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“He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot. But don’t let that fool you: he really is an idiot”

Shooting the Foot

by BRIAN CLOUGHLEY

The definition of “shooting yourself in the foot” is generally accepted as “doing something unintended that spoils things for you.”  The Marx Brothers had a sketch in which one of them did just that, and politicians and bureaucrats have been doing it for centuries, but the present regime in Washington has reduced the art to farce form.

There are few people stranger than the current breed of  high-priced functionaries who direct US foreign policy.  Oddly enough, Hilary Clinton doesn’t deserve inclusion in this roll of folly, because she doesn’t seem to have much influence on US foreign policy anymore.  But the generals and admirals and their mentors and associates, the loose mouthed morons who know nothing of diplomacy and are energetically furthering the profits of the happy arms’ merchants (whom so many of them join on retirement), are in full swing and never lose an opportunity to bash the patriot drum and set back the international interests of the United States by another decade or so.

And it goes higher than that, because there is a man called Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense, who has done his best to destroy the CIA’s prospects of ever again enlisting the assistance of an ‘asset’.  Mr Panetta was formerly head of the CIA, but you wouldn’t deduce that from his recent statements.

One main thing about being a tool or informant of an intelligence organization is that you must have total faith in the people who employ you.  If you decide to sell your own country’s secrets or otherwise behave traitorously to the land of your birth at the behest of the CIA —  or any of the other amoral and unscrupulous intelligence agencies around the world — then you have the right to expect that your employer will rescue you before you’re caught, or, at the very least, will back you up to the hilt.  The case of Jonathan Pollard, one of Israel’s agents caught spying against America, is an example. But it doesn’t always happen.

Last May’s raid into Pakistan by US Special Forces who killed Osama bin Laden was a good military operation.  As a former soldier I can say only that it was . . .  well, brilliant.  Technically, it was top of the form.  They went in and got him and shot him.  It was professionally slick and quick — and also illegal, immoral, and against international law.  But what bin Laden planned on 9/11 deserved death, and he got what was coming to him.  And lots of clever dodges were employed in locating him in the town of Abbottabad.

But the trouble was that the Pakistan government and military were totally out of the loop concerning the Abbottabad attack, and were, to put it mildly,  extremely annoyed that Washington didn’t tell anyone at the top  that it was going to take place.   Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan were already pretty grim because in February last year, just three months before the bin Laden foray,  a U.S. citizen employed by the CIA shot and killed two Pakistanis in the city of Lahore and was spirited out of the country after payment of a few million dollars. And one of the things that really annoyed the Pakistanis was that President Obama told a deliberate lie concerning the killer, a CIA ‘contractor’, an arrogant former special forces heavy called Raymond Davis who is now awaiting trial in Colorado for a violent crime committed back home last October

Bloomberg reported that “President Barack Obama said Pakistan mustn’t prosecute a U.S. consulate worker who has been charged with murder in Pakistan and imprisoned after the shooting deaths of two Pakistanis. ‘Obviously, we’re concerned about the loss of life,’ Obama said at a press conference yesterday. Still, he said, the U.S. worker, Raymond Davis, should be treated as a diplomat. ‘There’s a broader principle at stake that I think we have to uphold,’ he said.”   A broader principle?  —   Certainly, Mr President, uphold that broader principle,  although one might recollect Groucho Marx’s caveat that  “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them . . .  well, I have others.”  Even if Davis had been a genuine diplomat, that wouldn’t have given him a license to kill people.

So a US citizen employed by the CIA murdered two Pakistanis and was declared to be immune from prosecution by the President of the United States and was set free and flown to the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan, escorted in the airplane by the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, no less.  He got away with murder.

But a foreigner who was a CIA asset who didn’t kill anyone yet helped the United States in its biggest public relations success in years, in killing bin Laden, is now in jail in Pakistan and likely to remain so because the U.S. hasn’t lifted a finger to get him out.  Indeed, he’s been dropped right in a frizzling fry pan by Defense Secretary Panetta.

The man in the pan is Dr Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani medical practitioner who was engaged in furthering a polio vaccination program in the Abbottabad area. He is a pleasant and dedicated doctor who was persuaded by the CIA to assist in the quest for bin Laden.  Apparently Dr Afridi thought he was acting in the best interests of morality and justice. He was asked to help identify the DNA of OBL. And who could disagree with that motivation?

But irrespective of motivation, the CIA left Dr Afridi to take the consequences of his well-meant activities. He’s on his own.  And to compound his isolation and emphasize to the world that he was a CIA agent, Secretary Panetta declared “I am very concerned about what the Pakistanis did with this individual. This was an individual who, in fact, helped provide intelligence that was very helpful with regard to this [bin Laden] operation.”

Panetta was CIA chief when Dr Afridi worked for his Agency. Panetta knows exactly what risks a person takes when working for a foreign intelligence outfit.  Panetta knows the most important rule in the event of an agent being detected is that he must be looked after. He must be got out of country in the event of a drama. Dr Afridi has been dropped deep down in the doo-doo by the very man who should have opened all stops to help him. Does Panetta really think that his public declaration will encourage Pakistanis to endorse the practice of having CIA assets working in their country? What else are they up to?

Panetta’s message is that anyone working for the CIA had better watch out, because if they’re blown they’re on their own. He has set recruiting and trust back a long long way. As Groucho so memorably said:  “He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot.  But don’t let that fool you:  he really is an idiot”.

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY’s book about the Pakistan army, War, Coups and Terror, has just been published by Pen & Sword Books (UK) and will be published in the US in May by Skyhorse (New York).