The CIA's station chief in Pakistan has been called back to the United States after being publicly outed in Pakistan earlier this month by a man who claims his relatives were killed in a recent CIA drone strike.
But as is often the case with spycraft, there might be intrigue involved that could implicate Pakistan's intelligence agency as the force behind the Pakistani accuser.
The station chief's departure was prompted by a press conference two weeks ago and legal documents filed on Monday by Karim Khan, who said his brother and son were killed in a December 2009 drone strike in North Waziristan.
The Pakistani tribal region is considered by the United States to be a safe haven for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, and has been targeted more than 100 times this year alone by the CIA's armed Predator and Reaper drones flying overhead.
At a press conference and in legal documents, Khan cited a link between the attack and the CIA's drone program and named the man he said was the CIA's station chief in Pakistan. Since then the CIA officer's name has been published in Pakistani news outlets and other international media. Demonstrators in the streets of Islamabad have waved his name on signs demanding he leave Pakistan.
A U.S. intelligence official says the decision to return the station chief to the United States was made after determining that "terrorist threats against him in Pakistan were of such a serious nature that it would be imprudent not to act."
A senior U.S. official tells ABC News that the CIA station chief in Islamabad was "probably" outed by Pakistan's premiere spy agency, the I.S.I., in retaliation for a recent lawsuit filed in the United States that implicated the agency in the deadly Mumbai terror attacks in 2008. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Brooklyn last month by the families of American victims of the Mumbai attacks, which were conducted by Pakistani extremists. The current and former I.S.I. chief have been summoned to testify.
This news comes at a time of heightened tensions in the region as a U.S. drone missile attack killed 54 suspected militants on Friday, according to The Associated Press.
A senior Pakistani official said Khan's press conference and case were a response to that lawsuit, though the official stopped short of suggesting the I.S.I. created or pushed Khan's lawsuit. The official said the departure of the CIA station chief yesterday from Islamabad was the "inadvertent consequence" of Khan's lawsuit and was "not planned by authorities."
The U.S. official says the CIA officer, who remains a covert officer, "had already served beyond a regular tour" in Pakistan. The Pakistani official says he was scheduled to leave at the end of the month anyway. But despite the decision to bring the station chief back to the United States, the U.S. official said, "the CIA's mission in Pakistan, including the agency's relentless fight against militants, continues unabated."