In a scoop that's generating a lot of buzz in foreign policy circles this morning, The New York Times, citing unnamed U.S. officials, is reporting that Pakistani intelligence has arrested five Pakistani informants who provided the C.I.A. with information that in the lead-up to the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. CNN has a similar story but quotes an unnamed Pakistani official. The news is generating more questions than answers. Here are some of the most pressing ones:
- Who are the informants? Details are still hard to come by, but the Times says one informant is a Pakistani army major who copied the license plates of cars visiting bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (pictured above) shortly before the raid. The AP learns from an anonymous U.S. official that one informant is the owner of a safe house rented to the CIA to observe bin Laden's compound, while an unnamed Pakistani official tells The Guardian that another is believed to be a medic with the army medical corps, and that some of the informants may have been under the impression that they were spying for Pakistan, not the U.S. The Guardian also sheds light on what may be the "safe house" mentioned in the AP report, noting that a house 200 feet behind bin Laden's back wall had a nameplate with the name of an army major that was removed days after the raid.
- What does this say about U.S.-Pakistan counterterrorism cooperation? In Washington, the Times explains, some "see the arrests as illustrative of the disconnect between Pakistani and American priorities at a time when they are supposed to be allies in the fight against Al Qaeda--instead of hunting down the support network that allowed Bin Laden to live comfortably for years, the Pakistani authorities are arresting those who assisted in the raid" (in another troubling revelation today, the AP is reporting that an operative who helped lead the U.S. to bin Laden's courier has rejoined al-Qaeda after Pakistan released him). In Pakistan, meanwhile, Pakistan's proud military leaders are embarrassed about how the U.S. managed to pull off its bin Laden raid right under their noses and angered by continued U.S. drone strikes against militants in Pakistan's tribal region. "Some officials and outside experts said the military is mired in its worst crisis of confidence in decades," the Times adds. Here's a helpful if anecdotal data point to assess the partnership: the deputy C.I.A. director recently rated Pakistan's relationship with the U.S., on a scale of one to ten, as a three, according to the Times, while a Pakistani military spokesman thinks it's a four, per CNN. At least they can agree on something.
- What does Pakistan have to say? A Pakistani military spokesman has denied the report in the Times that an army major was arrested but Pakistani officials have neither confirmed nor denied the overall reports about the arrests, according to the AP. Another Pakistani military spokesman tells the BBC that "no Pakistani soldier is under arrest, but we are interrogating several people whom we suspect of having been working for American intelligence services," including some who Pakistan picked up during a "raid at a house located close to the bin Laden compound" and others "who used to visit the compound." The spokesman, the BBC adds, "said that two categories of people were among those arrested--those who threw flares into the Bin Laden compound to guide approaching US helicopters and those who helped the helicopters refuel within Pakistani territory." Another Pakistani official tells The Guardian that Pakistan is justified in detaining soldiers or civilians involved in foreign espionage. "No country would allow its officials or people to spy for another country," he explained.