Pakistan’s spy agency seeks some credit for bin Laden’s death
By Richard Leiby, ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: Pakistan’s premier spy service, stung by lingering suspicions that it was complicit in sheltering Osama bin Laden, said Friday that it deserves credit for helping U.S. intelligence officials locate the hideout where the al-Qaeda chief was killed by American commandos nearly a year ago.
“The lead and the information actually came from us,” a senior official with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) said in an interview, reviving a push for recognition ahead of the anniversary of the stealth raid in a town about 70 miles by road north of the capital, Islamabad.Washington has cast serious doubt on the ISI claim — and frequently portrays the agency as a sponsor of Islamic extremists — but a renewed official embrace of the operation that eliminated bin Laden is revealing in itself.
Many Pakistani politicians have described the May 2 raid as an assault on Pakistan’s sovereignty and an example of U.S. arrogance. A Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA in the hunt for bin Laden remains in custody on charges of treason, and his associates are barred from working.
After U.S. helicopters swooped in to breach bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan’s army said it knew nothing about his six-year presence in the garrison town, site of Pakistan’s most prestigious military academy.
The ISI continues to maintain that stance. But recent claims by one of bin Laden’s widows that the fugitive al-Qaeda leader spent some nine years in Pakistan, living in several homes and fathering four children, have renewed questions about whether somebody in the powerful spy service knew of his whereabouts.
On Friday evening, over iced tea at a hotel cafe, two ISI officials offered a narrative that they say puts Pakistan in a better light. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter.
One noted that ISI’s new head, Lt. Gen. Zaheer ul-Islam, is taking a “proactive” approach to public relations to improve the international image of the much-maligned intelligence service.
“Any hit on al-Qaeda anywhere in the world has happened with our help,” the official said.
The other official, who said he had been intimately involved in the hunt for senior al-Qaeda operatives, including bin Laden, said the ISI provided the CIA with a cellphone number that eventually led to an al-Qaeda courier using the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.
The story about the phone number isn’t new, but now ISI has fleshed out one aspect of it: The officials said that in November 2010 they turned over the number to the CIA, along with information that it was last detected in Abbottabad.
The ISI said it did not know then that the number was Kuwaiti’s, but that CIA analysts did and yet never relayed that information back to the Pakistanis.
“They knew who the number belonged to,” the official said, adding that he had worked closely with the CIA and turned over thousands of suspect numbers. “But after that their cooperation with us ended.”