Spy versus Spy

The Love Hate Relationship between United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) & Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) dates back to 1954.

Spy vs Spy

Even though Pakistan was not considered part of South East Asia, by signing the Mutual Defense Agreement with the United States and subsequently joining the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) in 1954 and Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) Pakistan unwittingly became an “allay” of the American Power struggle in a Cold War against Communism. The U.S. agreement to provide economic and military assistance to Pakistan and it’s partnership in the Baghdad Pact CENTO and SEATO strengthened relations between the two nations. Pakistan’s close proximity to the Soviet Union, China and India (the Non-Aligned Nations), and the emerging Communist Block, the Middle East & Iran, (centers of oil reserves) placed it in a very strategic position to be exploited for intelligence and counter-intelligence purposes with the sole objective to contain the spread of Communism in South East Asia. This was the beginning of close cooperation and partnership with US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Pakistan’s Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) and what followed since 1954 is a mutual love, hate, trust and mistrust relationship between two of the world’s strongest intelligence agencies.

Pakistan thus became one of the first few allies of the United States in a war against Communism and was considered one of Washington’s closest allies in Asia. Pakistan in return received large amounts of economic and military assistance to build its armed forces and intelligence agency.

The first test of the “spy relationship” between CIA and ISI occurred when Pakistan allowed United States on May 1, 1960 to fly a U-2 piloted by Francis Gary Powers to take-off from a US Air Force base in Pakistan to go deep into the Soviet Union and which was brought down by the Soviet’s near Svedlovsk in Soviet Union. The United States at first denied the plane’s purpose and mission, but then was forced to admit its role as a covert surveillance aircraft when the Soviet Union produced its wreckage and surviving pilot, Francis Gary Powers. The US pilot Gary Powers was convicted of espionage and was subsequently traded for the Soviet spy, Colonel Rudolph Ivanovich Abel after serving a short time in Soviet prison.

The U-2 “spy plane” was the plane of choice for CIA spying missions. However, the CIA took the lead, keeping the military out of the picture to avoid any possibilities of open conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union but its actions put Pakistan in direct “harm’s way” of Soviet missiles because the plane actually took off from a Pakistani Air base that was being used by United States for military reconnaissance flights over Soviet territory. Not only did this incident set in motion a pattern of greater mistrust between two Super Powers, the United States and the Soviet Union that culminated in the Cuban Missile Crisis, it actually placed Pakistan in direct line of fire of the Soviet Union.

The Paris Summit scheduled between President Eisenhower and Nikita Krushchev collapsed in large part because Krushchev demanded an apology that Eisenhower was unwilling to give. Now it appears that the forthcoming Islamabad Summit of President Obama to Pakistan may likely be called off because of the latest CIA’s covert operations in Abottabad, Pakistan for the action of CIA and the SEALS in assassination of Osama bin Laden under the covert operation code, “Geronimo,”  the renegade Indian Apache who evaded capture by the US Military and was caused considerable pain to the US Cavalry. Earlier in the 70s, the Soviets had inflicted a punishing defeat and check-mated the US influence in Vietnam causing heavy causalities to the Americans. The US decided to pay-back the Soviets in Afghanistan by creating and arming Al-Qa’ida, under Osama bin Laden in August 1988.  ThusAl-Qa’ida is the “prodigy child creation of the CIA” and was created to wage a “US proxy war” against the Soviet Union’s influence and occupation of Afghanistan. In the same vein CIA’s partner, the ISI created “Talibans” (student-fighters) to render assistance to the United States in its proxy war against the Soviets. The CIA and the US Administration & the ISI however, worked in full cooperation to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan only to abandon Afghanistan and Pakistan leaving behind billions of dollars of US military hardware that fell into the hands of their prodigy who are now waging acts of terrorism against both United States and Pakistan.

The spy versus spy game between the CIA and the ISI is on-going. It is a cloak and dagger operation that involves espionage and counter-espionage; intelligence and counter-intelligence tactics to detect, destroy, neutralize, exploit, or prevent espionage activities through identification, penetration, manipulation, deception, and repression of individuals, groups, or organizations suspected of conducting espionage activities and sometimes prevent friendly, hostile or enemy intelligence organizations from successfully gathering and collecting intelligence against each other. Both CIA and ISI are extremely powerful and effective organizations and are inherently engaged in clandestine activities without their respective government or their military knowing about the covert operations. Both agencies have agents, “double-agents” whose primary function isengaging in clandestine activity for two intelligence or security services and who provides information about one or about each to the other, and who wittingly withholds significant information from one on the instructions of the other or is unwittingly manipulated by one so that significant facts are withheld from the adversary; “re-double agents” who by being caught as a double agent are forced to mislead the foreign intelligence service and triple-agents as the name implies works for three agencies at once. CIA and ISI both have good quality of spies known as “assets”, “case-officers with diplomatic and non-diplomatic status” whose function is to support and direct the human collectors and “couriers” who do not know the agent or case-officers. The agents who can also be “moles” who either infiltrate each other’s agencies and potential enemy secretly, and or work both sides to gather all sorts of information or to provide false information. They also find dissidents within the enemy’s forces and influence them to defect. Sometimes a well qualified and trained individual termed, a “legend” in his or her craft is used to infiltrate a target organization or group. Most often the “players” never meet each other. It is not unusual for both CIA and the ISI to maintain a policy of not commenting on the activities of their operations, and their respective government being in the dark.

CIA and ISI have been in bed since as early as 1954 and their relationship is one of love and hate, trust and mistrust, cooperation and non-cooperation and is likely to continue. They will always cover each other and at times play the media and their government with pretense of being unaware in the events things get out of hand. Regardless of the speculation in the world media, and pretense of ignorance and denial by both governments, the CIA’s recent covert operations into Abbotabad had all the blessing of the ISI without whose help the SEALS could not have entered into Pakistan, leave alone get out safely. The love hate relationship between the two agencies can best be described in lighter vein as being a mix of the, “Spy vs. Spy” Game; “Itchy & Scratchy” in The Simpsons, Tom & Jerry, “Bugs Bunny & Elmer Fudd”. There is constantly a great drama being played out on daily basis, there is the thrill, the intrigue and action as seen in the movie such as The Bourne Identity, Mr & Mrs Smith, The Good Shepherd, Salt, Spy Game, The Falcon & the Snowman, No Way Out, The Manchurian Candidate, and the Three Days of the Condor.


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About Syed Hussain

Syed Hussain, Ph.D: Banker, Bankruptcy Analyst, Forensic Accounting & Fraud Examiner, Cyber-Crime & Anti-Money Laundering Advisor, Internal Auditor & Counterterrorism Strategist . As an avid reader and traveler, the former air force pilot, likes to connect with like minded people and engage in intelligent conversations. He enjoys music, film and politics, as well as visiting museums, art galleries and air shows. Syed enjoys horse back riding and swimming. Besides English, he speaks other languages. At the end of the day, he can be found relaxing with a good beer and a fine meal.

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