WASHINGTON: The ISI chief asks CIA’s station manager in Islamabad to leave Pakistan because he thinks the American spy agency is running a clandestine network in his country.
“Let me state the question as clearly as I can, sir: Is the United States sending intelligence officers into Pakistan outside the normal CIA cover channels? Is your agency doing it? Or is some other agency doing it? That is what I want to know: Are you running a new game against us?” asks the ISI chief in a meeting with the station manager at the ISI headquarters.
“You know I can't answer a question like that. I mean, hell, we run all sorts of operations, declared and undeclared, just like you do,” replies the CIA’s local boss, Homer Barkin.
“If I told you that we had no other presence in Pakistan, and no non-official officers, you know I'd be lying. But that's business, right? We don't look up your skirt, and we don't expect you to start looking up ours.”
The quotes are from a novel, “Bloodmoney”, by The Washington Post’s associate editor David Ignatius.
Commenting on Mr Ignatius’s disclaimer that his was “a work of fiction”, another author, Dan Fesperman, writes: “Plenty of readers will react to that claim with a nudge and a wink.”
“For better and for worse, you emerge from its pages as if from a top-level security briefing — confident that you have been let in on the deepest secrets,” says Mr Fesperman, an author of seven novels.
And there are plenty of reasons for this claim. Mr Ignatius is perhaps the only American journalist who has access to the higher echelons of both the ISI and CIA.
He has visited the ISI headquarters more than once and with its help also visited Waziristan. The CIA too has given Mr Ignatius similar access to its sources and assets. So nobody is better qualified than him to talk about clandestine CIA operations in Pakistan.
“When I wrote the book, I knew that there were unauthorised, undisclosed CIA operations in Pakistan,” says Mr Ignatius.
“Anybody who spends any time covering this beat as I do finds that out.”
Mr Ignatius says that the more he thought about these clandestine operations, the more it seemed like a metaphor for the relationship between the US and Pakistan: “Each of us sneaking up on the other. The US not trusting the Pakistanis, they not trusting us. Each having good reason for the mistrust.”
In ‘Bloodmoney’, Mr Ignatius imagines that the CIA, unable to carry out clandestine operations around the globe, creates a whole new secret wing — hiding behind a Los Angeles entertainment front called “Hit Parade”. Its aim is to buy peace in Fata, “warlord by warlord”.
And to cover its expenses the Hit Parade fudges with the stocks market, making billions. Mr Ignatius says the case of CIA contractor Raymond Davis — who was arrested and released after a payment of blood money — eerily paralleled some of the plotlines of his book. In January, Mr Davis shot and killed two Pakistanis on the street in Lahore.
“Here's this real-life CIA contractor,” Mr Ignatius says, “who is arrested by the Pakistanis, who it turns out is part of a whole capability not known to the American public (and) not known previously to Pakistan. At the end of the day, he's released through a payment of blood money.”
In an interview to the National Public Radio, America’s largest radio network, Mr Ignatius defines how the CIA and the ISI work with each other. “The ISI is always playing both sides of the fence,” he says. But “it's not really very different from the way the United States behaves. We conduct joint operations with the ISI but there's a lot that we don't tell them” — or don't tell them until it's too late. Take, for example, the policy of concurrent notification, he says. “Concurrent meaning after the missile has been fired, and the target has been incinerated on the ground,” Mr Ignatius says, “we're telling (Pakistan) what we just did”.
The CIA, he adds, “has the authority to conduct operations that the government will then deny ever took place”.
But the book is not just about the CIA-ISI relationship. The motivating force behind the book seems to be the author’s desire to have a closer look at another clandestine operation: the drone strikes in Fata.
In another interview to the Dian Rehm Show, one of the most popular radio programmes in the US, Mr Ignatius says the question that whether the drone strikes were morally right has been haunting him over the past several years, and is one of his main reasons for writing this book. “[The drones] allow you to kill people from 10,000 feet, which seems, to our public, I think wrongly, less bloody than if we did it right up close standing next to someone with a gun,” he says.
Mr Ignatius’s main character, Omar al-Wazir, is a modern, well-educated and well-travelled Pakistani from Waziristan. He sees his whole family killed as the result of a Predator drone attack. “This is a book about revenge — it's about his revenge against the people who killed his family, it's about our revenge against the people who killed so many of our fellow citizens on September 11, 2001. It's about this cycle of revenge that we've gotten caught up in,” he said.
After seeing his family killed in such a brutal way, Mr al-Wazir's life changes dramatically, and his quest for revenge encourages him to devise and execute a plan that leads to the deaths of half a dozen clandestine CIA operatives.
One of Mr Ignatius’s challenges that he set for himself in writing the book is to try to “see this war from the eyes of the people under our bombs, which is not something we normally do”.