Saturday, May 7, 2011

U.S. Tells Pakistan to Name Agents

Obama administration has demanded the identities of some of their top intelligence operatives as the United States tries to determine whether any of them had contact with Osama bin Laden or his agents in the years before the raid that led to his death early Monday morning in Pakistan.

The officials provided new details of a tense discussion between Pakistani officials and an American envoy who traveled to Pakistan on Monday, as well as the growing suspicion among United States intelligence and diplomatic officials that someone in Pakistan’s secret intelligence agency knew of Bin Laden’s location, and helped shield him.

Obama administration officials have stopped short of accusing the Pakistani government — either privately or publicly — of complicity in the hiding of Bin Laden in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. One senior administration official privately acknowledged that the administration sees its relationship with Pakistan as too crucial to risk a wholesale break, even if it turned out that past or present Pakistani intelligence officials did know about Bin Laden’s whereabouts.

Still, this official and others expressed deep frustration with Pakistani military and intelligence officials for their refusal over the years to identify members of the agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, who were believed to have close ties to Bin Laden. In particular, American officials have demanded information on what is known as the ISI’s S directorate, which has worked closely with militants since the days of the fight against the Soviet army in Afghanistan.

“It’s hard to believe that Kayani and Pasha actually knew that Bin Laden was there,” a senior administration official said, referring to Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and the ISI director-general, Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha. But, added the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue, “there are degrees of knowing, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we find out that someone close to Pasha knew.”

Already, Pakistani news outlets have been speculating that General Pasha, one of the most powerful figures in Pakistan, may step down as a consequence of the Bin Laden operation.

The increasing tensions between the United States and Pakistan — whose proximity to Afghanistan makes it almost a necessary ally in the American and allied war there — came as Al Qaeda itself acknowledged on Friday the death of its leader. The group did so while vowing revenge on the United States and its allies.

Pakistani investigators involved in piecing together Bin Laden’s life during the past nine years said this week that he had been living in Pakistan’s urban centers longer than previously believed.

Two Pakistani officials with knowledge of the continuing Pakistani investigation say that Bin Laden’s Yemeni wife, one of three wives now in Pakistani custody since the raid on Monday, told investigators that before moving in 2005 to the mansion in Abbottabad where he was eventually killed, Bin Laden had lived with his family for nearly two and a half years in a small village, Chak Shah Mohammad, a little more than a mile southeast of the town of Haripur, on the main Abbottabad highway.

In retrospect, one of the officials said, this means that Bin Laden left Pakistan’s rugged tribal region sometime in 2003 and had been living in northern urban regions since then. American and Pakistani officials had thought for years that ever since Bin Laden disappeared from Tora Bora in Afghanistan, he had been hiding in the tribal regions straddling the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

A former Pakistani official noted that Abbottabad, the site of the Pakistani equivalent of the West Point military academy, is crawling with security guards and military officials who established a secure cordon around the town, raising questions of how the officials could not know there was a suspicious compound in their midst.

“If he was there since 2005, that is too long a time for local police and intelligence not to know,” said Hassan Abbas, a former Pakistani official now teaching at Columbia University.

Mr. Abbas said there was a tight net of security surrounding Abbottabad because Pakistani officials were concerned about terrorist attacks on sensitive military installations in the area.

Art Keller, a former officer of the Central Intelligence Agency who worked on the hunt for Bin Laden from a compound in the Waziristan region of Pakistan in 2006, said the Qaeda founder’s choice of the garrison town of Abbottabad as a refuge in 2005 raised serious questions. Bin Laden certainly knew of the concentration of military institutions, officers and retirees in the town — including some from the ISI’s S directorate, Mr. Keller said. And because the military has also been a target of militant attacks in recent years, the town has a higher level of security awareness, checkpoints and street surveillance than others.

If Bin Laden wanted to relocate in a populated area of Pakistan to avoid missiles fired from American drones, Mr. Keller said, he had many choices. So Mr. Keller questioned why Bin Laden would live in Abbottabad, unless he had some assurance of protection or patronage from military or intelligence officers. “At best, it was willful blindness on the part of the ISI,” Mr. Keller said. “Willful blindness is a survival mechanism in Pakistan.”

The trove of information taken by the commandos from the compound occupied by Bin Laden may answer some of these questions, and perhaps even solve the puzzle of where he has been in recent years.

A senior law enforcement official said Friday that the F.B.I. and C.I.A. had rapidly assembled small armies of analysts, technical experts and translators to pore over about 100 thumb drives, DVDs and computer disks, along with 10 computer hard drives, 5 computers and assorted cellphones. Analysts are also sifting through piles of paper documents in the house, many of which are in Arabic and other languages that need to be translated.

In Washington and New York alone, several hundred analysts, technical experts and other specialists are working round the clock to review the trove of information. “It’s all hands on deck,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation.

Technical specialists are recovering phone numbers from several cellphones recovered at the compound. The experts need to distinguish foreign telephone contacts from any numbers in the United States, which undergo a separate legal review, the official said.

“We’re also looking through notes, letters, e-mails and other communications,” the official said. “We’re looking at who owns the e-mails and what linkages there are to those people.” The official said that the initial analysis would involve searching for information about specific threats or plots, or potential terrorists sent to the United States or Europe, and that the F.B.I. was pursuing a small number of leads from the information reviewed so far.

Obama thanks, awards team in bin Laden raid

New York Times

They are the shadowy warriors of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden: two dozen members of the Navy Seals who stormed the fortified compound in Pakistan where Bin Laden was hiding. Their identities will probably never be known; their faces will most likely never appear in photographs at the White House, on magazine covers or on television talk shows.

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But on Friday, President Obama flew to this Army air base to thank them, behind closed doors, for what he called a “job well done,” describing it as one of the greatest military and intelligence operations in American history.

“This has been an historic week for the life of our nation,” Mr. Obama said later to a raucous rally of 2,300 soldiers, many of them just returned from Afghanistan. “The terrorist leader who struck our nation on 9/11 will never threaten America again.”

During the meeting with the Seal team — which Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. also attended — Mr. Obama awarded it and other units involved in the operation with a Presidential Unit Citation, the White House said. The president also received a PowerPoint presentation on the raid, with maps, photos and a scale model of the compound, from members of the assault force. Even the trained dog used in the raid attended.

The White House released few other details of the meeting, and did not mention the highly classified members of the unit by name. But Mr. Biden mentioned them several times in his speech, telling the soldiers that earlier in the day, his granddaughter exclaimed, “My Pop is going out to see the whales!”

The public rally and the private meeting amounted to a choreographed victory lap for Mr. Obama near the end of a momentous week that began with his announcement on Sunday that commandos had killed Bin Laden.

On Thursday, Mr. Obama visited ground zero in New York and met with relatives of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, drawing a personal link between the killing of Bin Laden and the deaths his disciples inflicted on nearly 3,000 people at the World Trade Center.

Speaking under a giant American flag to the troops of the 101st Airborne Division, Mr. Obama drew another connection, between the soldiers there and the commandos he called “America’s quiet professionals.”

“Like all of us, they could have chosen a life of ease,” the president said. “But like you, they volunteered.”

Describing the Seal commandos as “battle hardened” and tirelessly trained, Mr. Obama said: “When I gave the order, they were ready. And in recent days, the world has learned just how ready they were.”

While the Seal team is not based here, Fort Campbell is home of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as the Night Stalkers. The unit, which pilots aircraft for Special Operations troops, flew the helicopters that carried the commandos to Bin Laden’s compound.

Mr. Obama also linked the killing of Bin Laden to the broader war, saying it showed the progress that the United States had made in disrupting and dismantling Al Qaeda. The soldiers of the 101st Airborne, he said, were pushing back insurgents and allowing Afghans to reclaim their towns.

“The bottom line is this,” he said in a statement that drew the loudest cheers of the day, “our strategy is working, and there is no greater evidence of that than justice finally being delivered to Osama bin Laden.”

Among the soldiers, there was satisfaction, if not jubilation, at the killing of Bin Laden. Several said they were relieved, though most said they did not believe it would bring the Afghan war to an end any sooner.

“It helps to know that we finally got him,” said Sgt. Marion Githens, who coordinated Army helicopters at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan before returning to the United States two days ago. But she said she was still ambivalent about the war. “Some days, you feel like it’s not going anywhere,” she said. “Other days, you think, O.K., maybe we really can help these people.”

Still, other soldiers expressed gratitude that Mr. Obama had come. “It’s tough coming home,” said Capt. Jimos Reese, a company commander. “It does mean a lot that the president cares about you.”

It was Mr. Obama’s first visit to Fort Campbell, which is accustomed to visits by the commander in chief: six have come since the Vietnam War, with former President George W. Bush making three visits, including one just after Mr. Obama was elected in 2008.

The Pentagon recommended that Mr. Obama come to Fort Campbell, a senior official said, because the soldiers of the 101st Airborne had taken significant casualties, having served in a Taliban stronghold south and west of Kandahar that is some of the most lethal terrain in Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama acknowledged that service, noting that 125 soldiers from the base had died in Afghanistan. Some of the troops in the 101st Airborne, he said, had been deployed to Afghanistan three or four times.

Among those who greeted Mr. Obama at Fort Campbell was Vice Adm. William H. McRaven, a former commando in the Seals who oversaw the raid as the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command. After Mr. Obama’s arrival, the president’s motorcade left immediately for low buildings on the far side of the airfield, where the meeting with the Seal team and other units lasted more than an hour.

For all the celebration, there was still a somber tinge to Mr. Obama’s words, as he told the troops about a letter he had received from Payton Wall, a 14-year-old girl from New Jersey who wrote to him after hearing that Bin Laden was dead, about the devastating loss of her father in the 2001 terrorist attacks.

She stood near Mr. Obama on Thursday, with her mother and sister, as he laid a wreath at the 9/11 memorial plaza.

“Every year, more and more, Payton is shining through,” he said, describing how she plays lacrosse and mentors students. “For her and for all of us, this week has been a reminder of what we’re about as a people.”

Afghan women risk death to learn

Women in Kandahar, Afghanistan meet in secret, huddling in cramped, sweltering underground classrooms at great risk to themselves from the Taliban, in order to learn to read and fulfill their ambitions.