Saturday, December 22, 2012

[HELP-Matrix Blog] The Doctor, the CIA, and the Blood of Bin Laden ~By Matthieu Aikins

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Sent: Friday, December 21, 2012 2:06 PM
Subject: [HELP-Matrix Blog] The Doctor, the CIA, and the Blood of Bin Laden ~By Matthieu Aikins

http://www.gq.com/news-politics/newsmakers/201301/doctor-cia-blood-of-bin-laden-january-2013

The killing of public enemy number one has become a legend, a political talking point, and this month a movie. But the question remains: How, after a decade on the run, did U.S. intelligence agents track him down? And who helped them? MATTHIEU AIKINS travels to Pakistan to investigate how one mysterious man led us right to Bin Laden's doorstep

By Matthieu Aikins ~ @mattaikins
January 2013
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The locals had two names for it: the Big House and Waziristan House. Big House because of its unusual size, three stories tall in this one- or two-story suburb of Abbottabad, Pakistan. The second name was a kind of inside joke: Waziristan is a notoriously violent and remote area in the country's tribal regions, where the house's seldom-seen occupants had supposedly come from. Rumor had it they had settled in Abbottabad after fleeing a family vendetta.


The house belonged to two brothers, Arshad and Tariq Khan, who lived with their wives and kids, as well as a mysterious uncle who was said to be ill. They were a reclusive clan, which, it was true, wasn't all that unusual for conservative Pashtuns from the tribal areas. No one was invited inside the house's thirteen-foot walls, and apart from the kids, the family rarely ventured outside. But since building the place in 2005, they had never caused anyone any trouble, and the locals didn't ask too many questions. Better to live and let live in Pakistan these days.

Then, on April 21, 2011, a gray jeep pulled into town and parked in front of a property dealer's shack a short distance from the Big House. It was an official vehicle, with the logo of the provincial health department painted on the door, and from the passenger side stepped a doctor, here on business from the province's capital, Peshawar. In his collared shirt and pressed trousers, the doctor stood out among the wheat fields and dirt paths of this semi-rural suburb: a handsome, imposing man with a thick head of black hair, his filled-out frame a point of pride in a country where stunted growth can be a mark of the lower classes. Leaving his driver behind, the doctor set off along a narrow gravel-strewn path, beside fields thick with grass and dusky cauliflower leaves, his gaze focused intently on the house ahead.

Waiting for him outside the compound's forest-green metal gate were two nurses, Bakhto and Amna, their shawls drawn across their foreheads. All day, as part of a hepatitis B vaccination team that the doctor had assembled, the nurses had been canvassing the area, knocking on doors and looking for women ages 15 to 45 to cajole into taking the needle. First a drop of blood would be drawn from the patient and blotted on a rapid-test strip, which would show, within minutes, whether the patient had been infected with hepatitis. If the patient was negative, the nurses were instructed to administer the vaccination.


Normally a jovial man, the doctor seemed tense at the gate. Amna wondered why he was so interested in this house in particular, the only one whose vaccination he had bothered to personally supervise. She watched as he rapped sharply on the metal door. They waited. Again he knocked, but there seemed to be no one home. Amna shrugged. Did it really matter if they missed this one house? Undeterred, the doctor strode across the street to a low brick compound and roused a neighbor, whose son, as luck would have it, did the occasional odd job for the Big House. The man had the cell number of one of the Khan brothers. The doctor dialed it and handed his phone to one of the nurses, but when the brother answered and said the family was away on a trip, the doctor took the phone back from her.


"Hello?" he said. "This is Dr. Shakil Afridi." The doctor urgently explained the need for the hepatitis test. It was crucial that it happen soon. The vaccine, he said, would be very good for them.

···
As the doctor made his rounds in Abbottabad, back in Washington, D.C., President Barack Obama and a small circle of senior advisers were fixated on a single question: Was Osama bin Laden concealed inside that three-story house? For months, in planning a raid on the compound, the CIA and the military had conducted intensive surveillance without coming to a definitive answer. President Obama himself put the odds of finding Bin Laden there at "fifty-fifty." Such an extraordinarily risky mission—sending a team of commandos deep inside Pakistan without Pakistani consent—could only be justified with a once-in-a-decade chance of getting the world's most wanted terrorist. The White House, desperate for information, had tasked the CIA with coming up with new and inventive solutions for getting inside the compound. One of them was
Dr. Afridi.

Dr. Shakil Afridi, shown here during a malaria-vaccination campaign in 2010, was detained three weeks after the killing of Bin Laden.

We know what happened next: On May 1, two American stealth helicopters swooped from the sky and landed in Abbottabad, unloading a team of Navy Seals who shot dead Osama bin Laden. But even as the Abbottabad mission played out in front of the whole world, the mystery of the doctor's true identity and his role in the operation persisted. Though U.S. government officials have given extensive interviews about their military preparations for the raid, they have been cagey about the network of Pakistani "assets"—locals on the CIA payroll—who helped them track down Bin Laden. They have refused to say what exactly Afridi did to help the mission, even as they praise him for playing a key role. "This was an individual who in fact helped provide intelligence that was very helpful with regards to this operation," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said. "He was not in any way treasonous towards Pakistan. He was not in any way doing anything that would have undermined Pakistan."


Pakistan's military and its main intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), saw things differently. After the ISI discovered that Afridi had visited Bin Laden's house just before the raid, its agents arrested him as he was driving home in Peshawar on May 23, and as they say in Pakistan, "he was disappeared." Afridi was taken to a secret prison, leaving unanswered the question of what exactly happened that day in Abbottabad.
When I arrived in the border city of Peshawar this summer to learn more about Afridi, the doctor's grim fate had come to symbolize the ongoing animosity between America and its ostensible ally. Peshawar—dusty, crowded, its avenues lined with mirrored-glass shopping complexes and crumbling old office buildings—sits on the outskirts of Pakistan's tribal areas, where the CIA is waging a drone-warfare campaign against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Pakistan's military has long grown fed up with the drone attacks and various other "unilateral missions," in which the CIA operates without its knowledge and consent. Military officials believe the CIA is bribing a vast network of local informants inside the country, not only to hunt Al Qaeda and the Taliban but also to spy on Pakistan's nuclear weapons, which some U.S. officials worry could one day fall into the wrong hands. Afridi—and the mission to kill Bin Laden—was a realization of the ISI's greatest fears.

The Americans, meanwhile, believe Pakistan's military maintains links to militant groups like the Haqqani network—a powerful insurgent group fighting the United States and NATO in Afghanistan—in order to further its influence in the region. The mistrust had taken hold outside the gates of the U.S. consulate, where I saw Pakistani police standing guard, dressed in black-and-khaki uniforms and carrying assault rifles. According to journalists and officials I spoke to, anyone leaving the compound was likely to be tailed by plainclothes Pakistani intelligence agents, who suspected the consulate of being a hotbed of spies; what else would they be doing in a city like Peshawar? "The consulate has a lot of suspicious types with bulging biceps, wearing Oakleys," one ISI official told me. "It's just like Berlin at the height of the Cold War. Every agency worth their name has people here."


Operation: Free Afridi Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky discusses the government's efforts (or lack thereof) to secure the release of Dr. Shakil Afridi.—Christopher Swetala


Should the U.S. government try to secure the doctor's freedom?
Of course. We got Bin Laden with some help from this gentleman.

What can you do?
Our only leverage is withholding foreign aid. The current administration, however, has done the opposite—they've actually given Pakistan more money. We released a billion dollars extra over the summer. You shouldn't have to bribe your allies. If you do, you ought to get freedom for people who helped us get Bin Laden.

But didn't Congress propose withholding $33 million from Pakistan—a million for every year of Afridi's sentence?
That was a pittance. It didn't deter them at all. When we met with their ambassador afterward to press for his release, she just laughed at it. She basically said he's a bad man and we don't understand what we're talking about.

Is the State Department working to negotiate his release?
We met with Marc Grossman [special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan] before we met with the ambassador. We let him know what we were doing. If there were some sort of secret negotiations, we didn't want to get in the way. But we were never given any information that anything was being done. I think they've given up on him.

In the wake of the Bin Laden mission, Pakistan's government has become increasingly intent on squeezing out those foreign assets. "We found they were conducting unilateral operations from inside Afghanistan, not just on Osama bin Laden but on so many other issues," the intelligence official told me. "We've been restricting access to certain people, tailing them, monitoring them." 
···
The spy games have created an atmosphere of extreme paranoia in Peshawar. Not surprisingly, mentioning Afridi's name tended to bring an abrupt end to conversation. Almost everyone who knew the doctor well had been questioned—and some arrested—since the incident, and no one was eager to admit any association with the man. More than once, when asked about Afridi, my interview subjects would in turn ask my fixer, in Pashto, whether I was really a journalist. And the thing was, I had to admit that I was acting a little like a spy. It was necessary, for safety's sake. On my way to meet Afridi's friends and former colleagues, I would disguise myself in traditional clothing—a long, flowing shirt and baggy pantaloons. I'd have guarded, oblique conversations on the phone and arrange meetings in secluded environments where I could see if I was being followed—and indeed I was, stopped by the ISI twice.

The paranoia got to my first fixer in a matter of days. After meeting someone who spoke too frankly about Afridi and the ISI, he sighed and said: "He will be killed." Shortly after, he quit, but not before offering me his advice: "You cannot distinguish truth from lie here." This was useful counsel. Afridi's story was wrapped in a protective layer of lies and half-truths, filtered through the multifarious interpretations of lawyers, spies, and politicians, at the center of which lay the lonely figure and his secret relationship with the CIA. No one had yet managed to discover what Afridi had accomplished that day at the Big House. Did he get what he was after? How did he become involved with the CIA in the first place? And what would lead a doctor to accept such a mission? Why would he risk so much, including his freedom, to get involved in the hunt for Bin Laden? To find the answers, I had to start at the beginning.
···
According to Afridi lore, the doctor wasn't the first world-famous hero—or traitor—in the family tree. In 1915 his grandfather Mir Dast won the Victoria Cross while fighting in the trenches of Ypres, Belgium, during the First World War. (Dast was one of a million Indians who fought alongside the Allied forces against Germany.) King George V himself presented him with the British army's highest honor. Meanwhile, in a historic act of betrayal that very year, Afridi's great-uncle Mir Mast led the only recorded mass defection from British to German lines. 
After the war, Mir Dast settled his family in the Pakistani tribal lands, at a place now known as Afridiabad. This July, I drove south from Peshawar deep into the Punjab Province, where the summers are famous for temperatures that reach 115 degrees at midday. It was cotton season, and motoring down Pakistan's pocked highways, we passed tractors pulling carts piled twenty feet high with canvas-wrapped bales. Men moved slowly in the heat, and goats and donkeys clustered by wooden troughs.

In Afridiabad, Shakil Afridi's elder brother, Jamil, waited for us outside his home. He bore a striking resemblance to the doctor; they had the same broad frame, same thicket of dark hair swept back, same straight brow, same cropped push-broom mustache. Jamil's features were coarser, though, his nose slightly bulbous, and when he embraced me I was pressed against his protruding gut. "I hope it's not too hot for you," he said.

Jamil led me inside and sent for some mangoes. When his brother was arrested, the Afridi family was thrust into the media frenzy around Bin Laden's killing. Shakil's wife, a school principal named Imrana, had taken their three kids and left Peshawar to hide with her parents. Jamil's friends had advised him to do the same, but he had insisted on speaking out publicly, giving press conferences in which he defended his brother as innocent and pleaded for America to help him. His phone had been tapped, he said, and he was constantly followed by government agents. Eventually, Jamil decided Peshawar was too dangerous for him, and he had come back to the place where he and Shakil had grown up.

Jamil remembered a happy childhood in Afridiabad, filled with the simple pleasures of country life. His family, however, wasn't like the others in the village. His mother was a strict disciplinarian who saw their lineage—the descendants of one of the town's founding fathers—as above that of the neighbors. "They consider us British here," Jamil told me in his broken English. "They don't like us." ....>

Read More http://www.gq.com/news-politics/newsmakers/201301/doctor-cia-blood-of-bin-laden-january-2013#ixzz2Fj5V3XwR


Contractors remodel the "Big House" in Abbottabad
The Afridis' sense of apartness grew acute when relatives visited from abroad—especially their uncle, a dashing former air-force officer who had immigrated to Dallas and often brought gifts, including the village's very first electric refrigerator. Once, when the uncle had seen Jamil and his brother return barefoot from playing in the street, he had grown angry with his sister for failing to keep them from mingling with the villagers. "Why should you compare them to village boys?" he said. "You should compare them to my sons."

The rest of Mrs. Afridi's siblings—all six of them—had gone off to successful careers around Pakistan and abroad, but she had been blinded by illness at a young age and married a relatively humble police sergeant in Afridiabad. Growing up, Jamil says, he was a lot like his father, a bit of a loafer who loved nothing more than to hang around with a small herd of goats. But Shakil had inherited his mother's drive; she had taught herself to cook and sew and keep the household accounts. "He wasn't interested in goats," Jamil recalled. "He would take our sister's dolls and inject them with syringes or do operations on them. He wanted to be a doctor."

After high school, Afridi earned a spot at Khyber Medical College, Peshawar's premier medical school, where he was introduced to the woman who would become his wife. But away from home for the first time, Afridi also discovered the pleasures of the big city, temptations that upended his small-town mores. At the student hostel, he became known as a drinker and womanizer, a reputation that stuck with him beyond school. "He liked the 'taxi girls,' " said Abdul Karim Mehsud, a lawyer in Peshawar, using a local term for prostitutes. "I saw many going into his room, down the hall from mine." He smirked in recollection. "Fresh Afghan-Persian girls, from the refugee camps."

Upon graduation, Afridi secured a position with the provincial health department, working in government-run clinics and hospitals in the volatile tribal areas. He was posted to Khyber Agency, a district just outside Peshawar that sat astride the main trade route between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was a lawless area rife with smugglers, spies, and militants—chaos that held opportunity for the enterprising doctor.

Those who worked with Afridi remember a gregarious but elusive man, a swaggering joker who loved to sit and hold court but who rarely formed close bonds. He advanced through the ranks in Khyber Agency and—despite being briefly suspended for sexual harassment—ultimately became one of the senior medical officers. Still, the salary of a government doctor in Pakistan was meager—$500 to $600 per month. So Afridi went into business on his own. Along with a partner, a doctor named Nusrat Shah, he opened a small private clinic in Khyber called Al Noor Hospital, really just a one-room shop partitioned by a green curtain, with a wooden desk on one side and an operating table on the other. And though not trained as a surgeon, he taught himself to perform a wide range of operations using a general anesthetic. "It was a pretty good hospital for the area," one pharmaceutical salesman (who preferred not to be named) told me. "They were lucky to have a doctor as qualified as him."
···
Afridi's hospital doubled as a prescription-drug clearinghouse. The sales rep told me that he would go see Afridi whenever he was short his monthly quota and the doctor would buy up the shortfall—demanding a kickback on his commission. The rep would show up with gifts—fans, calculators, cell phones—that Afridi dismissed with a wave of his hand. Forget all these things, he'd say. Talk to me about money. "His mission was to make money," the rep said. "I don't know how he sold all that medicine off—most probably across the border, in Afghanistan."

Afridi had a caustic sense of humor about the desperation of his milieu. "Look at these monkeys," he once said to the salesman, indicating his bearded and turbaned patients. "And I'm the big monkey." There were persistent accusations that the self-trained Afridi performed unnecessary operations in order to make money and that his patients sometimes suffered grievously as a result. His lawyers and family rejected the allegations as professional jealousy. But in Peshawar, I spoke to Ahmed Saeed, a student living in Bara, who told me that in 2007 he took his father to see Afridi after his father complained of chest and abdominal pains. Saeed left to buy some medicine next door, and when he came back he found that his father and Afridi had disappeared. "They went to his clinic," one of the nurses told him. When Saeed finally arrived at Afridi's private practice, he found his father unconscious. "I operated on his kidney," the doctor told him. Afridi charged them about $200. After the surgery, his father's condition worsened, and Saeed took him to a government hospital in Peshawar. The doctors there diagnosed his problem as a heart condition and, according to Saeed, said his kidneys had been damaged in a sloppy and unnecessary operation. Less than a month after being operated on by Afridi, Saeed's father died at home. His family blamed the doctor. "He was a cheater, and he betrayed his profession," Saeed said.

At his home in Afridiabad, Jamil brushed aside such stories. Shakil was a good man, he said, who took care of his family. He bought a house in Hayatabad, a suburb of Peshawar, for his wife and kids and gave money to support Jamil and his family. At the end of our discussion, I asked Jamil if he thought his brother had really played a key role in the CIA's mission to find Bin Laden. "I don't think that he knew what he was doing," he replied. "But even if he did, he did a very good thing."
···
When did Afridi start working for the CIA? On one of my visits to Peshawar, I obtained copies of a sealed court record that contained documents from the prosecution of his case. One is a long narrative of Afridi's recruitment by the agency, supposedly based on his interrogation by the ISI. It's hard to know what to make of it. The document, which is strangely specific in some places and conspicuously vague in others, can't be taken at face value. It's marred by an inconsistent time line and several demonstrably false statements. Yet its overall gist has been confirmed by U.S. officials, and it offers a window into Afridi's recruitment and handling by CIA agents working undercover in the capital city of Islamabad.

According to the document, the doctor was first recruited in 2008 after attending a workshop for medical professionals in Peshawar, hosted by Save the Children, an international NGO that carries out extensive humanitarian operations in Pakistan. There, the report says, he met with Michael McGrath, then Save the Children's country director. (McGrath, who left Pakistan in August 2009, told me that while he did meet Afridi at a training session, he denies any further contact and any relationship between the CIA and Save the Children.) McGrath, the report says, asked Afridi if he was the same doctor who was recently kidnapped by Mangal Bagh, a local warlord who headed a militant group called Lashkar-e-Islam. Afridi answered that yes, indeed, back in April he had been taken from his hospital and held for the equivalent of around $10,000, a big sum for his family. The incident had made local headlines. Afridi's wife had to sell her jewelry and borrow money from relatives in order to pay the militants.... >
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Posted By Blogger to HELP-Matrix Blog at 12/21/2012 02:06:00 PM