Lead up to Abbottabad: Spy chiefs had extensive talks on Osama

Published: May 13, 2011
Panetta had pressed Pasha for Bin Laden’s whereabouts.

Panetta had pressed Pasha for Bin Laden’s whereabouts.


Almost three weeks before Osama bin Laden was killed by a US military raid in Abbottabad, the heads of Pakistan and US intelligence agencies spent most of their meetings talking about the whereabouts of the world’s most wanted man during their discussions at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia on April 11.

At the time, the media had reported that the visit of Lt Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the head of Inter-Services Intelligence, to the US was meant to repair ties with the CIA, which had then been damaged due to the arrest of an American intelligence operative over the killing of two Pakistanis in Lahore.

However, Pakistani security officials have now disclosed that a large part of that four-hour long meeting between Lt Gen Pasha and CIA chief Leon Panetta was dedicated to the al Qaeda chief and his whereabouts.

When those discussions were taking place, Pasha had little clue that the CIA already knew the location of Bin Laden’s hideout and was planning to eliminate him, they said.

At the marathon discussions, Panetta asked Pasha about the whereabouts of the al Qaeda leader. “He (Osama) could be hiding anywhere,” was Pasha’s reply.

The CIA chief wanted a more specific answer. The ISI chief said Osama might be hiding in any urban area, but did not have any further details.

“Had the ISI knew about his whereabouts we would have tracked him down,” said a security official, who was privy to the discussions.

The official said Pasha told Panetta that the ISI was second to none when it comes to the human intelligence but the CIA had the advantage of having ‘superior technology.’

In its first-detailed reaction to the killing of Bin Laden in a US commando raid, Pakistan on May 3 said the ISI had been sharing information with the CIA indicating some foreigners in the surroundings of Abbottabad from March 2009 to April 2011.

“It is important to highlight that, taking advantage of superior technological assets, the CIA exploited the intelligence leads given by us to identify and reach Osama bin Laden,” the statement said.

Some unconfirmed media reports also claimed that the Pakistan military and intelligence agencies knew about the US operation in advance and the meeting between Pasha and Panetta was meant to finalise that plan.

But the government strongly denies such reports, saying Pakistan was not consulted in advance and it was a covert operation.

Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who spoke to military officers recently about the Abbottabad operation, said he did not know about the US raid in advance.

“We had a very candid and open discussion with the army chief and it was clear that the US operation was also shocking for him as well,” said a military officer, who attended one such gathering.

Requesting not to be named, he said a young military officer had made a ‘stinging’ comment before the army chief: “Sir, I am ashamed of what happened in Abbottabad.”

“So am I,” was General Kayani’s reply.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 13th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (34)

  • Mirza
    May 13, 2011 - 7:59AM

    They are not ashamed of hiding OBL. They are ashamed of being caught red handed. The CIA chief being a lifelong civilian politician gave a last chance to ISI chief Gen Pasha to tell the truth but he did not. If the CIA chief would not have asked in the recent past, the ISI would have made some excuses that they were just going to disclose it. Recommend

  • Asad
    May 13, 2011 - 8:33AM

    Please forget about this Osama fiasco… at least for now… 70 people dead in Charsadda today… save the people… save the country… please…Recommend

  • Arindom
    May 13, 2011 - 9:14AM

    While it is interesting reading all these conspiracies concerning Kayani, Pasha, et al , it is a sad commentary on Pakistan’s government!

    It would have been so much simpler had the military and ISI simply followed orders and did what democratically elected leaders asked to do.Recommend

  • Khurram
    May 13, 2011 - 10:01AM

    “Sir, I am ashamed of what happened in Abbottabad.” And so am I. General Kayani you have humiliated the whole nation and miserably failed the trust we reposed in you. Recommend

  • RizwanTKhan
    May 13, 2011 - 10:02AM

    We the Pakistani nation should be very clear on the fact that Osama is dead for many years. But We are ashamed of the fact that our Military and govt staged this drams with USA and brought us nothing but disgraced. USA wants us to stand opposite of our Military which will never happen. We will remain one unit but this time we sure are heavy disappointed. Kiyani has to let go ISI chief. Recommend

  • naeem
    May 13, 2011 - 10:04AM

    It is matter of comfort that even Army Chief feels ashamed. However, on other hand, the PM has congratulated US and what to talk about politician president. In fact, all nation is ashamed and i do not think that it is matter of complacency of our Armed forces rather it is our incompetency. Recommend

  • Umair
    May 13, 2011 - 10:13AM

    So am i ashamed of what happened in Abotabad. Recommend

  • .Explorer
    May 13, 2011 - 10:13AM

    “ISI was second to none when it comes to the human intelligence….” Yet, over 30,000 civilians and 4,000 jawans fall to terrorist violence, jehadis strut around holding press conferences, Quetta Shura live and kicking. Time to come out of delusions of grandeur. Recommend

  • Ishtiaer Hussain
    May 13, 2011 - 1:11PM

    Our agencies are busy playing political games in the country. I think that Gen Kiyani and Gen Pash must resign if they are men of honour, which i don’t suppose them to be. They have failed in the discharge of their duties not only in the sense that they failed to track down the most wanted man in the world but also in the sense that they gave the US an opportunity to hunt him down on our soil. Pakistan is not a playground for America and Al-Qaeda to play their dirty games with the aid of our own military. These generals must be grilled hard with tough questions and shown the door. Pakistan will do better without them at the helms.Recommend

  • May 13, 2011 - 1:19PM

    While US celebrates Osama’s death; US Front State Pakistan gets 80 deaths of its soldiers in revenge of Osama’s killingRecommend

  • asma riaz khan
    May 13, 2011 - 1:36PM

    It is true what happened in Abbottabad has lowered my dignity not just in my own eyes but also in the outside world. Let us keep that aside and refrain from targetting the Army and the politicians for this blunder. I ask the NATION- DID THEY(nation) DO ANYTHING to demand honour and self dignity when it was/ and is being crushed when a drone flies inside our territory to kill Pakistanis? when Raymond Davis was caught? when we are told by the Americans that we pay you and we all know what that implies- that we must obey? We need to question ourselves also. Jjust sitting at home and criticising from the drawing rooms of our homes, is it enough? I think Pakistanis fear that if they go out in the open, and expose their identity, to protest they will not get a visa to go to America, I’m pretty sure, in fact Pakistanis have several fears and less faith in Allah subhan-o-Talla. We must go above all this NOW and leave the drawing rooms. The need of the hour is to go out and protest to demand that our dignity be given back. To gain respect, we all need to do something and mind you, whilst you all utter bad words for others who rule the country, sitting at home, writing comments and watching talk shows is not going to bring our dignity back. I’m asking the same question myself too.Recommend

  • SAM
    May 13, 2011 - 2:04PM

    We are ashamed.. wt hapnd in abbottabad.. a military centric city.. military should also think on this..Recommend

  • Sharjeel Jawaid
    May 13, 2011 - 3:02PM

    I can give benefit of doubt [very reluctantly] to our COAS, but I cannot believe that OBL was living with us in style, for some years without the knowledge and protection of someone high up in the establishment.

    What could be highly probable is that, the intel came from us and we chose to have a tactical nap when the US Raid came!

    Unless some heads role, the truth will not come out now. My children may live to know the truth around 2036 when the records will be declassifiedRecommend

  • FiftyCents
    May 13, 2011 - 4:38PM

    @Sharjeel Jawaid:

    Will the truth make any diff? Obviously not. The truth is there for everyone to see, but they been acting as if they dont see it.Recommend

  • Abdul Wahab
    May 13, 2011 - 5:23PM

    I personally believe that Army or ISI didnt kno abt the operation and were shocked to know abt it. US must hav threatened them when the operation was detected by the forces. And it worked for them. Secondly how did one of the chopper malfunctioned, for this highly covert operation how comes they havnt checked their stuff b4 hand, OR it might hav been shot down. US and NATO is now actively trying to bad mouth the ARMY AND ISI to damage their reputation in the commoners minds, but hear this all conspirators, we standby our army and other law enforcement agencies. Recommend

  • wahwah khan
    May 13, 2011 - 5:24PM

    As sow so shall you reap. But this reaping is becoming very expensive and very hurting for my country…:(Recommend

  • Bush
    May 13, 2011 - 7:02PM

    And what exactly is that?Recommend

  • zohaib
    May 13, 2011 - 7:12PM

    We dont need to blame our agencies and our armed forces, I think the biggest failure is off CIA that they failed to find Osama in last 10 years. it is not the time for blaming each other it is the time to get united and help our country in these difficult times.
    I think Pakistan is at the blink of war, the leadership must have to take stand on America’s action on abbottabad. It is a real time for us to say that …hey America we have helped you out in getting the no 1 terrorist in the world…Now we are not part of your alliance in fighting against terrorism…..we can go for the assistance from china, Iran to help us get out of this terrorism issue. This is the time to protect our sovereignty our country and our people. If the leadership stays like this the way they have been in last 4 years…i am not unsure of having war in pakistan… May allah protect my beloved country…I will come back to my country… if my country wants me…. Recommend

  • Paknumber1
    May 13, 2011 - 7:28PM

    Pasha told Panetta that “the ISI was second to none when it comes to the human intelligence ….”
    Well, if thats true than the ISI must have known about the OBL’s presence in Abbottabad! Recommend

  • Mahmood
    May 13, 2011 - 7:37PM

    One thing about the American’s – they always give you a chance to do the right thing before they take action.Recommend

  • Hyder Ali
    May 13, 2011 - 7:47PM

    If Panetta had disclosed to Gen. Pashs where Bin Laden is, then that would have cost Pakistan another million dollars to rehouse him in another secure location. Pakistanis must be grateful to the CIA director for saving Pakistan’s money.Recommend

  • Goldleaf
    May 13, 2011 - 9:03PM

    if that “mansion” in abbotabad is worth $1million then i have some “mansions” for sale much cheaper……Recommend

  • May 13, 2011 - 10:16PM

    Only if our intelligence will get time out of playing politics, we can expect them to root out terrorism . A far away dream !!! and wait a minute, what does it do to say “so am I”?Recommend

  • Cheeko Beeko
    May 13, 2011 - 10:56PM

    There are many precedents in the world where US intelligence agencies take feed back from their counterparts and do not disclose what actions US government will take after getting the feed back.

    There is no comparison between gathering human intelligence and technological intelligence.

    Pakistan needs to concentrate as how to gather technological intelligence with the latest intelligence equipment available in developed countries.

    OBL fiasco has made Pakistan to think twice as what to do in future. Recommend

  • john
    May 13, 2011 - 11:03PM

    and we thought davis was being discuxd..hahahahah….funi we..!Recommend

  • well-wisher
    May 14, 2011 - 12:17AM

    @Abdul Wahab:

    will they stand by you….. I dont think so. I am yet to come across any profs. Some good terrorist may always lurking around nooks and corner. I will pray for my safty and then your’s…Recommend

  • RandomDude
    May 14, 2011 - 1:45AM

    Brilliant observation man. Way to find something positive for the country in this entire debacle.

    It would be sad to call it a Mansion. I think they are calling it a ‘Compound’. Recommend

  • P.A.M
    May 14, 2011 - 7:56AM

    dude, change the name osamabadRecommend

  • saj
    May 14, 2011 - 8:26AM

    @asma riaz khan: i appreciate yr views asma !Recommend

  • Mehmood
    May 15, 2011 - 4:12AM

    Dear all readers, Will our nation remain busy in blaming own army and ISI or we will take some concrete steps to avoid such embaracements in future. Let me tell u all, US has always betrayed Pakistan. There are so many examples in our past. US will never be our friend. US would even like to physically occupy pakistan to curtail China and make happy India. This is the time for Nation, Govt and Armd forces to stand together and make US very much clear that we r out of their war on terror. We do not want NATO supplies through Paksitan, No US base or US spy in Pakistan. Nation should press our leaders to increase their stakes inside Pakistan rather than foreign countries i.e. their kids and money. Lets join our heads together to get out of this menace. Lets work hard from today onwards for this country and for future of our comming generations. Bin Ladin was killed by US times ago, may be in operation TORABORA. They used this weapon to melign our institutions and pur pressure on pakistan not to demand withdrawl of their spys like Ramind Davous. It is history of US that first she disturb the equilibrum of a country, weaken the defence forces of that country by design and then attack that country. Be ware all. ARE WE NOT HEADING TOWARDS SOME BIGGER DISASTER. Recommend

  • Mehmood
    May 15, 2011 - 4:17AM

    For God sake Bhai sahib, does US give U chance to do right things. U r sadly mistaken. what for US is increasing her foot print in Pakistan, what for they are in so many places of paksitan. see their placing in ur country. They have always betrayed Pakistan. Recommend

  • Amer Khan
    May 26, 2011 - 2:03PM

    We should have never trusted the US, so we are all ashamed of what happend in Abbottabad. I still think it was a CIA – ISI episode and PK never wanted to be a part of the operation so they kept looking at the other side, both agreed to this operation and even when we say we did not know, we knew the consequences of saying a YES, which would have become even costlier than what we have now from the terrorists, Charsada, Karachi and now Peshawar. So, in all, we have played the right strategy. US must have assured a CIA/Military troops reduction, which happend today and then retrivel of the forces from Afghanistan, which will start in July. So, this is the end of Afghan game. US through ISI now talking to the Afghan Taliban to behave when they run the country after 2014…. Recommend

  • Syed
    May 26, 2011 - 2:21PM

    I think none of you (who commented above) read the article, or if you read, then you have a serious attention deficit. Its clearly mentioned here that CIA capitalized on the intelligence report given by ISI, in other words ISI did all the base work, and CIA got away with the glory, ISI shared its part of information with CIA, but CIA didn’t reciprocate.
    Just look at the scenario, if CIA hadn’t ordered the raid, and ISI had got information on the hideout, then maybe the scenario would have been reversed. CIA has been known for its double dealing and backstabbing ways in past not only in South Asia, but also in east Asia, south America and other places.
    So I would recommend all of the people here, since most likely you are among the literate crowd, think like one. You are not supposed to have ” the dhaba “(street) wisdom, you are supposed to think.Recommend

  • Dr.A.K.Tewari
    May 26, 2011 - 4:18PM

    @Amer Khan: Do you think that after sacrifiying 5 thousand troops .Americans are foolish to hand over the power to Taliban whom they toppeled forcefuly .Now AFGHANISTAN will remain a base for an international army . Recommend

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