s answer to that restriction? It deliberately flies Predators beyond the approved areas, just to test Pakistani radars. According to one former agency officer, the Pakistanis usually notice.”  Supposing that the Pakistanis knew where the Americans could not look, then you could suppose they would know where to put things.

The debate over how far to trust the Pakistanis and just who is working for who is part of the context of President Obama’s expected announcement of his newer Afghan strategy. The Pakistanis have advised Obama not to surge, but to talk to the Taliban. The Christian Science Monitor writes:

The Pakistani government has some advice the Obama administration may not want to hear as it contemplates sending additional US troops to neighboring Afghanistan: Negotiate with Taliban leaders and restrain India.

Pakistan embraces US efforts to stabilize the region and worries that a hasty US withdrawal would create chaos. But Pakistani officials worry that thousands of additional American soldiers and Marines would send Taliban forces retreating into Pakistan, where they’re not welcome.

A cynic might think the Pakistanis — and some in the CIA — want to have it both ways. Pakistani intelligence is already the beneficiary of bounties paid for the heads of Taliban operatives. Greg Miller, writing for the LA Times says that up to 1/3 of the ISI’s budget already comes from the CIA. “The Inter-Services Intelligence agency also has collected tens of millions of dollars through a classified CIA program that pays for the capture or killing of wanted militants, a clandestine counterpart to the rewards publicly offered by the State Department, officials said.”  An American strategy that emphasized negotiating” (that is paying off) the Taliban would mean more money for the ISI via their Taliban proxies and more money from the State Department bounties to keep the Taliban down.  It’s like paying to fertilize the grass and hiring someone to whack it down and gives the word “assets” a wholly new meaning.

The LA Times article hinted that Washington is worried about who is working for whom. When millions of dollars floating around, loyalties are often similarly adrift on the wind.

Congress recently approved an extra $1 billion a year to help Pakistan stabilize its tribal belt at a time when Obama is considering whether to send tens of thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan.

The ISI has used the covert CIA money for a variety of purposes, including the construction of a new headquarters in Islamabad, the capital. That project pleased CIA officials because it replaced a structure considered vulnerable to attack; it also eased fears that the U.S. money would end up in the private bank accounts of ISI officials.

In fact, CIA officials were so worried that the money would be wasted that the agency’s station chief at the time, Robert Grenier, went to the head of the ISI to extract a promise that it would be put to good use.

“What we didn’t want to happen was for this group of generals in power at the time to just start putting it in their pockets or building mansions in Dubai,” said a former CIA operative who served in Islamabad.

The scale of the payments shows the extent to which money has fueled an espionage alliance that has been credited with damaging Al Qaeda but also plagued by distrust.

The complexity of the relationship is reflected in other ways. Officials said the CIA has routinely brought ISI operatives to a secret training facility in North Carolina, even as U.S. intelligence analysts try to assess whether segments of the ISI have worked against U.S. interests.

But the results of the investigations were inconclusive. The leaks to the Washington Times suggest that America’s Afghan strategy reflects a high-level debate in Washington between those who feel Afghanistan can be “handled” via Pakistani proxies and those who fear that those proxies may simply manage Jihadi assets to keep the money machine turning. It also raises interesting questions about the relative cost-effectiveness of using “intelligence” instead of military methods to fight terrorism. The costs of open war are well known. But the price of endless, shadow conflicts is only improperly understood.

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