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Archive for category US DRONE WAR ON PAKISTAN

Pakistan’s subservience to lukewarm defiance   Brig.Gen(Retd) Asif Haroon Raja, Pakistan Army

This article was written before the fall of Kabul to the Taliban Forces

Pakistan’s subservience to lukewarm defiance

 

Asif Haroon Raja

9/11 changed the global dynamics

On the morning of 9/11/2001, unknown hijackers flying two passenger planes struck the twin towers in New York with short intervals, the third plane headed for Washington and struck part of the Pentagon building and the 4th plane on its way to Pennsylvania was shot down. The flummoxed US security watched the gory drama for hours helplessly.

The US media blared earth-shaking news and cried hoarse over the air terrorism which took the lives of little over 2700 Americans. The world was shocked and the world leaders shed tears of anguish and sympathy over the great tragedy, while the Zionists drew satisfaction that they were successful in hoodwinking the world. 9/11 changed the global dynamics and from that time onwards the world moved differently.

All the three successive regimes of the USA led by George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump played into the hands of the Zionists, American Jewish lobby and Israel, and used excessive military force to destroy the targeted Muslims countries, and to kill, maim and displace the Muslims ruthlessly under a pre-planned agenda.

Each year, wreaths were laid on the graves of the innocent Americans who died in New York, but no tear was shed for the millions of Muslims who were killed by the revengeful Americans for no fault of theirs.

Al-Qaeda blamed without evidence

Since Osama bin Laden (OBL) hailed from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and most of the 19 hijackers were from KSA, it was assumed that OBL based in Afghanistan and heading Al-Qaeda had masterminded the attacks. Al-Qaeda was squarely blamed on the basis of assumptions that it had been involved in attacks against American targets since 1997 and had carried out attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1999.

A crusade against the Muslims

Fuming George W. Bush declared that the US was at war and pledged to avenge. He avowed the Global War on Terror (GWoT) as a ‘crusade’ against the perpetrators without collecting a shred of evidence. The Americans sitting in the hall stood up from their seats and cheered him thunderously, while the world leaders extended their support to bludgeon the ones who had dared to attack the mighty sole super. Not a single country spoke in support of the Taliban regime which had no role to play in the attacks. Their only fault was that they had refused to hand over OBL without providing them proof of his involvement.        

The overall agenda was to demean Islam, which after the demise of communism in Russia was viewed as a major threat to capitalism, the arms, drugs and pharmaceutical barons and the unjust global international order run by the sole superpower.

Israel and India, the two strategic partners of the US, didn’t take part in the GWoT initiated by the US in Oct 2001 but drew maximum benefits from the war.

The UN-recognized freedom movements of the Palestinians and the Kashmiris to free their lands from the illegal occupation of Israel and India were categorized as terrorism, thereby giving a free hand to the two fascist and racist countries, Israel and India, to brutalize the Palestinians and the Kashmiris unpityingly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Denuclearization of Pakistan

In order to disable the nuclear program of Pakistan covertly, Pakistan was deceitfully made an ally and Pakistan readily fell into the honeycombed trap.

India was assigned the responsibility to plan and execute the biggest covert war against Pakistan from Afghan soil, and make it politically unstable, economically and militarily weak and socially divided; subsequently, launch a limited war under Cold Start Doctrine and the nuclear overhang to destroy Pak armed forces. 

RAW along with 14 intelligence units, seven Pakistan specific Indian Consulates and Indian Embassy in Kabul set up a huge terror infrastructure in Afghanistan with 70 training camps and centres in 2002 and were given full support by the CIA, Mossad, MI-6, BND and NDS.

The proxy war against Pakistan

Initial objectives of destabilization were FATA in the northwest and Baluchistan in the southwest of Pakistan. This was done through proxies hired from Pakistan. In FATA, the Pakistani Taliban were used as mercenaries. In Baluchistan, the Balochi tribes of Bugtis, Marris and Mengals were brought in line and proxies like BLA, BRA and BLF were created.

The proxies were funded, trained and equipped to carry out acts of sabotage and subversion in the two combat zones. The flames of terrorism were to be subsequently spread to all parts of Pakistan. The MQM was also roped in to destabilize Karachi, the hub of Pakistan’s economy.

 

Pakistan coerced to join GWoT

Pakistan under Gen Musharraf who had been bullied to ditch the ruling Taliban regime of Mullah Omar and to extend full support to the US to capture Afghanistan was later on coerced to send regular troops into South Waziristan (SW) in 2003 to flush out the Al-Qaeda and the ones harbouring them. This was in violation of the agreement signed in 1948 by Quaid-e-Azam and the elders of FATA to keep the tribal belt outside the ambit of Pakistan’s penal laws and parliamentary system and to let them be governed by the British enacted Political Agent system and the Frontier Constabulary Rules. The Frontier Corps could only operate in FATA.  

The intrusion of regular troops into SW fueled Talibanization and by Dec 2006, with the active support of the CIA and FBI, Tehreek-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP) was born. Well over 600 pro-Pakistan Maliks, elders and religious leaders were killed to create space for the TTP under Baitullah Mehsud. After the death of Akbar Bugti in a mountain cave in 2006 because of a mysterious blast at a time when the Army’s delegation approached him to sign a peace agreement, the insurgency in Baluchistan morphed into a separatist movement and several Baloch Sardars fled abroad who are being patronized by their western hosts and India. Insurgencies in the two regions were well-synchronized by the master planners.   

Pakistan’s hands tied

When armed insurgency suddenly erupted in Indian Occupied Kashmir in Oct 1989 and gave a chance to Pakistan to even up the score of 1971 with India, the US threatened Pakistan to stay out of it or else it will be declared a terrorist state. Pakistan under Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif (NS) complied meekly and quietly watched the massacre and torture of Kashmiris by the occupying 700, 000 Indian forces.

Pakistan once again became powerless to initiate a proxy war to counter the RAW-NDS covert war after 9/11 that had become an existential threat to its security by 2009, because its hands were tied by the new laws on terrorism framed by the US. Those abetting terrorists were to be held equally responsible for terrorism. India and its partner the Kabul regime were given a free hand and have still not been held accountable since the framers of anti-terrorism laws are themselves involved in this game.   

Pakistan’s fault lines attacked

The band of conspirators in Kabul hatched a series of conspiracies and kept funding and arming the paid proxies to bleed the Pak security forces and to create instability and insecurity in the country. To boost the covert war, the propaganda war was upgraded to hybrid war and the moles of foreign agencies deployed in Pakistan aided by purchased Pakistani media started accentuating ethnic, sectarian, religious and political fault lines of Pakistan in order to foment intolerance, extremism and hatred among various sects and political parties.

Keeping the model of East Pakistan where the Bengalis were successfully brainwashed, the minds of the people of smaller provinces were poisoned to fill their hearts with hatred against the ruling government, Punjab and Pak Army/intelligence agencies. The focus has mainly been on weakening the trunk of the army and the ISI which have blunted all the conspiracies and dangerous plans of the adversaries.

Pakistan’s subservience

 

Pakistan’s successive regimes have pursued a policy of appeasement due to which its adversaries have been taking full advantage. Subservience to the US dictates touched new heights during the tenure of Gen Musharraf. Each and every demand of Washington was obsequiously obeyed and no eyebrow was raised on the never-ending mantra of ‘Do More’ or the insults and accusations hurled by the US leaders. It was incomprehensible for every Pakistani as to what compelled nuclear Pakistan to mollify the two US-installed Kabul regimes which took dictations from the US and India. Hamid Karzai and the unity regime of Ashraf Ghani (AG)-Dr. Abdullah never spared any opportunity to bad mouth Pakistan. Till as late as 2017, Pakistan kept appeasing India as well. Pakistan’s 80,000 human and 150 billion dollars financial losses were the doings of RAW and NDS.

Pakistan’s successive regimes from the time of Gen Musharraf to Zardari and NS ignored the hard fact that RAW and NDS couldn’t have carried out massive covert and propaganda wars from Afghan soil without the full support of the CIA and approval of the US. The trio as well as Israel and the West are on one page. The Quad apart from achieving their global ambitions, they are continuing to demean Islam as a policy.

So what could be the compulsion of Pakistani leadership was a million-dollar question asked? The only obligation is that our leaders are too infatuated with the USA and cannot get out of its magic spell irrespective of whatever cost the nation has to pay.

The devastating impact of this one-sided appeasement was that Pakistan lost its nuclear deterrence, its honour and dignity, and anyone could insult or slap Pakistan and get away with it. Pakistan was blamed for all the sins of the Indo-US-Afghanistan nexus and was declared ‘nursery of terrorism, ‘the most dangerous country and a ‘failing state’. Pakistan took the barbs without a whimper and kept promising to do more to please the double-dealing USA, which never wanted Pakistan to become a self-reliant country. 

 

Pak-China equation and CPEC

 

Apart from Pakistan’s nuclear program, other eyesores that were unacceptable to the Indo-US-Israel nexus were Pak-China closeness and the CPEC. Terrorism was stepped up by RAW-NDS to scuttle CPEC. Pakistan was lured by KSA and UAE by granting heavy loans and promising establishment of an oil refinery at Gwadar, and the US promising activation of ROZs in former FATA and an economic zone at Karachi as an alternative to the CPEC.

A sustained media warfare was launched against China. Major themes played up were: CPEC passes through the disputed territory of Gilgit Baltistan; China is a replica of East India Company; Pak-China trade is heavily tilted towards the latter; 90% of the benefits of CPEC are taken by China; China is buying properties in Pakistan at a vast scale and weighing down Pakistan under its loans; Chinese are luring Pakistani girls to marry them, and after taking them to China are being tortured and sexually exploited; Chinese are inhumanly torturing the Muslim Uighurs in Xingjian province.

While the Pakistan military made no compromise on the nuclear program, cracks appeared in the Pak-China friendship in 2018/19 over CPEC due to irresponsible statements made by Razaq Dawood and some other PTI ministers saying that all the CPEC agreements will be revised. Resultantly CPEC which had galloped fast in the first phase came to a halt for almost a year.

    

Pakistan’s defiance

The first brick of defiance was laid by PM Liaqat Ali Khan by refusing the USA to convince/pressurize Iran not to nationalize its oil. The second brick was laid by the PM ZA Bhutto when he refused Henry Kissinger to close Pakistan’s nuclear program. Both had to pay a big price; Liaqat was murdered and Bhutto was hanged. Nawaz Sharif in May 1998 rejected pressures from Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, turned down the inducement of $ 5 billion and went ahead in carrying out six nuclear tests in response to five conducted by India. In 1999, he was unseated. Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani as army chief lost his cool after NATO’s Apache gunship helicopters attacked Pakistan army posts in Salala (Mohmand Agency) on Nov 26, 2011, killing several officers and men. This offensive act was a follow up of incidents of Raymond Davis in January 2011 followed by a stealth helicopters attack in Abbottabad to get OBL on May 2, and the Memogate scandal in Oct. In reaction, Pakistan Army discontinued military cooperation, intelligence sharing and training of Frontier Corps by the US trainers, and cancelled all visits and courses. The two supply routes used by the NATO containers were blocked and the Shamsi airbase in use by the CIA since 2003 was closed. The situation was normalized in July 2012 after Washington tendered an apology with an assurance that such an act will not be repeated.  

In 2017, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa took a bold stand by stating that ‘We will not do more, and ‘it is time for others to do more. The next was his perseverance to erect a fence along the border with Afghanistan and Iran. Both the Kabul regime and the US exerted extensive pressure to stop the erection of a fence along the western border. 92% fencing of western border and 47% of the southwestern border has been completed and both will be completed by Aug 2021 and end of this year respectively. Radical improvement of border management was another feat that has been accomplished. Next will be the fake national identity cards issued by NADRA in millions to foreigners, mostly the Afghans including the one held by AG.    

PM Imran Khan (IK) showed the mirror to the arrogant West for the first time in his maiden address to the UN in 2019 reminding them that no money laundering was possible from the third world without the tax havens in the European capitals. He also exposed the ugly face of India comparing RSS with Nazis and Modi with Hitler and this has been his consistent theme. Standing up to India’s belligerence in February 2019 and giving a befitting response goes to his credit.

Extreme American pressure on Pakistan by the US to detach itself from the CPEC was resisted. Thankfully, dormant CPEC has been fully reactivated and now the lost time is being recouped with full vigour.

Pak-China friendship has blossomed into a strategic partnership, which is analogous to the US-Israel and the US-India partnership. 

The biggest jolt given to the US by Pakistan was IK’s refusal to meet the CIA Director and Foreign Secretary and then refused to give it a military base for so-called counter-terrorism operations against the Al-Qaeda, Daesh and Taliban. IK’s ‘Absolutely Not’ became a buzzword in Pakistan. Such acts of defiance from the compliant state were stupefying for the totalitarian USA.    

Drop scene for the USA and India

The arrogance and prestige of the USA boasting to be the mightiest and invincible military power have been rolled in the dust by the ragtag, ill-equipped, ill-dressed and ill-fed Taliban after they forced the US-NATO forces to exit from Afghanistan. The Taliban outwitted the occupation forces and the collaborating forces, and the way they overpowered the country was a textbook example of military brilliance. They also displayed diplomatic finesse by engaging with all the neighbours to set aside their fears. Politically they played their cards shrewdly by keeping their Doha political office active, treated the surrendering troops and the people of the captured cities with compassion, and won the confidence of all segments of the society.   

The pugnaciousness of six-times bigger India and constant machinations of five intelligence agencies in collusion with RAW to break Pakistan into four parts spread over 16 years have been foiled by Pakistan armed forces and the ISI, which is a big achievement and an embarrassment for India.

Having spread its tentacles in all the departments of Afghanistan and spent $ 3.5 billion in various projects including a dam in Herat, India is today in a fix. After the hurricane-like advance of the Taliban capturing one city after another, India winded up all its Consulates and RAW operatives have fled away. They have destroyed or shifted all the incriminating documents showing their dirty works against Pakistan.            

Ramifications for the USA

The ignominious departure of the occupying forces and ending of the 20-year war in Afghanistan will have grave ramifications for the USA, as was the case with the former USSR in 1989. It had taken only two years for the USSR to fragment and be reduced to the Russian Federation in 1991. The US not only lost the war in Afghanistan, but it is also withdrawing its troops from Iraq by the end of this year as demanded by the Iraqi PM Mustafa al-Khademi. It has withdrawn its support to the Saudi coalition against Yemen and is likely to exit from Syria where Bashar al-Assad has been re-elected. China is on the rise and Russia under Putin is resurging. Joe Biden is facing criticism on account of the hasty exit of the US troops from Afghanistan, which in view of the critics emboldened the Taliban to race to Kabul. He and his predecessors are likely to face the music of the Americans as to why they fought the longest war, what objectives they achieved and at what cost and why they consistently lied to them.

The spoilers are still in action

The spoilers of peace with India in the lead wanted to keep Afghanistan unstable. While the Taliban kept gaining ground, RAW and NDS continued with their proxy war in Pakistan, demeaned the Taliban and resorted to disinformation campaigns.

Lahore blast, followed by a spate of terrorist attacks in Waziristan and Baluchistan, the Dassu attack in which 9 Chinese and 3 locals lost their lives, and the engineered drama of abduction of the daughter of ambassador of Afghanistan in Islamabad were masterminded by RAW-NDS. There are indications that the CIA was also involved in the Dassu incident.  

In July, India’s transport planes flew over Iran’s airspace four times to deliver 80 tons of war munitions to Kandahar military base and the same quantity to Kabul for the ANA. The US jets flew from the UAE airbase over Tajikistan’s airspace to attack the Taliban in Kandahar. Indian pilots flew gunship helicopters in support of the besieged ANA troops.

The eight warlords were asked by the Kabul regime to reactivate their militias and to confront the Taliban but the prominent warlords fled abroad and Ismail Khan in Herat is in the custody of the Taliban.

The current situation in Afghanistan

All the efforts of the spoilers misfired and the Taliban have taken full control over the whole of the country without much fighting. Their 6000 prisoners locked up in provincial capitals and Bagram airbase which the Kabul regime was not releasing were freed by the Taliban themselves.

After moving closer to Kabul and tightening the noose around it, their fighters entered Kabul on August 15, forcing AG to flee to Tajikistan with his whole team on the afternoon of 15 August without tendering resignation. The same evening the Taliban fighters captured the presidential palace, but the Taliban leadership announced general amnesty to all and announced that Kabul will not be captured forcibly.

The Taliban leadership rejected the proposal of an interim setup for which Dr. Abdullah, Hamid Karzai and Gulbadin Hikmatyar as members of the Afghan Rabita Council are working, and want the power to be directly handed over to them. The Taliban are in a commanding position to arrive at a political settlement of their choice, but they are likely to share power with others as well.  

In case AG doesn’t tender his resignation in the next 1-2 days, he may possibly establish a government in exile on the advice of his patrons. The Northern Alliance might be once again activated duly patronized by the West and India to brew instability in Afghanistan.

Russia and China are likely to provide full support to the Taliban.

Pakistan is of two minds, either to go along with the international community influenced by the USA or to support the Taliban.  

UK’s PM Boris Johnson who had termed the Doha Agreement as ‘a rotten deal’, and had also declared Biden’s decision to pull out ‘a big mistake’, has called for an emergency meeting of the UNSC to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. He has advised all not to recognize the Taliban regime if they take over power by force.    

   

Lessons for Pakistan

After learning several lessons from the repeated betrayal and the duplicitous double game played by the US, and the unrelenting hostility of the US-installed regime in Kabul, and not so trustworthy relations with Iran which is still aligned with India, Pakistan’s leadership seem to have started differentiating between friend and foe. Most problems have occurred from Pakistan’s enchantment of the USA due to which it had to appease India and Afghanistan.  

The first bold action taken by Pakistan was to give a clear message that the days of fighting someone else’s war and provision of bases are over and Pakistan would only extend cooperation for peace and not for war and conflict.  

China is the only neighbour which has never let down Pakistan and has gone out of the way to help Pakistan during its testing times. Strong bondage between the two iron brothers would help in keeping the enemies at bay.

A deeper understanding of Pakistan’s with its partners, China, Russia, and Central Asian Republics is a good omen. If Afghanistan under the Taliban and Iran join this grouping, it can keep the spoilers of peace checkmated, but Iran has its own ambitions.  

The Taliban could not have achieved success with such lightning speed without the support of the people. Irrespective of the outsiders advocating a broad-based and inclusive government in Kabul, the Taliban’s return to power and re-establishment of an Islamic Emirate is irreversible.    

Future government in Kabul with the Taliban in the driving seat will be in the interest of Pakistan since it would radically diminish India’s perverse influence in Afghanistan, and Pakistan will get rid of the RAW-NDS cross border terrorism. However, in case the insensitive and biased international community dominated by the US decides to ostracize the would-be Taliban regime, Pakistan in its bid to remain in the good books of the US, might mellow down its defiance and refuse to recognize the Taliban regime, thereby once again putting the country in jeopardy.

It must not be forgotten that while Pakistan is good at losing friends, India is good at befriending its enemy’s friends. Twice betrayed by Pakistan, the Taliban could be swayed by India.

The writer is a retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defence & security analyst, international columnist, author of five books, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, Member CWC PESS & Think Tank. asifharoonraja@gmail.com    

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Question Everything! Bless our American traitors By Chris Hedges -Pakistanis Will Never Forget Shah Wali Pakistani Baby Killed By US Drone

Question Everything!

Bless our American traitors

By Chris Hedges

July 20, 2021
Daniel Hale, an active-duty Air Force intelligence analyst, stood in the Occupy encampment in Zuccotti Park in October 2011 in his military uniform. He held up a sign that read “Free Bradley Manning,” who had not yet announced her transition. It was a singular act of conscience few in uniform had the strength to replicate. He had taken a week off from his job to join the protestors in the park. He was present at 6:00 am on October 14 when Mayor Michael Bloomberg made his first attempt to clear the park. He stood in solidarity with thousands of protestors, including many unionized transit workers, teachers, Teamsters and communications workers, who formed a ring around the park. He watched the police back down as the crowd erupted into cheers. But this act of defiance and moral courage was only the beginning. 

At the time, Hale was stationed at Fort Bragg. A few months later he deployed to Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Force Base. He would later learn that while he was in Zuccotti Park, Barack Obama ordered a drone strike some 12,000 miles away in Yemen that killed Abdulrahman Anwar al-Awlaki, the 16-year-old son of the radical cleric and US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, who had been killed by a drone strike two weeks earlier. The Obama administration claimed it was targeting the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Ibrahim al-Banna, who it believed, incorrectly, was with the boy and his cousins, all of whom were also killed in the attack. That massacre of innocents became public, but there were thousands of more such attacks that wantonly killed noncombatants that only Hale and those with top-security clearances knew about.

Starting in 2013, Hale, while working as a private contractor, leaked some 17 classified documents about the drone program to investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill, although the reporter is not named in court documents. The leaked documents, published by The Intercept on October 15, 2015, exposed that between January 2012 and February 2013, US special operations airstrikes killed more than 200 people. Of those, only 35 were the intended targets. For one five-month period of the operation, according to the documents, nearly 90 per cent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets. The civilian dead, usually innocent bystanders, were routinely classified as “enemies killed in action.”

Hale was coerced by Biden’s Justice Department on March 31 to plead guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Act, a law passed in 1917 designed to prosecute those who passed on state secrets to a hostile power, not those who expose to the public government lies and crimes. Hale admitted as part of the plea deal to “retention and transmission of national security information” and leaking 11 classified documents to a journalist. He is being held in the Alexandria Adult Detention Center in Virginia, awaiting sentencing on July 27. If he had refused the plea deal, he could have spent 50 years in prison. He now faces up to a decade in prison.

Tragically, his case has not garnered the attention it should. When Nick Mottern, of the Ban Killer Drones campaign, accompanied artists projecting Hale’s image on downtown walls in Washington, D.C., he found that everyone he spoke to was unaware of Hale’s plight. Prominent human rights organizations, such as the ACLU and PEN, have largely remained silent and uninvolved. The group Stand with Daniel Hale has called on President Biden to pardon Hale and end the use of the Espionage Act to punish whistleblowers, mounted a letter-writing campaign to the judge to request leniency and is collecting donations for Hale’s legal fund. 

“Daniel Hale is one of the most consequential whistleblowers,” Edward Snowden said on a May Day panel held at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst on the fiftieth anniversary of the release of the Pentagon Papers.  “He sacrificed everything — an incredibly courageous person — to tell us that the drone war, that, you know, is so obviously occurring to everyone else, but the government was still officially denying in so many ways, is here, it is happening, and 90 per cent of the casualties in one five-month period were innocents or bystanders or not the target of the drone strike. We could not establish that we could not prove that, without Daniel Hale’s voice.”

Speaking on Democracy Now! with host Amy Goodman a few weeks later, Daniel Ellsberg agreed that Hale “acted very admirably, in a way that very, very few officials have ever done in showing the moral courage to separate themselves from criminal activities and wrongful activities of their own administration, and resist them, as well as exposing them.”

Because Hale was charged under the Espionage Act, he, like other whistleblowers, including Chelsea Manning, Jeffrey Sterling, Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou, who spent two-and-a-half years in prison for exposing the routine torture of suspects held in black sites, was not permitted to explain his motivations and intent to the court. Nor could he provide evidence to the court that the drone assassination program killed and wounded large numbers of noncombatants, including children. He faced trial in the Eastern District of Virginia, much of whose population has links to the military or intelligence community, and whose courts have become notorious for their harsh sentences on behalf of the government. 

The 2012 “Living Under Drones” report by the Stanford International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic provides detailed documentation of the human impact of US drone strikes in Pakistan. Drones often fire Hellfire missiles that are equipped with an explosive warhead of about 20 pounds. A Hellfire variant, known as the R9X, carries “an inert warhead,” The New York Times reported. Instead of exploding, it hurls about 100 pounds of metal through a vehicle. The missile’s other feature includes “six long blades tucked inside,” which deploy “seconds before impact to slice up anything in its path” — including, of course, people.

The numbers of civilians dead from US drone strikes run into the thousands, if not tens of thousands. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), an independent journalist organization, for example, reported that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, drone strikes killed between 2,562 and 3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom an estimated 474 to 881 were civilians, including 176 children.

Drones hover 24 hours a day in the skies over Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. Without warning, the drones operated remotely from Air Force bases as far away as Nevada, fire ordinance that obliterates homes and vehicles or kills whole groups of people in fields or attending community gatherings, funerals and weddings. The leaked banter of the young drone operators, who often treat the killings as if they are an enhanced video game, exposes the callousness of the indiscriminate killings. Drone operators refer to child victims of drone attacks as “fun-sized terrorists.”

“Ever step on ants and never give it another thought?” Michael Hass, a former drone operator for the Air Force told The Guardian.  “That’s what you are made to think of the targets — as just black blobs on a screen. You start to do these psychological gymnastics to make it easier to do what you have to do — they deserved it, they chose their side. You had to kill part of your conscience to keep doing your job every day — and ignore those voices telling you this wasn’t right.”

The ubiquitous presence of drones in the skies, and the awareness that at any moment these drones can kill you and your family, induces feelings of helplessness, anxiety and constant fear.

“Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities,” the 2012 report reads of the drone war in Pakistan. “Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves. These fears have affected behavior. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims. Some community members shy away from gathering in groups, including important tribal dispute-resolution bodies, out of fear that they may attract the attention of drone operators. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school.”

Drones have become killing machines that mete out random death and usually permanently cripple those victims who survive.

“The missiles fired from drones kill or injure in several ways, including through incineration, shrapnel, and the release of powerful blast waves capable of crushing internal organs,” the report reads.  “Those who do survive drone strikes often suffer disfiguring burns and shrapnel wounds, limb amputations, as well as vision and hearing loss.”

Hale, now 33, always had doubts about the war, but he enlisted in 2009 when Obama assumed office. He hoped that Obama would undo the excesses and lawlessness of the Bush administration. Instead, Obama, a few weeks after he took office, approved the deployment of an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan where 36,000 U.S. troops and 32,000 NATO troops were already deployed. By the end of the year, Obama increased troop levels in Afghanistan again by 30,000, doubling U.S. casualties. He also massively expanded the drone program, raising the number of drone strikes from several dozen the year before he took office to 117 by his second year in office.  By the time he left office, Obama had presided over the killing of at least 3,000 suspected militants and hundreds of civilians. He authorized what are known as “signature strikes” allowing the CIA to carry out drone attacks against groups of suspected militants without getting positive identification. He spread the footprint of the drone war, establishing drone bases in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other overseas locations to expand attacks to Syria and Yemen. The Obama administration also indicted eight whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, more than all previous administrations combined. The Biden administration, like the Trump and Obama administrations, continues to launch widespread global drone strikes.

“Before I joined the military, I was well aware that what I was about to enter was something I was against, that I disagreed with,” Hale says in the 2016 documentary film “National Bird.” “I joined anyway out of desperation. I was homeless. I was desperate. I had nowhere else to go. I was on my last leg. The Air Force was ready to accept me.”

National Bird / a film by Sonia Kennebeck

Three courageous whistleblowers break the silence around the U.S. drone war – a decision that will change their …

In the film, Hale alludes to a difficult and chaotic childhood.

“It’s kind of funny, a little ironic too because so far I’m the only adult male in my entire family, immediate and external, who had not been to prison so far,” he says. “I come from a long lineage of prisoners, actually, a very proud tradition of fuck-ups who get drunk and go driving, or sell pot, or carry a gun when they shouldn’t be carrying a gun, in the wrong place at the wrong time, a lot of that where I’m from.”

He was assigned to the Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg and underwent language and intelligence training. He worked for the National Security Agency (NSA) in Afghanistan as an intelligence analyst identifying targets for the drone program. His Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) security clearance gave him access to the vast, global drone war hidden from public view and Obama’s huge secret “kill lists.”

“There are several such lists, used to target individuals for different reasons,” he wrote in an essay titled “Why I Leaked the Watchlist Documents,” originally published anonymously in the book “The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program” by Jeremy Scahill and the staff of The Intercept. The book is based on the leaked documents provided by Hale that first appeared as an eight-part series called “The Drone Papers” published by The Intercept.

“Some lists are closely kept; others span multiple intelligence and local law enforcement agencies,” Hale writes in the essay. “There are lists used to kill or capture supposed ‘high-value targets,’ and others intended to threaten, coerce, or simply monitor a person’s activity. However, all the lists, whether to kill or silence, originate from the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, and they are maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center at the National Counterterrorism Center. The existence of TIDE is unclassified, yet details about how it functions in our government are completely unknown to the public. In August 2013 the database reached a milestone of one million entries. Today it is thousands of entries larger and is growing faster than it has since its inception in 2003.” 

The Terrorist Screening Center, he writes, not only stores names, dates of birth, and other identifying information of potential targets, but also stores “medical records, transcripts, and passport data; license plate numbers, email, and cell-phone numbers (along with the phone’s International Mobile Subscriber Identity and International Mobile Station Equipment Identity numbers); your bank account numbers and purchases; and other sensitive information, including DNA and photographs capable of identifying you using facial recognition software.”

Data on suspects is collected and pooled by the intelligence agencies known as the Five Eyes, the intelligence alliance formed by Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. Each person on the list is assigned a TIDE personal number or TPN.

“From Osama bin Laden (TPN 1063599) to Abdulrahman Awlaki (TPN 26350617), the American son of Anwar al Awlaki, anyone who has ever been the target of a covert operation was first assigned a TPN and closely monitored by all agencies who follow that TPN long before they were eventually put on a separate list and extrajudicially sentenced to death,” Hale wrote.

He also exposed that the more than one million entries in the TIDE database include about 21,000 United States citizens.

After leaving the Air Force in July 2013, Hale was employed by the private defense contractor National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency as a political geography analyst between December 2013 and August 2014. He said he took the job, which paid $80,000 a year because he was in desperate need of money and hoped to go to college. But by then he was disgusted with the drone program and determined to make the public aware of its abuses and lawlessness. Inspired by the peace activist David Dellinger, he, like Dellinger, had decided to become a traitor to “the American way of death.” He would make amends for his complicity in the killings, even at the cost of his own security and freedom. 

“When the president gets up in front of the nation and says they are doing everything they can to ensure there is near certainty there will be no civilians killed, he is saying that because he can’t say otherwise, because anytime an action is taken to finish a target there is a certain amount of guesswork in that action,” Hale says in the film. “It’s only in the aftermath of any kind of ordinance being dropped that you know how much actual damage was done. Oftentimes, the intelligence community is reliant, the Joint Special Operations Command, the CIA included, is reliant on intelligence coming afterwards that confirms that who they were targeting was killed in the strike, or that they weren’t killed in that strike.”

“The people who defend drones, and the way they are used, say they protect American lives by not putting them in harm’s way,” he says. “What they really do is embolden decision-makers, because there is no threat, there is no immediate consequence. They can do this strike. They can potentially kill this person they are so desperate to eliminate because of how potentially dangerous they could be to the US. But if it just so happens that they don’t kill that person, or some other people involved in the strike get killed as well, there are no consequences for it. When it comes to high-value targets, every mission you go after one person at a time, but anybody else killed in that strike is blanketly assumed to be an associate of the targeted individual. So as long as they can reasonably identify that all of the people in the field view of the camera are military-aged males, meaning anybody who is believed to be age 16 or older, they are a legitimate target under the rules of engagement. If that strike occurs and kills all of them, they just say they got them all.”

Drones, he warns, make a remote killing “too easy, too convenient.”

On August 8, 2014, the FBI raided his home. It was his last day of work for the private contractor. A male and female FBI agent shoved their badges in his face when he opened the door.

“Immediately behind them came about 20 agents, basically all of them with pistols drawn, some wearing body armor,” he says in the film. “At this point, I was extremely scared. I did not understand what was going on. Altogether, there might have been at least 30 to 50 agents in and out of the house at different points throughout the evening taking photos of every room and everything, searching for different things.”

By the time they finished his house was stripped of all electronics, including his cell phone.

For the next five years, he lived with the uncertainty of his fate. He struggled to find work, fought off depression and contemplated suicide. He was barred, by law, from speaking about his plight, even with a therapist. In 2019, the Trump administration indicted Hale on four counts of violating the Espionage Act and one count of theft of government property. 

The thousands of targeted assassinations carried out by drones, often in countries that are not at war with the United States, are an egregious violation of international law. They are turning huge swaths of the planet against us. The secret kill lists, which include US citizens, have transformed the executive branch into judge, jury and executioner, obliterating the right to due process. Those that commit these killings are unaccountable. Hale sacrificed his career and his freedom to warn us. He is not a danger to the country. The danger we face comes from the secret drone program, which is spiralling out of control and ominously being adopted by domestic law enforcement agencies. If left unchecked, the terror we impose on others we will soon impose on ourselves.

Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

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The US Dictates to Pakistan: Complicating the Already Complexed Afghan War by Ishaal Zehra

The US Dictates to Pakistan: Complicating the Already Complexed Afghan War

Ishaal Zehra

 

 

 

Costs of War

Death toll from war in Afghanistan and Pakistan climbs to 173,000

Brown University Study

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The US war in Afghanistan has entered into its 17th consecutive year of dismay. It is learnt that this winter, Afghan security forces have intensified their operations against the rogue elements despite heavy snow and bitter cold instead of a usual slowdown in fighting during Afghanistan’s harsh winter tide.

Would it prove effective or not will be reckoned with time, however, the cause of fretfulness remains that even after 16 years of war, with thousands dead and innumerable wounded, it still has no clear end in sight. The summer of 2017 has been a bloody one in Afghanistan, with the death toll nearing a thousand. On the word of the United Nations, the number of civilians killed in this six-month period touched an eight-year record high.

So much so that even the senior associate at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Michael Kugelman voiced the grim reality that despite this immense sacrifice in lives and resources, the chief gains from the Afghan war’s early years have effectively been reversed.

The US has spent hundreds of billions of dollars in Afghanistan since 2001 on a war that has been subsisting on the lives of more than 2,400 American soldiers and over 31,000 Afghan civilians. Estimated number of causalities are as high as 43,362 which includes Afghan security forces, coalition troops and nearly 2,000 Contractors. Undoubtedly, what Dominic Tierney wrote in 2015 while describing the situation at home is still valid today. He said, raising the topic of Afghanistan is like mentioning mortality. There’s a profound desire to change the subject.

These figures represented the war state down to the middle of 2016. Today, in 2018, when the war continues to drag on into its 17th year, the situation is even worse. Bill Roggio, editor of FDD’s Long War Journal, confirmed in the US congressional testimony in April 2017 that “The Taliban … today holds more ground in the country since the US ousted the jihadists in early 2002”. With all the stated data and the bitter ground realities, an announcement by President Trump declaring further escalation in the war came as a total surprise for all the interest groups in the Afghan war.

 

 

The US has Resumed Drones Strikes in Pakistan Killing Two Innocent Civilians. The Militants Escaped Un-Scathed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Long War journal map assessment argues that presently Taliban controls or contests 45% of the Afghan districts. Their assessment also highlights Taliban’s rural control, a key source of insurgent strength that the US military underestimates. With all the grim statistics and unsuccessful strategies applied in the battleground, Michael Kugelman also notices that President Trump is now actually short of available options in Afghanistan. “This much is clear — there are no good options in Afghanistan,” he wrote. Regrettably, out of all the ‘no good options’, the president opted for the poorest one. He forced the bulk of his failures to Pakistan, gradually increasing the stress with toxic hate campaigns.

To serve the purpose, a systematic propaganda was initiated at the international level to accentuate Pakistan in context of harbouring terrorist and terror outfits. In line with the trump-devised policy, the two highly controversial US Congressmen, Dana Rohrabacher and Brad Sherman held up their anti-Pakistan rhetoric during the meeting of House of Representatives held in October. Brad Sherman (a staunch Jew and an active member of the Jewish lobby in the USA) purported about some fabled HR violations in Sindh, while Dana Rohrabacher (famous for working on behalf of certain Indian and Hindutva lobbies in the past also) oddly enough linked the creation of Bangladesh with the life of Muhajir community in Karachi. Quite ridiculous it was, as the creation of Bangladesh was a planned conspiracy of India which they brag about quite often. Contrariwise, the meeting of Dana Rohrabacher with Altaf Hussain and Khan of Qalat in support of Baluch separatists should be seen rather sceptically as it bears upon another conspiracy in the offing.

Toeing the line further was a US army retired colonel turned writer Lawrence Sellin who while admitting that completion of CPEC will seriously hurt the US interests, wished for an independent and secular Baluchistan which in case if not possible then at least a Baluchistan with Iranian infiltration and military action. His views are more of a conspiracy theory but can be taken for the policy thinking of military-related academia of US.

To further pressurize Pakistan, a deliberate propaganda campaign against the safety of her nuclear weapons was launched thereafter. Larry Pressler, an ex-Republican politician, is seen conforming to Hussain Haqqani declaring Pakistan a state sponsoring terrorism. Likewise, the US president dubbing Pakistan the way he did in his recent tweets was another irony of the first order.

In this transpiring war, Pakistan has rendered unique sacrifices both in terms of lives and finances while overcoming the spate of orchestrated terrorism. The country has thus far suffered more than 62,000 fatalities and a loss of over USD 123 Billion. No rhyme or reason, but with such sacrifices this kind of behaviour will not subjugate Pakistan rather make it even more resilient and objective.

George Friedman very aptly puts the US quagmire into words. “At this point, the United States is looking for an endgame in Afghanistan. It has spent 16 years fighting a war but has not yet achieved its goals. The US will no longer devote large numbers of troops because large numbers of troops failed before… The more tactical the approach, the more the US needs Pakistani cooperation”. But the question is why Pakistan should comply with US undue pressure since a US departure would leave Pakistan facing strong hostile forces across its border especially in the case where the US has already backed Indian presence in Afghanistan.

It’s time to realize that President’s Trump new policy has yielded rather negative results. Taliban are more aggressive than ever before and the area under control of Afghan National unity Government is ever decreasing. Reasons for US failures in her longest war in the history are hidden elsewhere. The US has actually failed to understand her enemy. In recent past, American Forces dropping blasphemous pamphlets in Afghanistan desecrating Kalama-e-Tayyaba is a classic example of US incompetency to understand Taliban sentiment. Also, US policies are known to be oblivious to the ground realities. Afghan official forces are suffering daily defeats and are likely to wipe out if foreign support is denied to them. Present regime’s rampant corruption, increased causalities among forces, mounting civilian causalities and the resurgence of Taliban / ISIS along with the battering relations between the two non-NATO allies is continuously keeping the Afghan situation uncertain. Believe it or not, the arrogance of President Trump is simply not allowing him to put an end to America’s longest war.

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THE LAST DIPLOMAT BY ADAM ENTOUS AND DEVLIN BARRETT Wall Street Journal

 Thanks, Robin Raphel :

We Love You in Pakistan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Robin Raphel worked for the State Department in Pakistan, her brand of traditional diplomacy ran into the new realities of covert surveillance. The collision turned her life upside down

THE LAST DIPLOMAT

BY ADAM ENTOUS AND DEVLIN BARRETT

Wall Street Journal

 

BEGINNINGS /THE COMEBACK /THE INVESTIGATION THE AFTERMATH

Just before 8 on the morning of Oct. 21, 2014, Robin Raphel climbed into her Ford Focus, put her purple briefcase on the passenger’s seat and began the 20-minute drive from her house in Washington to her office at the State Department.

It was a routine Tuesday. The main event on her schedule was a staff meeting.

Raphel swiped her badge at the revolving security door and headed to her office where she placed her briefcase on the floor and sat down to check her email. Later, as she joined her colleagues in a conference room to discuss office schedules, her mobile phone, which she had left at her desk, began to ring. It was Slomin’s Home Security.

When she didn’t pick up, the operator called her daughter Alexandra, who raced to the house to check the doors and windows. When Raphel returned to her desk, the phone rang again. It was Alexandra, in a panic.

Burglars hadn’t set off the alarm. It was the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Raphel grabbed her purse and ran out. She left behind her purple briefcase—one she had bought at the Kohsar Market in Islamabad—with a bag of carrots and a Rubbermaid container full of celery sticks inside.

As she pulled up to her yellow-brick house, Raphel saw agents going in and out the front door, walking across the oriental rugs she had trundled back from tours in South Asia. They boxed up her two computers, Alexandra’s iPad and everything else electronic. In the basement, they opened the drawers of a mahogany file cabinet she had picked up during a posting in London. They pulled out a stack of files.

The agents, without saying a word, carried the boxes out to a white van.

Raphel, unsure of what was happening, paced in circles on her front porch.

Two FBI agents approached her, their faces stony. “Do you know any foreigners?” they asked.

Raphel’s jaw dropped. She had served as a diplomat in six capitals on four continents. She had been an ambassador and the State Department’s assistant secretary for South Asian affairs. Knowing foreigners had been her job.

“Of course,” she responded, “Tons…Hundreds.”

Three weeks before the FBI raided her house, Raphel had touched down at Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad. The city was in an anxious, turbulent state. Antigovernment protesters had closed off so many streets that her driver had to take a roundabout route to the diplomatic quarter.

All summer, U.S. intelligence agencies had been intercepting rumors from Pakistani officials about a possible coup. Alarm bells were ringing in the State Department’s office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Raphel worked and went all the way to the White House. She had come to figure out what was really going on.

In her apartment at the embassy, she found a bottle of wine—a welcoming gift from U.S. Ambassador Richard Olson, who was thankful for her help in an uncertain time.

At a dinner party at the home of an American diplomat in Islamabad’s elite E-7 sector, Raphel and a group of Pakistani politicians pulled their seats into a circle in the living room to discuss the rumors. One parliamentarian said he was bullish on the idea of the populist opposition leader Imran Khan taking power. A former Pakistan ambassador to Washington countered that Khan had moved too soon and predicted the sitting prime minister would survive.

With students at Damavand College in Tehran, 1971With Arnold Raphel at a cocktail party in Islamabad, Before leaving, Raphel reported her findings to the ambassador. Pakistan was prone to coup talk, she knew, but she didn’t believe the current conditions were right for an overthrow of the government. In the end, she was correct: The rumors had been overblown. Khan’s followers would soon disperse, and Nawaz Sharif would remain prime minister. She had flown home considering her trip productive.

Over a four-decade career in the foreign service, whether in Islamabad, London, Pretoria, New Delhi or Tunis, Raphel had distinguished herself by building vast networks of contacts. She had spent as much time as she could outside the embassy, rubbing shoulders with politicians, military officers, journalists, aid workers and spies over teas, lunches, and endless cocktail parties. Sources felt they could talk to her—that she understood them.

Nowhere was that more true than in Islamabad, where she had started her diplomatic career. “I could go to Robin and say, ‘does this member of parliament matter?’ ” said Cameron Munter, who took over as U.S. ambassador to Pakistan in 2010. “She knew them all.”

There was a downside to being trusted in a country that many of her colleagues in Washington loathed. Those who took a dimmer view of Pakistan, especially in intelligence circles, were suspicious of Raphel’s close connections in Islamabad. They believed she had become too close to the Pakistanis and that she was being used.

In moments when the two countries were at odds, Raphel had consistently argued against pulling up the drawbridge. In conference calls with Washington, her co-workers said, she would always say: “Let’s look at it from their point of view.” As early as the mid-1990s, intelligence officers saw her as an obstacle to isolating Pakistan over its nuclear program.

“For better or worse, she got a reputation within the intelligence community as tilting towards the Pakistanis, and she could never escape that,” said Bruce Riedel, a CIA veteran who served as deputy assistant secretary of Defense for the Near East and South Asia in the 1990s.

Unbeknownst to Raphel, as she had made her rounds in Islamabad in the fall of 2014, and spoke to contacts on the phone and on Skype, law-enforcement officials half a world away had been listening. Raphel’s old-fashioned way of doing business—working outside the confines of the embassy compound—had run headlong into the realities of America’s global surveillance web, on which the U.S. had increasingly come to depend on.

Since receiving a tip from an intercepted communication months earlier, the FBI had obtained warrants to monitor Raphel’s private accounts and to secretly search her home. They had transcribed information she had discussed with Pakistanis and taken it to intelligence officials, who had told them the topics were beyond her security clearance. The message, according to a former senior intelligence official, was that “Robin needs to shut up.”

What they heard during her trip to Islamabad had been the final straw. Law enforcement officials said the people listening were convinced Raphel was a threat to national security.

The following account of the FBI investigation of Raphel is based on interviews with dozens of her co-workers, Pakistani contacts, intelligence officials, law enforcement officers and attorneys involved in the case.

PART 1BEGINNINGS

When she landed in Tehran in 1970 to teach at a women’s college, Robin Lynn Johnson was 23, a native of the small lumber town of Longview, Wash., whose curiosity about the world had grown from reading her father’s collection of National Geographic magazines and historical novels. With blond hair, high cheekbones and a posture honed through years of ballet, she sometimes drew comparisons to the actress Candice Bergen.

There, she met Arnold Raphel, a political officer at the U.S. embassy. Arnold stood 6-foot-1, a full head taller than Robin. He wore aviator-style wire-rim glasses with conservative suits, giving him a perpetually serious look, though he was anything but. Wherever he went, a party seemed to erupt.

Tehran was in the throes of an oil boom and the young couple spent their nights dancing on the wraparound porch at the Naderi hotel, where the city’s elite turned out in the latest Paris fashions. In 1972, when Robin was 25, she married Arnold on the grounds of the U.S. embassy, which, just eight years later, would be overrun by followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

 

Raphel’s wedding to Arnold Raphel in Tehran in 1972. 

Posted to Islamabad in 1975, the Raphels were prolific entertainers, former colleagues remembered. Over cocktails and private screenings of American movies flown in by the U.S. military, they began to unravel Pakistan’s social and political dynamics. It was then that Raphel started to get a sense of what a confusing place Pakistan could be.

Islamabad wasn’t an easy place for diplomats to operate, much less comprehend. Double talk reigned—to the point where even veterans of the game couldn’t tell who was pulling the strings, or who was manipulating whom. Because most high-ranking officials there spoke English, many diplomats from both sides “made the mistake of thinking we’re speaking the same language, when we are not,” said Marc Grossman, who served in Islamabad with the Raphels in the 1970s. “Sometimes we live on entirely different planets.”

When the Raphels returned to Washington in 1978, Robin wanted to have children. Arnold, who had a daughter whom he rarely saw from his first marriage, did not. They divorced in 1982.

Six years later, Arnold, who returned to Pakistan as the U.S. ambassador, was killed in a mysterious plane crash with then-Pakistani President Muhammad Zia al-Haq.

Though she married twice after Arnold and had two daughters, Raphel never changed her name. She told colleagues that this was how everyone knew her professionally. Because of Arnold’s stature, the Raphel name carried huge prestige in Pakistan. One of Raphel’s oldest friends said he thought she kept the name because “Arnie was the love of her life.”

In 1993, President Bill Clinton, an acquaintance from her university days, tapped Raphel to serve as the nation’s first assistant secretary of State for South Asian affairs. Eighteen years after she first arrived in Islamabad as the young wife of a diplomat, Raphel found herself at the center of the action.

During her first trip to Islamabad as assistant secretary, Raphel visited the Foreign Ministry, a whitewashed building surrounded by manicured lawns. There she met a woman named Maleeha Lodhi, who had just been named Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S.

MALEEHA LODHI

Lodhi met Raphel in 1993 after she was tapped to serve as Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. for the first time. Raphel and Lodhi turned to each other, on and off, for information. In 2014, the FBI became suspicious of their relationship. Editor of The News, a prominent English-language paper in Pakistan, where her front-page foreign policy columns had made her a star.

At her home in Islamabad, Lodhi fostered a salon-like atmosphere where politicians, intellectuals, and journalists listened to music and debated the news long into the night. Pakistan’s new prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, would sometimes make an appearance. Raphel’s colleagues from the U.S. embassy, who attended some of these sessions, had concluded, based on the assembled guests, that Lodhi was a serious player.

Lodhi wasn’t from one of the prominent families that typically produced the country’s top leaders. She learned English from Irish nuns at a convent in Rawalpindi, where she grew up in an upper-middle-class home, the daughter of an oil company executive. She made her way to England, where she studied at the London School of Economics. Tim Carney, who served as Raphel’s deputy, said he always knew where he could find Lodhi at parties—outside in the middle of a boisterous crowd, smoking Cartier cigarettes.

Lodhi was drawn to Raphel. She knew that Raphel’s State Department title and her position as a friend of President Clinton would be useful to her in navigating Washington.

Raphel found Lodhi to be intelligent, ambitious and serious—if a bit reserved. She also recognized her as someone who would be a longtime influencer.

“Pakistan is a country of 200 million people. But its leadership is like a deck of cards,” said Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to Washington. “However you shuffle them, the same 52 people will show up in one hand or another. Robin understood that.”

Lodhi’s ambassadorial residence in Washington was a short walk from a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, where she liked to meet Raphel and other friends next to the lobby fireplace. Lodhi was 10 years younger than Raphel but the two women had a lot in common. Like Raphel, Lodhi was a single mother—she had married a Pakistani civil servant at 25 and divorced five years later. Both had strong opinions and didn’t hesitate to share them, and were climbing the rungs of power in a profession dominated by men.

In 1995, Congress took up the Brown Amendment, a piece of legislation that would begin to ease nuclear sanctions it had imposed on Pakistan. The two women joined forces in a monthslong lobbying campaign to support it.

For Lodhi, the bill’s passage helped build her credibility as a diplomat. Raphel considered the victory to be one of the signature accomplishments of her time as assistant secretary—but it also came at a price. The Brown Amendment, which President Clinton supported, had not been popular with some U.S. intelligence officials, who believed the U.S. should isolate Pakistan to pressure its leaders to end its nuclear program. Raphel took the brunt of the backlash.

Not long after the amendment passed, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott sent an aide to Raphel’s office with a disturbing message.

According to officials, the aide told Raphel U.S. spy agencies had intercepted communications in which Pakistani officials suggested that Raphel had revealed sensitive information to them about what the U.S. knew about Pakistan’s nuclear work. U.S. intelligence officials said the information was classified and the disclosure wasn’t authorized.

Raphel denied disclosing too much. She consulted with top officials at the State Department’s internal intelligence branch, who recommended she ask Diplomatic Security—the security and law enforcement arm of the State Department—to investigate the matter.

Diplomatic Security agents interviewed Raphel about the alleged disclosures. They found no evidence of wrongdoing and took no disciplinary action against her. But Raphel was rattled.

To provide “insurance” in case the allegations re-emerged, she later told friends, she took the relevant records, including papers marked as classified, and put them in her safe at the State Department.

Raphel, dressed for the Marine Ball in Islamabad, in 1975. 

In 2003, Raphel took a posting in Baghdad, where she helped steer Iraq’s postwar reconstruction in the teeth of a violent insurgency. She would don a head scarf and jump into local taxis to see Iraqi officials or drive to meetings alone in her SUV.

“Robin was the type that did what she knew had to be done and asked for forgiveness later,” said retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, one of her bosses in Iraq. “She lived on the edge but she never fell off.”

After two years of working on Iraq, Raphel had seen the insurgency hollow out much of the work the U.S. had done. She decided it was time to leave the State Department.

On the day before her 2005 retirement ceremony—which was held in the State Department’s Treaty Room—Raphel packed her books, mementos and photographs into boxes, along with the contents of her office safe, and took them home.

The next day, after the toasts and speeches had ended, Raphel had a plane to catch. She was due to appear at a conference in Dubai. She went to the basement and opened her mahogany file cabinet. She dumped the papers inside.

Raphel came from a generation of diplomats whose approach to the job had been honed in a different time. America’s presence in the world was changing.

Since 9/11, security concerns abroad had forced diplomats in volatile parts of the world to spend more time cooped up in fortified embassies. The volume of “human intelligence” or “humint” they gathered by talking to contacts began to decline. In its place, policymakers in Washington turned to another form of information—the kind collected electronically and surreptitiously.

To monitor foreign governments around the world, the U.S. uses satellites and ground-based sensors implanted in local communications networks that sweep electronic communications and reroute them to the U.S. Most of this information, known as “signals intelligence,” or “SIGINT,” is funneled into a steel and glass building 25 miles north of the State Department in Fort Meade, Md., the headquarters of the National Security Agency.

The Urdu-speaking analysts who covered Pakistan at the NSA sat in cubicles and worked in shifts listening to audio files that stacked up in queues on their computer screens like emails. To help them follow the conversations on their headphones, sound waves bounced on their screens. The analysts tracked political, military and economic developments in Pakistan, just like the diplomats, but by targeting the email addresses and phone numbers of senior officials, many of whom were also Raphel’s contacts. If they heard something of intelligence value, analysts wrote summaries that were compiled into signals-intelligence reports and disseminated to senior policy makers.

Raphel greeted Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Maleeha Lodhi stands on the stairs of the plane. 

Making sense of these conversations wasn’t easy, especially in Pakistan. U.S. analysts who covered the region often felt as if they had entered a hall of mirrors. The cryptic and deceptive nature of talk between Pakistani officials—who often knew they were being monitored—made it difficult to understand the context or judge the veracity of what they were saying.

Often, U.S. diplomats would read signals-intelligence reports and realize the Pakistanis were misreporting what Americans had told them, either because the messages were unclear, mistranslated or simply misunderstood—or because they were twisting them on purpose for professional or political reasons.

Among Pakistani diplomats, “The desire to tell your bosses what they want to hear is overwhelming,” said Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador.

As the NSA’s techniques grew more sophisticated, and as the business of government increasingly shifted to email and mobile phones, the volume, and quality of the intercepts grew. The information in these reports was so immediate and uninhibited—and often so salacious—senior officials could hardly wait to read them. In the four decades since Raphel joined the State Department, and especially during the Obama administration, officials say, the U.S. government’s reliance on signals intelligence had grown to the point where it made up anywhere from 60% to 75% of the information coming in. And yet it was impossible to know how much of it was reliable.

“You always have to be careful because you’re listening to a conversation. You aren’t listening to testimony. You aren’t listening to a brief that’s fully thought out,” said former NSA Director Michael Hayden. “You are trying to determine truth from a conversation that is oblique, indirect and casual, often in a language not your own and in a culture that you do not share.”

In 2009, as the Obama administration stepped up its drone war in Pakistan’s tribal areas, a staging ground for militants to launch cross-border attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan and to plot against the West, the embassy’s clandestine function became the top priority.

Four years into her retirement, Raphel was working as a lobbyist in Washington. Settled at home, with three ill-fated marriages behind her, she had more free time to spend with her two college-age daughters, Alexandra and Anna, and to take long walks with friends along the towpath in Georgetown.

She enjoyed her downtime but had grown tired of scaring up clients and tracking billable hours as a lobbyist.

In the spring of 2009, when she was 61, Raphel attended a cocktail party in Washington where she bumped into an old friend: Anne Patterson, the sitting U.S. ambassador to Pakistan. When the subject turned to Patterson’s work at the embassy, Patterson told Raphel she didn’t have enough people who really understood Pakistan’s complexities. Patterson often told aides that Islamabad was the “weirdest” place she had ever served.

ANNE PATTERSON

Ambassador Patterson ran into Raphel at a dinner party in Washington in 2009 and asked her to join her team at the U.S. embassy in Islamabad. Patterson held up Raphel as a model to more junior foreign-service officers because of her long list of Pakistani contacts.

Pakistan had also become a more dangerous place for diplomats. One year earlier, terrorists had detonated a dump truck full of explosives at the Marriott Hotel, killing more than 50 people and carving a 60-foot crater in the ground. Much of Patterson’s time as ambassador had been devoted to overseeing the CIA’s covert drone strikes on militant targets.

The State Department’s Diplomatic Security service, charged with protecting the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, had grown so concerned about terrorism that the compound was often put on lockdown. Fewer embassy workers ventured out and usually only then in U.S. armored vehicles. For security reasons, the State Department had begun to limit foreign-service officers in Islamabad to one-year tours, giving them barely enough time to acclimate before shipping out. Many officials spent their time in a secure room reading signals-intelligence reports or working on their suntans by the pool.

Patterson knew Raphel wasn’t one for the “Fortress America” style of diplomacy that had taken root after 9/11, in which monitoring for threats was the top priority. Patterson needed someone to help manage billions of dollars in U.S. aid money aimed at shoring up the country’s new civilian-led government—someone who could open doors and who had deep connections within the country’s power structure. She asked Raphel if she would consider coming back.

Raphel liked the idea of serving her country again and asked Patterson for time to think.

She called one of her oldest friends from the State Department, Beth Jones, to ask her advice. “Go for it,” said Jones, who added that it sounded like an opportunity to do “things that really mattered.” A few days later, Raphel accepted the job.

PART 2   –   THE COMEBACK

In August 2009, Raphel moved into a white, two-story stucco house on First Street in Islamabad’s F-6 neighborhood.

Like every house on First Street, it was built in the 1960s, when Pakistan laid out its capital. It had a high-security wall topped with shards of glass. Unlike most other houses, however, it also had bars on the windows.

What the house lacked in curb appeal, it made up for in proximity. The outdoor cafés of the Kohsar Market, where Pakistan’s political class gathered in the evenings to trade conspiracy theories over fruit drinks and sandwiches, were a five-minute walk.

After settling in, Raphel went to a website that specialized in inexpensive, refurbished right-hand drive Japanese cars and purchased a silver Toyota—a kind that is ubiquitous in Pakistan. She figured it wouldn’t stand out and that she could use it to roam the city freely.

Dressed in a long traditional Pakistani tunic known as a kameez, worn over a pair of loose, lightweight trousers, or shalwar, she would drive herself to party after party in Islamabad, something few of her embassy colleagues would ever do. One of her bosses referred to her as “the last of the Mohicans.”

In the 1990s, when she was the State Department’s assistant secretary for South Asian affairs, Raphel had been the one shaping U.S. policy on Pakistan. Now, her superiors in Washington, many of whom were much younger and didn’t know the country as well as she did, were calling the shots.

 

In Islamabad, however, the power players had barely changed and she fell quickly back into the whirl. In the evenings, she would huddle with local journalists at café tables in the Kohsar Market. One day she would meet with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the powerful army chief, to talk about aid projects, then fly to Lahore or Karachi to sit down with television talk-show hosts, bureaucrats and businessmen the next, all with a level of informality and directness that came from spending so many years in the country.

By the end of her last tour there, Raphel had become such a ubiquitous figure, and so widely trusted, that many Pakistani officials mistakenly believed she outranked the ambassador. “You weren’t talking to a U.S. diplomat,” explained Abid Hasan, a former World Bank official in Islamabad. “You were talking to Robin.”

In Islamabad, Raphel’s job was to focus on aid projects. But she also “delivered the mail,” as State Department officials say, for other diplomats who didn’t have her level of access. In that informal role, co-workers recalled, Raphel was sometimes asked to raise issues that went beyond her remit.

The NSA regularly swept up Pakistani communications “to, from or about” senior U.S. officials working in the country. Some American officials would appear in Pakistani intercepts as often as once a week. What Raphel didn’t realize was that her desire to engage with foreign officials, the very skill set her supervisors encouraged, had put a target on her back.

As Raphel settled into Islamabad, she was reunited with Maleeha Lodhi, and the two women fell back into their working friendship. Once again, Lodhi became one of Raphel’s best contacts, and Raphel, in turn, became one of Lodhi’s.

Lodhi was out of government. She had returned to the news business, writing a regular column and appearing as a commentator on Pakistani television. American officials said they had no doubt that Lodhi was more than an ordinary journalist, however.

In her six years in Washington as Pakistan’s ambassador, Lodhi had earned a reputation as a reliable source for what Pakistani officials were thinking, and in particular, as a trusted conduit for relaying messages to Pakistan’s senior military leadership in Rawalpindi, U.S. officials said. She was, in State Department parlance, an “influencer.” One reason U.S. officials trusted her: The NSA had long been monitoring her communications.

Pakistani officials with ties to Lodhi said the Americans exaggerated her influence. They said she was a journalist first, not a go-between. If she picked up something interesting in a conversation, she would occasionally share it with her Pakistani military contacts, but only if they reached out to her.

“Yes, she was in this game of information,” one of the officials said. “American diplomats would ask her, ‘What’s the thinking here?’ Others would ask, ‘What do you think the Americans will do next?’ ”

When Raphel and Lodhi met, Lodhi would take notes. Officials close to her said they were for her newspaper columns. The Americans said the notes were for reports she would send to government and military officials. Raphel, always concerned with maintaining informality, kept her notebook in her purse, and scribbled down information once she got back to her car.

Raphel’s boss was Richard Holbrooke, who had been named to a new role in the State Department—the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, or SRAP. Holbrooke encouraged his team of advisers to embrace “creative chaos,” work through informal channels and bypass government bureaucracy to get things accomplished.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE

A diplomatic troubleshooter who sought to forge a political solution to the war in Afghanistan, Holbrooke encouraged his advisers to work outside established diplomatic channels.

U.S. intelligence officials had always chafed at the way the State Department handled sensitive information. They long suspected Pakistani diplomats in Washington tried to pry information out of the SRAP office, viewing it as more forthcoming than other departments—a charge SRAP officials deny. From the perspective of intelligence agencies, including the FBI, the very existence of the Holbrooke team, working outside regular channels, “was a disaster waiting to happen,” said one former law-enforcement official.

After Cameron Munter took over as the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan in 2010, the competing forces of intelligence and diplomacy began to collide. When Munter pushed the CIA to be more “judicious” in its drone strikes in the tribal areas, the CIA’s station chief responded by telling diplomats not to discuss the drone program even in private meetings with senior Pakistani officials. If asked, he told them, they should change the subject.

Senior diplomats in Islamabad knew this was impossible. The drone program came up all the time. There was no way to avoid the topic.

Raphel didn’t know the key details because her Top Secret clearance didn’t include access to the “compartment” that covered the covert program. When her Pakistani contacts complained about the strikes, Raphel told them what other diplomats would say—that the U.S. wouldn’t need to do so many if the Pakistani army did more to rein in militants in the tribal areas, according to people she spoke with.

She would argue drones caused less collateral damage than the alternatives: American ground troops, Pakistani artillery strikes or F-16 bombing runs.

The populist politician Imran Khan, the loudest advocate in Pakistan against the drone program, said he had two sit-downs with Raphel in which he protested the strikes and that Raphel came across as “sympathetic” to his concerns. “I actually didn’t know what her position was, but I thought that I could make her understand me,” he said.

In December 2010, Holbrooke died of a torn aorta. In his absence, hard-liners in Washington who saw Pakistan as the enemy worked to undo many of his team’s efforts, officials said.

The deaths of two Pakistanis at the hands of a CIA contractor inflamed tensions between the countries. Then, in May of 2011, U.S. commandos violated Pakistani airspace during a mission that killed Osama bin Laden, setting off a new furor.

With the CIA’s influence growing larger, and the U.S.-Pakistan relationship crashing down around her, Raphel urged the State Department to keep working hard to maintain strong ties. “Everyone else wanted to take a hard line against the Pakistanis,” Munter remembered. “She was saying, ‘We want to salvage what we can because it is so important.’ ”

As she managed the U.S. aid program, Raphel spent a little time in her embassy office. Sometimes she would leave her calendars and other papers on her desk instead of locking them away for the night. Marines who policed the embassy for security infractions cited her for these lapses. After three citations, Raphel received a reprimand from the State Department. Though it was a boilerplate letter many diplomats receive and represented the lowest level of sanction the department could take, its language sounded ominous to outsiders. It went in her personnel file.

With Afghan Foreign Minister Amin Arsala, Kabul, 1993Raphel after flight in training aircraft in Tunisia, 1998With Pakistani interim Prime Minister Moeen Qureshi, Indian Ambassador Siddhartha Shankar Ray and Indian Finance Minister Manmohan Singh, Washington, 1993Beside a fallen statue from Saddam Hussein’s palace, Baghdad, 2004With Nelson Mandela in Tunis, 1999

 

After the bin Laden raid, Raphel emerged as one of the few U.S. diplomats the Pakistanis were still eager to talk to. As Pakistanis scaled back contacts with American officials, “doors would still open for her,” said Mushahid Hussain Sayed, a prominent Pakistani senator.

As her tour in Islamabad was nearing its end, then-President Asif Ali Zardari invited Raphel to his residence for a private dinner, a signal he was ready to re-engage after the bin Laden raid. Munter, the ambassador, wasn’t invited.

After two years in Pakistan, the deterioration in relations made it harder to get aid projects done. Raphel was offered a new post in Washington as an adviser to Marc Grossman, who had replaced Holbrooke. Her new job was to collect political intelligence on Pakistan and help explain U.S. policy to officials there.

Before Raphel’s frequent trips to Islamabad, Grossman’s team would sit down with her to create a detailed itinerary of whom she would see and what she would tell them, her friend and diplomatic colleague Beth Jones recalled. Despite her past experience, Raphel had been excluded from the White House’s secret talks with the Afghan Taliban, and when high-level meetings took place at the Pakistan embassy, she wasn’t invited.

In Islamabad, the dynamics were different. Many Pakistanis still considered her to be the central player she was in the 1990s. Some of Raphel’s friends complained about the Obama administration’s approach to Pakistan. They thought Raphel was the one who should be formulating U.S. policy. The NSA picked up Lodhi and others criticizing Raphel’s superiors, officials said.

Though she scheduled her official meetings through the embassy and typically brought a note-taker, Raphel had fewer people to check in with and fewer constraints on her movements. She usually reported what she learned to a small number of senior State Department officials in informal emails that weren’t widely disseminated.

Some of the regular U.S. embassy diplomatic staffers, more isolated than ever, resented Raphel’s easy access. They seized on the old complaint that she was too quick to see things from Pakistan’s perspective. Over drinks at the American Bar at the embassy, said a senior official who worked there during Raphel’s final tour, “they badmouthed her. She was disrupting their comfort zone and they didn’t like it and they assumed she was doing something wrong.”

On Nov. 26, 2011, U.S. forces in Afghanistan accidentally attacked two Pakistani military checkpoints along the Afghan border, killing about two dozen Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan responded by blocking the Pentagon from using land routes to resupply U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan demanded an apology. The White House refused.

Raphel was exasperated. She couldn’t believe the U.S. would risk its relationship with Pakistan by failing to acknowledge what had clearly been a mistake. “We have to do this,” she would tell senior officials.

In January, in an email to her boss, Raphel wrote that in Pakistan, “The lack of a U.S. apology for the 24 dead still rankles very deeply.”

During her trips to Islamabad, Raphel was often more candid about her views with Pakistani officials, whom she felt comfortable confiding in, several of her colleagues said.

Raphel knew what intelligence analysts did at the NSA. She knew that when they swept up phone calls and emails from the Pakistanis she met with, they might see accounts of the things she had said. Some of her co-workers say she should have realized that her private comments would be reported by the Pakistanis and potentially twisted. They figured she might get in trouble for this.

They didn’t think anyone would accuse her of espionage.

PART 3   – THE INVESTIGATION

As Raphel settled back into her house in Northwest Washington in 2011, spy fears at home had soared to heights not seen since the Cold War. After an Army intelligence analyst leaked thousands of classified diplomatic cables, the White House issued an executive order establishing a governmentwide program to deter and detect “insider threats.”

President Barack Obama gave U.S. spy agencies and the FBI a one-year deadline to put the crackdown into motion.

By the time Edward Snowden leaked classified documents detailing the NSA’s global operations in 2013, the pressure to catch government moles had increased exponentially, former FBI officials say. The bureau was eager to bring cases.

Hunting for spies and moles had long been one of the FBI’s most secretive, time-consuming, complex and unpopular assignments. Many of the bureau’s counterintelligence agents worked out of a field office in Washington, in specially designed spy-proof rooms without internet access where they read the daily bounty of signals intelligence for anything that suggests an American shared classified information.

When analysts at the NSA heard chatter about classified information, they would send the FBI what is known as an “811 referral.” Of the hundreds of these referrals the bureau receives in a year, its agents typically investigate one in five.

In February 2013, according to law-enforcement officials, the FBI received information that made its agents think Raphel might be a Pakistani mole.

The tip came in the form of intercepted communications that suggested Raphel had shared sensitive inside information without authorization. Two officials said this included information collected on wiretaps of Pakistani officials in the U.S.

Two FBI agents—a man and a woman—were assigned to investigate. Both were experienced in so-called “65 work,’’ FBI-speak for espionage cases. One of the agents had past experience investigating alleged Pakistani spying. The other had done 65 work involving Israel.

Investigators began what they call “circling the target,” which means examining the parts of Raphel’s life they could explore without subpoenas or warrants. Sitting in their cubicles on the fourth floor of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, a modern sandstone-colored building on the edge of Chinatown, the agents began to map her network of contacts and search for signs of disloyalty.

One of the first things they looked at was her “metadata”—the electronic traces of who she called or emailed, and also when and for how long. Her metadata showed she was in frequent contact with a host of Pakistan officials that didn’t seem to match what the FBI believed was her rank and role.

The agents didn’t talk to the State Department officials who oversaw Raphel’s work. Instead, they approached the head of Diplomatic Security, Gregory Starr, to gain access to her personnel files and other records. Starr, in turn, kept State Department leaders who knew Raphel in the dark, worried about compromising the FBI investigation, State Department officials said.

State Department files showed she had been formally reprimanded for security infractions while working at the embassy in Islamabad. Over the course of her career, going back to 1977, she had been cited more than a dozen times. Raphel’s colleagues said this was a minor issue, considering her decades on the job. To the FBI it was a red flag.

After months of circling the target, FBI supervisors decided it was time to delve deeper. To monitor Raphel’s private conversations with Lodhi and other contacts on Skype, the FBI obtained a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court—a decision approved at the highest levels of the FBI and the Justice Department.

 

The agents dug into her personal life. They probed her finances and looked at who was making college tuition payments for her daughters. The agents wanted to see if the Pakistanis might be covering her bills. They noticed when Raphel was a lobbyist, she had once registered as a “foreign agent” in order to lobby for Pakistan.

The FBI didn’t have a clear picture of where Raphel fit on the State Department organizational chart. She was a political adviser with the rank of ambassador but she wasn’t a key policy maker anymore. She seemed to have informal contacts with everyone who mattered in Islamabad—more, even, than the sitting ambassador and the CIA station chief.

The sheer quantity of Raphel’s communications on the thorniest issues of the day raised suspicions for the FBI agents who were reading the transcripts.

The agents investigating Raphel didn’t have extensive experience dealing with State Department diplomats. They had even less exposure to diplomats of Raphel’s generation. By the way, she spoke, Raphel sometimes made it sound as if she was giving Lodhi and other Pakistani contacts extremely valuable information.

For months, the agents read emails, pored over records and listened to intercepts to try to learn whether Raphel was giving away U.S. secrets. While they didn’t find any smoking-gun evidence of wrongdoing, there was plenty of “smoke,” one former law-enforcement official said. The FBI decided it was time to up the ante.

In January 2014, the bureau obtained a court-issued “sneak and peek” warrant, allowing agents to secretly search Raphel’s northwest Washington home while she was away.

The FBI sent a special Evidence Response Team trained in surreptitious searches. Raphel’s home had an alarm system, which the FBI team bypassed. Once inside, agents searched the living room and the three bedrooms. From the kitchen, they descended the stairs into the basement where they found the mahogany file cabinet.

When the FBI agents looked inside, they discovered the 20-year-old classified documents from Raphel’s Diplomatic Security investigation—a group of papers officials would later refer to as “the nuclear file.”

The agents put everything back as they found it. At the least, they believed they had enough evidence to pursue charges against Raphel for the crime of mishandling classified information. The agents thought they could be dealing with a decades-old asset of the Pakistani government, and suspected Maleeha Lodhi, who had been a figure in her life since the 1990s, was her point of contact.

In the same month, the FBI searched Raphel’s house, James Comey, the new FBI director, visited a field office in Birmingham, Ala., where reporters asked him if the government was spying on people.

JAMES COMEY

Comey became the director of the FBI in September 2013. The Raphel investigation had already begun at that point, but Mr. Comey oversaw and approved key decisions to proceed further with the case. Earlier this year, speaking about the Clinton email investigation, Mr. Comey faulted the “security culture” of the State Department when it came to protecting classified information.

He said no—with a caveat. “Well, not the average person…Now, if you’re involved in one of the things I’m worried about if you’re trafficking drugs, if you’re involved in violent crime, if you’re a terrorist or spy, I would like to be spying on you because I need to know what you’re doing,” he said. “That’s our business.”

While the FBI agents conducted their own surveillance, the bureau approached the NSA for assistance in gathering foreign intercepts involving Raphel and emanating from Islamabad, law-enforcement officials say. They were looking for what they call “flags on the target.”

The FBI’s suspicions were piqued, the officials said, when in some intercepts, Pakistanis referred to Raphel as a “source,” rather than by name. To the investigators, it sounded like spycraft.

The agents listening to the back-and-forth between Raphel and Lodhi and her other contacts were struck by what law-enforcement officials described as the “one-way” nature of the conversations. It seemed to the FBI as though Raphel did most of the talking and provided most of the information. One law-enforcement official said Raphel appeared in those discussions to be what cops sometimes call a “hip pocket source’’—not a formal intelligence asset or informant, but a “friendly’’ who was willing to share the information she came across informally.

As the agents listened to the back-and-forth, they would check with U.S. intelligence officials to see if the topics which Raphel discussed with Lodhi— drones, coups and reconciliation talks with the Taliban—were classified. They were repeatedly told that yes, they were.

FBI officials could have raised concerns about Raphel’s communications with her State Department superiors to get her to back off, but they didn’t. They wanted to catch her in the act, officials said.

For the FBI, the tipping point was Raphel’s trip to Islamabad where she looked into the coup rumors.

During her visit, Raphel was in regular phone contact with Lodhi, who invited her to come to her home library to talk privately over tea. Officials briefed on the investigation said the information they exchanged during the trip about the prospects of a coup was similar to what U.S. spy agencies were picking up—the same kind of information that intelligence officials were putting in the President’s Daily Brief.

The agents at the FBI’s Washington Field Office decided it was time to confront her.

As Raphel stood on the small porch of her house in Washington on Oct. 21, 2014, the FBI agents leading the raid asked her for the names of the Pakistanis she spoke to most.

Raphel mentioned the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., Jalil Abbas Jilani. She told the agents she had known him for a long time and that he was her primary contact. She didn’t mention Lodhi.

The agents, who had been monitoring her conversations for more than a year, thought she was being evasive, according to law-enforcement officials. They asked Raphel if she had any classified documents in her house. She said she didn’t.

The agents were holding some documents during the conversation. The male agent flashed one of the pages. She could see that it bore classification markings.

Raphel’s mind was spinning. She told the agents that she had taken the classified documents home in 2005 and forgotten about them.

The agents didn’t think she offered a clear reason as to why she would have the authority to possess them.

As the conversation went on, the agents’ questions became more aggressive. Raphel started to think about lawyers she knew.

Beth Jones heard from a mutual acquaintance that something bad was happening to Raphel. Jones called her office phone but got no answer. She tried her mobile, and Raphel picked up right away. “What in the world is going on?” asked Jones.

Raphel told her FBI agents were going through all of her personal things, and that Alexandra was terrified. “I don’t know what this is all about,” Raphel said.

“It must be some horrific mistake,” Jones said.

The agents saw Raphel talking on her cell phone on the porch. They asked her to hand it over.

Back at the State Department, as Raphel’s co-workers watched, plainclothes investigators snapped pictures in her office and put adhesive seals on the doors. A few days later, they replaced the seals with a lock.

The only person in the State Department who really knew what was going on was Gregory Starr, who had been briefed by the FBI in early 2013. Starr informed Raphel’s bosses about a “serious situation,” and recommended that Raphel’s Top Secret clearance be suspended.

Starr told David Wade, the chief of staff to Secretary of State John Kerry. According to Wade, Starr’s description of the case made him think the evidence against Raphel was “unimpeachable” and that the State Department could do nothing to push back. Wade informed his boss.

The next morning, agents from Diplomatic Security knocked on Raphel’s door. They took her State Department badge and BlackBerry. She was summoned to the State Department’s human-resources department and told that her employment contract, which was about to expire, wouldn’t be renewed.

Eight days later, on Oct. 30, FBI agents sent Raphel a list of personal items she would be allowed to take home. Among them: her purple briefcase, the bag of carrots and the Rubbermaid plastic container with celery sticks.

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s office wouldn’t tell her lawyers anything about the allegations. Everything, including the means by which the FBI obtained the evidence, was a national-security secret.

To keep the story out of the media, Raphel’s bosses hadn’t told her co-workers why she wouldn’t be coming back to work. Yet on Nov. 21, a story about the espionage investigation appeared on the front page of the New York Times.

That evening, Richard Hoagland, a former ambassador who worked closely with Raphel in Pakistan and Washington, met her at Bar Dupont, a popular hangout on one of Washington’s busiest traffic circles. Figuring the FBI was tailing her, Hoagland chose a table at the bar where the two of them would be easy to spot. “I wanted the FBI to see us together,” he recalled.

The next day Hoagland posted a message on his Facebook page: “Robin’s a friend of many years. We met last night for drinks. She said it’s like falling into Kafka World. People, we are a democracy with rule of law. Let’s remember every citizen is presumed innocent.”

Beth Jones worked to keep Raphel’s friends and colleagues informed. Jones figured the FBI was monitoring her office phone at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in New York, so she made her calls on Raphel’s behalf from her cellphone while walking the streets of Manhattan.

As the drama unfolded, Alexandra was in the middle of planning her wedding. She talked about postponing it—concerned that her future in-laws would think their son was marrying the daughter of a spy.

In Islamabad, the allegations were the talk of the town. Pakistani businessman Rashid Khan pulled aside Richard Olson, the U.S. ambassador, to ask him about the case against Raphel.

“Rashid, I can’t talk about it,” Olson said.

On Nov. 7, Lodhi tapped out an email to Raphel—knowing full well the FBI would likely read it. “I just wanted you to know my thoughts and prayers are with you,” she wrote. “I can think of no one more loyal to her country than you. I am sure this is a huge mistake.”

Thanks, Maleeha,” Raphel replied cautiously five hours later. “I am in total shock of course. I know you appreciate my patriotism as I have appreciated and respected yours over the years. I am confident this will be resolved.”

After this exchange, Raphel decided to cut off communications with most of her Pakistani contacts. To keep her mind occupied, she attended seminars. At an event sponsored by the Atlantic Council, she ran into Munter, the former U.S. ambassador. Munter could see how distressed she was about the allegations and how adamantly she rebutted them.

“They’re screwing her,” he thought to himself.

PART 4 THE AFTERMATH

In the fall of 2014, the FBI began interviewing Raphel’s State Department superiors and co-workers to try to fill in the missing pieces of their investigation.

They asked Grossman why he employed her, why she traveled to Pakistan, who she met with while she was there, whether he would give her instructions on what to tell her Pakistani interlocutors during her visits and whether she reported back on her conversations.

“Yes, yes, yes, because that was her job,” Grossman told them, according to an official briefed on the investigation.

Grossman told the FBI he “trusted her to do and say the right things,” the official said.

In other interviews, the agents asked her colleagues about a series of “incidents” that seemed suspicious to the FBI. Officials briefed on the investigation said the “incidents” referred to specific communication intercepts in which Raphel discussed sensitive topics, such as coup rumors, with Lodhi and others. The FBI agents wanted to know if she was authorized to discuss these things.

State Department officials told them she may not have been specifically “instructed” to do so in every instance, but she was “authorized” to discuss anything related to U.S.-Pakistan relations if her contacts wanted to—and so long as she didn’t divulge classified information.

“Any dinner party in E-7 is going to include a discussion about what are the odds of a coup,” one of Raphel’s superiors told the agents. “It may look secret from Washington’s perspective but it’s actually pretty widely known in Pakistan.”

State Department officials said that when they spoke to the FBI agents, they had the feeling they were explaining the basics of how diplomats worked.

At times, Raphel’s colleagues pushed back—warning the FBI that their investigation risked “criminalizing diplomacy,” according to a former official who was briefed on the interviews.

In one interview, the agents asked James Dobbins, who served as SRAP from 2013 to 2014, whether it was OK for Raphel to talk to a Pakistani source about information that wasn’t restricted at the time but would later be deemed classified.

“If somebody tells you something in one conversation, you might write that up and it becomes classified,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean the next time you see them that you can’t talk about what you’d already talked about.”

Agents asked if she was authorized to discuss topics in the President’s Daily Brief—the daily gathering of the U.S. intelligence agencies’ most valuable information. State Department officials were baffled by the question because she had no access to such a sensitive document. If she discussed similar information, they told the FBI, it came from her Pakistani contacts, not from reading U.S. intelligence reports.

Added together, the interviews undercut the notion that Raphel was working on behalf of Pakistan. Two senior law enforcement officials who were involved in the case said the bureau had misconstrued her conversations with Lodhi and others, and incorrectly identified her as a spy. The bureau had not fully understood Raphel’s role within the State Department and her bosses’ expectations of her. The critical distinction, many officials said, was in how differently the FBI and the State Department operate.

“It’s cultural,” a former official said. “The FBI is very structured about communications. Agents see things as binary—on or off, authorized or unauthorized, black and white. The State Department has a bunch of informal communications channels. Things are gray. It’s just the way State is.”

In the meantime, the FBI had ignited a wider debate about how the State Department handles secrets. In 2016, several diplomats who worked closely with Raphel were questioned by the FBI for sending vaguely worded emails related to U.S. drone strikes that were found on Hillary Clinton ’s private email server when she was secretary of state. Some of Raphel’s emails were included in the trove that was reviewed by the FBI during their now-closed investigation.

In July, FBI Director James Comey decried the “security culture” within the State Department as “generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information found elsewhere in the government.”

State Department officials, in turn, said it was the FBI probe that damaged national security.

In the spring of 2015, a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office handling the Raphel case notified Amy Jeffress, one of Raphel’s attorneys, that the Justice Department was no longer investigating her client for espionage.

That was the good news. Yet the FBI still wanted her to be prosecuted for mishandling classified information—a charge that could result in jail time.

Alexandra got married on May 23, 2015, in a ceremony in Washington that was attended by more than 250 guests, including Jilani, the Pakistani ambassador, who sat at a table with several other Pakistani friends.

Alexandra had invited Lodhi, who had taken a post as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York. Lodhi sent word at the last minute that she had to attend a conference in Europe.

Raphel heard nothing for months from the FBI. She had already spent about $100,000 on legal fees, which she paid by tapping into her savings, but the bills were piling up. Jones set up a legal-defense fund and 103 of Raphel’s friends and colleagues, mostly from the State Department, donated nearly $122,000.

Inside the Justice Department, prosecutors went back and forth on the merits of the case against Raphel, officials say. The most sensitive document the FBI recovered was 20 years old, and if she were charged, it could well have been routinely declassified while she awaited trial.

More importantly, the officials said, federal prosecutors tend to charge people with mishandling national secrets when they have reason to believe the suspect has in fact done worse—in part to avoid bringing spy charges that might result in having secrets aired in court.

On March 21, 2016, 17 months after the raid on her house, a U.S. prosecutor informed Jeffress the Justice Department had decided to decline prosecution.

Raphel called Jones to give her the news. “Can you believe it?” she said.

“We’re having a celebratory dinner tomorrow night,” Jones said. “Tell me who to invite.”

As Raphel and her close friends sipped Champagne, officials at the FBI and Diplomatic Security tried to come to terms with the outcome.

A senior law-enforcement official said given another chance the bureau would follow the same path again. “Clearly she was not a spy,” the official said. “But there was smoke. The FBI had to get to the bottom of it.”

Another official said that even though no charges were ever filed against Raphel, investigators were partially satisfied by the outcome. To law enforcement and intelligence officials, the loss of her government job was justified by the discovery of the documents in her house and by the signals intelligence that showed her allegedly discussing topics that the FBI considered off limits, this official said.

Raphel’s lawyer, Amy Jeffress, called it “deeply disturbing’’ that law enforcement officials “continue to make anonymous and self-serving allegations about her conduct,’’ adding that “there was no evidence she ever provided classified information to anyone without authority.’’

State Department officials now say they feel guilty about what happened. They think the FBI went off half-cocked and boxed them in by overstating the facts of the case.

Gregory Starr and other State Department officials briefed on the investigation now suspect the FBI agents wrongly assumed the information Raphel was exchanging with Lodhi and others came from classified intelligence reports, rather than from her own conversations with her contacts, according to officials.

It was a mistake, they said, to assume U.S. spy agencies had a monopoly on information in a place like Pakistan, where “secret” U.S. efforts were openly discussed in parliament, at dinner parties, and in the press.

Though the FBI probe of Raphel was dropped, Diplomatic Security has been reviewing the documents found in her basement to decide whether to cite her with a security violation. The outcome could clear the way for her to have her security clearance restored. They have yet to reach a verdict.

Over the past two years, diplomats in Pakistan and the U.S. have scaled back contacts, according to officials in both countries. U.S. diplomats say they are afraid of what the NSA and the FBI might hear about them.

“What happened to Raphel could happen to any of us,” said Ryan Crocker, one of the State Department’s most highly decorated career ambassadors. Given the empowerment of law enforcement after 9/11 and the U.S.’s growing reliance on signals intelligence in place of diplomatic reporting, he said, “we will know less and we will be less secure.”

“Look what happened to the one person who was out talking to people,” said Dan Feldman, Raphel’s former boss at State. “Does that not become a cautionary tale?”

Raphel returned to Islamabad this August. It was a personal trip. Ambassador Jilani had invited her to his son’s wedding.

To welcome her, and also to show Pakistani officials she was no longer an outcast, U.S. Ambassador David Hale hosted a dinner for Raphel in his residence. Several former ambassadors accepted the invitation, including Lodhi.

Raphel was honored by the gesture but wary of how the dinner might be perceived. She told the embassy she didn’t want any cameras present.

Dinner was called at around 8 p.m., early by Pakistan standards. The guests moved into the adjoining dining room and took their seats around the table, where Raphel, wearing a Pakistani kurta over narrow trousers, was placed directly across from Hale.

Still relatively new to Pakistan, Hale had yet to establish deep connections with many of the guests in the room. Colleagues describe him as reserved, in many ways the opposite of Raphel. After Hale delivered a gracious toast, calling Raphel one of his mentors, Raphel thanked him and thanked her old friends for their support. She didn’t mention the FBI.

At around 10 p.m., also early by Pakistan standards, Hale left the party. He told his guests he had phone calls to make to Washington. Hale declined to comment about the dinner party, citing embassy protocol.

Before the guests dispersed, Lodhi pulled Raphel aside to talk. The FBI investigation had a chilling effect on their relationship, mutual friends say. Raphel knew that her voluminous conversations with Lodhi had helped to fuel the bureau’s suspicions.

As they stood there together, apart from the other guests, Lodhi leaned in close to Raphel.

“I’m glad this is over,” she said.

In March 2016, Raphel wrote a personal letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, urging the department to do more to protect diplomats who are trying to do their jobs. She has yet to receive a response. Officials said Kerry was awaiting the outcome of the internal review of the classified documents found in Raphel’s house.

On Nov. 28, she attended a ceremony in the State Department’s seventh floor Treaty Room to mark Ambassador Olson’s retirement.

More than 100 of Olson’s colleagues, contacts and friends attended, including Beth Jones, Patterson, and Ambassador Jilani, who had supported Raphel during the investigation.

After the speeches were given and the photographs taken, Kerry and Raphel pulled away from the crowd for a private chat. It was their first face-to-face since the FBI torpedoed her diplomatic career.

Diplomatic Security had yet to restore her security clearance. Some of her friends at the State Department said they believed the FBI opposed the idea.

Kerry and Raphel stood close together for only a couple of minutes. On the sidelines of the noisy gathering, Kerry leaned over and whispered into Raphel’s ear: “I am sorry about what has happened to you.”

—Saeed Shah contributed to this article.

Write to Adam Entous and Devlin Barrett at  Den.Barrett@wsj.com

 

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2009: The Secret US War in Pakistan by Jeremy Scahill

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The Secret US War in Pakistan

 

At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, “snatch and grabs” of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The Nation has found. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help direct a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.

About the Author

Jeremy Scahill
Jeremy Scahill
Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute, is the author of the bestselling Blackwater…

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The source, who has worked on covert US military programs for years, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has direct knowledge of Blackwater’s involvement. He spoke to The Nation on condition of anonymity because the program is classified. The source said that the program is so “compartmentalized” that senior figures within the Obama administration and the US military chain of command may not be aware of its existence.

The White House did not return calls or email messages seeking comment for this story. Capt. John Kirby, the spokesperson for Adm. Michael Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Nation, “We do not discuss current operations one way or the other, regardless of their nature.” A defense official, on background, specifically denied that Blackwater performs work on drone strikes or intelligence for JSOC in Pakistan. “We don’t have any contracts to do that work for us. We don’t contract that kind of work out, period,” the official said. “There has not been, and is not now, contracts between JSOC and that organization for these types of services.”

Blackwater’s founder Erik Prince contradicted this statement in a recent interview, telling Vanity Fair that Blackwater works with US Special Forces in identifying targets and planning missions, citing an operation in Syria. The magazine also published a photo of a Blackwater base near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The previously unreported program, the military intelligence source said, is distinct from the CIA assassination program that the agency’s director, Leon Panetta, announced he had canceled in June 2009. “This is a parallel operation to the CIA,” said the source. “They are two separate beasts.” The program puts Blackwater at the epicenter of a US military operation within the borders of a nation against which the United States has not declared war–knowledge that could further strain the already tense relations between the United States and Pakistan. In 2006, the United States and Pakistan struck a deal that authorized JSOC to enter Pakistan to hunt Osama bin Laden with the understanding that Pakistan would deny it had given permission. Officially, the United States is not supposed to have any active military operations in the country.

Blackwater, which recently changed its name to Xe Services and US Training Center, denies the company is operating in Pakistan. “Xe Services has only one employee in Pakistan performing construction oversight for the U.S. Government,” Blackwater spokesperson Mark Corallo said in a statement to The Nation, adding that the company has “no other operations of any kind in Pakistan.”

A former senior executive at Blackwater confirmed the military intelligence source’s claim that the company is working in Pakistan for the CIA and JSOC, the premier counterterrorism and covert operations force within the military. He said that Blackwater is also working for the Pakistani government on a subcontract with an Islamabad-based security firm that puts US Blackwater operatives on the ground with Pakistani forces in counter-terrorism operations, including house raids and border interdictions, in the North-West Frontier Province (Khyber PakhtunKhwa) and elsewhere in Pakistan. This arrangement, the former executive said, allows the Pakistani government to utilize former US Special Operations forces who now work for Blackwater while denying an official US military presence in the country. He also confirmed that Blackwater has a facility in Karachi and has personnel deployed elsewhere in Pakistan. The former executive spoke on condition of anonymity.

His account and that of the military intelligence source were borne out by a US military source who has knowledge of Special Forces actions in Pakistan and Afghanistan. When asked about Blackwater’s covert work for JSOC in Pakistan, this source, who also asked for anonymity, told The Nation, “From my information that I have, that is absolutely correct,” adding, “There’s no question that’s occurring.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me because we’ve outsourced nearly everything,” said Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, when told of Blackwater’s role in Pakistan. Wilkerson said that during his time in the Bush administration, he saw the beginnings of Blackwater’s involvement with the sensitive operations of the military and CIA. “Part of this, of course, is an attempt to get around the constraints the Congress has placed on DoD. If you don’t have sufficient soldiers to do it, you hire civilians to do it. I mean, it’s that simple. It would not surprise me.”

The Counterterrorism Tag Team in Karachi

The covert JSOC program with Blackwater in Pakistan dates back to at least 2007, according to the military intelligence source. The current head of JSOC is Vice Adm. William McRaven, who took over the post from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC from 2003 to 2008 before being named the top US commander in Afghanistan. Blackwater’s presence in Pakistan is “not really visible, and that’s why nobody has cracked down on it,” said the source. Blackwater’s operations in Pakistan, he said, are not done through State Department contracts or publicly identified Defense contracts. “It’s Blackwater via JSOC, and it’s a classified no-bid [contract] approved on a rolling basis.” The main JSOC/Blackwater facility in Karachi, according to the source, is nondescript: three trailers with various generators, satellite phones and computer systems are used as a makeshift operations center. “It’s a very rudimentary operation,” says the source. “I would compare it to [CIA] outposts in Kurdistan or any of the Special Forces outposts. It’s very bare bones, and that’s the point.”

Blackwater’s work for JSOC in Karachi is coordinated out of a Task Force based at Bagram Air Base in neighboring Afghanistan, according to the military intelligence source. While JSOC technically runs the operations in Karachi, he said, it is largely staffed by former US special operations soldiers working for a division of Blackwater, once known as Blackwater SELECT, and intelligence analysts working for a Blackwater affiliate, Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS), which is owned by Erik Prince. The military source said that the name Blackwater SELECT may have been changed recently. Total Intelligence, which is run out of an office on the ninth floor of a building in the Ballston area of Arlington, Virginia, is staffed by former analysts and operatives from the CIA, DIA, FBI and other agencies. It is modeled after the CIA’s counterterrorism center. In Karachi, TIS runs a “media-scouring/open-source network,” according to the source. Until recently, Total Intelligence was run by two former top CIA officials, Cofer Black and Robert Richer, both of whom have left the company. In Pakistan, Blackwater is not using either its original name or its new moniker, Xe Services, according to the former Blackwater executive. “They are running most of their work through TIS because the other two [names] have such a stain on them,” he said. Corallo, the Blackwater spokesperson, denied that TIS or any other division or affiliate of Blackwater has any personnel in Pakistan.

The US military intelligence source said that Blackwater’s classified contracts keep getting renewed at the request of JSOC. Blackwater, he said, is already so deeply entrenched that it has become a staple of the US military operations in Pakistan. According to the former Blackwater executive, “The politics that go with the brand of BW is somewhat set aside because what you’re doing is really one military guy to another.” Blackwater’s first known contract with the CIA for operations in Afghanistan was awarded in 2002 and was for work along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

One of the concerns raised by the military intelligence source is that some Blackwater personnel are being given rolling security clearances above their approved clearances. Using Alternative Compartmentalized Control Measures (ACCMs), he said, the Blackwater personnel are granted clearance to a Special Access Program, the bureaucratic term used to describe highly classified “black” operations. “With an ACCM, the security manager can grant access to you to be exposed to and operate within compartmentalized programs far above ‘secret’–even though you have no business doing so,” said the source. It allows Blackwater personnel that “do not have the requisite security clearance or do not hold a security clearance whatsoever to participate in classified operations by virtue of trust,” he added. “Think of it as an ultra-exclusive level above top secret. That’s exactly what it is: a circle of love.” Blackwater, therefore, has access to “all source” reports that are culled in part from JSOC units in the field. “That’s how a lot of things over the years have been conducted with contractors,” said the source. “We have contractors that regularly see things that top policy-makers don’t unless they ask.”

According to the source, Blackwater has effectively marketed itself as a company whose operatives have “conducted lethal direct action missions and now, for a price, you can have your own planning cell. JSOC just ate that up,” he said, adding, “They have a sizable force in Pakistan–not for any nefarious purpose if you really want to look at it that way–but to support a legitimate contract that’s classified for JSOC.” Blackwater’s Pakistan JSOC contracts are secret and are therefore shielded from public oversight, he said. The source is not sure when the arrangement with JSOC began, but he says that a spin-off of Blackwater SELECT “was issued a no-bid contract for support to shooters for a JSOC Task Force and they kept extending it.” Some of the Blackwater personnel, he said, work undercover as aid workers. “Nobody even gives them a second thought.”

The military intelligence source said that the Blackwater/JSOC Karachi operation is referred to as “Qatar cubed,” in reference to the US forward operating base in Qatar that served as the hub for the planning and implementation of the US invasion of Iraq. “This is supposed to be the brave new world,” he says. “This is the Jamestown of the new millennium and it’s meant to be a lily pad. You can jump off to Uzbekistan, you can jump back over the border, you can jump sideways, you can jump northwest. It’s strategically located so that they can get their people wherever they have to without having to wrangle with the military chain of command in Afghanistan, which is convoluted. They don’t have to deal with that because they’re operating under a classified mandate.”

In addition to planning drone strikes and operations against suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Pakistan for both JSOC and the CIA, the Blackwater team in Karachi also helps plan missions for JSOC inside Uzbekistan against the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, according to the military intelligence source. Blackwater does not actually carry out the operations, he said, which are executed on the ground by JSOC forces. “That piqued my curiosity and really worries me because I don’t know if you noticed but I was never told we are at war with Uzbekistan,” he said. “So, did I miss something, did Rumsfeld come back into power?”

Pakistan’s Military Contracting Maze

Blackwater, according to the military intelligence source, is not doing the actual killing as part of its work in Pakistan. “The SELECT personnel are not going into places with private aircraft and going after targets,” he said. “It’s not like Blackwater SELECT people are running around assassinating people.” Instead, US Special Forces teams carry out the plans developed in part by Blackwater. The military intelligence source drew a distinction between the Blackwater operatives who work for the State Department, which he calls “Blackwater Vanilla,” and the seasoned Special Forces veterans who work on the JSOC program. “Good or bad, there’s a small number of people who know how to pull off an operation like that. That’s probably a good thing,” said the source. “It’s the Blackwater SELECT people that have and continue to plan these types of operations because they’re the only people that know how and they went where the money was. It’s not trigger-happy fucks, like some of the PSD [Personal Security Detail] guys. These are not people that believe that Barack Obama is a socialist, these are not people that kill innocent civilians. They’re very good at what they do.”

The former Blackwater executive, when asked for confirmation that Blackwater forces were not actively killing people in Pakistan, said, “that’s not entirely accurate.” While he concurred with the military intelligence source’s description of the JSOC and CIA programs, he pointed to another role Blackwater is allegedly playing in Pakistan, not for the US government but for Islamabad. According to the executive, Blackwater works on a subcontract for Kestral Logistics, a powerful Pakistani firm, which specializes in military logistical support, private security and intelligence consulting. It is staffed with former high-ranking Pakistani army and government officials. While Kestral’s main offices are in Pakistan, it also has branches in several other countries.

A spokesperson for the US State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), which is responsible for issuing licenses to US corporations to provide defense-related services to foreign governments or entities, would neither confirm nor deny for The Nation that Blackwater has a license to work in Pakistan or to work with Kestral. “We cannot help you,” said department spokesperson David McKeeby after checking with the relevant DDTC officials. “You’ll have to contact the companies directly.” Blackwater’s Corallo said the company has “no operations of any kind” in Pakistan other than the one employee working for the DoD. Kestral did not respond to inquiries from The Nation.

According to federal lobbying records, Kestral recently hired former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega, who served in that post from 2003 to 2005, to lobby the US government, including the State Department, USAID and Congress, on foreign affairs issues “regarding [Kestral’s] capabilities to carry out activities of interest to the United States.” Noriega was hired through his firm, Vision Americas, which he runs with Christina Rocca, a former CIA operations official who served as assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs from 2001 to 2006 and was deeply involved in shaping US policy toward Pakistan. In October 2009, Kestral paid Vision Americas $15,000 and paid a Vision Americas-affiliated firm, Firecreek Ltd., an equal amount to lobby on defense and foreign policy issues.

For years, Kestral has done a robust business in defense logistics with the Pakistani government and other nations, as well as top US defense companies. Blackwater owner Erik Prince is close with Kestral CEO Liaquat Ali Baig, according to the former Blackwater executive. “Ali and Erik have a pretty close relationship,” he said. “They’ve met many times and struck a deal, and they [offer] mutual support for one another.” Working with Kestral, he said, Blackwater has provided convoy security for Defense Department shipments destined for Afghanistan that would arrive in the port at Karachi. Blackwater, according to the former executive, would guard the supplies as they were transported overland from Karachi to Peshawar and then west through the Torkham border crossing, the most important supply route for the US military in Afghanistan.

According to the former executive, Blackwater operatives also integrate with Kestral’s forces in sensitive counterterrorism operations in the North-West Frontier Province, where they work in conjunction with the Pakistani Interior Ministry’s paramilitary force, known as the Frontier Corps (alternately referred to as “frontier scouts”). The Blackwater personnel are technically advisers, but the former executive said that the line often gets blurred in the field. Blackwater “is providing the actual guidance on how to do [counterterrorism operations] and Kestral’s folks are carrying a lot of them out, but they’re having the guidance and the overwatch from some BW guys that will actually go out with the teams when they’re executing the job,” he said. “You can see how that can lead to other things in the border areas.” He said that when Blackwater personnel are out with the Pakistani teams, sometimes its men engage in operations against suspected terrorists. “You’ve got BW guys that are assisting… and they’re all going to want to go on the jobs–so they’re going to go with them,” he said. “So, the things that you’re seeing in the news about how this Pakistani military group came in and raided this house or did this or did that–in some of those cases, you’re going to have Western folks that are right there at the house, if not in the house.” Blackwater, he said, is paid by the Pakistani government through Kestral for consulting services. “That gives the Pakistani government the cover to say, ‘Hey, no, we don’t have any Westerners doing this. It’s all local and our people are doing it.’ But it gets them the expertise that Westerners provide for [counterterrorism]-related work.”

The military intelligence source confirmed Blackwater works with the Frontier Corps, saying, “There’s no real oversight. It’s not really on people’s radar screen.”

In October, in response to Pakistani news reports that a Kestral warehouse in Islamabad was being used to store heavy weapons for Blackwater, the US Embassy in Pakistan released a statement denying the weapons were being used by “a private American security contractor.” The statement said, “Kestral Logistics is a private logistics company that handles the importation of equipment and supplies provided by the United States to the Government of Pakistan. All of the equipment and supplies were imported at the request of the Government of Pakistan, which also certified the shipments.”

Who is Behind the Drone Attacks?

Since President Barack Obama was inaugurated, the United States has expanded drone bombing raids in Pakistan. Obama first ordered a drone strike against targets in North and South Waziristan on January 23, and the strikes have been conducted consistently ever since. The Obama administration has now surpassed the number of Bush-era strikes in Pakistan and has faced fierce criticism from Pakistan and some US lawmakers over civilian deaths. A drone attack in June killed as many as sixty people attending a Taliban funeral.

In August, the New York Times reported that Blackwater works for the CIA at “hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the company’s contractors assemble and load Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs on remotely piloted Predator aircraft.” In February, The Times of London obtained a satellite image of a secret CIA airbase in Shamsi, in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan, showing three drone aircraft. The New York Times also reported that the agency uses a secret base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, to strike in Pakistan.

The military intelligence source says that the drone strike that reportedly killed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, his wife and his bodyguards in Waziristan in August was a CIA strike, but that many others attributed in media reports to the CIA are actually JSOC strikes. “Some of these strikes are attributed to OGA [Other Government Agency, intelligence parlance for the CIA], but in reality it’s JSOC and their parallel program of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] because they also have access to UAVs. So when you see some of these hits, especially the ones with high civilian casualties, those are almost always JSOC strikes.” The Pentagon has stated bluntly, “There are no US military strike operations being conducted in Pakistan.”

The military intelligence source also confirmed that Blackwater continues to work for the CIA on its drone bombing program in Pakistan, as previously reported in the New York Times, but added that Blackwater is working on JSOC’s drone bombings as well. “It’s Blackwater running the program for both CIA and JSOC,” said the source. When civilians are killed, “people go, ‘Oh, it’s the CIA doing crazy shit again unchecked.’ Well, at least 50 percent of the time, that’s JSOC [hitting] somebody they’ve identified through HUMINT [human intelligence] or they’ve culled the intelligence themselves or it’s been shared with them and they take that person out and that’s how it works.”

The military intelligence source says that the CIA operations are subject to Congressional oversight, unlike the parallel JSOC bombings. “Targeted killings are not the most popular thing in town right now and the CIA knows that,” he says. “Contractors and especially JSOC personnel working under a classified mandate are not [overseen by Congress], so they just don’t care. If there’s one person they’re going after and there’s thirty-four people in the building, thirty-five people are going to die. That’s the mentality.” He added, “They’re not accountable to anybody and they know that. It’s an open secret, but what are you going to do, shut down JSOC?”

In addition to working on covert action planning and drone strikes, Blackwater SELECT also provides private guards to perform the sensitive task of security for secret US drone bases, JSOC camps and Defense Intelligence Agency camps inside Pakistan, according to the military intelligence source.

Mosharraf Zaidi, a well-known Pakistani journalist who has served as a consultant for the UN and European Union in Pakistan and Afghanistan, says that the Blackwater/JSOC program raises serious questions about the norms of international relations. “The immediate question is, How do you define the active pursuit of military objectives in a country with which not only have you not declared war but that is supposedly a front-line non-NATO ally in the US struggle to contain extremist violence coming out of Afghanistan and the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan?” asks Zaidi, who is currently a columnist for The News, the biggest English-language daily in Pakistan. “Let’s forget Blackwater for a second. What this is confirming is that there are US military operations in Pakistan that aren’t about logistics or getting food to Bagram; that are actually about the exercise of physical violence, physical force inside of Pakistani territory.”

JSOC: Rumsfeld and Cheney’s Extra Special Force

Colonel Wilkerson said that he is concerned that with General McChrystal’s elevation as the military commander of the Afghan war–which is increasingly seeping into Pakistan–there is a concomitant rise in JSOC’s power and influence within the military structure. “I don’t see how you can escape that; it’s just a matter of the way the authority flows and the power flows, and it’s inevitable, I think,” Wilkerson told The Nation. He added, “I’m alarmed when I see execute orders and combat orders that go out saying that the supporting force is Central Command and the supported force is Special Operations Command,” under which JSOC operates. “That’s backward. But that’s essentially what we have today.”

From 2003 to 2008 McChrystal headed JSOC, which is headquartered at Pope Air Force Base and Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where Blackwater’s 7,000-acre operating base is also situated. JSOC controls the Army’s Delta Force, the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, as well as the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment and 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and the Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron. JSOC performs strike operations, reconnaissance in denied areas and special intelligence missions. Blackwater, which was founded by former Navy SEALs, employs scores of veteran Special Forces operators–which several former military officials pointed to as the basis for Blackwater’s alleged contracts with JSOC.

Since 9/11, many top-level Special Forces veterans have taken up employment with private firms, where they can make more money doing the highly specialized work they did in uniform. “The Blackwater individuals have the experience. A lot of these individuals are retired military, and they’ve been around twenty to thirty years and have experience that the younger Green Beret guys don’t,” said retired Army Lieut. Col. Jeffrey Addicott, a well-connected military lawyer who served as senior legal counsel for US Army Special Forces. “They’re known entities. Everybody knows who they are, what their capabilities are, and they’ve got the experience. They’re very valuable.”

“They make much more money being the smarts of these operations, planning hits in various countries and basing it off their experience in Chechnya, Bosnia, Somalia, Ethiopia,” said the military intelligence source. “They were there for all of these things, they know what the hell they’re talking about. And JSOC has unfortunately lost the institutional capability to plan within, so they hire back people that used to work for them and had already planned and executed these [types of] operations. They hired back people that jumped over to Blackwater SELECT and then pay them exorbitant amounts of money to plan future operations. It’s a ridiculous revolving door.”

While JSOC has long played a central role in US counterterrorism and covert operations, military and civilian officials who worked at the Defense and State Departments during the Bush administration described in interviews with The Nation an extremely cozy relationship that developed between the executive branch (primarily through Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) and JSOC. During the Bush era, Special Forces turned into a virtual stand-alone operation that acted outside the military chain of command and in direct coordination with the White House. Throughout the Bush years, it was largely General McChrystal who ran JSOC. “What I was seeing was the development of what I would later see in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Special Operations forces would operate in both theaters without the conventional commander even knowing what they were doing,” said Colonel Wilkerson. “That’s dangerous, that’s very dangerous. You have all kinds of mess when you don’t tell the theater commander what you’re doing.”

Wilkerson said that almost immediately after assuming his role at the State Department under Colin Powell, he saw JSOC being politicized and developing a close relationship with the executive branch. He saw this begin, he said, after his first Delta Force briefing at Fort Bragg. “I think Cheney and Rumsfeld went directly into JSOC. I think they went into JSOC at times, perhaps most frequently, without the SOCOM [Special Operations] commander at the time even knowing it. The receptivity in JSOC was quite good,” says Wilkerson. “I think Cheney was actually giving McChrystal instructions, and McChrystal was asking him for instructions.” He said the relationship between JSOC and Cheney and Rumsfeld “built up initially because Rumsfeld didn’t get the responsiveness. He didn’t get the can-do kind of attitude out of the SOCOM commander, and so as Rumsfeld was wont to do, he cut him out and went straight to the horse’s mouth. At that point you had JSOC operating as an extension of the [administration] doing things the executive branch–read: Cheney and Rumsfeld–wanted it to do. This would be more or less carte blanche. You need to do it, do it. It was very alarming for me as a conventional soldier.”

Wilkerson said the JSOC teams caused diplomatic problems for the United States across the globe. “When these teams started hitting capital cities and other places all around the world, [Rumsfeld] didn’t tell the State Department either. The only way we found out about it is our ambassadors started to call us and say, ‘Who the hell are these six-foot-four white males with eighteen-inch biceps walking around our capital cities?’ So we discovered this, we discovered one in South America, for example, because he actually murdered a taxi driver, and we had to get him out of there real quick. We rendered him–we rendered him home.”

As part of their strategy, Rumsfeld and Cheney also created the Strategic Support Branch (SSB), which pulled intelligence resources from the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA for use in sensitive JSOC operations. The SSB was created using “reprogrammed” funds “without explicit congressional authority or appropriation,” according to the Washington Post. The SSB operated outside the military chain of command and circumvented the CIA’s authority on clandestine operations. Rumsfeld created it as part of his war to end “near total dependence on CIA.” Under US law, the Defense Department is required to report all deployment orders to Congress. But guidelines issued in January 2005 by former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone stated that Special Operations forces may “conduct clandestine HUMINT operations…before publication” of a deployment order. This effectively gave Rumsfeld unilateral control over clandestine operations.

The military intelligence source said that when Rumsfeld was defense secretary, JSOC was deployed to commit some of the “darkest acts” in part to keep them concealed from Congress. “Everything can be justified as a military operation versus a clandestine intelligence performed by the CIA, which has to be informed to Congress,” said the source. “They were aware of that and they knew that, and they would exploit it at every turn and they took full advantage of it. They knew they could act extra-legally and nothing would happen because A, it was sanctioned by DoD at the highest levels, and B, who was going to stop them? They were preparing the battlefield, which was on all of the PowerPoints: ‘Preparing the Battlefield.'”

The significance of the flexibility of JSOC’s operations inside Pakistan versus the CIA’s is best summed up by Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “Every single intelligence operation and covert action must be briefed to the Congress,” she said. “If they are not, that is a violation of the law.”

Blackwater: Company Non Grata in Pakistan

For months, the Pakistani media has been flooded with stories about Blackwater’s alleged growing presence in the country. For the most part, these stories have been ignored by the US press and denounced as lies or propaganda by US officials in Pakistan. But the reality is that, although many of the stories appear to be wildly exaggerated, Pakistanis have good reason to be concerned about Blackwater’s operations in their country. It is no secret in Washington or Islamabad that Blackwater has been a central part of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan and that the company has been involved–almost from the beginning of the “war on terror”–with clandestine US operations. Indeed, Blackwater is accepting applications for contractors fluent in Urdu and Punjabi. The US Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, has denied Blackwater’s presence in the country, stating bluntly in September, “Blackwater is not operating in Pakistan.” In her trip to Pakistan in October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dodged questions from the Pakistani press about Blackwater’s rumored Pakistani operations. Pakistan’s interior minister, Rehman Malik, said on November 21 he will resign if Blackwater is found operating anywhere in Pakistan.

The Christian Science Monitor recently reported that Blackwater “provides security for a US-backed aid project” in Peshawar, suggesting the company may be based out of the Pearl Continental, a luxury hotel the United States reportedly is considering purchasing to use as a consulate in the city. “We have no contracts in Pakistan,” Blackwater spokesperson Stacey DeLuke said recently. “We’ve been blamed for all that has gone wrong in Peshawar, none of which is true, since we have absolutely no presence there.”

Reports of Blackwater’s alleged presence in Karachi and elsewhere in the country have been floating around the Pakistani press for months. Hamid Mir, a prominent Pakistani journalist who rose to fame after his 1997 interview with Osama bin Laden, claimed in a recent interview that Blackwater is in Karachi. “The US [intelligence] agencies think that a number of Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders are hiding in Karachi and Peshawar,” he said. “That is why [Blackwater] agents are operating in these two cities.” Ambassador Patterson has said that the claims of Mir and other Pakistani journalists are “wildly incorrect,” saying they had compromised the security of US personnel in Pakistan. On November 20 the Washington Times, citing three current and former US intelligence officials, reported that Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, has “found refuge from potential U.S. attacks” in Karachi “with the assistance of Pakistan’s intelligence service.”

In September, the Pakistani press covered a report on Blackwater allegedly submitted by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies to the federal interior ministry. In the report, the intelligence agencies reportedly allege that Blackwater was provided houses by a federal minister who is also helping them clear shipments of weapons and vehicles through Karachi’s Port Qasim on the coast of the Arabian Sea. The military intelligence source did not confirm this but did say, “The port jives because they have a lot of [former] SEALs and they would revert to what they know: the ocean, instead of flying stuff in.”

The Nation cannot independently confirm these allegations and has not seen the Pakistani intelligence report. But according to Pakistani press coverage, the intelligence report also said Blackwater has acquired “bungalows” in the Defense Housing Authority in the city. According to the DHA website, it is a large residential estate originally established “for the welfare of the serving and retired officers of the Armed Forces of Pakistan.” Its motto is: “Home for Defenders.” The report alleges Blackwater is receiving help from local government officials in Karachi and is using vehicles with license plates traditionally assigned to members of the national and provincial assemblies, meaning local law enforcement will not stop them.

The use of private companies like Blackwater for sensitive operations such as drone strikes or other covert work undoubtedly comes with the benefit of plausible deniability that places an additional barrier in an already deeply flawed system of accountability. When things go wrong, it’s the contractors’ fault, not the government’s. But the widespread use of contractors also raises serious legal questions, particularly when they are a part of lethal, covert actions. “We are using contractors for things that in the past might have been considered to be a violation of the Geneva Convention,” said Lt. Col. Addicott, who now runs the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas. “In my opinion, we have pressed the envelope to the breaking limit, and it’s almost a fiction that these guys are not in offensive military operations.” Addicott added, “If we were subjected to the International Criminal Court, some of these guys could easily be picked up, charged with war crimes and put on trial. That’s one of the reasons we’re not members of the International Criminal Court.”

If there is one quality that has defined Blackwater over the past decade, it is the ability to survive against the odds while simultaneously reinventing and rebranding itself. That is most evident in Afghanistan, where the company continues to work for the US military, the CIA and the State Department despite intense criticism and almost weekly scandals. Blackwater’s alleged Pakistan operations, said the military intelligence source, are indicative of its new frontier. “Having learned its lessons after the private security contracting fiasco in Iraq, Blackwater has shifted its operational focus to two venues: protecting things that are in danger and anticipating other places we’re going to go as a nation that are dangerous,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

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