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How did Pakistan not know bin Laden was hiding there?

Pakistani intelligence failed to look for Osama, says John Kerry


 
More than a bit awkward

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The discovery of Osama bin Laden, not in some desolate cave in a lawless tribal borderland, but ensconced comfortably in a suburban neighbourhood in the heart of Pakistan, has led to a single burning question in Washington: how could the Pakistani government, recipient of billions of dollars of American aid, not know that for possibly five years America’s most wanted fugitive was living in plain sight, a short walk from a military academy, no less?

For years, Pakistan denied knowledge of his whereabouts, even while the Pakistani intelligence services stood accused of tipping off al-Qaeda’s leaders about American efforts to find them. Anybody who thought that Pakistan was protecting bin Laden was “smoking something they shouldn’t be smoking,” Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, told CNN in 2010.

But those suspicions about Islamabad turned to outrage this week. Relations had already been sharply deteriorating, with the U.S. accusing Pakistan of not being serious in fighting terror—and Pakistanis outraged over U.S. drone attacks against suspected Pakistani terrorist targets. Now, with the news that bin Laden had been living openly in Pakistan, there were calls in Washington for Congress to limit an aid program that has allotted US$7.5 billion over five years to help strengthen the Pakistani government and win the support of Pakistan’s people. “I think this tells us once again that unfortunately Pakistan, at times, is playing a double game, and that’s very troubling to me,” said Susan Collins, the top Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee. “We clearly need to keep the pressure on Pakistan, and one way to do that is to put more strings attached to the tremendous amount of military aid that we give the country,” she said.

The chairman of the committee, John Kerry, a key advocate of the aid plan, complained that not only did Pakistani intelligence fail to look for bin Laden, but for years fed the U.S. what he called “misdirects”—false information—such as “the notion that he’s out in the western part of the country and they can’t control that and so forth.” Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate armed services committee, called on Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to “follow through and ask some very tough questions of his own military and his own intelligence. They’ve got a lot of explaining to do.” For his part, the Pakistani president issued a personal defence: “Some in the U.S. press have suggested that Pakistan lacked vitality in its pursuit of terrorism, or worse yet that we were disingenuous and actually protected the terrorists we claimed to be pursuing. Such baseless speculation may make exciting cable news, but it doesn’t reflect fact,” Zardari wrote in the Washington Post.

In the midst of this diplomatic storm, the White House tried to walk a fine line.

On the one hand, administration officials said they would investigate the possibility that Pakistani officials at some level had played a role in protecting bin Laden. “I think it would be premature to rule out the possibility that there were some individuals inside of Pakistan—including within the official Pakistani establishment—who might have been aware of this,” President Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, told National Public Radio on Tuesday. “We’re not accusing anybody at this point, but we want to make sure we get to the bottom of this.”

Still, Brennan and other administration officials were also careful to praise Pakistan for its “close co-operation” in counterterrorism activities. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emphasized that nothing had changed in U.S. relations with Pakistan: “We remain committed to supporting the people and government of Pakistan as they defend their own democracy against extremism.” The administration also credited Pakistan for providing information that eventually led to the raid. “The Pakistanis, you know, did not know of our interest in the compound, but they did provide us information that helped us develop a clearer focus on this compound over time,” a senior U.S. intelligence official told reporters on Monday.

President Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto—assassinated in a 2007 shooting for which al-Qaeda claimed credit—was eager to share credit for the raid, which some other Pakistanis called a violation of sovereignty. “Although the events of Sunday were not a joint operation, a decade of co-operation and partnership between the United States and Pakistan led up to the elimination of Osama bin Laden as a continuing threat to the civilized world. And we in Pakistan take some satisfaction that our early assistance in identifying an al-Qaeda courier ultimately led to this day,” he wrote in the Post.

The non-confrontational tone of both governments was deliberate, said Tom Sanderson, deputy director of the transnational threats project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. “That is not random. Those statements reflect a desire to quickly move beyond this and repair this relationship.” (Behind the scenes, the administration would press Congress not to jeopardize the money flows, he predicted—but the Government Accountability Office in February reported that only a small fraction of the aid package had actually been paid out, in part due to concerns about corruption in Pakistan.) “Our core interests include getting them to act against al-Qaeda and getting them to act against this amalgam of groups that are attacking U.S. forces in Afghanistan,” Sanderson added. But he noted that the U.S. has little leverage in Islamabad, and for all his supportive words, Zardari is not calling the shots. “The army is the most powerful and important and effective institution,” he said.

Some key congressional leaders also shared the administration’s caution. The chairman of the House intelligence committee, Republican Mike Rogers, warned, “I’d be very careful about saying we’re going to throw them overboard, given how many other targets are really critical for us to go after.” He estimated that another 12 to 20 al-Qaeda leaders of various levels remain in Pakistan. Likewise, the chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, told reporters on Tuesday it was “premature” to talk about cutting aid to Pakistan. “Here’s the problem: if we don’t [give aid], what then? And that ‘what then’ is really important. Does China step in? Who steps in? Does anybody step in? What will this do?”

There were even calls to use more, not less. Michael O’Hanlon, a foreign policy scholar at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, proposed that the U.S. should build its relationship with Pakistan—by accelerating aid payments, providing debt relief, reducing drone strikes in tribal areas, and negotiating a free trade agreement. “We should have quiet discussions that would indicate a willingness to raise the stakes if they will shut down Afghan Taliban sanctuaries, and take other steps like slowing nuclear weapons development as well,” O’Hanlon told Maclean’s. “We are at a crossroads and, absent a big idea like this, the likely direction in the relationship is downward.”

Despite his criticism of Islamabad, Kerry also acknowledged that Pakistan paid a price for allowing a U.S. drone campaign against militants that has killed Pakistani civilians. In future relations with Pakistan, he said, “We really have to be careful not to cut off our nose to spite our face.”


 

How did Pakistan not know bin Laden was hiding there?

  1. .
    The latest reports from the Pakistani side of the argument suggest that the main social face of the building was a Pakistani with quite credible credentials. He had old, non-computerized identification, which would not only make it harder to keep computerized records on him, but further establish his long term residency. It was only by the most painstaking intel operations and interrogation on the American side that the man's connection with OBL was developed.

    Understanding OBLs skill at sequestering both himself, and others in the compound, it's not hard to imagine his escape from detection. Once the building became strongly suspect, it took a long time for CIA monitoring to establish beyond a doubt. And how often have 'America's most wanted' domestic criminals escaped the FBIs detection, often living virtually 'in plain sight'?

    They are also saying they did, in fact, have evidence of OBL, but the U.S. was not acting on the intel they brought them.

    So, I have to give Pakistan the benefit of the doubt until the full facts are established. Perhaps they were covering him, perhaps they just weren't trying hard enough, perhaps it will be forever the usual fog of spookdom, the real facts hidden by, and from, both sides beyond the reach of even long future historians.

    For example, the facts of Lee Harvey Oswald's CIA 201 file, which one side claims was a type of file opened on anyone, and the other side (supported by a the secretary present and in charge of that very department) credibly counters was only opened on its own operatives, contacts, and assets, will probably never be revealed.

    So we have to wait.
    .

  2. George Bush junior said after 9/11 that "you are either with us or against us" and "if you harbor terrorists then you will be treated like a terrorist." Has the Obama administration forgotten those words or changed its policy since that time and not told the people? When do you draw the line? Pakistan, at some level, knew Bin Laden was there and America should make them pay for not telling the US. Somebody has got to take the fall for this error. The US pays $60 billion a year for some 30 intelligent agencies to keep the them informed and time and time again they let them down and nobody holds anyone accountable. Am I the only one to think this way? "Where's the beef' we've got to ask. Canada has no proper intelligent agency worth talking about so we follow blindly what the US tells us. Is this being independent? Twenty years ago Canada selected the US F18 as it's plane to have because it offered 2 engines to fly the north as Canada said that was needed. Now our government says a plane with only 1 engine is good enough. How soon we forget!

  3. I think only a handful of people knew Osama Bin Laden was hiding there. Most government people knew he lived there.

  4. I strongly suspect that Pakistan' military has full knowledge and has fully authorized Bin Laden's and cohorts stay in Military Garrison Town of Pakistan as a "Give Me More Money " Ploy. The longer they could keep Bin Laden and cohorts hidden, the longer and more money would keep coming from allies (for suppose to be fighting terrorism). I wouldn't be surprise to read later on that Al-Zwahiri and other high ranking Al-Queda officials are hiding in Pakistan as well.

    • It is not implausible that military officials knew but kept it from the intelligence and political branches of government.

      • That would be comforting if you are right, but what scares me is that this Pakistani president lacks strength of character, conviction, and will. His departed wife showed more back bone than he ever does. He is more concerned with surviving his presidency with his head intact than doing his country a service. In 2008, there were already rumors in Pakistan and US (Ms. Amanpour) that Bin Laden was in hiding in a Pakistani mansion in one of the suburbs close to Islamabad, so it would be inconceivable that their spy agency had not heard of this and followed up. Few residents of this particular city were interviewed; they couldn't believe the innocence of their government/military/spy agency either. This particular town is unlike others. This is a military garrison town, whoever resides there are very much controlled by the Military. Every building/residents has to be inspected and approved before residency. Its spy agency and the military are tightly tied, not like in US or here in Canada. I suspected that the denial of the president is a way of saving face, which is very important in that part of the World. An apology is a question of manhood and by many if not most deception is an accepted way of life.

  5. Let's make this real simple. Forget about whether or not any element of the Pakistani government knew the whereabouts of Bin Laden. I want a US cargo jet to arrive tomorrow in Pakistan and the Pakistani government to turn over all of the helicopter wreckage. If they won't do that we have a real problem with our "ally".

  6. Pakistani Intelligence = Oxymoron.
    But they are intelligent enough to play the rest off the world for a patsy. The mullahs take from the infidel and use what they take against the infidel. And the infidel keeps giving. The infidel does not ask questions. The mullahs are busy killing or converting other religions in Pakistan, but they come to our countries and demand their ways be allowed and accepted. And we let them. Politicians never were and never will be interested in the truth; just their own interests.

  7. It is impossible that somebody in the Inter-Service Intelligence Agency didn't know that Osama bin Ladin was hiding less than 100 km from the capital. I will even take it a step further: it's looking more and more like the Pakistani Army had Osama under their protective custody. Pakistan has been playing a triangularization game of playing off India, the United States and Al-Qaida against each other. This is so that the military junta that really rules the country can stay in power.

  8. Talk about disingenuousness!
    Let's put aside for a moment the question of whether or not the Pakistan Government was aware of Bin Laden living '"under their nose" for the past 5-6 years. (I'm convinced that they knew.)
    I want to know if the American Government was completely unaware of Pakistan's duplicity in its previous dealings?
    If America's President(s) truly believed that they had a true, reliable friend in Pakistan until now, then their degree of incompetence and naivety exceeds all bounds.
    As the Wikileaks disclosures shows, America itself is dishonest, duplicitous, and unreliable in its own political dealings with other nations-both friend and foe alike.
    So let Pres. Obama not be so shocked at Pakistan's behaviour. He should calm down and not make the situation worse. It's just politics as usual.

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