Pakistan’s intelligence service has arrested the owner of a safe house rented to the CIA to observe Osama bin Laden’s compound before the US raid that killed the al Qaeda leader as well as a “handful” of other Pakistanis, a US official said on Tuesday.
In Pakistan, a Western official confirmed a New York Times report that five of the Pakistani informants, who fed information to the CIA before the May 2 bin Laden raid were arrested by Pakistan’s top military spy agency — the ISI.
The NYT said the detained informants included a Pakistani army major, who officials said copied the license plates of cars visiting bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan in the weeks before the raid. The fate of the CIA informants, who were arrested was unclear but US officials told the NYT that the CIA director Leon Panetta raised the issue when he visited Islamabad last week to meet Pakistani military and intelligence officers.
The US-Pakistani relations have been strained over the raid by Navy SEALs on Pakistani territory, which was a blow to their military and other issues. Officials said the arrests of five CIA informants were just the latest evidence of the fractured relationship between the two nations.
The NYT said that at a closed briefing last week, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee asked Michael Morell, the deputy CIA director, to rate Pakistan’s cooperation with the US on counter-terrorism operations, on a scale of one to 10. “Three” Morell replied, according to officials familiar with the exchange, the newspaper said. US officials speaking to the NYT cautioned that Morell’s comment was a snapshot of the current relationship and did not represent the Obama administration’s overall assessment.
“We have a strong relationship with our Pakistani counterparts and work through issues when they arise,” Marie Harf, a CIA spokeswoman said.
“Director Panetta had productive meetings last week in Islamabad. It’s a crucial partnership and we will continue to work together in the fight against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, who threaten our country and theirs.”
Key aide in hunt for bin Laden back with al Qaeda
The terrorist, described as the main associate in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, has rejoined al Qaeda after the Bush administration released him from a secret CIA prison under pressure from Pakistan, according to former and current US intelligence officials.
Shortly after the CIA decided to close the secret prisons, the US intelligence agency returned Hassan Ghul in 2006 to his native Pakistan, which had been demanding his release since his capture about two years earlier. Pakistan held Ghul for at least a year before he was released, eventually making his way back to al Qaeda to help with operations against the US, the officials said.
Pakistan’s decision to free Ghul, a mid-level al Qaeda operative, is yet another troubling revelation at a time when the US is rethinking its relationship with Pakistan.
Ghul’s return also raises questions about how the Bush administration, which was committed to keeping less dangerous detainees locked up at the US prison at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, could hand over the man who provided the information about Laden’s trusted courier, that in May led to bin Laden’s death at the hands of US commandos.