US Intel spying on ISI-Taliban communications?
Why the US bugged Pakistan Army generals
Monday, February 16, 2009
Book claims drone attacks began after ISI-Taliban coordination confirmed
By Rauf Klasra
ISLAMABAD: A new book by a New York Times journalist has levelled serious allegations against Pakistan and its Army claiming the telephones of all senior officers, including the COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani were bugged by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA), the main eavesdropping US agencies around the world.
The book written by David E Sanger, which has hit the stands a few days back, claims that the American intelligence agencies were intercepting telephonic conversations of Army officers and the decision to attack Pakistan through drones was taken after one such high level conversation was intercepted claiming the Taliban as a “strategic asset” for Pakistan.
The book, titled “The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the challenges to American power” claims the decision to invade Pakistani territories was taken after the CIA reached a conclusion that the ISI was absolutely in complete coordination with the Taliban.
The NSA intercepted messages indicating that ISI officers were helping the Taliban in planning a big bombing attack in Afghanistan although the target was unclear. After some days, the Kandahar Jail was attacked by the Taliban and hundreds of Taliban were freed, it says.
General Kayani would be the second army chief of Pakistan whose conversations have been bugged by the Americans, if the allegations in the book are true. Earlier the FBI had intercepted the telephone conversation between President Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto when Musharraf had threatened her that her safety within Pakistan depended upon her nature of relationship with him (Musharraf). The Indians had also recorded a telephone conversation between General Musharraf and General Aziz when Musharraf was in Beijing during the Kargil war days.
The author who seemed to have been given direct access to the secret record of several meetings held at the White House before George Bush left the presidency on January 20, has made several revelations in his book.
The book has also disclosed that NSA was already picking up interceptions, as the units of Pakistan army were getting ready to hit a school in the tribal areas. Someone was giving advance warning of what was coming. The book said they must have dialed 1-800-HAQQANI, said one person who was familiar with the intercepted conversation.
According to another para, the account of the warning sent to the school was almost comical. “It was something like that “Hey, we are going to hit your place in a few days, so if anyone important is there, you might want to tell them to scream”.
The book also establishes that the Americans were in full knowledge of the facts on the ground and they started attacking territories inside Pakistan as they thought the Pakistan army and intelligence agencies were no more interested in fighting the Taliban.
In chapter 8 of the book on Pakistan “Crossing the Line”, the author has also revealed that how an angry two star army officer of Pakistan army had actually unfolded the whole secret plan of Pakistan army deliberately before a US spy master McConell.
The book said, the US intelligence agencies knew very well that Musharraf was playing a double game with them as on the one hand he was assuring the Americans that only he could fight against the Taliban and on the other, he was backing the militancy and the militants. “Musharraf’s record of duplicity was well known.
The author has written this chapter on Pakistan on basis of some secret trips of America’s twwo top spy chiefs-McConnel an Haden-nicknamed as “two Mikes” who had held several meetings with the top military army officers including General Pervez Musharraf.
The author records that in late May 2008, McConnel made a secret trip to Pakistan, his fourth or fifth since becoming the director of national intelligence, trips that seemed to blur together in his head.
But this one was dramatically different from the rest- and ended up driving the push in the last days of the Bush administration to greatly step up covert action across the border into Pakistan.
The book says, packing quickly through his usual rounds of meetings with Musharraf and a raft of intelligence officials in Islamabad, McConnel and his small entourage found themselves in a conference room with several military officers, including a two star Pakistan general.
No officer was talking to other participants in the meeting as if the American intelligence chief, the visiting dignitary for the day, wasn’t in the room. Not surprisingly, he was being pressed about Pakistan strategy in the tribal areas, and he was “reluctant to start” one of the participants in the conversation recalled.
“But once he got into it, he could not contain himself”. The two-star general began making the case that the real problem was the tribal areas and in Afghanistan was not al-Qaeda or the Taliban, or even the militants who were trying to topple the Pakistani government. The real problem was Pakistan’s rival of more than sixty years which he said was secretly manipulating events in an effort to crush Pakistan and undo the 1947 partition that sought to separate the Islamic and Hindu states.
“The overwhelming enemy is India”, the Pakistani officer told the General. “We have to watch them at every moment. We have had wars with India, he said as everyone in the room needed reminding.”
The Pakistani two-star general described President Karzai’s cozy relationship with India, seeking investment and aid. With alarm, he talked about how the Indians were opening consulates around the country and building roads. What the rest of the world saw as a desperately needed nation-building programme, Pakistan saw as a threat. He was not alone in that view, conspiracy theories about Indian activities in Afghanistan are a daily staple in the Pakistani media.
As the officer talked, he became more and more animated. The Indians will surround us and annihilate us, he said, knowing McConnel was hearing every word. “And the Indians in their surrounding strategy, have gone to Afghanistan.” Those newly built roads were future invasion routes, he seemed to suggest, without quite saying so.
The consulates were dens of Indian spies. The real purpose of the humanitarian aid to Afghanistan was to run “operations out of Afghanistan to target Pakistan”.
The conspiracy theory deepened. “In the long run, America will not have the stomach to bear the burden of staying in Afghanistan,” the officer continued, still seeming to ignore the presence of the American intelligence chief. “And when the Americans pull out, India will reign. Therefore, the Pakistanis will have to sustain the contacts with the opposition to the Afghanistan government meaning the Taliban so when the Americans pull out, it’s a friendly government to Pakistan. “Therefore,” the officer concluded with a flourish, “we must support the Taliban”, two-star general announced in the meeting in the presence of US spymaster.
The last statement of the two star general stunned McConnel. For six years, the Americans had paid upward $10 billion to the Pakistan army to support its operations against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Bush and his aides knew — though they never admitted that much of the money had been diverted to buying equipment for the Pakistan military to bulk up against the Indian. Now a Pakistani officer in his fury and frustration, was openly admitting that the Pakistani government had officially denied that it was playing both sides of the war—-the Americans side and Taliban side.
In return for the Americans billions, Pakistani forces or intelligence agencies operatives occasionally picked off a few al-Qaeda leaders (though even that had slowed to a trickle). But they were actively supporting the Taliban and even some militants in the tribal region. It was almost as if the American taxpayers were making monthly deposits in the Taliban bank accounts. Some in the Pentagon objected but were overruled.
None of this was really a surprise-except to the American people who were regularly told by President Bush that Pakistan and its leadership were a strong ally against terror. Even some of the Bush aides cringed when he uttered those words “it was like hearing him say, victory in Iraq”, one told me after leaving the muddled complexity of it all was some kind of admission of defeat.
Even some inside the While House, admitted to me (author) that “reimbursements” to the Pakistani military were just this side of fraud. They had been paid out when Musharraf had announced he was pulling back from tribal areas because of a “truce” with the tribal leaders. When Congress threatened to link the reimbursement to the Pakistan military performance, one American general summarized this reaction this way: “It’s about goddamn time”.
Bush knew the truth. Intelligence reports written over the past five years have all documented the ISI support for Taliban-something Bush had admitted to me (author) and other reporters. He knew of course that even Musharraf had little interest in sending his army into tribal areas. Every military professional who returned from Islamabad came back with the same report. Seven years after 9/11, 80 per cent of Pakistan military was arrayed against India.
McConnel himself returning from one of his trips noted that there is only one army that has more artillery tubes per unit, everything from old cannons to rocket launchers and mortars. It’s North Koreas’, he said. It was a telling statistic. Artillery tubes weigh tonnes and are useful only in holding back Indian hordes as they come across the plains. They are useless against terrorists enclaves.
Overhearing the two-star’s rant about India was not the only rude surprise McConnel experienced on this trip. He had brought with him the chart he used in the White House situation room tracking the number of attacks inside Pakistan over the past two and a half years.
One of the charts showed that about 13,000 Pakistanis had been killed in 2007 chiefly by suicide bombers, about double the numbers in 2006.
He told Musharraf and General Kayani, the former DG ISI, that the casualty numbers on the track to double again in 2008. Then he described the interviews that Osama Bin laden and his deputies had given, declaring their intention to topple the Pakistan government.
“You are aware of these casualty numbers and what Osama said of course”, McConnel asked. He got blank stares. They told him they had heard about Bin Laden statements.
“It was news”, McConnel reported to his colleagues later. “I talked to the highest level of the Pakistani government and it was news. They just were not tracking it”. It astounded him that the officials in Washington and at the American embassy in Islamabad might be keeping more careful tabs on the rising number of attacks than were Musahrraf or Pakistani crop of democratically elected leaders. Were they ignoring the obvious or were they just denying they knew about it, part of the deception within the deceptions as they supported both sides in the terror fight.
When McConnel returned to Washington in late 2008, he ordered up a full assessment so that he could match what he had heard from the single angry officer with the intelligence that had poured in over the years. His question was a basic one. Is there what McConnel called an officially sanctioned “dual policy” in Pakistan?” That was a polite way of asking whether the leadership of the country including Musahrraf had been playing both sides of the war all along.
It did not take long for McConnel’s staff to produce the answer. McConnel took the formal assessment to the White House, concluding that the Pakistani government regularly gave the Taliban and some of the militant groups “weapons and supporters to go into Afghanistan to attack Afghan and coalition forces”.
This was not news to many in the administration but McConnel wanted to have it down on paper. The assessment was circulated to the entire national security leadership and to Bush who was still giving public speeches praising Musharraf as a great ally.
“It was news to him,” said one of the officials who briefed Bush and watched his reaction to McConnel’s assessment. “And he always says the same thing, so what do you do about it?
By the summer, Bush answered his own question. For the first time in a presidency filled with secret unilateral actions, he authorized the American military to invade an ally-Pakistan.
Editor’s Note: The ISPR has been requested for a detailed response and whenever available it would be given equal and similar space.