Ex-intelligence chief: ‘Pakistan is at war against the Afghan people’

Der Spiegel reports: In an interview, former Afghan secret service chief Amrullah Saleh discusses the recent wave of Taliban violence aimed at cementing power for its new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. He says the attacks are backed by Pakistan.

SPIEGEL: More than 100 people have been killed in the recent series of attacks in Afghanistan. What are the perpetrators seeking to achieve with this new wave of violence?

Saleh: The Taliban have a reputation for brutality and mercilessness to defend. Their new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor wants to prove that he can maintain these capabilities. All the major attacks require enormous military and financial resources. They are planned and executed with the aid of ISI, Pakistan’s secret service. The aim of the attacks is to establish Mansoor as the new strong man. The violence is intended to show that the Taliban brand still exists, and the message as the same as before — that the Talban is united and powerful.

SPIEGEL: Why was the death of Mullah Omar, his predecessor, kept secret?

Saleh: We don’t know if he died two years ago or five. The only thing that is certain is that Mullah Omar was living under the patronage of the ISI. Pakistan always denied this, just as the leadership in Islamabad denied that Osama bin Laden lived in the country with their protection. But how can we lead a peace process together with Pakistan when everyone lies — from the army chief right up to the president? [Continue reading…]


Pakistan tried to tap international web traffic via underwater cables, report says

AFP reports: Pakistani intelligence sought to tap worldwide internet traffic via underwater cables that would have given the country a digital espionage capacity to rival the US, according to a report by Privacy International.

The report says the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency hired intermediary companies to acquire spying toolkits from western and Chinese firms for domestic surveillance.

It also claims the ISI sought access to tap data from three of the four “landing sites” that pass through the country’s port city of Karachi, effectively giving it access to internet traffic worldwide. [Continue reading…]


Pakistan expels aid agency Save the Children

The Washington Post reports: Pakistani authorities expelled the U.S.-based aid agency Save the Children from the country on Thursday, sealing its office in the capital and giving staff members 15 days to leave because of “anti-Pakistan activities,” according to the Interior Ministry.

The move, which could have a chilling effect on dozens of charities that work in Pakistan, was carried out after extensive monitoring of the group’s members and activities, a ministry official said in an interview.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, declined to discuss the specific reason for the action. But the move appeared to be related to long-standing allegations of Save the Children’s ties to the Pakistani physician recruited to help the CIA gain information about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts prior to the 2011 U.S. military mission that killed him in northwestern Pakistan. [Continue reading…]


Seymour Hersh’s 10,000-word bin Laden story — told four years ago in 640 words by Larry Johnson

When Seymour Hersh releases each of his blockbuster reports, what supposedly makes his claims authoritative is, more than anything else, the mere fact that they come from Seymour Hersh.

The reader is meant to trust the word of retired intelligence officials, consultants, and other unnamed experts, because Hersh trusts them. And we are meant to trust Hersh because of his stature as a veteran investigative journalist.

We are being invited to join a circle of confidence. Which is to say, we are being hooked by a confidence trick. Hersh is the confidant of (mostly) anonymous sources of inside information of inestimable quality, and we then become confidants of Hersh when he lets us in on the secrets.

To say this is not to imply that everything Hersh reports should be doubted, but simply to note that his egotistical investment in his own work — the fact that Hersh’s stories invariably end up being in part stories about Hersh — inevitably clouds the picture.

As a result, ensuing debate about the credibility of Hersh’s reports tends to devolve into polarized contests of allegiance. Each side sees the other as having been duped — either duped by a conspiracy theorist (Hersh) or duped by government officials and the mainstream media.


A week after Osama bin Laden was killed, Larry Johnson wrote a blog post that reads like an outline draft of Hersh’s latest report. Johnson is a retired senior intelligence official who claims to be knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. Maybe he was the “major U.S. source” on whom Hersh relied.

On May 9, 2011, Johnson wrote:

I’ve learned some things from friends who are still active that dramatically alter the picture the White House is desperately trying to paint. Here is what really happened. The U.S. Government learned of Bin Laden’s whereabouts last August when a person walked into a U.S. Embassy and claimed that Pakistan’s intelligence service (ISI) had Bin Laden under control in Abottabad, Pakistan. Naturally the CIA personnel who received this information were skeptical. That’s why the CIA set up a safehouse in Abottabad in September 2010 as reported yesterday in the Washington Post.

The claim that we found Bin Laden because of a courier and the use of enhanced interrogation is simply a cover story. It appears to be an effective cover story because it has many Bush supporters pressing the case that enhanced interrogation worked. The Obama operatives in the White House are quite content to let the Bushies share in this part of the “credit.” Why? It keeps most folks from looking at the claims that don’t add up.

Anyway, the intel collection at the safe house escalated and the CIA began pressing Pakistan’s ISI to come clean on Osama.

As Pakistan’s Dawn notes in an editorial, the Pakistani version of events — the Abbottabad Commission report — has yet to be officially released.

Buried after initial promises that it would be made public, one version of the report has already seen the light of day via a leaked copy to Al Jazeera. That version alone contains a deep, systematic, even fundamental critique of the manner in which the ISI operates.

Surely, it is morally and legally indefensible of the state to hide from the public the only systematic inquiry into the events surrounding perhaps the most humiliating incident in decades here. National security will not be undermined by the publication of a report; national security was undermined by the presence of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil.


Pakistanis knew where bin Laden was, say U.S. sources

NBC News reports: Two intelligence sources tell NBC News that the year before the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, a “walk in” asset from Pakistani intelligence told the CIA where the most wanted man in the world was hiding – and these two sources plus a third say that the Pakistani government knew where bin Laden was hiding all along.

The U.S. government has always characterized the heroic raid by Seal Team Six that killed bin Laden as a unilateral U.S. operation, and has maintained that the CIA found him by tracking couriers to his walled complex in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The new revelations do not necessarily cast doubt on the overall narrative that the White House began circulating within hours of the May 2011 operation. The official story about how bin Laden was found was constructed in a way that protected the identity and existence of the asset, who also knew who inside the Pakistani government was aware of the Pakistani intelligence agency’s operation to hide bin Laden, according to a special operations officer with prior knowledge of the bin Laden mission. The official story focused on a long hunt for bin Laden’s presumed courier, Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.

While NBC News has long been pursuing leads about a “walk in” and about what Pakistani intelligence knew, both assertions were made public in a London Review of Books article by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Hersh’s story, published over the weekend, raises numerous questions about the White House account of the SEAL operation. It has been strongly disputed both on and off the record by the Obama administration and current and former national security officials. [Continue reading…]


Blogger accuses Seymour Hersh of ‘plagiarism’ for bin Laden raid story

Politico: In the day following the publication of Seymour Hersh’s scandalous alternative account of the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the prize-winning investigative journalist has been pilloried as a fabulist, a fool, and even a fibber.

But one national security expert has a new insult to throw into the mix: plagiarist.

R.J. Hillhouse, a national security blogger and former college professor, wrote on her blog, “The Spy Who Billed Me” that she had accused the Obama administration of fabricating accounts of its raid that killed Osama bin Laden back in August 2011. Hersh’s story, published in the London Review of Books on Sunday, is “either plagiarism or unoriginal,” wrote Hillhouse.

The blog post Hillhouse is referring to dates back to August 7, 2011, only a few months after Osama bin Laden’s death. In it Hillhouse wrote, like Hersh, that the informant who led the CIA to bin Laden was a walk-in seeking financial compensation, that Pakistani officials were keeping bin Laden under house arrest with Saudi financial support, and that Pakistani officials had cooperated with the clandestine U.S. operation that killed him. [Continue reading…]


A perfect terrorist

Watch A Perfect Terrorist on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

See also Sebastian Rotella’s companion article in ProPublica, The American behind India’s 9/11—and how U.S. botched chances to stop him.


Saleem Shahzad’s murder, al Qaeda, and the ISI

Dexter Filkins writes:

I met Saleem Shahzad nine days before he disappeared, and he seemed to know that his time was running out. It was May 20th, and Islamabad was full of conspiracy theories about the Abbottabad raid: bin Laden was still alive; Kiyani and Pasha had secretly helped the Americans with the raid. Mostly, the public radiated anger and shame.

I had called Shahzad to discuss a pair of stories he’d written about bin Laden. In March, five weeks before the raid in Abbottabad, Shahzad claimed that bin Laden had suddenly come across the radar screens of several intelligence agencies: he was on the move. The story also reported that bin Laden had held a strategy meeting with an old friend, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Afghan mujahideen whom the State Department considers a “global terrorist.” Then, just after the Abbottabad raid, Shahzad published a report claiming that the Pakistani leadership had known that the Americans were planning a raid of some sort, and had even helped. What the Pakistanis didn’t know, Shahzad wrote, was that the person the Americans were looking for was bin Laden. Both stories struck me as possibly dubious, but it was clear that Shahzad had numerous sources inside Pakistani intelligence and other intelligence agencies in the region.

Shahzad and I agreed to meet at a Gloria Jean’s coffee shop, not far from his home. For years, Islamabad was a sleepy town of bureaucrats; however dangerous the rest of Pakistan was, the capital was usually quiet. This was no longer true. In 2008, the Marriott Hotel, only a few miles from Gloria Jean’s, was destroyed by a suicide bomber, who killed or wounded more than three hundred people. Lately, the Kohsar Market—the collection of expensive boutiques where the Gloria Jean’s is situated—had been declared off limits for American Embassy personnel on weekends, out of fear that it would be attacked.

Shahzad and I took our coffees upstairs. He pointed to a table in an alcove by a window. “Welcome to my private office,” he said, with a smile. “No one will be able to hear us here.”

We talked for a few minutes about the Abbottabad raid and the stories he’d written. Shahzad was tall and self-possessed; he had thick black hair and a round face offset by a trim beard. He was warm and expressive, the sort of reporter whom people talked to because he seemed genuinely nice. No wonder he got all those scoops, I thought. He was wearing Western clothes and spoke flawless English. He told me that he knew some of my colleagues, and offered to help me out in any way that he could.

And then Shahzad changed the subject. What he really wanted to talk about was his own safety. “Look, I’m in danger,” he said. “I’ve got to get out of Pakistan.” He added that he had a wife and three kids, and they weren’t safe, either. He’d been to London recently, and someone there had promised to help him move to England.

The trouble, he said, had begun on March 25th, the day that he published the story about bin Laden’s being on the move. The next morning, he got a phone call from an officer at the I.S.I., summoning him to the agency’s headquarters, in Aabpara, a neighborhood in eastern Islamabad. When Shahzad showed up, he was met by three I.S.I. officers. The lead man, he said, was a naval officer, Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir, who serves as the head of the I.S.I.’s media division.

“They were very polite,” Shahzad told me. He glanced over his shoulder. “They don’t shout, they don’t threaten you. This is the way they operate. But they were very angry with me.” The I.S.I. officers asked him to write a second story, retracting the first. He refused.

And then Admiral Nazir made a remark so bizarre that Shahzad said he had thought about it every day since.

“We want the world to believe that Osama is dead,” Nazir said.

Bin Laden was still alive, his whereabouts presumably unknown, when that conversation occurred. I pressed Shahzad. What did they mean by that?

He shrugged and glanced over his shoulder again. They were obviously trying to protect bin Laden, he said.

“Do you think the I.S.I. was hiding bin Laden?” I asked him.

Shahzad shrugged again and said yes. But he hadn’t been able to prove it. (The I.S.I. calls this claim an “unsubstantiated accusation of a very serious nature.”)

Shahzad said that he’d left I.S.I. headquarters that day thinking that he needed to be careful. Now, two months later, there was another reason to worry: a book that he’d written, “Inside Al Qaeda and the Taliban,” was being released in three days, in both Pakistan and the West. The book, written in English, explored even more deeply the taboo subject of the I.S.I.’s relationship with Islamist militants.

“They’re going to be really mad,” Shahzad said.


US-Pakistan relations worsen with arrest of two alleged spies

The Guardian reports:

Relations between Washington and Islamabad deteriorated further when the US justice department charged two men alleged to have been in the pay of the Pakistan intelligence service.

One was involved with the Kashmiri American Council, through which it is alleged that Pakistan channelled millions of dollars to influence members of the US Congress. The US said there are also Kashmiri centres in London and Brussels that the FBI alleged are run by elements of the Pakistani government. FBI special agent Sarah Webb Linden, in an affidavit unsealed on Tuesday, named the one in London as the Justice Foundation/Kashmir Centre run by Nazir Ahmad Shawl.

The FBI arrested the executive director of the Kashmiri American Council, Ghulam-Nabi Fai, aged 62, at his home in Fairfax, Virginia, later. The other, Zaheer Ahmad, 63, is believed to be in Pakistan. Both are US citizens and face a prison sentence of five years if convicted.


Black ops and blood money

Matthew Teague writes:

Hearing the American’s name whispered in his ear, the chief of police in Lahore, Pakistan, turns from his desk and nods toward a nondescript side door in his office. His desk sits surrounded by concentric rings of chairs, occupied by visitors hoping for a moment of Chief Aslam Tareen’s time. Lahore is a city of 10 million people, and justice demands constant attention. But before he’ll discuss the American — perhaps the most notorious American in Pakistan’s history — Tareen needs privacy. He leaves his desk and slips through the side door into a smaller, more secluded office. A bed is in the corner, along with a television, and an attendant brings a pair of slippers and sets them before the chief’s leather recliner. In Pakistan the truth is like a woman; it stays veiled in public, only fully revealing itself behind closed doors. And this particular subject is a treacherous one.

“Raymond Davis,” Tareen says, settling into his chair. “Spy.”

Davis operated in the darkest shadows of the war against terrorism. He worked for the CIA as an independent contractor, gathering information on the jihadist group behind some of the most cruel and spectacular attacks in recent years. The intelligence operation collapsed violently in January when two Pakistani men accosted Davis on a crowded street and he shot them both dead with a skill rarely seen outside spy novels. A botched attempt to rescue him in the -aftermath left a third man dead and Davis under arrest.


David Headley saves his own life in a Chicago courtroom

Liz Mermin writes:

The United States District Court of the Northern District of Illinois is an enormous glass cube of a building that occupies an entire block in downtown Chicago. When I arrive there on a cold and wet afternoon in the middle of May, the lobby is scattered with bomb-sniffing dogs and dozens of US Marshals. A sign outside the building noting “heightened security levels” suggests this is no ordinary state of affairs, even though America seems these days to be in a perpetual state of heightened security. But in this case a little paranoia could be forgiven: the trial getting underway is one of the most significant terrorism cases to have taken place in the US.

The defendant, a 50-year-old Pakistani-Canadian businessman and Chicago resident named Tahawwur Hussein Rana, is accused of the uniquely American crime of “providing material support to terrorism” in three instances: to the 26 November 2008 attack on Mumbai; to a plot against Jyllands-Posten, the Copenhagen newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed in 2005; and to the Pakistani terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). He is being tried in America, rather than India or Denmark, in part because of the six Americans killed in the Mumbai attacks.

But the trial—which promises to linger in great detail on the workings of LeT and its relationship with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), as well as the involvement of al Qaeda in the Danish plot—doesn’t seem to be attracting much local attention. Judging from the headlines, Chicagoans are far more interested in the corruption trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, the taping of Oprah Winfrey’s final talk show, and the predictions of an octogenarian Christian evangelical that the world will end on 21 May.

Even among the few reporters who have been closely following the case, no one really cares much about Rana. The star attraction will be David Coleman Headley—formerly Daood Gilani—who is expected to take the stand as a key witness against Rana, his oldest and best friend. A handful of Headley-obsessed journalists are converging on the courthouse for a chance to hear the man whose bizarre life they have been investigating for more than a year.


Pakistan hits back at US commander over journalist’s murder claim

The Guardian reports:

Pakistan has lashed out at America’s top-ranking military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, on Friday, saying that its relations with the US have been further damaged by his remarks blaming the Islamabad government for the killing, torture and murder of a Pakistani journalist.

The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff shocked Islamabad by saying publicly what US officials had confirmed only in private: that the Pakistani government had “sanctioned” the killing of Syed Saleem Shahzad, the investigative reporter for Asia Times Online whose mutilated body was found on 30 May in a canal 40 miles from the capital. He had been writing about jihadist infiltration of the Pakistani military.

Pakistan’s information minister, Firdous Ashiq Awan, told a news conference Mullen had made an “extremely irresponsible and unfortunate statement”.

“This statement will create problems and difficulties for the bilateral relations between Pakistan and America. It will definitely deal a blow to our common efforts with regard to the war on terror,” she said, without going into details.


US officials say ISI murdered Pakistani journalist

The New York Times reports:

Obama administration officials believe that Pakistan’s powerful spy agency ordered the killing of a Pakistani journalist who had written scathing reports about the infiltration of militants in the country’s military, according to American officials.

New classified intelligence obtained before the May 29 disappearance of the journalist, Saleem Shahzad, 40, from the capital, Islamabad, and after the discovery of his mortally wounded body, showed that senior officials of the spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, directed the attack on him in an effort to silence criticism, two senior administration officials said.

The intelligence, which several administration officials said they believed was reliable and conclusive, showed that the actions of the ISI, as it is known, were “barbaric and unacceptable,” one of the officials said. They would not disclose further details about the intelligence.

But the disclosure of the information in itself could further aggravate the badly fractured relationship between the United States and Pakistan, which worsened significantly with the American commando raid two months ago that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistan safehouse and deeply embarrassed the Pakistani government, military and intelligence hierarchy. Obama administration officials will deliberate in the coming days how to present the information about Mr. Shahzad to the Pakistani government, an administration official said.

The disclosure of the intelligence was made in answer to questions about the possibility of its existence, and was reluctantly confirmed by the two officials. “There is a lot of high-level concern about the murder; no one is too busy not to look at this,” said one.

A third senior American official said there was enough other intelligence and indicators immediately after Mr. Shahzad’s death for the Americans to conclude that the ISI had ordered him killed.

“Every indication is that this was a deliberate, targeted killing that was most likely meant to send shock waves through Pakistan’s journalist community and civil society,” said the official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the information.


Pakistani military still cultivates militant groups, a former fighter says

The New York Times reports:

The Pakistani military continues to nurture a broad range of militant groups as part of a three-decade strategy of using proxies against its neighbors and American forces in Afghanistan, but now some of the fighters it trained are questioning that strategy, a prominent former militant commander says.

The former commander said that he was supported by the Pakistani military for 15 years as a fighter, leader and trainer of insurgents until he quit a few years ago. Well known in militant circles but accustomed to a covert existence, he gave an interview to The New York Times on the condition that his name, location and other personal details not be revealed.

Militant groups, like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen and Hizbul Mujahedeen, are run by religious leaders, with the Pakistani military providing training, strategic planning and protection. That system was still functioning, he said.

The former commander’s account belies years of assurances by Pakistan to American officials since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that it has ceased supporting militant groups in its territory. The United States has given Pakistan more than $20 billion in aid over the past decade for its help with counterterrorism operations. Still, the former commander said, Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment has not abandoned its policy of supporting the militant groups as tools in Pakistan’s dispute with India over the border territory of Kashmir and in Afghanistan to drive out American and NATO forces.

“There are two bodies running these affairs: mullahs and retired generals,” he said. He named a number of former military officials involved in the program, including former chiefs of the intelligence service and other former generals. “These people have a very big role still,” he said.


Pakistan’s chief of army fights to keep his job

The New York Times reports:

Pakistan’s army chief, the most powerful man in the country, is fighting to save his position in the face of seething anger from top generals and junior officers since the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden, according to Pakistani officials and people who have met the chief in recent weeks.

Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who has led the army since 2007, faces such intense discontent over what is seen as his cozy relationship with the United States that a colonels’ coup, while unlikely, was not out of the question, said a well-informed Pakistani who has seen the general in recent weeks, as well as an American military official involved with Pakistan for many years.

The Pakistani Army is essentially run by consensus among 11 top commanders, known as the Corps Commanders, and almost all of them, if not all, were demanding that General Kayani get much tougher with the Americans, even edging toward a break, Pakistanis who follow the army closely said.

Washington, with its own hard line against Pakistan, had pushed General Kayani into a defensive crouch, along with his troops, and if the general was pushed out, the United States would face a more uncompromising anti-American army chief, the Pakistani said.

To repair the reputation of the army, and to ensure his own survival, General Kayani made an extraordinary tour of more than a dozen garrisons, mess halls and other institutions in the six weeks since the May 2 raid that killed Bin Laden. His goal was to rally support among his rank-and-file troops, who are almost uniformly anti-American, according to participants and people briefed on the sessions.

During a long session in late May at the National Defense University, the premier academy in Islamabad, the capital, one officer got up after General Kayani’s address and challenged his policy of cooperation with the United States. The officer asked, “If they don’t trust us, how can we trust them?” according to Shaukaut Qadri, a retired army brigadier who was briefed on the session. General Kayani essentially responded, “We can’t,” Mr. Qadri said.