Foreign Policy Blogs

Did US Officials Throw Shakil Afridi to the Dogs?

Shakil Afridi Source: AFP/Getty The US employs a variety of instruments designed to shape foreign policy — diplomacy (soft power), military intervention (hard power)–but the instrument we rarely talk about may be the one we rely on most: money, bags and bags of US greenbacks that generally buy short-term cooperation and information when we need it the most. The road into Pakistan that culminated in the death of bin Laden was paved with US gold, big bucks paid to a number of important players within Pakistan–feel free to revisit my post ‘How Much Did It Cost to Kill bin Laden?’.

Intel about Underwear Bomber No. 2 and the wild PR goose chase were designed to bump DOJ’s real problems off the front pages and replace the gun-running story with shoot-em’-up thrills about cartel assassins trolling posh Georgetown cafes–all fueled by the prospects of big time payoffs. Money. It’s the real deal. Ask anyone in federal law enforcement or the CIA where the best intel comes from and they’ll tell you from a guy looking to line his pockets. From paid informants or assets.

And make no mistake. We do do business with the devil, with guys who’ll sell their own mothers, their kids, their countries for enough dinero. When soft power implodes, we take out the national wallet. When hard power is politically untenable, we take out the national wallet. But the guys who do this, undercover agents and intelligence operatives, understand there are unspoken rules that govern the game: you never, never, never give up your sources and never burn a paid asset.

Grumbles have been filtering out lately, from the CIA and other agencies running covert ops, that The Rule is lately being violated, sacrificed to the needs of self-promoting administration officials (Leon Panetta? 60 Minutes?) who simply cannot keep their mouths shut, cheerleaders jazzed by pre-election jitters who rush to claim kudos for their boss via contacts with the mainstream press–oblivious to the blowback suffered by US intelligence or the foreign nationals who do risk, despite the financial benefits, prison sentences or execution on their own turf.

Such is the case with Shakil Afridi, the 48 year old Pakistani physician recruited and paid (well, no doubt) by the CIA to help in the identification of Osama bin Laden prior to the assault on the dictator’s compound by US special forces. Clearly, Afridi did the US a great service. And the mainstream press recognizes this, all, without exception, on fire with righteous indignation about Pakistan’s decision to allow Afridi to be tried in Pakistan for treason and sentenced to 33 years in prison.

Isn’t Pakistan our friend?

Grow up.

Here’s the deal. Officials in Pakistan will in fact take US money in return for cooperation, but when that fact is advertised to the Muslim world–that Pakistani citizens can be bought by the CIA–the government, between that proverbial rock and hard place, is going to protect itself. They are going to save face. Pakistan, like the US, which tried Jonathan Pollard, a US citizen and spy for Israel, and sentenced the man to a life sentence, is going to stand Afridi up in front of a tribunal and let the man answer for what the press has openly confirmed has been a violation of Pakistani law–for treason. It’s never too late to review US statutes on espionage–they’re very similar to laws enforced outside the US.

So, who’s really to blame here? Pakistan, for enforcing laws the CIA and the administration must or should have known we were asking Afridi to violate–or whichever White House officials or political appointees opened their mouths and shared this part of the bin Laden narrative with the press?

Israel is a US ally, and while the Washington Post notes that Pollard transferred state secrets while Afridi did not, this distinction is not enough to shield the Pakistani national from charges that he acted as a paid asset to a foreign intelligence agency. This isn’t the movies, folks. Sovereign nations do not abrogate their laws because in certain cases the USA has asked one of their citizens to do so in the ‘name of a greater good.’ This is the real world, the dangerous world of foreign intelligence: consider–in the US we’re going to arrest anyone we catch spying whether the operative is MI6, Mossad, or al Qaeda.

Justice, as you may recall, is blind.

What I am being told is that US intelligence efforts are being compromised by a headline-happy administration, a corps of storytellers intent on claiming top dog status for preempting terrorist coups delivered to the US on the whim of Saudi intel (underwear bomber 2) or via the confused reports of penny-ante DEA informants promised the moon if they can transform simple drug-buy straw into a glittering high-profile assassination attempt (plot to assassinate Saudi Ambassador to US). Enough. Here’s the only relevant question–who leaked Afridi’s involvement? And why?

This is the story the mainstream press should be pursuing. From the Washington Post:

Much about the doctor’s case remains unknown to the public. . . How the Pakistani government learned his identity, whether the CIA offered to evacuate him in the days following the bin Laden killing — also shrouded in mystery.

There appears to be a dangerous disconnect between the political priorities of the Obama Administration and the national security priorities of the US intelligence community–a disconnect that people engaged in risky endeavors say is undermining their efforts. We know that this administration is hesitant to launch aggressive military or intelligence forays abroad. What it is not hesitant to do, however, is to appropriate the slender achievements made by men and women who appear ready to eschew political gain for national security.

There is an old saying: lead, follow, or get out of the way.

There are whispers in Washington that the last option may be the one which best serves the nation.



Kathleen Millar

Kathleen Millar began her career in public affairs working for Lyn Nofziger, White House Communications Director. She has gone on to write about a wide range of enforcement and security issues for DHS, for the US Department of the Treasury (Customs & Border Patrol), for Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), then a Member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and for top law enforcement officials in the United States and abroad.

A Founding Member of the Department of Homeland Security, Millar was also the deputy spokesperson-senior writer for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna, Austria. She has authored numerous speeches, articles and opeds under her own and client bylines, and her work, focusing on trafficking, terrorism, border and national security, has appeared in both national and international outlets, including The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The International Herald Tribune, The Financial Times, and Vital Speeches of the Day.

Kathleen Millar holds an MA from Georgetown University and was the recipient of a United Nations Fellowship, International Affairs, Oxford. She is a member of the Georgetown University Alumni Association, Women in International Security (GU), the Women’s Foreign Policy Group, and the American News Women’s Club in Washington, DC. Kathleen Millar is currently teaching and writing about efforts to combat transnational organized crime.