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CIA chief in Pak rushes back to US

December 18, 2010 14:38 IST

The top Central Intelligence Agency official in Pakistan has been called back home from Islamabad after his cover was blown allegedly by the Inter Services Intelligence, resulting in a serious threat to his life.

The 'purposeful' leaking of identity of the CIA station chief in Islamabad -- named in Pakistani media as Jonathan Banks -- allegedly by the Inter Services Intelligence is in retaliation of a lawsuit filed against the Pakistani spy agency's chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha in a New York court over the Mumbai terrorist attacks, news reports said.

The CIA official was rushed out of the agency's massive station in Islamabad on the same day that President Barack Obama issued a new warning to Pakistan's leaders that "terrorist safe havens within their borders must be dealt with," The Washington Post said, referring to Thursday's developments.

The CIA official's continued presence in the Pakistani capital posed a serious threat to his life after his identity was exposed, following which he has been receiving threatening calls, the American media reported, without naming him.

"The American officials said they strongly suspected that operatives of Pakistan's powerful spy service, the directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, had a hand in revealing the CIA officer's identity -- possibly in retaliation for a civil lawsuit filed in Brooklyn in November implicating the ISI chief in the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008," 'The New York Times reported.

The development brings a new low in the relationship between the intelligence agencies of the United States and Pakistan, which had been strained of late.

"The American spy's hurried departure is the latest evidence of mounting tensions between two uneasy allies, with the Obama administration's strategy for ending the war in Afghanistan hinging on the cooperation of Pakistan in the hunt for militants in the mountains that border those two countries. The tensions could intensify in the coming months with the prospect of more American pressure on Pakistan," The New York Times said.

The Washington Post also said the allegation marks a new low in the relationship between the CIA and its Pakistani counterpart, at a time when both intelligence services are under pressure to root out militant groups and the CIA is waging a vastly accelerated campaign of drone strikes.

A US intelligence official told the Post that the CIA head in Islamabad became the target of death threats after his cover was blown. The station chief, the official said, was recalled to CIA headquarters because "terrorist threats against him in Pakistan were of such a serious nature that it would be imprudent not to act."

In Pakistan, Geo News channel quoted an unidentified US embassy official as saying that the CIA station chief in Islamabad was named in a case filed with police by a tribesman, who claims his son and brother were killed in an American drone attack.

On Monday, Kareem Khan, a resident of North Waziristan tribal region, filed a complaint with the police that demanded the registration of a case against the CIA station chief for drone attacks in the tribal belt.

Khan said in his complaint that a CIA-operated drone fired missiles at his house on December 31, 2009 and killed his son and brother. Police did not register a case against the CIA official and sent Khan's application to the Prosecution Branch for legal advice.

The CIA station chief was reportedly facing threats to his life in the wake of these developments. Khan named Banks as the CIA station chief during several interactions with the media in Pakistan.

Reacting to reports about the CIA station chief being recalled, Khan's lawyer Shehzad Akbar said, "This is a victory for our stand, as they (the US) are killing Pakistanis. We will also approach the US courts to seek compensation for the killing of innocent people and to stop these drone strikes."

A group of people from North Waziristan, who claimed they were victims of US drone attacks, participated in a two-day sit-in in Islamabad last week to draw attention to the killing of civilians in the missile strikes. In November, Khan served legal notices to US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and CIA chief Leon Panetta, saying he would sue them if he was not paid $500 million as compensation.

The Washington Post said there has been speculation for weeks in the Pakistani news media that the ISI directorate had played a role in encouraging the North Waziristan resident to bring the suit and had provided the station chief's name.

US officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said on Friday for the first time that they were increasingly persuaded that was the case, the paper reported.

"The ISI, as the Pakistani service is known, may have done so in retaliation for a civil lawsuit filed in New York in November, accusing ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha of being involved in the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, US officials suggested," the daily said.

The 'mistrust' between the CIA and the ISI, two uneasy but co-dependent allies, could hardly come at a worse time, The New York Times said.

"The Obama administration's Afghan war strategy depends on greater cooperation from Pakistan to hunt militants in the country's western mountains, and yet if Pakistan considers Washington's demands excessive, it could order an end to the CIA drone campaign," said the paper

An unnamed ISI official was quoted as saying by The Washington Post that there is no reason for retaliation, even as he argued that there was no basis for the lawsuit filed in the New York court against the ISI chief.

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