Pakistan Outs Top U.S. Spies Over Civilian Drone Deaths

• Pakistani intelligence officials reveal names of CIA operatives

By Richard Walker

Over the course of the past two years, the identities of three of the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) top spies in Pakistan have been exposed, the latest as a result of anger at President Barack Obama over his top-secret drone assassination program that is responsible for killing thousands of innocent people in that part of the world.

The recent outing of the CIA’s Islamabad station chief was orchestrated by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the party headed by popular sports figure Imran Khan, who fervently opposes the drone war.

Khan demanded the station chief and the head of the CIA, John Brennan, be put on trial for a drone strike on a religious center in Pakistan on November 21. Khan’s party not only named the CIA station chief in a legal brief but demanded that Pakistani authorities prevent him from leaving the country.


While no one expects Pakistan to put a senior CIA figure on trial, “the agency” had to quickly spirit their man out of the country. Some sources have indicated this latest move could place CIA operatives of a lower rank at risk of being arrested and charged at some time in the future. The identities of CIA spies in foreign countries are usually tightly guarded secrets, but the fact that three of the CIA’s station chiefs have been revealed points to serious problems for the spy agency in Pakistan.

The CIA has been under considerable pressure in a number of countries and is having to be very careful about overseas missions, given the fact that there are many European human rights groups with lists of CIA personnel they would like to see brought before the international criminal court in The Hague on charges of renditioning and torturing suspects or having been part of the drone war.

Hard Assets Alliance

Pakistan has proved to be a tough assignment for the CIA because of its prickly ties to the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Relationships between the agencies became especially heated in November 2010 when a Jewish family, whose relatives died in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, forced a New York federal court to issue a summons to have two ex-ISI chiefs questioned about the ISI’s alleged role in the attack that left 174 people dead. Pakistan dismissed the summons on the basis its intelligence chiefs had diplomatic immunity.

In December 2010, the ISI retaliated by outing Jonathan Banks, the CIA station chief in Islamabad. The ISI encouraged police to serve Banks with a writ, alleging he was guilty of murder for ordering a drone strike that killed innocent people in the country’s tribal region in December 2009. Banks’s exposure put his life at risk and he was spirited out of the country. Interestingly, part of the writ he would have received stated he was operating in breach of “diplomatic norms and laws, as a foreign mission cannot be used for any criminal activity in a sovereign state.”

He was replaced in January 2011 by Mark Carlton, whose cover was compromised with a media leak of his name days after the raid that purportedly killed Osama bin Laden. Carlton’s outing was painted as ISI revenge, because the raid exposed that Bin Laden had been living for years next door to a major Pakistan military-intelligence branch.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a European intelligence source told this writer that the problems facing the United States in Pakistan extend beyond the CIA. Diplomats have been subjected to constant scrutiny and their movements restricted.

“This latest exposure of a CIA chief is part of the private war between the CIA and ISI. While Pakistan will never put a station chief on trial, the lack of trust between the CIA and the Pakistan military establishment is a serious matter for Barack Obama as he exits Afghanistan. The bottom line is he needs the ISI to help him get out of Afghanistan without taking too many casualties.”

Richard Walker is the pen name of a former N.Y. news producer.