Bin Laden hide-out: Leaks suggest Pakistani officers knew

Bin Laden hide-out: Material from WikiLeaks suggests mid-ranking Pakistani Army officials may have known about the Osama bin Laden hide-out in Pakistan, but official US statements do not back that up.

Anjum Naveed/AP/File
In this May 2011 file photo, media and local residents gather outside the Osama bin Laden hide-out where he was caught and killed, in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Leaked e-mails from the US intelligence firm Stratfor suggest Osama bin Laden may have been in regular contact with Pakistani military and intelligence agents prior to his death in May last year.

Whistleblowing organization WikiLeaks published 5 million internal e-mails of the Texas-based company Monday, though Stratfor has refused to comment on the contents of the leaks.

In one e-mail, a Stratfor employee is quoted as saying “Mid to senior level ISI and Pak Mil with one retired Pak Mil General that had knowledge of the OBL arrangements and safe house." Stratfor analyzes world events for corporations and government agencies.

The e-mail goes on to suggest that up to 12 agents may have been in the loop, but does not name them. The employee adds that the US could use the information as a bargaining chip after the raid, which took place in the garrison town of Abbottabad and created an uproar inside Pakistan as well as a great deal of embarrassment to Pakistani intelligence agencies.

Authorities began demolishing the compound last weekend, in what analysts called an effort to wash away a reminder of that embarrassment.

It’s not clear how credible the information contained in the e-mails is, with some observers speculating that, because Stratfor itself did not publish the data, they may have not deemed the intelligence report authentic.

Pakistan’s Army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, dismissed the e-mails. “It’s rubbish and tantamount to kite flying, much farther from the truth,” he told the Monitor.

In the aftermath of the raid, in which Navy SEALs collected computers and other intelligence from the compound, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he had seen “no evidence at all” that senior Pakistani intelligence officers had information on the raid, adding "in fact, I've seen some evidence to the contrary." In her first trip to Pakistan since the raid, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that the US had “absolutely no evidence that anyone at the highest level of the Pakistani government” knew where Mr. bin Laden was.

According to Rifaat Hussain, head of the department of defense and strategic studies at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, the allegations lack credibility because the American government has not itself accused Pakistan’s intelligence agencies directly.

“There are many people who can claim they knew of his whereabouts, but there is no way to verify that,” he says, adding that the leaks are part of a campaign of disinformation against Pakistan.

The leaks come at a time when US-Pakistan relations, stuck in a rut since the raid, are getting back on track, says Amir Rana, a strategic analyst at the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies.

“Whether it has credibility or not, I don’t think it will have any negative effect on the improving US-Pak relations,” he says, referring to a meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in London last week.

“Things are coming on track and I don’t think the US will now comment on this,” he says.

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