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Intelligence, Pakistani Whispers and 'Fighting The War For Ourselves'

Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani’s demands that the United States hand Pakistan intelligence and allow the Pakistanis to exclusively “do the job” themselves has been irking me all day and into this morning. Again, here’s what he said right after meeting with President Bush.

If the missile strike was proven to have been a US operation, it would be a violation of Pakistani sovereignty, he said. “Basically, Americans are a little impatient. Therefore in the future I think we’ll have more co-operation on the intelligence side and we’ll do the job ourselves,” Mr Gilani said.

I was going spend significant time writing why this is a wholly untenable alternative and explain it in simple, plain terms. But there is no reason to reinvent the wheel. An August 2007 PrincipalAnalysis on precisely this - cause and (adverse) effect in sharing target intelligence with Pakistan - is precisely the round peg for today’s round hole presented by Prime Minister Gilani.

From American Power Play In Pakistan: al-Qaeda Abandons Camps After US Intelligence Shared with Pakistan on August 13, 2007:

Sharing Intelligence Often Nets An Alerted Enemy

Adding fuel to the fires of concern, Syed Saleem Shahzad reported in his latest from the region, ‘Taliban a step ahead of US assault’, that the United States supplied Musharraf’s government with detailed and specific intelligence on 29 al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorist training camps operating in the provinces of North Waziristan and South Waziristan. Not long after that transfer of intelligence, all but one of the terror camps went cold. They were abandoned completely “or are being operated by skeleton crews,” according to a senior US military intelligence official who spoke to The Fourth Rail.

The remaining camp not abandoned, run by Mullah Abdul Khaliq, was described by the official as “only churning out Taliban, not al Qaeda.” This is a reference to distinguish the difference between training rendered at al-Qaeda terrorist camps and those established for the purposes of quickly supplying conscripts as front-line Taliban cannon fodder, primarily for cross-border attacks into Afghanistan which endure extremely high casualty rates.

Not only have the al-Qaeda terrorist training camps been abandoned, but as Shahzad reports, top local Pashtun Taliban commanders have disappeared and melted away, and “the top echelons of the Arab community [read: al-Qaeda’s Arab core] that was holed up in North Waziristan has also gone.”

No Chain of Custody on Shared Intelligence

When intelligence is shared with another actor, it is driven by varying degrees of trust and necessity. Unlike evidence procedure in a criminal case, there is no ‘chain of custody’ for intelligence information once it is shared beyond the originating agency’s control. This is especially evident in the sharing between US Intelligence agencies and Musharraf’s Pakistani government and military, both in a general sense and especially in the matter of the information on the al-Qaeda camps in the Waziristan provinces.

It should be noted that the distrust factor is not necessarily between American intelligence services and the secular Musharraf, personally. Rather, the genesis of mistrust arises from Islamist elements within Pakistani military and intelligence ranks. For this reason, there is always a level of apprehension among the American intelligence community regarding Pakistani counterparts. After all, it was Pakistan’s military intelligence, the ISI, that fostered the Taliban and still has elements very sympathetic to al-Qaeda and its Islamist global aims. Even the alliance itself between Pakistan and the United States that arose following the attacks of September 11, 2001, is one more of necessity than of keen friendship.

Musharraf faced an American fury leading up to the invasion of Afghanistan in which the encroaching military juggernaut may not have cared to distinguish much between Afghan or Pakistani Pashtun hosts to bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorists. His decision to ally with the Americans was one of necessity. As Reuel Marc Gerecht aptly describes, since Musharraf’s necessary alignment with the US post-9/11, “Washington has resumed aid to Islamabad, with the result that Pakistan’s counterterrorist and anti-Taliban efforts have been executed with diminishing enthusiasm.” So too, in this instance, the intelligence sharing was driven far more by necessity than by the questionable degree of trust between the two allies.

Once intelligence is shared with Pakistan it must be presumed distributed in whole or in part to the enemy. To presume US intelligence professionals operate with this clearly in mind would be a well-placed bet, to say the least.

Why Share Intelligence If Pakistani Elements Inform al-Qaeda?

Most Americans likely wonder why we would share sensitive intelligence with Pakistan regarding al-Qaeda if it so clearly gets shared with al-Qaeda by Islamist elements of the Pakistani military and intelligence. After all, it is far from coincidence that 28 of the 29 al-Qaeda camps were vacated after the specific and detailed intelligence on them was shared.

There is much more, and it’s quite detailed yet fairly successfully avoids the drone of wonkish language. And every bit of it is germane and explains exactly why the Pakistani Prime Minister will never get - nor will be entrusted to exclusively act upon - the complete intelligence data he suggests his government and intelligence agencies are entitled to.

We may seem impatient to Mr. Gilani, but we should not seem unintelligent. ThreatsWatch readers a bit miffed by the Pakistani suggestion will want to revisit American Power Play In Pakistan: al-Qaeda Abandons Camps After US Intelligence Shared with Pakistan from August.

One may even feel compelled to suggest it to Mr. Gilani. But rest assured, there can be no doubt that he already knows in full, and far more than he can ever publicly acknowledge.