The head of the CIA, in line to become the next Secretary of Defense, said out loud today that Pakistan is not to be trusted with US intelligence.
In his first interview since commanding the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, CIA chief Leon Panetta tells TIME that U.S. officials feared that Pakistan could have undermined the operation by leaking word to its targets. Long before Panetta ordered Vice Admiral William McRaven, head of the Joint Special Forces Command, to undertake the mission at 1:22 p.m. on Friday, the CIA had been gaming out how to structure the raid. Months prior, the U.S. had considered expanding the assault to include coordination with other countries, notably Pakistan. But the CIA ruled out participating with its nominal South Asian ally early on because “it was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardize the mission. They might alert the targets,” Panetta says.
I have to suspect that this was meant for a Pakistani audience and only secondarily for a domestic one. It’s a tremendous provocation to say that Pakistan is essentially not a trustworthy ally with intelligence information. But there are too many hints of Pakistani involvement to believe this. The fact that the helicopters made it in and out of Pakistani airspace without being confronted, and only being detected at the very end; the fact that electricity in Abbottabad was cut off for two hours before the raid and then miraculously restored; and so on. Pakistan does not want to give off the impression of working together with the US on the raid, so to the extent that their officials have claimed any responsibility for this, it has come along the lines of intelligence-sharing prior to the event. In fact, today Pakistan mildly chastised the US for undertaking an unauthorized raid.
“Pakistan expresses its deep concerns and reservations on the manner in which the government of the United States carried out this operation without prior information or authorisation from the government of Pakistan,” it said.
It said such “unauthorised unilateral action” cannot be taken as a rule and said it should not become “a future precedent” for any country.
“Such actions undermine cooperation and may also sometimes constitute threat to international peace and security,” it added.
This is silly. Not only does there deserve to be suspicion about Pakistan’s claims that they didn’t know bin Laden’s whereabouts, there deserves to be suspicion about this narrative of an unwitting raid that Pakistan was kept in the dark about. So you have to read between the lines a bit. Both sides are saying what they need to say for their domestic political audiences, and helping their counterparts out to boot. It’s in Pakistan’s interest to deny knowledge and act angry with the US. It’s in America’s image to deny cooperation and express frustration with bin Laden’s relative comfort. But this information has been known to top US officials for months, and was certainly the subject of back-channel communications with Pakistan.
The question is, when and where does this oppositional stance end? Congress is probably more genuinely upset with the circumstances than the White House. Do they stop foreign aid appropriations? Dianne Feinstein’s holding a secret briefing this week with Panetta and others. Watch for what members of Congress say after that.