Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Diplomat, Spy, Contractor

Posted February 22nd, 2011 at 8:19 pm (UTC+0)
1 comment

In the murky world of intelligence and diplomacy – the two often intertwine – it’s not always easy to know the truth.  The Raymond Davis case is a prime example.

It has now emerged that Raymond Davis, the American held by Pakistan for shooting two alleged robbers, is a CIA contractor.  Many news organizations had this information for some time, but withheld it at U.S. government request for fear of endangering him.  They finally jumped on the bandwagon after the British newspaper, The Guardian, broke the story.

But there are some interesting questions that surround both the case and the news stories about it.

The Guardian story says the information came from interviews in the U.S. and Pakistan.  Yet all The Guardian’s quotes on Davis’ status come from unnamed sources on the Pakistani side, including a “senior Pakistani intelligence official,” a “senior police official involved with the case,” and an on-the-record quote from the Punjab provincial law minister, Rana Sanaullah, who said he had “confirmation” that Davis was a “CIA employee.”

Were the Pakistanis trying to force the issue by leaking the story of Davis’ status?  It seems at least plausible, even likely.  Maybe they tried to peddle it to American correspondents, but the U.S. news organizations balked out of concern for Davis, frustrating the Pakistani side, so they went to a more accommodating British newspaper. It should be noted that last year the name of the CIA’s undercover station chief in Pakistan was leaked to local media, forcing him to leave the country.  Some U.S. intelligence officials blame Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the ISI, for the leak.

As for Davis himself, he is not a “CIA employee” – a “blue badger,” in CIA parlance, referring to the color of the security badge at headquarters in Langley, Va.  He may not even be an intelligence officer. According to the multiplicity of published reports, he is a security officer assigned to do reconnaissance and protection for the spies working out of a safe house in Lahore.  Reports say the group was tracking militant outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba.

At first the U.S. government would only say he was assigned to the “administrative and technical section” of the U.S. mission, and that he thus enjoys diplomatic immunity.  But Pakistani officials dispute that, saying that even if he had a diplomatic passport – and it appears that he did have one – he did not have a diplomatic visa.

But the status of the men Davis allegedly shot was also murky.  The Pakistan government has said the men were robbers.  But the Pakistan government is raising an awfully big stink over the deaths of two petty thieves.

Some reports have suggested they were actually agents of Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, assigned to surveillance on Davis.

The Guardian story quotes a senior police official saying that he “confirmed U.S. claims that the men were petty thieves – investigators found stolen mobiles, foreign currency and weapons on them – but did not rule out an intelligence link.”

One official source – and I cannot identify him any closer than that – tells me that the men were ISI agents tailing Davis. The incident, says this source, may have arisen out of a kind of game of dare.  By this account, the ISI agents were pushing to see how close they could get. They got too close and Davis opened fire.

However, other published stories quote U.S. and Pakistani officials as denying any ISI connection to the dead men.

The truth may never become public.  But the incident has already damaged U.S.-Pakistan relations.  The public emergence of Davis’ status is sure to fray the already rocky, up-and-down relationship between the CIA and the ISI.

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One response to “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Diplomat, Spy, Contractor”

  1. […] two-day visit comes at a low point in relations between the two countries, following the arrest of a CIA contractor in Pakistan, a series of drone strikes in Pakistan’s northwest and a White House report criticizing […]

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About this blog

Gary Thomas

Gary Thomas is VOA senior correspondent and news analyst. He has spent more than 30 years covering a wide range of stories on political developments, war, and civil unrest. From 1990 to 1994 he was VOA’s bureau chief in Islamabad, and has made numerous trips back to the region since then. He was also Southeast Asia bureau chief in Bangkok from 1996-2001. He is now based in Washington, providing background and analysis on issues of intelligence, security, and terrorism for VOA’s worldwide audience.

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