Pakistan Reportedly Arrests Suspected CIA Informants

Robert Siegel talks to NPR's Rachel Martin about the arrest of five suspected informants by Pakistan — on accusations they helped the CIA monitor Osama bin Laden's hideaway in the weeks before he was shot dead in a U.S. raid.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

News now of another blow to the U.S. relationship with Pakistan. The New York Times first reported that Pakistani authorities have arrested five Pakistani men believed to be CIA informants. The men are thought to have given information to CIA operatives ahead of the May 2nd raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates addressed the issue on Capitol Hill today when he was asked about it by Senator Patrick Leahy.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (Department of Defense): Most governments lie to each other. That's the way business gets done. And...

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): Do they also arrest the people that help us...

Sec. GATES: Sometimes.

Sen. LEAHY: ...when they say they're allies?

Sec. GATES: Sometimes. And sometimes they send people to spy on us, and they're our close allies. So...

Sen. LEAHY: And we give aid to them?

Sec. GATES: ...that's the real world that we deal with.

SIEGEL: Well, joining me now is NPR's national security correspondent Rachel Martin. And, Rachel, before we get more reaction, I want you to first tell us about what we know about these men who were arrested.

RACHEL MARTIN: Well, Robert, the Associated Press reports that one of the men is actually the owner of the house that was used by the CIA as a sort of safe house, while they monitored the compound where they believed that bin Laden had been living.

The New York Times reported that one of the men detained was a Pakistani army major, who apparently had recorded the license plate numbers of cars that were coming and going from Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. But today, Pakistani officials denied that any member of their military was among those arrested.

And as far as where these men are now, there are conflicting reports about whether or not these men have been released or are still in detention.

SIEGEL: So what's been the reaction in Pakistan to the news of these arrests?

MARTIN: Well, there are different stories here. One Pakistani official I spoke with said the media is blowing this completely out of proportion. He said that Pakistan is well within its rights to detain and question people who are accused of giving information to a foreign intelligence agency working on its soil. And that is how many in Pakistan view the CIA and its operation against bin Laden.

Now, there's also another justification coming out of Pakistan, which is that Pakistani authorities picked these men up right after the bin Laden raid as part of their initial investigation. So, they were interrogating all kinds of people at that point and they're saying that that this is not some big affront to the CIA.

SIEGEL: So that's what Pakistan is saying. What's being said here in the U.S. about it?

MARTIN: Well, folks who watch the U.S.-Pakistan relationship in this country say this is one more indicator that the relationship has just derailed, that Pakistan and the U.S. simply have different objectives when it comes to counterterrorism, and that there's a deep level of distrust on both sides.

According to the report in The Times, at a closed-door Senate briefing last week, one lawmaker, Robert, asked the number two at the CIA - his name is Mike Morrell - asked him to rate Pakistan's cooperation with the U.S. on counterterrorism on a scale of one to 10. Morrell gave it a three.

SIEGEL: A three. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for a country that, as we heard Secretary Gates earlier, is described as a close ally.

MARTIN: Yeah, it's a pretty damning rating, frankly. Both U.S. and Pakistani officials say the relationship really is at a turning point now, that the raid on the bin Laden compound has put a bright light on many contradictions that underpin this alliance.

The U.S. says it can't win the war against al-Qaida or the Taliban in Afghanistan without the help of Pakistan. But at the same time, the U.S. is deeply suspicious of Pakistan.

Congressman Mike Rogers, who's the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he told me in a recent interview that the U.S. has to vet members of the ISI - that's Pakistan's spy agency. They have to vet them at the individual level. In other words, it's not that there are factions of the ISI that are cooperative and others that aren't. It's person by person, which makes it very difficult to know your friends from your enemies.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Rachel.

MARTIN: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR national security correspondent Rachel Martin.

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