Interview with a spy: ‘Step into Pakistani shoes’

Published: August 28, 2011
Former CIA station chief asks his fellow Americans to understand Pakistani threat perceptions, frustrations.

Former CIA station chief asks his fellow Americans to understand Pakistani threat perceptions, frustrations.


For a former spy, Robert Grenier speaks remarkably like a diplomat.

In an exclusive interview with The Express Tribune, the former top American spy in Islamabad said he understood Pakistan’s national security threats and the frustration felt by the country’ military leadership about not having a say over the drone strikes.

Grenier, who was posted as the CIA’s Islamabad station chief from 1999 to 2001, was present in the country during the World Trade Centre attacks on September 11, 2001.  Describing the intelligence cooperation between Pakistan and the United States before 9/11 as “very limited”, Grenier says that after President Musharraf’s decision to ally with the United States, “the relationship with the intelligence agencies changed from virtually no cooperation to full co-operation, at least with respect to al Qaeda.”

In an interview last year, Grenier said he believed Pakistan did not know where Bin Laden was. Does he still stand by that statement, months after Bin Laden was discovered in Abbottabad?

“My strong suspicion even now is that no one other than the close collaborators of Bin Laden knew that he was in Abbottabad. No one has apparently found any compelling evidence that there was any official knowledge on the part of Pakistan of Bin Laden’s whereabouts. I continue to believe that they were as surprised as anyone when he turned out to be hiding in Abbottabad.”

Bin Laden’s trail, says Grenier, went cold “essentially after he apparently escaped from the Tora Bora area around December of 2001. As I even said at the time, for all we knew, he could’ve been hiding in a small apartment somewhere in Karachi.”

While Grenier declined to talk about details of the drone program that began under his watch, while he was head of the CIA Counterterrorism Centre in 2004, he offers his insights on the effects of the drone program.

“In the early days, the missile strikes seemed to be limited to the very senior cadre of al Qaeda. In more recent years, it appears that the targets of missile strikes have included much larger number of local fighters – Afghan and Pakistan fighters. It seems to me that it has become much more of a conventional weapon against militants as opposed to a very surgically employed tool against international terrorists.”

Grenier seemed quite understanding of Pakistani frustrations about the programme, but also justified the US strategy behind them.

“Putting myself in the position of my former counterparts in Pakistan, it must be frustrating given the fact that the Pakistanis have to deal with the effect of these strikes, without really having any vote in terms of how these strikes are employed. The American point of view is that it is Pakistan’s responsibility to not let its territory to be used as a base for militants. Given the apparent inability of the Pakistanis to control the tribal areas, [US officials] feel great pressure to do something about it unilaterally.”

Grenier talks about the rifts in relations between the United States and Pakistan as a divergence of their national interests.

“The fundamental problem between the United States and Pakistan right now is that they don’t see their national interests as completely overlapping and in fact over time have been diverging. Pakistan is very concerned about the large US military presence in Afghanistan as a radicalising factor. The US, on the other hand, very much wants Pakistan to address this issue because it imposes a direct threat to US and NATO and Afghan forces. Politically, Pakistan is concerned about an essentially unfriendly government in Kabul with very close relations to India, an issue that the US is very reluctant to address.”

Grenier advises US policymakers to put themselves in their Pakistani counterparts’ shoes before making decisions about the region. He also asks Pakistanis to get more serious about the problem of militancy, which he says is not as dependent on the US presence in Afghanistan as many in Islamabad would like to believe.

“Militancy within Pakistan is not going to go away and I think the drawdown of the US presence in Afghanistan is not going to cause that threat to diminish appreciably,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 28th, 2011.

Related Videos

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (26)

  • Khurram
    Aug 28, 2011 - 12:54AM

    “He says he does not believe that any Pakistani official knew about Osama’s presence there.”

    What did he(Grenier) say about Pakistani non-officials.


  • Incredible
    Aug 28, 2011 - 1:08AM

    “Former station chief of the CIA in Islamabad, Robert Grenier has said that the US must realise immediate threats being faced by Pakistan and try to be on the same page with Islamabad”. Most of the people of Pakistan want to live in the 10th century. So why is USA worrying. That is there right.

    “He also said that he did not believe any one in the Pakistani leadership knew bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad”. This means that American trainers be let in so that they can keep an eye on Pakistan and most importantly their nukes.


  • mz
    Aug 28, 2011 - 1:16AM

    so much blame game USA played along with other countries…just on the brink of calling pakistan a terrorist country…
    and now when they want their military personals and cia agents to go into pakistan they are playing their sugar-coated dice…Recommend

  • AnisAqeel
    Aug 28, 2011 - 1:51AM

    Mr. Gernier is a great Spy and now seeking to be a great Diplomat. If true (doubtful) then Pakistan Military and it intelligence agency by the name of ISI definitely need to have a complete repair, renovation and painting.


  • Maria
    Aug 28, 2011 - 1:55AM

    Obviously. How can anyone in their right mind think that the Pakistani administration knew and could keep such things quiet. The problem is the Indian lobby in the US which is actively involved in trying to defame Pakistan. Meanwhile the Indians work with their Afghan lackeys to send terrorists to Pakistan.


  • grain2315
    Aug 28, 2011 - 2:22AM

    double talk, has he told his masters of this fact or the media in the States specifically the neo ons?? who seem to believe anything that happens in Afghanistan is directly linked to the Pakistanis???


  • dc
    Aug 28, 2011 - 3:08AM

    No! It wont work now. You have to show us the body. Then the US/Pak relation can go cosy again.


  • Malik Sajjad
    Aug 28, 2011 - 3:28AM

    Yes this time USA is right that Osama was not in Pakistan. he is not hidding in Pakistan they bought him with them from Afghanistan.
    I think that Mulla Omer is Hidding in USA or Afghanistan only.


  • Everlast
    Aug 28, 2011 - 3:49AM

    Good cop, bad cop


  • Thomas
    Aug 28, 2011 - 4:44AM

    Yeah, right!!


  • Parvez+Mahmud
    Aug 28, 2011 - 7:46AM

    Pakistanis know their leaders are ignorant and without knowledge. Come up with something new.


  • Tariq
    Aug 28, 2011 - 8:12AM

    I guess as the former Station Chief he must be pretty embarassed that under his watch 9/11 happened but guess not he is getting paid


  • vasan
    Aug 28, 2011 - 8:47AM

    Maria: Good jokes.Pl get serious. The actual stmt should be “Pakistani officials had no official knowledge of osama in pakistan”Recommend

  • pardesi
    Aug 28, 2011 - 8:50AM

    If you dont count ISI officers as “officcials”.


  • Cautious
    Aug 28, 2011 - 9:17AM

    If the top people in Pakistan had no clue about the whereabouts of OBL — then explain why they have made no meaningful attempt at finding those within the Pakistan govt that were hiding him? The most wanted terrorist in the World does not live 5+ yrs in a mansion a short distance from the Pakistan Military Academy without assistance from powerful people within the govt/military.


  • saeed
    Aug 28, 2011 - 11:44AM

    @Maria…you nailed it….


    Aug 28, 2011 - 12:30PM

    How many millions were paid to the ex spy ?


  • Pragmatist
    Aug 28, 2011 - 1:51PM

    An “ex-spy”?? That says it all. How come what this 2-bit nobody says is suddenly headline news?Recommend

  • Aug 28, 2011 - 3:01PM

    CIA is the most notorious and destructive agency on the face of this planet. It is involved in
    Installing dictators (Shah of Iran, Multiple in Guatemala, Ngo Dinh Diem, “Papa Doc” Duvalier, Operation Mongoose, Rafael Trujillo, Carlos Arosemana, Ecuador Junta, Dominican Republic Junta, Brazil Junta, General Suharto, Mobutu Sese Seko, Bolivia, Lon Nol, Hugo Banzer, “Baby Doc” Duvalier, General Augusto Pinochet, Jonas Savimbi, General Manuel Noriega, Haiti Junta, Saddam Hussein, Aristide)
    Supporting fascism (Catholic church and OSS alliance in Italy)
    Nazi support (Operation Paperclip)
    Money laundering (Wachovia Bank incident, Watergate)
    Assassinations (Patrice Lumumba, Rafael Trujillo, Salvador Allende)
    Drug trafficking (Panama, Taiwan, Afghanistan, Mexico, Iran Contra, Venezuelan National Guard Affair, Haiti, Panama, Kosovo, MENA incident)
    Illegal rendition (Afghanistan, Pakistan)
    Extra-judicial killings (Pakistan Drones)
    Destroying societies/communities/countries (Italy 1948, Laos 1957-1973, Cuba Bay of Pigs, Greece, Cambodia, Bolivia, Indonesia, Chile, Australia 75, Angola, Congo, El Salvador, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Haiti, Iraq, Pakistan)
    Terrorist activities (Watergate, Sheik Abdel Rahman, Iran/Contra, Operation GLADIO)
    Economic espionage (European companies)
    Weapons trafficking (Iran/Contra)
    Promoting Islamic extremists (Aymen Zawahiri, Al Awlaki, Haroon Rashed, Sheik Abdel Rahman)
    Propaganda (Operation MOCKINGBIRD, Radio Free Europe, The Ramparts Affair, Operation CHAOS, Operation MK-ULTRA)


  • Vassuki maa
    Aug 28, 2011 - 3:28PM

    @vasan: Trolls like you never know when to get back to their senses. I think even if Bin Laden himself came back and said the same things that this ex-CIA agent is saying, you guy would still find some dirt to throw at Pakistan.


  • Tony
    Aug 28, 2011 - 6:56PM

    Does anyone in Pakistan really believe that the Americans captured Bin Laden and dumped his body in the sea? If anyone does lets take a poll and see if they believe “Alice in Wonderland is real. Mr. Grenier, I suppose you are obliged to say what you do, but the basic premise supporting what you say is incorrect.. There are thousands of questions, involving U.S. activities, but we hardly ever get a serious answer that is believable.


  • Dr,A.K.Tewari
    Aug 28, 2011 - 6:57PM

    Karachi is disturbed,.,..,
    ,.,The entire nation is now confused ,
    .,,..,.,..and beating about the bush ,
    ,.,The entire nation is now confused ,
    .,,..,.,..and beating about the bush ,


  • Aug 28, 2011 - 10:22PM

    Why do they all become ‘sane’ only after leaving their posts?


  • Paki
    Aug 28, 2011 - 10:43PM

    Lots of indians trolling . . . .pretending to be Pakistanis. Indians would never want to see a good stable US/Pakistan relationship.


  • Troll buster
    Aug 29, 2011 - 12:52AM

    All the Indian trolls should stop bad mouthing Pakistan’s American friends!!


  • Dr,A.K.Tewari
    Aug 31, 2011 - 8:27PM

    Most of the spying agencies read blogs betwee the lines ,and news on NET .. All of them are trollers .Isn’t it ,


More in Pakistan