In response to requests from Pakistan's premiere intelligence service, the Central Intelligence Agency is considering sharing more information about its operatives inside Pakistan but has refused to reveal drone targets before CIA can strike them, according to a U.S. official and two Pakistani officials.
The possible change to a complex, difficult relationship between the intelligence agencies would be designed to heal a rift that threatened operations inside Pakistan that are among the most important in the world to finding senior al Qaeda and Taliban commanders.
The give-and-take occurred during a two hour and 25 minute conversation between CIA Director Leon Panetta and Inter-Services Intelligence Director General Ahmed Shuja Pasha in a rare meeting in CIA headquarters Monday, followed by a lunch with Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen.
In a sign the CIA has no intention of stopping the drone campaign, at least six CIA missiles slammed into a Taliban safe haven in Pakistan this morning, less than two days after the meeting.
The missiles, delivered by at least two unmanned drones piloted from the United States, killed Afghan and Arab fighters in the same house where a senior al Qaeda official was killed in 2003, according to local residents.
A Pakistani military official seemed put off by the strike, calling it a "show of strength" by the CIA. The prime minister criticized the strike in parliament, and in a press release, the Pakistani foreign ministry said the foreign secretary had "lodged a strong protest with the US ambassador."
Pakistani military officials said that in the meeting with Panetta, Pasha pushed for a formal "framework of engagement" that would restrict the operations CIA agents are allowed to pursue on the ground inside Pakistani borders.
That desire came to a head in January when CIA contractor Raymond Davis killed two people who, according to four Pakistani officials, were working for the ISI in Lahore. The ISI publicly claimed that it did not know who Davis was -- although three Pakistani government officials strongly deny that claim – and then used the incident as a way to try and convince the CIA to reveal all of its agents in Pakistan, some of whom the ISI in fact did not know, according to Pakistani officials.
The ISI was also angered by Davis' actions because the agency thought Davis had "crossed a red line," in the words of one Pakistani military official, who said Davis had been investigating the Punjab-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba. (U.S. officials say the group, which translates to "Army of the Pure," was responsible for the attack on Mumbai in 2008 and has longstanding ties to the ISI.)
Pasha's request to create a new framework is seen as an attempt to solve both problems: make sure the ISI doesn't lose track of any more CIA agents, and make sure CIA agents don't cross any more "red lines," Pakistani officials said. One of the officials said the ISI is concerned with approximately three dozen U.S. agents.
But the U.S. hasn't agreed.
"The Pakistanis have put these ideas on the table, and the U.S. is considering them as part of efforts to work through their recent concerns," said a U.S. official.
The Pakistani military official said until the CIA agrees to a new framework, the two agencies' ability to work together on joint operations will be limited.
"Until the formal framework is agreed upon, the cooperation won't be like it was," said the Pakistani military official, referring to a time years ago when the two agencies shared information much more freely and conducted regular joint operations. "For the cooperation to continue, they have to agree on the framework."
One Pakistani official suggested the ISI is hoping to return to the days when the drone program started, when the agency was given more advanced warning of the targets. U.S. officials say that ended that when they found evidence the ISI was tipping targets off before the missiles struck.
Analysts who are critical of the ISI went farther, suggesting the ISI longs for the days when, thirty years ago, it was handed bags of American money and allowed to supervise a covert war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
The ISI "want a return to what they remember as 'Reagan rules,'" wrote Bruce Reidel of Brookings, who led President Obama's first review of its policy in Pakistan and Afghanistan. "By this they mean a C.I.A.-ISI relationship like that of the 1980s when the agency provided the Pakistani intelligence agency with money and arms to aid the mujahedeen fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan but left administration of the program and the running of the war to the ISI. A very small agency footprint -- fewer than 100 officers ran the entire program in Washington, Islamabad and Riyadh -- never threatened Pakistani sovereignty or dignity."
"The problem today," Reidel continued, "is we can't go back to this rosy world."
Pasha also told Panetta he was concerned the CIA was working with the Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing in Afghanistan, according to one Pakistani official. It's not clear how Panetta responded to that accusation, which the Pakistanis have made for years. Pakistani fears that U.S., Afghan, and Indian intelligence officials plot inside Afghanistan against neighboring Pakistan has helped fuel distrust with not only the CIA but also with Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government.
Today's drone strike was the first since the Pakistani military issued a rare rebuke following a particularly deadly strike last month that, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials, killed dozens of militants and tribal elders. It was only the eleventh strike since Davis was arrested two and a half months ago – roughly the same number of strikes as occurred in just two weeks in December – according to a tally kept by ABC News, based on information provided by local residents and intelligence officials.
The missiles struck the same house where, in 2003, a Pakistani military operation killed Ahmed Kadr, also known as Abu Abdurahman al-Kanadi, a Canadian al Qaeda financer who was close to Osama bin Laden. Al-Kanadi's older son Abdullah Ahmed is in Guantanamo Bay facing war crimes; his younger son Abdul Rahman was released from Guantanamo and is now living in Canada.
As part of the recent rift, the American and Pakistani governments are also discussing a special operations forces program in which U.S. service members train Pakistani paramilitary officers. A few hundred Americans have been training Pakistani Frontier Corps for more than two years with the consent of the Pakistani military.
Yesterday State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. is hoping to keep the program alive.
"There have been conversations that are ongoing between the U.S. and Pakistan about these kinds of requirements and also the force levels that are associated with them," Toner said, "but no decisions have been made."