The Plot Thickens in Pakistan

The Plot Thickens in Pakistan

By David Ignatius - May 11, 2011

WASHINGTON -- The Pakistani town of Abbottabad seems to have been the perfect place to "hide in plain sight." Not only did officers at the Pakistani military academy there apparently miss spotting Osama bin Laden. So did a team of U.S. Special Forces trainers that, according to Pakistani officials, was based there from September to December 2008.

The "Where's Waldo?" aspect of the hunt for bin Laden -- who turns out to have been living since 2005 just a few hours' drive north of Islamabad -- has worsened the mistrust between America and Pakistan. Pakistani anger over the unilateral U.S. attack is indicated by the fact that someone just "outed" the CIA station chief in Islamabad, for the second time in a year.

More than a week after the Abbottabad raid, the same nagging question remains: How could the Pakistanis not have known that the world's leading terrorist was hiding in what some analysts have argued was practically a gated community for their military?

It's a puzzle that embarrasses Pakistani officials just as much as it angers Americans. Surely someone must have known, and in Pakistan, that someone would likely have had connections to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence. But that doesn't necessarily mean ISI's titular leaders knew about the support network, and therein lies part of the problem.

The ISI is, in the biblical phrase, a house with many mansions. What was known in one wing was not always shared with others. Indeed, if the ISI had transmitted information about sheltering bin Laden, U.S. intelligence almost certainly would have picked it up through surveillance.

Pakistani officials reject the allegation -- rapidly becoming conventional wisdom in Washington -- that they didn't adequately pursue al-Qaeda. In interviews, they disclosed some new details that support their account. A U.S. official responded: "The Pakistanis indeed provided information that was useful to the U.S. government as it collected intelligence on the bin Laden compound. That information helped fill in some gaps."

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Copyright 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

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