Leon Panetta is absolutely trying to set up Pakistan publicly. Yesterday he said in an interview that the US never told Pakistan about the forthcoming mission into Abbottabad to kill bin Laden because they would have tipped him off. Implicit in that statement is the idea that at least some Pakistani officials knew where bin Laden was hiding. Otherwise, how could they tip him off? Later that day, Panetta said to Congress – and basically allowed it to be leaked, through evidently not putting too fine a point on the secrecy of that part of the briefing – that Pakistan is either grossly incompetent or culpable:
CIA Director Leon Panetta told House members Tuesday that any way you look at it, Pakistan’s role in Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts was troubling.
According to two sources in a closed door briefing, Panetta told lawmakers “either they were involved or incompetent. Neither place is a good place to be.”
Panetta was responding to a question from a member of Congress about Pakistan, which was the first question of the hour-long classified briefing, the sources said.
He made clear that he and other administration officials are trying to get to the bottom of which it was -involvement or incompetence.
With all of these quotes, you have to keep in mind that Panetta is scheduled to become the next Secretary of Defense. And look at this – it’s a joint statement from the US and Pakistani military, cementing their close cooperation:
Both delegations acknowledged that the recent counterterrorism operation resulting in the death of al-Qa’ida leader Usama bin-Laden underscores the importance of cooperation in our efforts to defeat terrorism. Both sides affirmed their mutual commitment to their strong defense relations, which they stressed should continue to serve as the foundation of the broader strategic partnership. (emphasis mine)
A concurrent statement from the Pakistani government claimed that they shared intelligence with the United States about the bin Laden compound in Abbottabad as far back as 2009.
Look, I’m sure there is some truth to what Panetta is saying. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that key leaders of the ISI and the Pakistani military walk on both sides of the street. But no matter how much US officials confirm that Pakistan didn’t know about the Navy SEAL raid, and no matter how much Pakistanis formally lodge complaints about the violations to their national sovereignty, you’re not going to get me to believe it.
Let’s look at the facts. Bin Laden is in a compound without any bodyguards, a place he had lived for six years in a somewhat posh suburb next to the Pakistan Military Academy. Two hours prior to the nighttime raid, electricity gets cut from Abbottabad, only to get restored 15 minutes after the raid completed. Four US military helicopters fly in and out of the area undetected, even after a loud explosion destroying one of the vehicles. No security forces come to inquire about a 40-minute firefight, complete with gunshots and the aforementioned explosions.
There are two deceits here: one, from the Pakistanis, is that they never knew bin Laden was living under their noses. Heck, go back to this account from a Miami Herald reporter who saw bin Laden walking down the street in Islamabad in 2002. The second is that Pakistan had no knowledge of the raid. That’s just fanciful. And if you put these two deceits together, it’s not hard to paint a picture of some Pakistani leaders – military, intelligence, political, who knows – giving up bin Laden, for what we don’t know, and allowing the raid to take place.
Now, I think Congress has their own beliefs and their own agenda, and they do want answers to all of this. Who knows, maybe foreign aid to Pakistan is in peril (although most of the more established committee chairs have cooled their tempers on this point). But I’m just not feeling the crocodile tears and show of belligerence on either side. This seems like a shadow play for the benefit of local audiences. I would add that it serves the interests of the Administration to have the ability of letting Pakistan know that their aid is in danger of being revoked.