Last Friday, a privately-owned Pakistani television station was covering a meeting between the CIA station chief in Islamabad and the director of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Pakistani intelligence service. During the course of this meeting, the TV station broadcast the name of the CIA chief.
This is the kind of intelligence faux pas that can lead to hurt feelings, canceled dinner invitations, Twitter un-follows, and dead CIA station chiefs. Fortunately, the Pakistani TV station got the name wrong, according to the Associated Press.
The AP quotes Asad Munir, a former intelligence chief who worked in the Pakistani tribal areas, stating that “normally people in intelligence have cover names. My name was known to everybody. Only if there is a photograph to identify him could it put his life in danger.”
Fox News notes that the previous station chief in Islamabad had to be pulled out of the country after his real name was somehow leaked to the Pakistani media. He was the target of legal complaints from the relatives of people killed by CIA drone strikes in the tribal areas. The CIA pulled him back to the United States after demonstrators started marching around the Parliament building in Islamabad carrying signs with his name printed on them.
The ISI director denied his agency had anything to do with the either of these outings. Of course, at least a dozen things will happen at ISI headquarters today that its director doesn’t know about. Inter-Services Intelligence excels at keeping secrets from itself.
The Times of India – not exactly noted for friendly coverage of neighboring Pakistan – claims the TV station which tried to expose our CIA chief, and a newspaper that later ran with the name, are “considered mouthpieces of the country’s military.” They believe “a section of the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment is determined to run the CIA out of the country, fearing that the ISI’s links with terror groups and its sheltering of terrorist leaders will be exposed.”
If the ISI did leak the name, but provided its pet TV station and newspaper with an incorrect name, this might have been a warning shot from Pakistani intelligence to Washington that it can only be pushed so hard in the wake of the global Osama bin Laden embarrassment, and a reminder that its co-operation is still essential to successful CIA operations in Pakistan. At last report, the CIA did not plan to pull the almost-exposed station chief from Islamabad. If they change their minds, perhaps his successor should be introduced to the ISI under the name “Don T. Pushurluk” to send a message right back.