Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan’

I’ve been busy working on a story the past few days, hence my lack of blogging. This story will see the light of day soon. I will post it here when it’s ready.

In the meantime, I’ll point out a few recent articles – most of them from Foreign Policy – which I highly recommend reading.

The Antisocial Network: Flashpoint’s Evan Kohlman looks at how cyber-jihadists reacted to the death of Osama bin Laden.

The Cost of Pakistan’s Double Game: RFE/RL journalist Daud Khattak assesses Pakistan’s complicated and contradictory tolerance and ties to jihadist groups and figures living in the country.

Replacing Bin Laden: Al-Hayat journalist Camille Tawil provides more biographical information and analysis about interim al Qaeda leader Saif al-Adel.

Misnomers and Misdirection: In light of Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress earlier this week in which he said “Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by the Palestinian version of al Qaeda,” my former professor Daniel Byman looks at the differences between Hamas and al Qaeda.

Disgraced John Ensign Back In Legal Jeopardy: Murray Waas reports that Senator John Ensign’s last-minute decision to release more than 1,000 sensitive emails between himself, his lawyers, and his advisers to Senate Ethics Committee investigators could put him in legal jeopardy with the Department of Justice.

John Edwards Could Be Indicted Within Days: The Department of Justice plans to file criminal charges against former presidential candidate John Edwards, according to the Associated Press. The source says an indictment could come within days unless Edwards cuts a deal with prosecutors and pleads guilty to a negotiated charge.

Federal Prosecutors Try To Force New York Times Reporter To Reveal Sources: ABC News reports prosecutors have subpoenaed Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter James Risen to testify at the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Stirling, who is accused of leaking classified information about Iran’s nuclear program to Risen, among other things. Risen plans to ask the court to quash the subpoena, but “sources close to Risen” cited in the article say he is willing to go to jail to protect his sources.

Happy Memorial Day weekend to all!

If you only read one story today, read the Washington Post’s account of David Headley’s testimony during the trial for his role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks:

CHICAGO — A confessed Pakistani American terrorist took the stand in a Chicago courtroom Monday and described a close alliance between Pakistan’s intelligence service and the Lashkar-i-Taiba terrorist group, alleging that Pakistani officers recruited him and played a central role in planning the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

David Coleman Headley’s long-awaited testimony at the start of a trial with international repercussions resolved one question at the outset: Federal prosecutors did not hesitate to connect Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) to the attacks that killed 166 people, including six Americans.

Headley has pleaded guilty to doing reconnaissance in Mumbai and is the star government witness against his alleged accomplice, Tahawwur Rana. Headley testified that Lashkar “operated under the umbrella of the ISI” even after the group was banned in Pakistan in 2001.

The ISI and Lashkar “coordinated with each other,” Headley testified. “And ISI provided assistance to Lashkar: financial, military and moral support.”

After he trained three years with Lashkar, Headley said, a “Major Ali” of the ISI recruited him when he was briefly detained near the Afghanistan border in 2006. Ali referred him to an officer known as Major Iqbal, who became Headley’s handler and worked separately but in coordination with Lashkar chiefs, directing Headley’s reconnaissance in India and providing $25,000 to fund his mission.

Correction: Give credit where it’s due… The account cited is by ProPublica, but was republished by the Washington Post.

One of the traits which made Osama bin Laden such an effective leader of the organization he founded was his ability to get individual terrorists and terror groups to look past their political, sectarian, and national differences and focus on a common goal. This ability to overlook contradictions apparently extended into his personal life.

Then:

I knew from the beginning that [bin Laden] was not willing to drink any soft drinks from American companies, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Sprite, 7-Up. He was trying to boycott all American products because he believed that without Americans, Israel cannot exist.
- Palestinian journalist Jamal Ismail, who met bin Laden in 1984
Source: Peter Bergen, “The Osama bin Laden I Know,” p. 39

Then:

“My Muslim Brothers: The money you pay to buy American goods will be transformed into bullets and used against our brothers in Palestine. By buying these goods we are strengthening their economy while our poverty increases. We expect the women of the land of the two Holy Places and other countries to carry out their role in boycotting American goods. The security and intelligence services of the entire world cannot force a single citizen to buy the goods of his/her enemy. The boycotting of American goods is a very effective weapon for weakening the enemy.”
- Osama bin Laden
“The Declaration of Jihad on the Americans Occupying the Country of the Two Sacred Places”
August 23, 1996
Source: Peter Bergen, “The Osama bin Laden I Know,” p. 165

Now:

May 4 (Bloomberg) — The two polite Pakistanis who helped Osama bin Laden hide in the shadow of their country’s army bought bulk food orders, chose major brands and equally favored Pepsi and Coke, neighbors and a local shopkeeper said.

While the administration and the media have focused much of the public’s attention on the intelligence gold mine recovered by Navy SEALs during the Osama bin Laden operation, it is important to remember a less dramatic, but important angle that both the government and the press can look into: the financial lifeline that allowed the Al Qaeda leader and his family to build and live in that compound for years.

Al Qaeda has demonstrated it has the knowledge and savvy to use the financial and banking system to achieve its ends. The 9/11 plot, which investigators believe cost the organization between $400,000-500,000 to carry out, was financed almost entirely by Al Qaeda using a combination of cash couriers, conventional wire transfers and banking methods in the United States and overseas. Reforms implemented in the aftermath of 9/11 have made it more difficult to use a financial or banking institution to launder or transfer funds for nefarious purposes. By focusing on the compound, investigators may be able to collect more information about Al Qaeda, which could potentially be just as promising as any of the data from the raid.

Anyone who has ever bought a property or built a home knows that the entire process is inherently a team sport, requiring the participation of multiple individuals to see through to the end.  Simply put, Osama bin Laden couldn’t have bought the land, filed the paperwork, hired people to design and build the compound, overseen the construction, set up heating, water and electricity, and pay for bills, taxes and living expenses by himself. At every step of the way, he needed intermediaries to do it on his behalf and pay for the goods received or services rendered. Separating the individual components necessary to build that compound and make it function may uncover possible Al Qaeda operatives, calculate the costs, and possibly get a sense of the organization’s financial state at the time the compound was being built and while bin Laden was living there.

According to property records obtained by the Associated Press, a man named Mohammed Arshad bought adjoining plots of land in 2004-2005 to build the compound for $48,000.   Two of the plots were purchased using an unidentified middleman who may have passed them on to Arshad – one of several possible aliases he used – who may have been bin Laden’s courier that inadvertently tipped off U.S. intelligence officials to the location and existence of the compound.

The courier and his brother who lived in the compound are literally a dead end from an interrogation perspective – both men were killed during the raid. However, the money trail may still yield promising leads.  Unless the plots of land were bought using cash, there would have been some type of transaction involving at least one financial institution, whether it was paid as a wire transfer or a check.  Following the money from the transaction to its original source may yield more leads: the name or alias of an operative or holding company, contact information, or other persons who helped to facilitate the deal.

After the acquisition of the land, it would have been necessary to hire professionals to design and build the compound, meager as it was. Gul Mohammed, identified by The Sun as the builder of the compound, was quoted by the tabloid saying he never saw bin Laden or knew he was living there, and described the oversight of the project saying, “Only one or sometimes two would come to supervise my work – and they never cared about money.” Unless Al Qaeda was somehow able to keep the job in house with someone affiliated with or trusted by the organization, checking with architects, contractors, or construction firms in Abbottabad or nearby cities may generate even further leads on the amount of money paid and who – possibly the courier and his brother based on media accounts by the previous owners of the land and the builder – was responsible for overseeing the entire project.

Although photographs of the compound and the video of Bin Laden watching himself on TV show that it was far from luxurious, housing and feeding as many as three dozen people required some basic utilities for the compound, specifically water, electricity and heating.  A private or government-owned utility company presumably would have been responsible for installing the necessary infrastructure during the construction process, and would have issued bills and collected revenues from one of the residents or an intermediary.

Moreover, the courier or another person may have had to pay some type of taxes on the property, on a one-time or recurring basis. If so, corresponding records might exist for the compound in a federal or local tax agency in Pakistan.

By taking these possible leads, in conjunction with accounts from local merchants who provided goods and services to the residents of the compound, it may be possible to calculate an estimate for how much it cost Al Qaeda to build and maintain the property. This information, if cross-referenced with previously available intelligence about the organization or some of the new material obtained during the raid, could help government officials create a picture of Al Qaeda’s financial structure and health during the past few years. By doing so, it may be possible to better assess its capability to carry out an operation or to function as an organization.

Bin Laden had been living there for at least five years, President Obama told 60 Minutes, and he didn’t do it alone: “We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan. But we don’t know who or what that support network was.” Excluding the question of whether or not anyone in the Pakistani government was involved, the existence of the compound alone and all that was necessary to build it and keep it operational for its residents proves bin Laden had a support network in his personal circle for his immediate daily needs.

To use an old cliché, money makes the world go round. Support networks for any criminal or terrorist organization require money to function.  Looking into how much it cost to build this compound and where the money came from could yield more leads on Al Qaeda worth pursuing.  Such information may contribute to achieving President Obama’s objective of “badly disabling” the group, because history has shown that understanding and disrupting the financial lifelines of criminal or terrorist networks can be just as damaging to them as bombs and bullets.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) has looked at the photos of Osama bin Laden’s body and has described them on the record.  Based on his account, it seems like pretty gruesome stuff:

In an interview with The Atlantic Wire after he returned from the CIA headquarters, Inhofe described the photos he saw. He said he was shown 15 photos. A dozen of those were taken at the Abbottabad compound and appear to be “taken right after the instant he was shot.” They sound gruesome. They show a massive head wound in the ear and eye. “The brains were coming out of his socket,” Inhofe said. But he said three other photos were taken on board the ship before bin Laden’s sea burial. In these, the body has been cleaned up and Inhofe, who has advocated releasing the photos, said, “It’s much more reasonable to show the public these photos.”

After being kept in the dark about the Bin Laden operation until after it was over, Pakistani government officials have complained that they should have been involved or informed. The ISI – Pakistan’s intelligence agency – has been especially embarrassed by this entire episode, considering that they should have known Bin Laden was living in hiding on their soil for at least five years.

Then again, if this is the ISI’s idea of operational security and secrecy regarding a high-value target, the administration won’t have too much difficulty justifying its decision to keep Islamabad out of the loop:

Pakistan’s military intelligence organisation has confirmed that the leader of the Taliban group is hiding in the west of Pakistan’s Quetta city, reports say.

A senior Pakistani intelligence official has said the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) will step up a huge operation to detain or kill the Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister during his visit to China said the death of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan could end up helpful to Afghan peace process.

After the death of Osama Bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad, the country’s military intelligence agency has been planning to detain or kill the Taliban leader.

Some reports suggest the ISI has already launched a hunt-down operation in Quetta city of Pakistan.

Regardless of accuracy, imagine if this story had been about Bin Laden rather than Omar. U.S. government officials would be howling about it for weeks.

In the immediate aftermath of the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed, one of the key questions asked by journalists and policymakers was about Pakistan’s complicity – or the lack thereof.  At the center of this political firestorm is Pakistan’s military and intelligence services, a key domestic political constituency. The Pakistani people and the press are now asking themselves the same uncomfortable questions that were asked about the CIA’s assessments of Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent WMDs: did we get it wrong because of incompetence or because we knew about it and looked the other way?  A secondary question, and perhaps bigger in terms of domestic politics, that has emerged in Pakistan: how did American helicopters loaded with Navy SEALs fly into Pakistani airspace and carry out a 40-minute raid without anyone in the national security apparatus noticing?

The fact that the most wanted man in the world was found living in a suburb of Islamabad approximately three hours outside of Islamabad, where he had been living for years within walking distance of a police station and the Pakistani equivalent of West Point is absolutely astounding. It disproved the conventional wisdom that he had been hiding out this entire time in caves in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. A Pakistani official familiar with information provided by one of Bin Laden’s wives said that before Abbottabad, the Al Qaeda leader and his family had been living in a village 40 kilometers away near the city of Haripur from as far back as 2003.

Given what we now know about how and where Bin Laden was living makes a decade’s worth of denials from Pakistani leaders ring hollow. However, somebody in the American intelligence community suspected something long before the chilling of U.S.-Pakistani relations of the recent past and last Sunday’s raid. Bill Maher recently dug up a clip from his show from October of 2008 in which then-CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour said “I just talked to somebody very knowledgeable. She doesn’t think, this woman who is in American intelligence, thinks that he’s [Osama bin Laden] in a villa, a nice comfortable villa in Pakistan, not a cave.”

The criticism and second-guessing of Pakistan has been blistering and relentless since last Sunday. Steve Coll wrote, “The initial circumstantial evidence suggests… that bin Laden was effectively being housed under Pakistani state control.” President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser John Brennan told reporters, “I think it is inconceivable that bin Laden didn’t have a support system in the country that allowed him to remain there for an extended period of time.”

It’s worth keeping in mind that Bin Laden is not the only senior Al Qaeda member to have been caught in an urban area of Pakistan. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi were apprehended in Rawalpindi and Mardan, respectively, with Pakistani involvement in both operations.

Unfortunately for the Pakistanis, their long track record of denials about Bin Laden’s presence in their country, and the “double game” played by the government – supporting the U.S. effort against Al Qaeda, while at the same time supporting the Taliban and the Haqqani network – means that the burden will be on them to prove that they didn’t know.  This essentially forces them to prove a negative, something which is very difficult to do effectively and beyond dispute.

Pakistan’s intelligence service is already in full-blown damage control mode.  ISI chief Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha is heading to Washington to offer explanations.  The Daily Beast recently reported that Pasha may step down as the government’s fall guy over the Bin Laden intelligence failure.  Pakistan’s embarrassment over the Bin Laden episode may give the United States some political and diplomatic leverage in the short term – perhaps in the form of renewed pressure for actionable intelligence on Mullah Omar or Ayman al-Zawahiri. Expect the U.S.-Pakistan relationship to remain frosty at least until the Pakistanis are able to convince the Obama administration and Congress that they didn’t know Bin Laden’s whereabouts.  However, if evidence emerges that people in the Pakistani government knew about his location and withheld that information from the United States, it will be a whole new ball game.

Update: More Bin Laden raid fallout on the Pakistani domestic political front…  Lawmakers are calling on President Asif Ali Zardari and other senior government officials to resign.

Update II: Apparently part of the ISI’s CYA effort is outing the identity of the local CIA station chief in the Pakistani media.

Update III: Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, sent out a tweet shooting down the story: “NO, The Nation just ran made up name 4 CIA Stn Chief in I’abad in made up story abt DG ISI’s travels.”

The Times of India puts the whole mess into context.

Update IV: Correction. A previous version of this inaccurately referred to Abbottabad as a suburb of the Pakistani capital city of Islamabad. According to Google Maps, Abbottabad is approximately 70 miles to the north. Thanks to Huffington Post reader Kazim Nawab for pointing that out.

Would-be modern day saint Greg Mortenson got hit by a devastating one-two journalistic punch courtesy of Jon Krakauer and 60 Minutes pointing out his nonexistent loose relationship with the truth as it relates to some anecdotes and details in his best-selling books.

In making the comparison between Mortenson and James Frey, Krakauer notes, “Frey, unlike Mortenson, didn’t use his phony memoir to solicit tens of millions of dollars in donations from unsuspecting readers.”

Beyond the literary embellishment or outright fabrication alleged in both reports, the charges that Mortenson has mismanaged or used CAI funds for personal use, or claimed credit for building nonexistant schools raise even more troubling questions.  The fact that President Obama gave $100,000 of his Nobel Peace Prize money to Mortenson’s charity will bring even more scrutiny to what he’s done with the millions of dollars he’s raised over the years.

Again, I quote the Beatles: “Sexy Sadie what have you done / You made a fool of everyone.”

googleearthdrones

Memo to U.S. military and intelligence agencies: Make sure you block or filter satellite images on Google Earth of your Predator drones when they’re sitting around on a runway in Pakistan.

A.Q. Khan has launched a website. Maybe an address like nukesforsale.com would have been too obvious? I noticed that it’s very heavy on emphasizing his charitable and humanitarian efforts regarding schools, mosques, health clinics and NGOs. I’ll be keeping an eye out if he creates a Facebook and/or Twitter account.