WASHINGTON — Pakistan has arrested informants who helped the U.S. zero in on Osama bin Laden, U.S. and Pakistani sources said Wednesday in the latest damaging repercussion from the fatal raid that angered and embarrassed Pakistanis as much as it thrilled Americans.
Authorities in Pakistan also have failed to expedite the entry of CIA officers into the country, despite agreeing two weeks ago to form a new joint intelligence-sharing team to hunt al-Qaida, two senior U.S. officials told The Associated Press. The joint team was intended to rebuild trust on both sides that was badly damaged by fallout from the May 2 raid deep inside Pakistan.
Pakistan considers the raid a violation of its sovereignty and is incensed that the U.S. withheld plans from its nominal ally for fear that the Pakistanis would tip off bin Laden. Many Pakistanis are angry with their own Army — the country’s pre-eminent institution — for failing to intercept the U.S. Navy SEALs who carried out the raid.
Officials in Pakistan deny arresting informants and insist their government is cooperating to issue visas for U.S. intelligence officers, but they provide no timeframe. They in turn complain that the U.S. has shared very little intelligence with them from the bin Laden operation.
The claims and counterclaims are further signs that a partnership born of a shared goal to foil terrorism is undermined by mistrust, suspicion and finger-pointing, despite several high-level U.S. visits to Islamabad to patch things over.
CIA Director Leon Panetta spent last weekend trying to smooth over disagreements with the country’s Interservices Intelligence, Pakistani officials say, including pressing the Pakistanis to move forward on forming the joint intelligence team to go after high-value al-Qaida targets thought to be living in Pakistan.
Panetta and his counterpart, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, discussed how many CIA officers would be allowed in to pursue al-Qaida and what they would be allowed to do, a Pakistani official said Tuesday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the confidential meeting.
Panetta also questioned the Pakistani spy agency about the detention and interrogation of up to five Pakistanis accused of helping the CIA spy on bin Laden’s secret compound in Abbottabad, a U.S. official said.
First reported in The New York Times, the arrests included the man who rented out his Abbotabad home to CIA-affiliated observers, allowing a close view of comings and goings, two officials said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.
The Times said detained informants included a Pakistani army major who officials said copied the license plates of cars visiting bin Laden’s compound in the weeks before the raid. The Pakistani military denied Wednesday that an army major was arrested.
One Pakistani official said the arrests were being “misreported” as people suspected of spying for the Americans when they were actually being interrogated because they were suspected of helping hide bin Laden. The official said Tuesday the intelligence service had arrested dozens of suspects who lived near, or regularly visited the bin Laden compound, and that up to 40 were still being held, including an extremist sheik who educated the children, and local citizens who delivered groceries and other supplies.
White House spokesman Jay Carney would not comment on the arrests. The relationship with Pakistan is complicated but necessary, he said.
“The cooperation we do get is vital and essential to our war against terrorism,” Carney said.
While not directly confirming the arrests, Defense Secretary Robert Gates dismissed the diplomatic clash as part of doing business in the real world.
“Most governments lie to each other,” Gates said, in response to grilling by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy at a hearing. “That’s the way business gets done,” he added.
Leahy fired back, “Do they also arrest the people that help us, when they say they’re allies?”
“Sometimes,” replied Gates, “and sometimes they send people to spy on us, and they’re our close allies. That’s the real world that we deal with.”
The testy exchange came during an otherwise friendly Senate hearing in which Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned senators to resist the temptation to withdraw aid to Pakistan out of pique or frustration.
“Changes to these relationships in either aid or assistance ought to be considered only with an abundance of caution and a thorough appreciation for the long view, rather than the flush of public passion and the urgency to save a dollar,” Mullen said.
The U.S. has given Pakistan roughly $20 billion in direct aid since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The 2009 Kerry-Lugar bill on Pakistan aid authorizes $1.5 billion in annual economic assistance until 2014, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The debilitating turn in U.S.-Pakistan relations comes as Congress is taking a close look at overseas funding while trying to trim the mammoth U.S. budget deficit.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner defended U.S. aid to Pakistan but acknowledged that the country will have to demonstrate its commitment to digging out terrorism and must “answer Congress’ concerns.”
Just back from Pakistan, House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich. said it was “the time to start putting more pressure on Pakistan to do the right thing,” and he predicted the U.S. would set new “benchmarks” for Pakistan to prove it is holding up its end in counterterror cooperation.
Rogers said he’d had “frank discussions” with Pakistan intelligence chief Pasha, as well as Army chief Gen. Asfaq Parvez Kayani over his suspicions that elements of the Pakistani army and intelligence service had helped shelter bin Laden, though he said there was no evidence the leadership was aware.
He also questioned them on reports that the U.S. shared the location of two bomb-building sites in Pakistan’s frontier provinces with bad results. Two U.S. officials told the AP in early June that they’d shared the satellite information of the location of two Haqqani network bomb-making factories as a confidence-building measure while working on the formation of a joint intelligence effort with the Pakistanis.
But within 24 hours, the officials say they watched the militants clear the out the sites — proof to the Americans that the Pakistanis had shared the information with U.S. enemies, the officials said.
Pakistani officials told the AP they were about to carry out raids, and later described finding the two compounds empty. The officials said they would investigate U.S. accusations that Pakistani intelligence had tipped off the militants.
Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor, Erica Werner and Bradley Klapper in Washington and Munir Ahmed and Ishtiaq Mahsud in Pakistan contributed to this report.