Tag Archive for 'CIA'

The untold story of how Tibetan Buddhism first came to America

In Tricycle:

The combined efforts of Geshe Wangyal and Takster Rinpoche at the birth of the organized Tibetan resistance made it possible for ST Circus, the CIA’s codename for its anti-Chinese effort, to achieve its most notable success: the Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet. Fortuitous contact by members of the first class of US-trained Tibetan resistance fighters with the Dalai Lama’s escape party in March 1959 allowed the CIA to be informed daily of the Dalai Lama’s whereabouts throughout the grueling ordeal. At the time, 50,000 People’s Liberation Army soldiers and dozens of spotter planes scoured the Tibetan side of the Himalayas trying to thwart his escape—or, as they suggested, to rescue him from kidnappers.

 Besides keeping their CIA patrons updated on the escape party’s coordinates, the guerrillas used Geshe-la’s telecode to request from Prime Minister Nehru’s government political asylum in India for the Dalai Lama, his cabinet, and his family. Three years earlier, Nehru had turned away a similar request and essentially forced His Holiness to return to Tibet after a brief religious pilgrimage to India. It was thus a great relief when Nehru’s consent to the asylum request, after traveling through several bureaucratic levels of the US and Indian governments over a 24-hour period, was relayed to the Dalai Lama’s Lord Chamberlain by the CIA-trained guerrillas. That message permitted a then ailing Dalai Lama to cross into Indian refuge ahead of his pursuers.

 His Holiness’s decision to leave Tibet at that time, almost nine years into China’s occupation, and the details of how and whether he was eluding the Chinese army became fodder for international journalistic speculation as hundreds of newsmen flocked to India’s remote Himalayan outposts hoping to witness his arrival. Few can remember today that this was the most internationally covered cliffhanger of that era, one that resonated well in the existential drama of the ongoing Cold War.

 Once His Holiness the Dalai Lama was safely in India, Geshe Wangyal would soon discover that the follow-up task of bringing His Holiness to the United States might be more daunting than the just-concluded escape. For that project, he would need other allies—and plenty of patience. More:

Sabrina De Sousa: a spy’s story

Seema Sirohi on how Sabrina De Sousa, a former US diplomat of Indian origin, was swept up in the undertow of the war on terror. In The Caravan:

Sabrina De Sousa had agreed to meet me earlier this summer, but only after doing a background check of sorts. Diplomatic caution, after all, never fades. It was a sweltering afternoon, and the fit, young-looking 56-year-old walked into a café in downtown Washington, DC, dressed in a black floral dress and heels. For someone with a Europol warrant out against her, she seemed cheerful and upbeat.

Sabrina was engaging yet cautious about revealing the details of what she called her “troubles”. As a former US diplomat, she said, she is “under legal obligation not to discuss details” of her work. (News reports have quoted her former colleagues identifying her as a CIA agent.) Now she has a court case against her in Italy and is fighting the US government to get protection.

In a mildly English-Indian convent-school accent harking back to her years growing up in Bombay, Sabrina raced through names of people related to her case. She was sentenced in 2009 by an Italian court to five years in prison, along with 22 other Americans, following a trial in absentia (none of them has been extradited). Speaking to me, she threw out pointers, counted the landmarks in her struggle, offered up opinions and key dates. She seemed consumed by it all, almost a quasi-lawyer herself. But it also seemed to animate her greatly. Fighting back, she declared, was “a matter of principle”. She called herself “collateral damage” in the war on terror.

An Italian reporter had compared Sabrina to Mata Hari, calling her an “aggressive” CIA agent who had built a chain of relationships in Milan to get information. She was dubbed “the Tiger with stiletto heels and fists of steel”—a description that better sums up her life today, she told me. More:

And here in WPost

Power grid by Daniyal Mueenuddin

In The New Yorker:

In Pakistan, in the nineteen-sixties and seventies, I remember seeing high-tension electric pylons that had affixed to them a shield similar to something Captain America might carry, with two muscular arms across the middle, sleeves rolled up, shaking hands against a Stars-and-Stripes background—one arm American, the other presumably Pakistani, although both had pale skin—as if signalling not friendship but a more self-congratulatory mood. These pylons and the accompanying power grid were American gifts, built by American engineers, proof of the two countries’ solidarity. The son of an American mother and a Pakistani father, I found these emblems of the two countries’ amity warming, reassuring.

Pakistan basked in America’s favor. American cars muscled through bazaars tangled with bullock carts and tongas, and American largesse gave us power, one of the largest earth-filled hydroelectric dams in the world, and also F-104 fighters that, we hoped, would prevent the Indians from eating us alive. The earnest Americans who roamed the country doing U.S.A.I.D.’s good works had a benign, roly-poly appearance, as if they lived on jam and honey. The long-haired bachelor Mr. X, from the American Midwest, who taught at the Lahore American School, where I studied, kept an open bar in his living room, stocked with whiskey and Playboy magazines, and offered hospitality to Pakistani Army officers and bon-vivant politicians and the sleeker expats, who late at night poured out their sorrows and secrets to him. His bedroom had a huge Playmate poster that covered an entire wall—Laocoön limbs and golden pelt—a vision imprinted on my tender mind at the age of eleven, consonant with the impression I then had of America as the source of all things good, and more than good. Years later, people said that boozy, hale Mr. X had been C.I.A. More:

The man who hunted Osama bin Laden


In this image released by the White House and digitally altered by the source to diffuse the paper in front of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, Sunday, May 1, 2011, in Washington.

AP report from Washington:

After Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, the White House released a photo of President Barack Obama and his Cabinet inside the Situation Room, watching the daring raid unfold.

Hidden from view, standing just outside the frame of that now-famous photograph was a career CIA analyst. In the hunt for the world’s most-wanted terrorist, there may have been no one more important. His job for nearly a decade was finding the al-Qaida leader.

The analyst was the first to put in writing last summer that the CIA might have a legitimate lead on finding bin Laden. He oversaw the collection of clues that led the agency to a fortified compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. His was among the most confident voices telling Obama that bin Laden was probably behind those walls.

The CIA will not permit him to speak with reporters. But interviews with former and current U.S. intelligence officials reveal a story of quiet persistence and continuity that led to the greatest counterterrorism success in the history of the CIA. Nearly all the officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters or because they did not want their names linked to the bin Laden operation.

The Associated Press has agreed to the CIA’s request not to publish his full name and withhold certain biographical details so that he would not become a target for retribution.

Call him John, his middle name. More:


Mumbai: The plot unfolds, Lashkar strikes and investigators scramble

"After killing 10 people at the historic Leopold Cafe, a second assault team joined the two gunmen at the Taj. "

This is the second part of ProPublica‘s investigation into the plot behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Read the first part. By Sebastian Rotella:

David Coleman Headley seemed like a gregarious, high-rolling American businessman when he set up shop in Mumbai in September 2006.

He opened the office of an immigration consulting firm. He partied at swank locales such as the ornate Taj Mahal Hotel, a 1903 landmark favored by Westerners and the Indian elite. He joined an upscale gym, where he befriended a Bollywood actor. He roamed the booming, squalid city taking photos and shooting video.

But it was all a front. The tall, fast-talking Pakistani American with the slicked-back hair was a fierce extremist, a former drug dealer, a onetime Drug Enforcement Administration informant who became a double agent. He had spent three years refining his clandestine skills in the terrorist training camps of the Lashkar-i-Taiba militant group. As Headley confessed in a guilty plea in U.S. federal court this year, he was in Mumbai to begin undercover reconnaissance for a sophisticated attack that would take two years to plan.

In 2006, U.S. counterterrorism agencies still viewed Lashkar primarily as a threat to India. But Headley’s mentor, Sajid Mir, had widened his sights to Western targets years earlier. Mir, a mysterious Lashkar chief with close ties to Pakistani security forces, had deployed operatives who had completed missions and attempted plots in Virginia, Europe and Australia before being captured, according to investigators and court documents.

Now Mir’s experience in international operations and his skills as a handler of Western recruits were about to pay off. Lashkar had chosen him as project manager of its most ambitious, highly choreographed strike to date. More:

FBI was warned years in advance of Mumbai attacker’s terror ties

Newly discovered warnings about Headley reveal a troubling timeline in Mumbai case

The man behind Mumbai

This is an investigation by ProPublica, an independent non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in public interest. The report exposes the conspiracy behind the terror attacks on Mumbai. This is the first of two parts. By Sebastian Rotella

On a November night two years ago, a young American rabbi and his pregnant wife finished dinner at their home in the mega-city of Mumbai.

Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg had come to India on a religious mission. They had established India’s first outpost of Chabad Lubavitch, the Orthodox Jewish organization, in a six-story tower overlooking a shantytown. The Holtzbergs’ guests that evening were two American rabbis, an Israeli grandmother and a Mexican tourist.

Hundreds of miles away in Pakistan, a terrorist chief named Sajid Mir was preparing a different sort of religious mission. Mir had spent two years using a Pakistani-American operative named David Coleman Headley to conduct meticulous reconnaissance on Mumbai, according to investigators and court documents. He had selected iconic targets and the Chabad House, a seemingly obscure choice, but one that ensured that Jews and Americans would be casualties.

On Nov. 26, 2008, Mir sat among militant chiefs in a Pakistani safe house tracking an attack team as its dinghy approached the Mumbai waterfront. The Lashkar-i-Taiba terrorist group had made Mir the project manager of its biggest strike ever, the crowning achievement of his career as a holy warrior.

The 10 gunmen split into five teams. His voice crisp and steady, Mir directed the slaughter by phone, relaying detailed instructions to his fighters. About 10:25 p.m., gunmen stormed the Chabad House. They shot the Holtzbergs and the visiting rabbis, took the Israeli grandmother and Mexican tourist hostage and barricaded themselves on an upper floor.

Mir told his men to try to trade the hostages for a gunman who had been captured. Mir spoke directly to the Mexican hostage, 50-year-old Norma Rabinovich, who had been preparing to move to Israel to join her adult children.

Mir soothed the sobbing woman in accented but smooth English.

“Save your energy for good days,” Mir told her during the call intercepted by Indian intelligence. “If they contact right now, maybe you gonna, you know, celebrate your Sabbath with your family.”

The prisoner swap failed. Mir ordered the gunman to “get rid” of Rabinovich.

“Stand her up on this side of your door,” he said. “Shoot her such that the bullet goes right through her head and out the other side . . . Do it. I’m listening. . . . Do it, in God’s name.” More:

ISI chief told CIA his ‘rogues’ carried out Mumbai attack

From the Indian Express story on ‘Obama’s War‘ by American journalist Bob Woodward:

Less than a month after the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan’s spy agency chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha had admitted before the CIA that the terror strikes had ISI links but claimed it was not an “authorised” operation but carried out by “rogue” elements, according to a new book.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) later received reliable intelligence that the ISI was directly involved in the training for Mumbai, says the book entitled ‘Obama’s War’ written by investigative American journalist Bob Woodward.

According to the book, the then President George W Bush during his meetings with his top aides had said the terrorist attack on Mumbai was just like 9/11.

“President Bush called his national security team into the Oval Office as Mumbai sorted through the blood and rubble. You guys get planning and do what you have to do to prevent a war between Pakistan and India, Bush told his aides. The last thing we need right now is a war between two nuclear-power states,” Woodward says in his book which hit the stands on Monday. More:

The runaway General

General McChrystal in charge of the US Army in Afghanistan is in the firing line. An article in Rolling Stone magazine by Michael Hastings quotes the General and his staff talking about members of parliament and other staff. Here’s from Rolling Stone:

‘How’d I get screwed into going to this dinner?” demands Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It’s a Thursday night in mid-April, and the commander of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan is sitting in a four-star suite at the Hôtel Westminster in Paris. He’s in France to sell his new war strategy to our NATO allies – to keep up the fiction, in essence, that we actually have allies. Since McChrystal took over a year ago, the Afghan war has become the exclusive property of the United States. Opposition to the war has already toppled the Dutch government, forced the resignation of Germany’s president and sparked both Canada and the Netherlands to announce the withdrawal of their 4,500 troops. McChrystal is in Paris to keep the French, who have lost more than 40 soldiers in Afghanistan, from going all wobbly on him.

“The dinner comes with the position, sir,” says his chief of staff, Col. Charlie Flynn.

McChrystal turns sharply in his chair.

“Hey, Charlie,” he asks, “does this come with the position?”

McChrystal gives him the middle finger.

The general stands and looks around the suite that his traveling staff of 10 has converted into a full-scale operations center. The tables are crowded with silver Panasonic Toughbooks, and blue cables crisscross the hotel’s thick carpet, hooked up to satellite dishes to provide encrypted phone and e-mail communications. Dressed in off-the-rack civilian casual – blue tie, button-down shirt, dress slacks – McChrystal is way out of his comfort zone. Paris, as one of his advisers says, is the “most anti-McChrystal city you can imagine.” The general hates fancy restaurants, rejecting any place with candles on the tables as too “Gucci.” He prefers Bud Light Lime (his favorite beer) to Bordeaux, Talladega Nights (his favorite movie) to Jean-Luc Godard. Besides, the public eye has never been a place where McChrystal felt comfortable: Before President Obama put him in charge of the war in Afghanistan, he spent five years running the Pentagon’s most secretive black ops. More:

McChrystal’s fatal error

Robert Grenier, CIA’s chief of station in Islamabad from 1999 to 2002, at Aljazeera. Grenier was also the director of the CIA’s counter-terrorism centre:

“When you’re dealing with the press, you’re playing with a loaded gun.” So said my first ambassador many years ago, and truer words were never spoken.

General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, would surely have learned that long ago, and the unhappy results of his previous intemperate public remarks – which once earned him a personal, one-on-one rebuke from Barack Obama, the US president – should have served to underscore the lesson.

Apparently, they did not.

This time, it would appear, the self-inflicted wound suffered as a result of the unseemly candor of the general and his staff in the presence of the Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings is going to prove mortal.

But in the midst of the current Washington feeding-frenzy, let us pause for a little perspective. More:

Waziristan: The last frontier

From The Economist:

“YOU should enjoy this,” said a Pushtun from Waziristan, the most remote and radicalised of the tribal areas in North-West Pakistan that border Afghanistan, as he proffered a bottle of Scottish whisky. It was an excellent Sutherland single-malt; but the man was referring to the bottle’s more recent provenance, not its pedigree.

He had been given it by a fellow Waziristani working for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. This spy had received the illegal grog from an American CIA officer. Your correspondent’s friend returned homewards, Scotch in hand, driven by another Waziristani, who is also employed as a fixer by al-Qaeda.

Waziristan, home to 800,000 tribal Pushtuns, is a complicated place. It is the hinge that joins Pakistan and Afghanistan, geographically and strategically. Split into two administrative units, North and South Waziristan, it is largely run by the Taliban, with foreign jihadists among them. If Islamist terror has a headquarters, it is probably Waziristan.

For terrorists, its attraction is its fierce independence. More:

Al Qaeda’s American mole

New court documents on the Chicagoan David Headley suspected of helping plan the Mumbai attacks show who he was working with — and suggest an alliance of some of the world’s deadliest terror groups. Bruce Riedel at The Daily Beast:

taj_hotelThe arrest in Chicago of a Pakistani American, David Headley (originally Daoud Gilani), has rightly gotten much attention because of his alleged role in helping the terror group Lashkar-e-taiba to reconnoiter their targets for the terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, a year ago. That attack killed dozens of innocent Indian, American, and Israeli citizens in the most spectacular act of international terror since the 9/11 attacks. The court documents served in Chicago, however, also show something else. Headley’s most important connection was to an individual, Ilyas Kashmiri, who is a prominent member of al Qaeda. In short, al Qaeda apparently had an American mole operating inside the United States for at least the last year and maybe longer.

The Chicago records are very clear that Headley was closer to Kashmiri than anyone else including his other contacts in Lashkar-e-taiba. When he heard that Kashmiri might have been killed in a drone attack in northern Pakistan this September, according to the court documents, he was distraught and immediately began searching the Web for any news about his handler. Headley was greatly relieved when his contacts told him Kashmiri was still alive and looking forward to seeing him on his next trip to Pakistan. He was arrested when he tried to board the flight. He was actively involved in plots for new attacks in India focusing on Israeli targets, which he had already reconnoitered, and a plot to attack the Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that had attracted the anger of al Qaeda. More:

CIA says it gets its money’s worth from Pakistani spy agency

Greg Miller in the New York Times:

The CIA has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to Pakistan’s intelligence service since the Sept. 11 attacks, accounting for as much as one-third of the foreign spy agency’s annual budget, current and former U.S. officials say.

The Inter-Services Intelligence agency also has collected tens of millions of dollars through a classified CIA program that pays for the capture or killing of wanted militants, a clandestine counterpart to the rewards publicly offered by the State Department, officials said.

The payments have triggered intense debate within the U.S. government, officials said, because of long-standing suspicions that the ISI continues to help Taliban extremists who undermine U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and provide sanctuary to Al Qaeda members in Pakistan.

But U.S. officials have continued the funding because the ISI’s assistance is considered crucial: Almost every major terrorist plot this decade has originated in Pakistan’s tribal belt, where ISI informant networks are a primary source of intelligence. More:

Former CIA agent’s hunt for bin Laden in Pakistani badlands


Tim Reid from Washington in the Times:

Art Keller, a blond, blue-eyed CIA agent, sits inside a decrepit building deep inside al-Qaeda territory, staring at his computer screen. He is forbidden by his Pakistani minders from venturing out into the badlands of Waziristan to help to find and kill the world’s most wanted man.

He is sick and exhausted, and suffering from food poisoning. Back home in the US his father is dying of cancer. The plumbing is basic, the heat intense – the generator has failed again. He pores over cables looking for any scrap of information – an intercepted phone call, an aerial photograph – that might finally end the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

The fruitless search has essentially been outsourced by the US to a network of Pashtun spies run by the Pakistani intelligence services.

Mr Keller was one of an estimated 50 to 100 CIA agents and special operations officers whose mission for the past eight years has been to find and kill bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders in the hostile and forbidding Pakistani border region, where he is believed to be hiding. More:

  • Al-Qaeda’s focus has moved from UK, but the threat has not gone away: Andy Hayman, former Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations at Scotland Yard, in the Times:

Spy games

The CIA and its partner in Islamabad, the ISI, are trapped in a very complicated marriage. From The New York Times:

Pakistan’s new army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, (with Pervez Musharraf, left) used to run the ISI.

Washington: As they complete their training at “The Farm,” the Central Intelligence Agency’s base in the Virginia tidewater, young agency recruits are taught a lesson they are expected never to forget during assignments overseas: there is no such thing as a friendly intelligence service.

Foreign spy services, even those of America’s closest allies, will try to manipulate you. So you had better learn how to manipulate them back.

But most CIA veterans agree that no relationship between the spy agency and a foreign intelligence service is quite as byzantine, or as maddening, as that between the CIA and Pakistan’s Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.

[Photo: Pakistan’s new army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, (with Pervez Musharraf, left) used to run the ISI.]


Yak polo loses out to CIA outpost

From The National:

Chitral, Pakistan: There are new casualties in the hunt for Osama bin Laden: yak-mounted, polo-playing herdsmen who have been told to shift their annual competition from a remote corner of Pakistan for “security reasons”.

Pakistan’s intelligence, the Inter-Services Intelligence, has ordered polo players to move their contest to a neighbouring district because the current site is too near a secret CIA surveillance post.

The hugely popular festival takes place in the Hindu Kush mountains – on what is probably the highest polo ground in the world – in Chagril, on the ancient Silk Road bordering Afghanistan’s Wakhan corridor.


Pakistan Struggles Against Militants Trained by Agency

Pakistani militants have turned against their trainers, write Carlotta Gall and David Rohde in the New York Times

Pakistan’s premier military intelligence agency has lost control of some of the networks of Pakistani militants it has nurtured since the 1980s, and is now suffering the violent blowback of that policy, two former senior intelligence officials and other officials close to the agency say.

As the military has moved against them, the militants have turned on their former handlers, the officials said. Joining with other extremist groups, they have battled Pakistani security forces and helped militants carry out a record number of suicide attacks last year, including some aimed directly at army and intelligence units as well as prominent political figures, possibly even Benazir Bhutto.

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Musharraf: ‘Pakistanis know I can be tough’


Fareed Zakaria talks to President Pervez Musharraf

Since Benazir Bhutto‘s assassination weeks ago, Pakistan has been plunged into one of the worst crises in its history. President Pervez Musharraf, having recently given up control of the nation’s army, remains firmly in charge and as reluctant as ever to share power, despite a rising tide of criticism. He spoke to NEWSWEEK’s Fareed Zakaria from his camp office in Rawalpindi. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: What do you make of reports that the United States is thinking about launching CIA operations in Pakistan with or without Pakistan’s approval?
Pervez Musharraf:
We are totally in cooperation on the intelligence side. But we are totally against [a military operation]. We are a sovereign country. We will ask for assistance from outsiders. They won’t impose their will on us.

How do you take Hillary Clinton’s suggestion that the United States and Britain help Pakistan secure its nuclear weapons?
Does she know how secure [the weapons] are and what we are doing to keep them so? They are very secure. We will ask if we need assistance. Nobody should tell us what to do. And I’d ask anyone who says such things, do you know how our strategic assets are handled, stored and developed—do you know it?