Suspicions Rise as Pakistan Bomb Labs Empty Before Raids

By Thom Shanker for The New York Times

For the second time this month, bomb-making factories in Pakistan were evacuated shortly after American intelligence officials notified Pakistani security forces of their existence, fueling suspicions that such intelligence is being shared with insurgents.

It remains unclear whether the evacuations — four of them in the past month alone — were the result of deliberate or inadvertent leaks or were planned in advance of the intelligence sharing as part of a mobile production operation.

But the disclosure, which appeared in an article by The Associated Press over the weekend, prompted senior members of Congress on Sunday to accuse Pakistan of playing a double game by aiding the United States on some counterterrorism operations while also maintaining ties to violent, extremist organizations operating from its territory.

The comments, by legislators who specialize in intelligence matters and military affairs, were just the latest expression of distrust between Washington and Islamabad after a series of bruising episodes, notably the secret American raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

However — as with everything having to do with Pakistan, terrorism and espionage — it remained unclear how or whether the militants learned of the American intelligence, which came with a request from Washington for local security forces to raid the explosives laboratories. Pakistani security forces routinely inform tribal elders before raids, in order to keep the peace with them, and it is possible that these village leaders in turn tipped off fellow Pashtuns among the insurgents.

Representative Mike Rogers, a Republican of Michigan and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, having returned from meetings in Pakistan last week, said Sunday on the CBS program “Face the Nation” that “I am more pessimistic coming out of this trip than I have been in the past.”

He expressed deep skepticism that the Pakistani military and the nation’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, were fully partners with the United States in battling terrorists and insurgents on their side of the border with Afghanistan.

“Pakistan needs to understand that there is no such thing as a good terrorist,” Mr. Rogers said. “They’re playing this very dangerous game of destabilization by having elements of the ISI and the army sympathetic to the Taliban and Al Qaeda elements.”

He was joined by Senator John McCain of Arizona, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, in calling for a reassessment of American financial assistance to Pakistan.

“After all, the United States is investing billions and billions of dollars in Pakistan,” Mr. McCain said on the ABC program “This Week.” “And taxpayers have a right to have a return on that.”

He said “the most frustrating aspect of this whole issue” was ISI’s continuing relations with two insurgent organizations, the Taliban and the Haqqani network, a Taliban ally based in the Pakistan tribal area of North Waziristan. “So it seems to me that to restore our confidence in our relationship with Pakistan, they have to make certain steps,” Mr. McCain said. “And we have to sort of set up some benchmarks as to what we expect.”

All four of the bomb factories — which made improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s, the largest killer of American troops in Afghanistan — were evacuated before Pakistani security forces could take action against them. Information on two of the locations, in Pakistan’s tribal areas, was shared only in the past week, and insurgents packed up and left both sites within days.

A range of senior American intelligence officials, diplomats and military officers have visited Pakistan since the May 2 raid that killed Bin Laden; the mission outraged Pakistan’s government and citizens because it was carried out without first informing the government in Islamabad.

The goal of these high-level visits has been to halt the erosion of the relationship and to offer new opportunities for cooperation. Some have described those offers as tests of Pakistan’s will to be a full partner and act on shared information to pursue terrorists and insurgents.

The Pakistan military spy agency has arrested more than 30 people who fed information about the Bin Laden compound to the Central Intelligence Agency in the months leading up to the raid, fueling further distrust between the two nations.

On “This Week” on Sunday, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, defended the arrests. “No one is being punished,” he said, adding: “When something like this happens, you want to know what happened and how, and who was involved.”

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  1. June 20th, 2011

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