Pakistan’s spy agency keeping tabs on diaspora in US
WASHINGTON - FBI agents hunting for Pakistani spies in the United States last year began tracking Mohammed Tasleem, an attaché in Pakistan’s consulate in New York and a clandestine operative of Pakistan’s military spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence.
Tasleem, they found, had been posing as an FBI agent to extract information from Pakistanis in the United States and was issuing threats to keep them from speaking about Pakistan’s government.
His activities were part of what government officials in Washington, along with a range of Pakistani journalists and scholars, say is a systematic campaign to keep tabs on the Pakistani diaspora inside the United States.
The FBI brought Tasleem’s activities to Leon Panetta, then the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and last April, Panetta had a tense conversation with Pakistan’s spymaster, Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha.
Within days, Tasleem was spirited from the United States, a quiet resolution typical of spy games among the world’s powers.
But some of the secrets of that hidden world became public last week when two Pakistani-Americans working for a charity that the FBI thinks is a front for Pakistan’s spy service were indicted. Only one was arrested; the other remains in Pakistan.
The investigation exposed part of what US officials say is a broader campaign by the Pakistani spy agency to exert influence over lawmakers, stifle public dialogue critical of Pakistan’s military, and blunt the influence of India, Pakistan’s longtime adversary.
US officials said that compared with powers such as China and Russia - whose spies have long tried to steal US government and business secrets - the operations by Pakistan’s spy agency in this country are less extensive and less sophisticated. And they are certainly far more limited than the CIA’s activities inside Pakistan.
Even so, officials and scholars say the campaign extends to issuing both tacit and overt threats against those who speak critically of the military.
The spy agency is widely feared in Pakistan because of these tactics. For example, US intelligence officials think that some of the agency’s operatives ordered the recent killing of a journalist there, Saleem Shahzad.
At the same time, the Pakistani spy agency remains a close ally of the CIA in the hunt for Al Qaeda operatives. It is a relationship that complicates the ability of the United States to pressure Pakistan to alter its tactics.
According to a US law enforcement official, the FBI had originally hoped to arrest two men working for the charity, the Kashmiri American Council, several times this year but was told each time by the State Department or the CIA that the arrests would aggravate the frayed US-Pakistan relations.
Last week’s arrests came as the CIA was trying to negotiate for the release of a Pakistani doctor jailed by Pakistan’s spy agency on accusations that he had helped the United States track down Osama bin Laden before his killing in May.
Several Pakistani journalists and scholars in the United States interviewed during the past week said that they were approached regularly by Pakistani officials, some of whom openly identified themselves as officials from the spy agency.
The journalists and scholars said the officials cautioned them against speaking out on politically delicate subjects such as the indigenous insurgency in Baluchistan or accusations of human rights abuses by Pakistani soldiers. The verbal pressure is often accompanied by veiled threats against family members in Pakistan, they said.
One Pakistani journalist recalled an episode in December 2006 in which a Pakistani man filmed a public discussion on Pakistan’s tribal areas at Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
The event’s organizers later learned the man was from the spy agency, the journalist said.
A second Pakistani author said that at several conferences and seminars in recent years, representatives from the Pakistani spy agency made their presence known by asking threatening questions.