WASHINGTON: The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has no intention of bringing home its chief operative in Pakistan despite an apparent attempt by the Pakistani media to unmask his identity, US officials said on Monday.
While the Pakistani media reports apparently were inaccurate, US officials said they believe the leak was a calculated attempt to divert attention from American demands for explanations of how Osama bin Laden could have hidden for years near Pakistan’s principal military academy.
US special forces killed Bin Laden a week ago. American officials suspect the attempted outing of the CIA station chief in Islamabad – the second incident of its kind in six months – was the work of someone in the Pakistani government, possibly Pakistan’s principal spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI).
The tense relationship between the CIA and the ISI has deteriorated further with the revelation that Bin Laden lived for five years in Abbottabad, close to Pakistan’s capital.
The Obama administration has demanded access to ISI operatives and to Bin Laden’s wives, who are in Pakistani custody, to try to map out the al Qaeda leader’s support network.
A private Pakistani TV network and a newspaper published what they said was the real name of the top CIA representative in Islamabad.
Two US officials familiar with dealings between Washington and Islamabad indicated that the name the TV channel aired was wrong, and that the real station chief would remain at his post.
“The current CIA station chief is a true pro, someone who knows how to work well with foreign partners and is looking to strengthen cooperation with Pakistani intelligence,” one of the US officials said.
This week’s incident follows a similar, more damaging leak to the Pakistani media in December. In that incident, the man then serving as the CIA’s station chief in Islamabad left the country after his name appeared in local media accusing him of complicity in missile attacks in which civilians were killed.
US officials said they believed the exposure of the station chief was deliberate retaliation by elements of ISI who were upset that their agency and some of its officers had been named as defendants in a lawsuit filed in the US courts. It was filed by the families of Americans killed by Pakistani militants in attacks on a Jewish center and other civilian targets in Mumbai, India in November 2008.
Allegations about ISI’s alleged relationship with the Lashkar e Taiba, a Pakistan-based group accused of carrying out the Mumbai attack, are expected to be aired at the trial in Chicago this month of a businessman accused by US authorities of involvement with the militant group.
The new attempt to disclose the CIA officer’s identity is a fresh blow to Pakistani-US relations, which were strained close to breaking point even before the raid last Monday in which US Navy SEAL commandos secretly flew across Pakistani territory, attacked his Abbotabad hide-out, killed the al Qaeda leader, and spirited away his body for burial at sea.