July 30, 2011 — -- The CIA station chief who oversaw the intelligence team that found Osama bin Laden has left Pakistan for medical reasons and is not returning, the second time the agency's most senior officer in Pakistan has left in the last seven months, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.
The Islamabad station chief -- one of the agency's most-important positions in the world -- arrived only late last year after his predecessor was essentially run out of town when a Pakistani official admitted his name had been leaked. The departure of two station chiefs in such a short amount of time threatens to upset a vital intelligence office. U.S. officials, however, insisted that the quick turnover would not harm U.S. intelligence efforts in Pakistan.
In fact, both US and Pakistani officials hope the station chief's exit will lead to improved relations between Pakistan's intelligence agency, known as the ISI, and the CIA.
That is because, according to three US and Pakistani officials, the departing chief of station had an "extremely tense" relationship with his ISI counterparts including Director General Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha. One US official said the CIA chief was due to depart in a few months as a result of his poor relations with the Pakistanis.
The CIA-ISI relationship has been strained to the breaking point since Pakistani intelligence officials discovered the CIA secretly recruited Pakistani agents to help find Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, a military town that is a 90-minute drive from Islamabad. The two intelligence agencies have been official allies since 9/11, but the ISI has punished the CIA for the unilateral raid. Since then, the Pakistani military has kicked out all but a handful of Special Operations Forces working near the border with Afghanistan; dozens of CIA officials left the country out of fear of retribution or exposure; and U.S. officials have been regularly stopped by police in northwest Pakistan asking for paperwork that allows them to travel, something they say was unnecessary last year.
In one case, U.S. officials were stopped at a toll booth, and a group of Pakistani journalists were waiting for them to arrive. In another case, CIA officials were stopped at a checkpoint in Peshawar and held long enough for the media to show up and take their pictures.
"Pakistan has been harassing U.S. personnel working in the country for months," complained a U.S. official.
Pakistan even threatened to impose more formal restrictions on the travel of all U.S. diplomats and require prior notification, but dropped the demand when the U.S. threatened similar restrictions for its diplomats inside the United States, according to one U.S. official.
The tension seems to stem from the ISI's belief the CIA is still running a clandestine network of American and Pakistani intelligence agents without sharing enough information about their identities or their assignments with the ISI.
The CIA has pledged to provide that information, but Pakistani intelligence officials don't seem to believe their assurances.
As one Pakistani intelligence official put it, "There is no trust."