Pakistan hand seen in unmasking US spy

CIA removes top officer in Islamabad as tension mounts

Some American officials were convinced that the officer’s cover was deliberately blown by Pakistan’s military intelligence agency.

The American spy’s hurried departure is the latest evidence of mounting tensions between two uneasy allies, with the Obama administration’s strategy for ending the war in Afghanistan hinging on the cooperation of Pakistan.

The tensions could intensify in the coming months with the prospect of more American pressure on Pakistan.

As the cloak-and-dagger drama was playing out in Islamabad, 100 miles to the west the CIA was expanding its covert war using armed drones against militants.

Since Thursday, CIA  missile strikes have killed dozens of suspects in Khyber Agency, a part of the tribal areas in Pakistan that the spy agency had largely spared until now because of its proximity to the sprawling market city of Peshawar.

American officials said the CIA station chief had received a number of death threats since being publicly identified in a legal complaint sent to the Pakistani police this week by the family of victims of earlier drone campaigns.

American officials said they strongly suspected that operatives of Pakistan’s powerful spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), had a hand in revealing the CIA officer’s identity—possibly in retaliation for a civil lawsuit filed in Brooklyn last month implicating the ISI chief in the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

ISI refutes claim

However, an official of the ISI angrily denied on Saturday that it was responsible for revealing the name of the CIA officer in Pakistan.  “We absolutely deny this accusation, which is totally unsubstantiated and based on nothing but conjecture,” a senior ISI official said in a background briefing at the headquarters of the spy organisation in Islamabad.

The mistrust between the CIA and ISI, two uneasy but co-dependent allies, could hardly come at a worse time.

The Obama administration’s Afghan war strategy depends on greater cooperation from Pakistan to hunt militants in the country’s western mountains, and yet if Pakistan considers Washington’s demands excessive, it could order an end to the CIA drone campaign.

“We will continue to help strengthen Pakistani capacity to root out terrorists,” President Obama said on Thursday in a briefing on the war strategy. “Nevertheless, progress has not come fast enough. So we will continue to insist to Pakistani leaders that terrorist safe havens within their borders must be dealt with.”

The job of the CIA station chief in Islamabad is perhaps the spy agency’s most important overseas post, one that requires helping oversee the agency’s covert war and massaging its often testy relationship with the ISI.

That relationship has often frayed in recent years. American officials believe that ISI officers helped plan the July 2008 bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul as well as provided support to Lashkar-e-Taiba militants who carried out the Mumbai attacks later that year.

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