The New York Times reports: The Taliban’s internal debate over whether and how to negotiate with the Afghan government is playing out in the open, even as there have been renewed attempts to restart talks.
Breaking with nearly 15 years of public silence, Sayed Muhammad Tayeb Agha, who until recently was the Taliban’s chief negotiator and head of their political commission, issued a letter about peace talks to the insurgency’s supreme leader over the summer and discussed reconciliation efforts in an interview with The New York Times in recent days, his first on the record with a Western publication in years.
In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Times and appeared in the Afghan news media, Mr. Agha supported the idea of talks, and said the insurgency should be urgently trying to position itself as an Afghan political movement independent from the influence of Pakistani intelligence officials who have sheltered, and at times manipulated, the Taliban since 2001.
Mr. Agha led efforts to open the Taliban’s political office in Qatar in 2011, and he was instrumental in negotiations that led to the release of the last known American prisoner of war held by the Taliban, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, in exchange for the release of five Taliban detainees from the American prison camp at Guantánamo Bay. But he became disgruntled over the internal power struggle that broke out in 2015 after the death of the movement’s founder, Mullah Muhammad Omar, for whom he was a trusted aide. He remains in exile abroad. [Continue reading…]
After presiding over bin Laden raid, CIA chief in Pakistan came home suspecting he was poisoned by ISI
The Washington Post reports: Two months after Osama bin Laden was killed, the CIA’s top operative in Pakistan was pulled out of the country in an abrupt move vaguely attributed to health concerns and his strained relationship with Islamabad.
In reality, the CIA station chief was so violently ill that he was often doubled over in pain, current and former U.S. officials said. Trips out of the country for treatment proved futile. And the cause of his ailment was so mysterious, the officials said, that both he and the agency began to suspect that he had been poisoned.
Mark Kelton retired from the CIA, and his health has recovered after he had abdominal surgery. But agency officials continue to think that it is plausible — if not provable — that Kelton’s sudden illness was somehow orchestrated by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, known as the ISI. [Continue reading…]
The Times of India reports: Pakistan has begun preventing western reporters from investigating the radicalization of the San Bernardino terrorists even as it emerged that the Pakistani wife of the Chicago-born Pakistani-American Syed Rizwan Farooq may have “honey-trapped” him into entering the United States.
Correspondents who made their way to the city of Multan in Pakistan’s Punjab province, considered the hotbed of sunni extremism where Farooq’s jihadi wife Tashfeen Malik studied pharmacy, reported they had been corralled in a local hotel and are not being permitted to go out to investigate.
“Pakistani ‘officials’ not letting some journalists out of our hotel in Multan this morning to do reporting. I am still barred from leaving hotel in Multan and Pakistani ‘officials’ strongly suggest I, as foreign journalist, ‘go back to Islamabad”‘ tweeted Washington Post’s Tim Craig, who has been reporting from Pakistan.
“On one hand officials say Tashfeen Malik wasn’t radicalized here in Multan, yet on other hand they say ‘it’s too dangerous’ for foreigners,” Craig tweeted, adding, “I’ve lost track of how many different security/intel officials I’ve had to talk to, copy my passport, etc in past 17 hours – think 12 to 16.”
By putting “officials” in quotes, the correspondent seemed to indicate they are ISI roughnecks who are frequently tasked with tailing foreign reporters to make sure they do not get too close to the truth, in this case the fact that Multan and surrounding areas in Pakistan’s Punjab is the hotbed of state sponsored Sunni sectarianism and extremism.
The country’s security apparatus uses rough methods, including beating up foreign journalists as it happened with New York Times’ Carlotta Gall, to protect its interests. It also uses the grisly example of Daniel Pearl’s murder to advise foreign reporters that they are treading in dangerous territory, which in this case appears to be the state-protected Southern Punjab region. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Dr. Shah, of the [Bahauddin Zakariya] university faculty, said he was shocked by the news that Ms. Malik was suspected of committing a mass killing. He said he did not think she had become radicalized at the university, because it does not have a reputation for extremism.
But neither Multan nor Ms. Malik’s university have been immune to extremist currents. A proliferation of hard-line religious schools across southern Punjab have obtained a reputation as incubators for sectarian and militant groups, some of which enjoy the tacit support of political leaders and elements of the Pakistani security forces.
In response, the university kept a “very vigilant eye” on its students, said Dr. Janbaz, the lecturer, and coordinated with intelligence agencies to install surveillance cameras. Ms. Malik, however, never came under scrutiny, he said.
“We never heard anything suspicious about her activities,” he said. “She kept to herself and seemed to just focus on her studies.”
But the authorities did little to stop a virtual witch hunt on campus that led to a nationally publicized death after Ms. Malik left the university.
In 2013, Islamist students there accused Junaid Hafeez, a young lecturer in English who had traveled to the United States as a Fulbright scholar, of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in comments he made on his Facebook page. Mr. Hafeez was later charged with blasphemy, a crime that carries a possible death penalty in Pakistan, and he is currently in jail awaiting trial.
Mr. Hafeez has struggled to find legal representation since two men fatally shot his lawyer, Rashid Rehman, in May 2014, in what was seen as punishment for daring to defend someone accused of blasphemy.
Pakistani security officials say there is no indication yet that Ms. Malik moved in extremist circles on campus or in the city. Yet they have sought to restrict reporting from the area in recent days, often by issuing quiet threats to Pakistani reporters to back off. The officials conducted a search of Ms. Malik’s former home in Multan on Saturday. [Continue reading…]
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…]
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…]
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…]
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.
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.
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…]
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…]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.