ISI Reportedly Ordered Journalist's Assassination
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
The New York Times is reporting that top officials at Pakistan's spy agency ordered the assassination of a Pakistani journalist named Saleem Shahzad. The murder may have been intended to silence the 40-year-old journalist. Shahzad covered national security and terrorism issues, and he was widely known for his dogged reporting on how Pakistan's military had been infiltrated by militants with ties to al-Qaida.
Shahzad's badly beaten and waterlogged body was found a couple of days after his disappearance in May. Pakistani officials are denying the claim but U.S. officials say evidence points to Pakistan's directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.
With us now to discuss developments in this story is New York Times terrorism correspondent Eric Schmitt. He co-authored today's story on Saleem Shahzad. Eric, thank you very much for being with us.
ERIC SCHMITT: You're welcome, Michele.
NORRIS: Now, the U.S. is saying that the intelligence that they have, that Pakistan's ISI is responsible for this killing, is both reliable and conclusive. What is that evidence based on?
SCHMITT: They won't explain exactly what the intelligence is, Michele, because they consider it very sensitive and it goes right to the heart of the relationship between Pakistan and the United States right now - that is the relationship with the ISI, the spy agency that you identified, and the CIA. These are the two agencies, of course, that have been working together - sometimes at odds - over the last decade, really, in combating terrorism in Pakistan.
But the information the administration officials told us was both conclusive and reliable, that points to the spy agency being responsible for the death, for ordering the death of Mr. Shahzad.
NORRIS: Now, what's the response from the Pakistani government?
SCHMITT: The Pakistani government, and specifically the spy agency, has from the get-go denied that they had any involvement in this and seemed to be pointing, in fact, toward the possibility that militants may have been responsible for the killing.
NORRIS: You know, when you talked about the ISI and the CIA working together, I almost imagine quotation marks around those two words, working together, because it is sort of complicated relationship between these two organizations.
How will this affect the already-fragile relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan?
SCHMITT: When we talk to administration officials about this, they said this is one - another horrible event on a pile of other horrible events that have been building up over last several months, in particular. And so, this has caused the ISI and the military in general in Pakistan to distance themself from the American military right now, exactly at the time when the United States is hoping for greater corporation from Pakistan in fighting terrorists, as it starts to withdraw forces from Afghanistan.
NORRIS: Pakistan is a place where it's very dangerous to do any kind of investigative journalism, particularly if you're targeting the ISI or the government. Several journalists have been wounded or killed. Why did his case, in particular, garnered so much international attention?
SCHMITT: I think is that part of it is, Michele, the timing of this, when it comes in this relationship - a relationship that's fraught with tensions between the United States - that it rang a chord even within Pakistan itself. As you said, Mr. Shahzad was the 37th journalist killed in Pakistan since the 9/11 attacks.
But his - the brutality of his killing; his beaten and bloated body that was found in the canal some 60 miles away from Islamabad, it just sent I think a chill through not only the journalistic community, which unfortunately has become somewhat resigned to this, but I think through civil society itself in Pakistan that if somebody who could expose corruption in the military - one of the most prominent and respected institutions in Pakistan - could be killed this brazenly, and apparently upon the direct orders of the spy agency, well then, who else in society is really safe?
NORRIS: Eric Schmitt is a terrorism correspondent for the New York Times. Eric, thank you very much for talking to us.
SCHMITT: Many thanks.
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