CIA, ISI both need and hate each other | world | Hindustan Times
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CIA, ISI both need and hate each other

Foreign spy services, even those of America’s closest allies, will try to manipulate you. So you had better learn how to manipulate them back.

world Updated: Jul 21, 2008 01:29 IST

As they complete their training at “The Farm”, the CIA’s base in the Virginia tidewater, young agency recruits are taught a lesson they are expected never to forget during assignments overseas: There is no such thing as a friendly intelligence service.

Foreign spy services, even those of America’s closest allies, will try to manipulate you. So you had better learn how to manipulate them back.

But most CIA veterans agree that no relationship between the spy agency and a foreign intelligence service is quite as byzantine, or as maddening, as that between the CIA and Pakistan’s Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.

It is like a bad marriage in which both spouses have long stopped trusting each other, but would never think of breaking up because they have become so mutually dependent.

Without the ISI’s help, US spies in Pakistan would be incapable of carrying out their primary mission in the country: hunting Islamic militants, including top members of Al Qaeda. Without the millions of covert US dollars sent annually to Pakistan, the ISI would have trouble competing with the spy service of its arch-rival, India.

But the relationship is complicated by a web of competing interests. First off, the top American goal in the region is to shore up Afghanistan’s government and security services to better fight the ISI's traditional proxies, the Taliban, there.

Inside Pakistan, America’s primary interest is to dismantle a Taliban and Qaeda safe haven in the mountainous tribal lands. Throughout the 1990s, Pakistan, and especially the ISI, used the Taliban and militants from those areas to exert power in Afghanistan and block India from gaining influence there. The ISI has also supported other militant groups that launched operations against Indian troops in Kashmir, something that complicates Washington’s efforts to stabilise the region.

Of course, there are few examples in history of spy services really trusting one another. After all, people who earn their salaries by lying and assuming false identities probably don’t make the most reliable business partners. Moreover, spies know that the best way to steal secrets is to penetrate the ranks of another spy service. (NYT)