NBC News and msnbc.com
updated 4/12/2011 10:26:35 AM ET 2011-04-12T14:26:35

Pakistan officials are demanding deep cuts in the CIA's presence in the country and a reduction in the number of the drone attacks on suspected al-Qaida and Taliban targets on Pakistani soil, according to senior U.S. officials.

The demands, first reported by the New York Times and confirmed by NBC News, were outlined during meetings Monday between Pakistan's intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, and CIA Director Leon Panetta.

"The Pakistanis have asked for more visibility into some things, and that request is being talked about — along with a host of other topics, including ways to further expand the partnership," a U.S. official told NBC News. "The bottom line is that joint cooperation is essential to the security of the two nations. The stakes are too high."

The drone attacks, which are operated by the CIA and the Pentagon and were stepped-up under the Obama administration, have infuriated Pakistan's defense chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, officials said.

In addition to fewer attacks, the Pakistanis also want advance notice of CIA drone strikes in the tribal areas.

The attacks inside Pakistan occur with the tacit approval of the Pakistani government and limited coordination of targets, but Pakistan officially denies the cooperation. U.S. military or CIA action inside Pakistan is highly unpopular among Pakistanis, and the U.S.-backed government risks losing legitimacy at home if it is seen as bending to U.S. wishes.

Trigger for discontent
The trigger for much of Pakistan's anger was the case of Raymond Davis, the CIA security contractor who was arrested after he shot two alleged robbers. But the officials said Pakistan also is concerned about a civil suit filed by the families of the terror attacks in Mumbai, India, that names Pasha and other officials as defendants.

U.S. officials said Pakistan is trying to leverage the Davis case into winning concessions they have long demanded as a sign of trust:

  • Greater visibility into CIA covert operations
  • More information sharing with the CIA
  • More U.S. consideration of domestic political concerns (i.e., the unpopularity of U.S. covert operations in Pakistan, an issue being exploited by President Zardari's opposition)

The U.S. spy agency is considering Pakistan's requests for more information and greater visibility, officials said.

After the meeting between Panetta and Pasha, CIA spokesman George Little said, "The CIA-ISI relationship remains on solid footing."

The Pakistan intelligence agency, known as ISI, says the joint counterterror operations with the CIA have been on hold since Davis was arrested, with cooperation limited to some sharing of information.

The relationship was further damaged when, days after Davis was released in mid-March, a CIA drone strike hit what Pakistani officials say was a meeting of tribal elders, infuriating Pakistan's intelligence agency and military. U.S. officials say those hit were militants.

The mutual complaints reveal a wide gulf in the relationship that one meeting is unlikely to bridge. U.S. intelligence and military officials believe factions in the Pakistani intelligence agency support Taliban and other militant groups, which are killing U.S. troops just across the border in Afghanistan.

Former CIA officials expressed skepticism that the ISI could be trusted to fight terrorism on its own without the current level of CIA staffing on the ground, citing the ISI's alliance with the Haqqani terror organization and the rise of the Taliban after the U.S. walked away from Afghanistan in the wake of the Soviet Union's defeat.

Pakistani officials gripe that the CIA has been freelancing on its soil, running dozens of U.S. citizens doing low-level espionage missions in their country. Former CIA officials say the ISI believes many of the agency's operatives on the ground are gathering information about Pakistan's nuclear program and trying to infiltrate the ISI, not just fighting terrorism.

The CIA's refusal to claim CIA security contractor Davis as its own in the initial weeks after his arrest fed that belief, Pakistani officials say, further fracturing the trust between the two agencies.

Only after the CIA admitted that Davis, a former Special Forces soldier, worked for the agency did the ISI agree to step in and persuade the families of the dead to accept money in lieu of prosecuting Davis, Pakistani officials say, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations.

Since that incident, Pakistani officials say their joint missions to capture terror suspects with CIA officers had slowed, compared to the previous year where the two agencies went on more than 100 joint missions. In one of those raids, in 2010, they captured a high-ranking Taliban member, Mullah Ghani Barader, Pakistani and U.S. officials say.

Timeline of discontent
But Pakistani and U.S. officials confirm that a CIA tip led to Pakistan's capture this year of Indonesian Umar Patek, one of the accused masterminds behind the Bali bombing. And U.S. officials add that some joint missions have been carried out despite the recent diplomatic impasse.

The spy agencies have overcome lows before. During President George W. Bush's first term, the ISI became enraged after it shared intelligence with the United States, only to learn that the CIA station chief at the time passed that information to the British. The incident caused a serious row, one that threatened the CIA's relationship with the ISI and deepened levels of distrust between the two sides. At the time, Pakistan almost threw the CIA station chief out of the country.

Earlier this year, the CIA dispatched a senior agency officer to become the new station chief after the previous one was pulled out for safety reasons. With the CIA's relationship with the ISI failing to improve, there are questions about this new station chief's effectiveness.

NBC's Andrea Mitchell and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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