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A Terrifying Theory

Quite a few people whose intelligence I respect greatly -- including Ace of Spades and Wretchard -- are talking about a theory that makes so much sense, it scares me. Even though it's purely theory and speculation, it hangs together all too well.

For years, we've all had our suspicions that the Pakistani intelligence service -- the ISI -- is at the very least infiltrated by terrorists, and may in fact might be cooperating with them. India insists, with considerable justification, that the ISI was linked to some of the more horrific terrorist attacks they've suffered, and far too many times intelligence we've shared with the ISI has ended up in the hands of those who would most benefit from it.

But Ace, Wretchard, and others are considering an even more troubling possibility: could Al Qaeda, as we know it, actually be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the ISI?

Ace, as is his wont, goes for hyperbole and suggests that Al Qaeda from the outset was a subsidiary of the ISI. Wretchard, as is his wont, is a bit more reserved and suggests that some aspects of Al Qaeda and other groups are fronts for ISI.

In business terms, the possibilities are plenty. Is Al Qaeda a subsidiary, an acquisition, a merger, or a DBA?

To me, the origins of this theoretical ISI/Al Qaeda unification are not that important. What is more important is that we have the theory that the intelligence agency of a sovereign nation is also one of the leading terrorist organizations in the world. What is more important is that no one is quite certain whether the ISI is loyal to the Pakistani government, or a separate, rogue power that is largely independent of the government.

And what is most important is that Pakistan is also a nuclear power.

Worst case scenario: a nuclear power is also literally a terrorist state, using its intelligence agency to wage terror attacks around the world, focused mainly but not exclusively on the United States, as well as our interests and allies.

The discovery that Osama Bin Laden's hideout was in a suburb of Pakistan's capitol, in a neighborhood filled with military retirees, across the street from a police station, and half a mile from Pakistan's West Point strains credibility beyond the breaking point. It is simply not plausible that the Pakistanis had no idea Bin Laden was there, and had been there for years. And that raises a lot of questions that many people simply didn't want to even consider for so long.

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Comments (48)

I would suspect that there ... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

I would suspect that there is a portion of the ISI which has no problem with supplying information to terrorist groups. Whether it's for money, ideology, or "we help them, they eat us last" is the question.

I think that the ISI has lo... (Below threshold)
jim m:

I think that the ISI has long been an independent entity within Pakistan working for its own purposes and often in opposition to the official government.

However, islamic fascism is a larger movement and is not controlled by any one group. Al Qaida is just one such organization and is absence of leadership they are likely to splinter into smaller groups.

Bush was right that the fight was never against Afghanistan, or the taliban or Iraq or Al Qaida. The fight is against islamic terrorism. It's against an ideology that is owned by many millions of people and abetted by even more.

For the ISI this is about power and control. The ISI was willing to align itself with Bin Laden because doing so furthered their desires for power. Now that he is gone the issue may very well come to a head where the ISI will either be purged or it will attempt to take over. It may try to go to ground and ride out the controversy but it will remain a cancer within Pakistan until it is purged of its fascist elements.

Why the hell do we (USA) ke... (Below threshold)
Constitution First:

Why the hell do we (USA) keep giving them money?

Dont discount the Chinese i... (Below threshold)
Pretzel_Logic:

Dont discount the Chinese in all of this either. The world is a scary place.

Wow.... (Below threshold)
salvage:

Wow.

jim m @ 2 is right.<p... (Below threshold)
Rodney Graves:

jim m @ 2 is right.

The ISI is NOT under the control of the Pakistani Government.

The ISI is demonstrably one of the two focal points of Islamic Terrorism (with Iran and their puppet regimes in Syria and Lebanon being the other) in the world today.

Neither purging nor reformation will answer for the ISI. Termination with prejudice seems the only workable answer.

Remember back in the old So... (Below threshold)
Stan:

Remember back in the old Soviet Union days, when they were using surrogates as their means of attacking the West and the United States in particular? Could it be that some of the old Soviet operatives are still running these terror networks under the guise of humanitarian efforts? There are a lot of bad actors still entrenched in the Russian bureaucracy that were not purged after the fall of the old Soviet Union. Also, Osama Bin Laden and other were playing both ends against the middle in the Soviet war in Afghanistan.

It is not really surprising... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

It is not really surprising that Bin Laden chose TO GO HOME, to build his safe home. He spent a lot of time in Pakistan before 9/11 and his links and likely funding by the pakistan intelligence service ISI to the hijackesrs, make any such further ties believable.

Osama, if he had seen the portion of the debate with McCain on Osama and Pakistan, should have moved out when Obama won the election. McCain, following Bush, was much very deferential to Pakistan during the campaign, Obama wasn´t, but lots of people have understimated Obama, not only Osama.

I think this theory is base... (Below threshold)

I think this theory is based on the misleading assumption that Pakistan is a country that is somewhat near as well-organized as ours. Certainly in any first-world country, it would take a high-degree of collusion for someone to hide out in plain sight like Bin Laden did. But in a disorganized country teetering on the edge of collapse like Pakistan, it seems their intelligence is about as organized as a kindergarten playground without any teachers.

In a third-world country struggling to be a second-world country such as Pakistan, most people are struggling to be left alone. They can just take bribes and shut their eyes and not worry or even have to worry about the source of their money. They can build a compound for someone, take the money, and not know or care who it was done for.

Also in Pakistan, the military isn't nearly as integrated as it is in our first-world countries, it's almost a separate branch of government. And within the military are very many other groups, some of which are secular and opportunistic, others which are militantly Islamic and supportive of Al Qaeda, and still others which are militantly Islamic and **opposed** to Al Qaeda. And this is all within a society that's barely holding together, where there are entire regions that the government essentially leaves alone rather than try to govern, because the government simply doesn't have the resources to make it stick.

In short, it's a mess. And in such a mess there is no trusting it's government to keep important secrets, and there is undeniably a large amount of espionage and sabotage on individual levels.

This creates opportunities for Al Qaeda. But I don't think there is any way Pakistani intelligence is organized enough to create anything like Al Qaeda, or anything else.

It's also worth noting that the Pakistani government has to complain officially about our taking out Bin Laden without clearing it with them first. But I doubt they're actually upset out about it. It amounts to them leaving the door open for us and saying, "Don't come in and clean up our mess. Oh, darn! You did it again. I'm very upset with you. Yes, the door's still open. Would you like some tea?"

Didn't Barry spend some tim... (Below threshold)
TexBob:

Didn't Barry spend some time in Pakistan in 1981?.....Hmmm

Obama, Osama, both spent time in Pakistan......

My thoughts are more in lin... (Below threshold)
Peter F.:

My thoughts are more in line with jim x's posts.

Very much doubt AQ... (Below threshold)
irongrampa:


Very much doubt AQ is an auxiliary, or owned by ISI.

It's much more likely that their interests overlapped on occasion. Sort of like Saddam and AQ, by virtue of shared hatred of a common enemy, if you will.

Probably the most compelling argument against is the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear power. If AQ WERE a child of ISI, do you not think a nuclear device of SOME form wouldn't have been made available long ago?

As stated, overlapping interests, by whatever convoluted logic, seems likeliest.

A huge fortified compound w... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

A huge fortified compound with high walls and no telephone lines or garbage left outside, but a large number of people living in there, newly built beside a garrison post and military academy. It is wonder they didn't have a poster of Bin Laden on the outside door; it probably wouldn´t have aroused any more suspicions.

If we could have tried some of our enhanced interrogation techniques on a suspicious general in the ISI this could have been solved a long time ago, or had supplied some of the 28 milion dollar reward money to bribing some of their most tainted?

I hope you are wrong jaytea... (Below threshold)
warchild:

I hope you are wrong jaytea, because it is huge problem if is true.

"Let me make this clear, th... (Below threshold)
Clay:

"Let me make this clear, there are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al-Qaida leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will." ~Barack Obama, 8/1/2007

I'm not defending Obama, but I suspect he was on to something then. Obama's statement above was met with derisive criticism by Republican candidate McCain (patooey). History may just prove that Obama was correct, at least regarding Pakistan's complicity. Now, I am well-aware that a broken watch is accurate twice daily, so...

Tell Pakistan that the Indi... (Below threshold)
Gmac:

Tell Pakistan that the Indians will take care of the 'problem' and see if isn't resolved.

"Let me make this ... (Below threshold)
TexBob:
"Let me make this clear, there are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al-Qaida leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will." ~Barack Obama, 8/1/2007

At least one of Barry's campaign promises didn't expire like most of them....for once...and it was a good one.

If Al Qaeda detonates a nuk... (Below threshold)
BlueNight:

If Al Qaeda detonates a nuke in Europe, at least we'll know where it came from.

In theory however, now any ... (Below threshold)
Sep14:

In theory however, now any Country with the bomb could blow one off using the guise of Osama's planted device as a cover.

"It is not really surprisin... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

"It is not really surprising that Bin Laden chose TO GO HOME."

Home?

That would be Saudi Arabia.

ISI liked the product so mu... (Below threshold)
SCSIwuzzy:

ISI liked the product so much, they bought the company

In a third-worl... (Below threshold)
Jay Guevara:

In a third-world country struggling to be a second-world country

"Second World" referred to the communist/ socialist (i.e., "progressive") states. It was not a signifier of their status (as, e.g., second-rate).

"First World" were the economically developed countries, "Second World" the commies, and "Third World" the (non-communist) basket cases, ao-called at the Bandung Conference because they proposed to steer a course midway between capitalism and communism. (Kinda like California!)

Well, this certainly explai... (Below threshold)
Brett :

Well, this certainly explains why Pakistan was so cooperative when the Afghanistan action started, let us use their airbases to initiate the strikes, etc. We take out a rival faction for them (Taliban) and they knew Bin Laden was in no danger.

BTW, they are a marginal nuclear power but the equation still doesn't work out in their favor. They blow up, say, Tel Aviv, and Israel blows up every single major population center. They blow up anything of ours, and we blow up every major population center. And if you don't think Obama would do it, just look at the kind of hawk Carter became at the end, in similar circumstances (dead duck for re-election).

Osama bin Laden lived in th... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

Osama bin Laden lived in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, his headquarters, on and off, for ten years in his fight against the Soviets from 1979 to 89, on behalf of the Mujahidin.

When a fugitive escapes, the FBI normally looks to where his friends or wife, or in Osama's case two wives are, or one of his big sourcse of money, the ISI?

If we have acti... (Below threshold)
Jay Guevara:

If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will." ~Barack Obama, 8/1/2007

I'm not defending Obama, but I suspect he was on to something then.

Nah. That was just idle bullshit. It's a typical lefty ploy; wherever we're doing something, we should (per them) be doing something else somewhere else instead. We're in Iraq, we should be focusing on Afghanistan. We're in Afghanistan, Iran is the problem we should be addressing. We're focusing on Iran, what about North Korea? We stop genocide in the Balkans, what about Darfur? I call it Red whack-a-mole.

Osama bin Laden... (Below threshold)
Jay Guevara:

Osama bin Laden lived in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, his headquarters, on and off, for ten years in his fight against the Soviets from 1979 to 89, on behalf of the Mujahidin.

Said portentously, but there's no particular significance to this. Peshawar was on the major route into Afghanistan, yet just over the border and hence safe from Soviet attack. Half of the CIA was probably living there too, for the same reason. By itself this indicates nothing about preferred living arrangements.

OK Jay, re: "second world" ... (Below threshold)

OK Jay, re: "second world" - and whether or not it was literally intended to mean second-rate or just communist.

I *am* referring to Pakistan as a second-rate nation though. As in specifically that it has some aspects of first-world countries such as nuclear weapons and a significant economy and presence in the region, and other aspects of third-world countries such as poverty, poor to nonexistent infrastructure outside of major cities, poor literacy, rampant corruption, lack of effective centralized government, etc.

My point is that in this context it is quite possible for someone like Bin Laden to hide in comfort with few suspecting. In an organized country, an intelligence agency would have found him quickly. But in a disorganized mess of a country, an intelligence agency would not. It doesn't require a conspiracy - and in fact, a conspiracy to suppress knowledge of Bin Laden's location also wouldn't work - because that would require knowledge too.

ISI is where the military u... (Below threshold)
Jim Addison:

ISI is where the military used to stick the islamists when the latter were a small minority and the Army had most of the reins of power well in its grasp. The radicals gradually took the service over and as military authority has weakened and islamist parties have grown from less than 10% of the seats in parliament to nearly half, the control has slipped.

Ace, of course, is batty. What has happened is the adults have lost control of Pakistan, which used to be a battle between the corrupt politicians and the stable Army officer corps. Gradually the radicals have become at least as powerful.

ISI did help the Taliban from its founding, which we knew all about but accepted because they were fighting the Soviets - and we had no particular influence with the Pashtun tribes anyway. But al Qaeda was founded separately and merely found common cause with radical islamists like the Taliban, Salafists, and Wahhabis.

It's all a big filthy stew, but it isn't correct to say the beef was invented by the carrots.

India is no doubt correct about ISI involvement in terrorism on their territory; it has been the strategy of the Pakistani Army not to crack down on any "foreign" projects of the radicals in ISI - in fact they hoped the continuing conflict over Jammu and Kashmir would serve to distract the jihadi boys from domestic intrigues. Naturally, such hopes are always doomed.

Nah. That was just... (Below threshold)
Nah. That was just idle bullshit.

Hm well, McCain said the opposite in the primaries. Specifically that if Bin Laden was in Pakistan, that McCain would NOT go and get him without Pakistani permission.

So you can claim it was a "lefty ploy" - but what it seems like is that the stated policies of the GOP, such as GWB's ("I don't really think about Bin Laden much") and McCain had flaws. And this "lefty ploy" of not only pointing out how those stated policies don't work - and then **changing them** so they do work - has resulted in the death of one of America's enemies.

In a way that, by both their record and their statements, the previous administration AND Obama's chief competitor in 2008 were unwilling to do. And even unwilling to see the value of doing.

So it seems to me that what you're looking at instead, is Obama saying exactly what he would do and then doing it.

I *am* referrin... (Below threshold)
Jay Guevara:

I *am* referring to Pakistan as a second-rate nation though. As in specifically that it has some aspects of first-world countries such as nuclear weapons and a significant economy and presence in the region,

Fair enough.

I traveled in the USSR shortly before its fall, and was surprised to find it was pretty much in the same boat: effectively a Third World country. Think Mexico, but with nuclear weapons (and a space program).

In an organized country, an intelligence agency would have found him quickly. But in a disorganized mess of a country, an intelligence agency would not. It doesn't require a conspiracy

You may be right. I'd have guessed that someone coming into town in a poor country and laying out big bucks to build a mansion cum fortress would attract some attention, but maybe not.

"In an organized country, a... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

"In an organized country, an intelligence agency would have found him quickly."

Yeah. It's so easy. They do it every night on television - 60 minutes tops, including commercials.

Found Hoffa yet? And he's not even trying to hide.

Garandfan, if Hoffa were hi... (Below threshold)

Garandfan, if Hoffa were hiding in a million-dollar mansion in a posh area that was built by the military in any first-world country, I think he would have been found a lot easier.

Although it certainly is true that in the US people can hide, they generally have to do it by hitting the ground and then being very low-key.

There was a well publicized... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

There was a well publicized reward of $25 MILLION - so ALL those people are so wealthy, it was chump change to them?

There was a well p... (Below threshold)
There was a well publicized reward of $25 MILLION - so ALL those people are so wealthy, it was chump change to them?

Maybe they believed that if they ratted out bin Laden for cash, they wouldn't live long enough to spend it.

It's a typical lef... (Below threshold)
It's a typical lefty ploy; wherever we're doing something, we should (per them) be doing something else somewhere else instead. We're in Iraq, we should be focusing on Afghanistan. We're in Afghanistan, Iran is the problem we should be addressing. We're focusing on Iran, what about North Korea? We stop genocide in the Balkans, what about Darfur? I call it Red whack-a-mole.

This.

But only when there's a Republican president calling the shots.

There was a well p... (Below threshold)
There was a well publicized reward of $25 MILLION - so ALL those people are so wealthy, it was chump change to them?

I really think it's that they didn't know who was inside the place, and didn't want to ask.

"Maybe they believed that i... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

"Maybe they believed that if they ratted out bin Laden for cash, they wouldn't live long enough to spend it."

I'm sure that if Uncle Sugar gave you $25 mil for Osama's head, providing you with a new identity and flying you to where ever you wanted to go would be no problem at all.

My point earlier is that it's damned hard to find someone who doesn't want to be found. Especially if it's one who commands fanatical loyalty. Then throw in a dash of ethic, clan and tribalism to secure lose ends, unimpeded by enlightened concepts of diversity. As motivation, fire with extreme prejudice, anyone who screws up.

Remember the Achille Lauro? It was a ship in the Mediterranean. Couldn't have been hard to find a ship in the Med, right?

On another note, wonder how... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

On another note, wonder how AQ is selling this to the troops?

All the tapes of Osama show him sucking up the hardships, living with the goats in the mountains. Doing without the creature comforts, all for the cause.

Turns out he's been living in a mansion. Wonder if there will be a morale problem.

If this has been discussed,... (Below threshold)
Walter Cronanty:

If this has been discussed, I apologize, but I have a question [no, not a rhetorical one, a real one]. First, as Jay Tea says: "The discovery that Osama Bin Laden's hideout was in a suburb of Pakistan's capitol, in a neighborhood filled with military retirees, across the street from a police station, and half a mile from Pakistan's West Point strains credibility beyond the breaking point." Now, add to that the story that's been repeated all day that we did not tell the Pakistani government that we were going to do what we did because we didn't trust them to keep it secret [absolutely reasonable thing to do]. Add to that a 40 minute fire fight, with a crashing helicopter that was later destroyed - - all "...in a neighborhood filled with military retirees, across the street from a police station, and half a mile from Pakistan's West Point..." And, in theory, no one in Pakistan's government had any idea that we were the ones causing the commotion.
Why didn't the Pakistani military, local police, hell, anyone, respond to what was happening? 40 minutes, and no government response while "across the street from a police station, and half a mile from Pakistan's West Point"?
I'm not trying to imply anything, nor do I have some grand conspiracy theory. I'm just curious. WTF?

Walter,What makes ... (Below threshold)
Rodney Graves:

Walter,

What makes you think the Pakistani system rewards individual initiative?

Rodney, I would think that ... (Below threshold)
Walter Cronanty:

Rodney, I would think that someone would at least be curious, you know, ring up Pakistan's West Point and ask: "Are some of your boys out on a lark? Lots of noise here." I simply can't believe everyone would ignore what went on.

Wondering if you guys have ... (Below threshold)

Wondering if you guys have read the live tweets from a neighbor. They're pretty funny. He had absolutely no idea what was going on.

http://eu.techcrunch.com/2011/05/02/heres-the-guy-who-unwittingly-live-tweeted-the-raid-on-bin-laden/

http://tweetlibrary.com/damon/osamaraidlivetweets

I don't believe you should ... (Below threshold)
WayneM:

I don't believe you should be thinking in terms of 'owned by' or 'subsidiary'; think 'joint venture'. Their interests coincide in certain areas so they profitably cooperate.

Those tweets are funny, in ... (Below threshold)
Walter Cronanty:

Those tweets are funny, in 20/20 hindsight. Check out the comments - makes all of us, even Chico, look like we're holding a Mensa meeting.

jim x-"Although it... (Below threshold)
Sep14:

jim x-

"Although it certainly is true that in the US people can hide, they generally have to do it by hitting the ground and then being very low-key."


You just blew your cover.

You just blew your... (Below threshold)
You just blew your cover.

Yep, you got me.

?

Walter @ 41,Shoute... (Below threshold)
Rodney Graves Author Profile Page:

Walter @ 41,

Shouted over the sounds of multiple rotors "Helicopters? What helicopters? Go home, you saw nothing."

jim x @ 42,

Read those Sunday night. Note he did not mention calling the Police or Army...

Re: # 47 - yeah. He probabl... (Below threshold)

Re: # 47 - yeah. He probably assumed it was the Police or Pakistani army, and/or didn't want to get directly involved in whatever was going on.

I guess even in that relatively posh area of Pakistan, helicopters flying overhead, gunfire and booms aren't such a rare occurrence...




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