Rising anger over deadly drone attacks spurred a Pakistani political party Wednesday to reveal the secret identity of what it said was the top U.S. spy in the country. It demanded he be tried for murder, another blow to already jagged relations between the two nations.
A pair of U.S. missile strikes in recent weeks — including one that killed the Pakistani Taliban's leader as the government prepared to invite him to hold peace talks — has increased simmering tensions between Washington and Islamabad after years of public fury over the covert attacks. The apparent disclosure of the top CIA officer's name will almost certainly strain the fragile diplomacy that the U.S. is relying upon to help negotiate an end to the war in neighboring Afghanistan.
It was the second time in recent years that Pakistanis opposed to drone strikes targeting Islamic militants have claimed to have revealed the identity of the top CIA spy in the country.
In a letter to Pakistani police, Shireen Mazari, the information secretary of political party Tehreek-e-Insaf, called for the CIA station chief in Islamabad and CIA Director John Brennan to be tried for murder and "waging war against Pakistan" in connection with a Nov. 21 drone strike on an Islamic seminary in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The political party is led by former cricket star Imran Khan and controls the government in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. It is one of the main critics of the U.S. drone program and has pushed Pakistan's federal government, which is controlled by a rival party, to take extreme measures like cutting off the NATO troop supply line to Afghanistan until the U.S. stops the attacks.
Mazari said in a news conference that the strike in the province's Hangu district killed four Pakistanis and two Afghans, and also wounded children. In her letter, Mazari claimed that the CIA station chief did not enjoy diplomatic immunity and should be prevented from leaving the country. She said interrogating him could produce the names of the pilots who fly the drones.
Anila Khawaja, a spokeswoman for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, declined to say how the party learned the station chief's name.
CIA spokesman Dean Boyd would not confirm the Islamabad station chief's name and declined further comment. The Associated Press is not publishing the name disclosed by Mazari because it could not verify its authenticity.
Pakistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world for CIA agents, who operate there as secret soldiers in the U.S. war against terrorism. The job of the CIA station chief in Islamabad is generally a one-year assignment. It involves running the Predator drone program targeting terrorists and serving as a U.S. liaison to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, where the station chief's identity is known by top officials.
The CIA station chief who ran operations in Pakistan during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden left his post in 2011 due to illness, U.S. and Pakistani officials say. American officials said at the time that the station chief clashed with then-U.S. ambassador in Pakistan Cameron Munter, who objected to CIA drone strikes during diplomatic negotiations.
Munter, who served as ambassador to Pakistan from 2010 to 2012, predicted in an interview Wednesday that the relationship between Islamabad and Washington will limp along since both nations need the other to root out terror threats and preserve stability in the region.
"There is a certain amount of resilience built into the relationship, and I don't think it's going to collapse. I just think it's going to be difficult. It's going to be like a bad marriage that continues," Munter said. "Figuring out the lowest common denominator of what friendship is, is the wise way to do this. But that is very hard to do."
The whereabouts of the current CIA chief in Islamabad were unknown Wednesday, and numerous attempts to contact him were unsuccessful. In December 2010, the CIA pulled its top spy out of Pakistan after a lawsuit accused him of killing civilians in drone strikes. The Pakistani lawsuit listed a name lawyers said was the station chief, but the AP learned at the time it was not correct. Nevertheless, the CIA pulled the station chief out of the country after militants threatened to kill him.
It's rare for a CIA station chief to see his cover blown. In 1999, an Israeli newspaper revealed the identity of the station chief in Tel Aviv. In 2001, an Argentine newspaper printed a picture of the Buenos Aires station chief and details about him. In both instances, the station chiefs were recalled to the U.S.
Most U.S. drone attacks have taken place in Pakistan's tribal region, which borders Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Pakistani officials regularly criticize the strikes as a violation of the country's sovereignty and say they kill too many civilians. That has made the drone program very unpopular with the Pakistani public, and the U.S. generally refuses to reveal details of the strikes — even to refute sometimes exaggerated claims of collateral casualties.
But the Pakistani government and military are known to have secretly supported at least some of the attacks in the past. And the U.S. has shown no willingness to abandon a tool it views as critical to fighting al-Qaida and Taliban militants based in Pakistan who are outside the reach of American soldiers.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined comment about the political party's letter or demands. She described "a strong ongoing dialogue with Pakistan" over diplomatic relations, including security and counterterrorism cooperation.
Pakistan has long relied on foreign aid to support its military but has been careful to not appear to close to the United States for fear of a backlash from conservative political leaders. The U.S. has approved more than $9.4 billion in military and economic aid to Pakistan over the last five years, though much of the money has been held up amid a series of bilateral crises. This summer, the Obama administration quietly released more than $1.6 billion in suspended assistance as U.S.-Pakistani ties improved and is asking Congress to allocate $1.1 billion in Pakistan aid for fiscal year 2014.