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Panetta lobbying ISI to release 'bin Laden informant' for CIA

June 16, 2011 - Washington

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief Leon Panetta is lobbying his Pakistani counterpart to free a local doctor detained for allegedly helping the United States hunt down Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, according to a Western official.

Agents from Pakistan's premier spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), have questioned a handful of Pakistanis in recent weeks for allegedly helping the CIA gather intelligence before the May 2 US raid that killed bin Laden, The Wall Street Journal quoted Pakistani and US officials, as saying.

The doctor was the only one the Pakistani authorities have kept in custody, the officials said.

Panetta relayed the release request in recent days to ISI chief Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, but the doctor was still being held as of Wednesday.

The detentions are the latest sign of seething tensions between Washington and Islamabad, which were further aggravated when the US carried out the Navy SEAL raid on the bin Laden compound without first informing Pakistan.

Since then, Pakistan's military, which largely sets security policy, has pushed back hard against what it sees as America's increased willingness to circumvent Pakistan in its efforts to collect intelligence and take on militants sheltering in the South Asian nation, the report said.

The Pakistani military has repeatedly insisted it is willing to continue cooperating with US counterterrorism efforts only if is treated as a full partner, it added.

The questioning of at least five alleged CIA informants in Pakistan was intended to reinforce that message, said a senior Pakistani official.

"You should put [the detentions] in the context of the point we have been making all along: We will give you information, we will cooperate on intelligence. However, you will not go and do things behind our backs," the official said.

Since Pakistani officials believe their US counterparts have told them very little about the raid and the efforts that led up to it, Pakistan needed to question the men as part of its due diligence, the official added.

The detentions were mot meant to retaliate against the alleged informants personally, but only to find out what they knew, the official said, adding that any country would at the very least question its own citizens if they were caught working for a foreign spy agency.

Meanwhile, US officials stressed that Washington is still trying to get clarity on the status and condition of the alleged informants, the report said.

Other US officials were less sanguine. "It would be nice if they would spend as much time finding the people who harboured bin Laden" as they spend looking for Pakistanis who worked with the US, said another American official.


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