Pakistan spy service linked to militants

July 30, 2008 5:30:18 PM PDT
U.S. intelligence suspects rogue elements in Pakistan's spy agency are giving militants sensitive information that helps them launch more effective attacks from the tribal region bordering Afghanistan, a Bush administration official said Wednesday. Top CIA and U.S. military officials recently traveled to the country to press their concerns about the apparent ties with Pakistani officials.

An administration official said the decision to send CIA Deputy Director Steve R. Kappes to the meetings in Islamabad with Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came amid mounting evidence initially collected by the U.S. but then corroborated by Indian intelligence that some members of the Pakistani intelligence community were actively aiding the Taliban and al-Qaida.

The official said the information indicated that specific midlevel officers in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency likely were leaking sensitive intelligence about operations in the tribal areas to militants that was "not only increasing their offensive capability, but also their defensive capability," resulting in a rise in the number and lethalness of attacks.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said long-standing CIA frustration with the Pakistanis had been growing for months, especially since opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated last year, and hit a high after the July 7 suicide bombing at the Indian Embassy in Kabul, which New Delhi has blamed on Islamabad.

Kappes' visit came five days later on July 12, the official noted.

Pakistan Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas denied accusations of any official Pakistan complicity with terrorist groups, calling them "unfounded and baseless," but he confirmed to The Associated Press that Kappes and Mullen met earlier this month with Pakistani generals, including Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief.

The meeting was first reported by The New York Times.

It came five months after Pakistan elected a new civilian government to replace Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a U.S. ally who seized power in 1999. It also comes as a top Pakistani official publicly rejected giving the U.S. military authority to enter the tribal regions to attack terror networks itself.

The United States has grown increasingly frustrated as al-Qaida, the Taliban and other militants thrive in Pakistan's remote areas and in neighboring Afghanistan, and has asked that U.S. troops be allowed to strike at terror networks. The new regime says it prefers to negotiate a new peace agreement with militant groups in the relatively ungoverned region, which is about the size of Maryland.

U.S. officials have long suspected members of Pakistan's intelligence service support or turn a blind eye to tribal warlords who have built extensive criminal networks in the semiautonomous western border area. They traffic in narcotics, weapons and consumer goods, launch attacks on Pakistani and Afghan targets, and support terrorist groups like al-Qaida.

A U.S. counterterrorism official said some Pakistani intelligence officers' support for the Jalaluddin Haqqani network - associated with both the Taliban and al-Qaida - is of particular and long-standing concern. He emphasized, however, that it has not been determined that Pakistan officially supports those groups or provides direct succor to al-Qaida.

"The Pakistani government and the (intelligence service) are not monolithic," the official said.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., a member of the House Intelligence Committee who travels frequently to Pakistan, said the Kappes-Mullen meeting is unlikely to have an effect on the Pakistani government.

Rogers said with every change in U.S. military, civilian and intelligence leadership these high-level meetings occur and the results are always the same: The terrorist threat from the tribal area remains unchanged.

"We just have never pushed the envelope with these people as much as we needed to and could have," he said.

The counterterrorism official said there is a concern that if Pakistan puts too much pressure on the militants or allegedly rogue officers, the result could be destabilizing to the government itself.

Getting the Pakistani government to crack down on intelligence officers with links to tribal militants is difficult for several reasons. The tribal areas have never been fully under the control of Pakistan. Moreover, elements within the Pakistani government see utility in having strong tribal militias as a security buffer against Afghanistan, with whom the country has long-standing tensions, the counterterrorism official said.

Rogers said he believes the motivations also include money and family ties: Intelligence officers are recruited from the tribal areas as well as the settled part of Pakistan. Tribal ties often trump national identity, and tribal criminal networks enrich themselves from smuggling and benefit from minimal government pressure.