May 2, 2012
Fallout of Bin Laden Raid: Aid Groups in Are Suspect Pakistan
By DECLAN WALSH
Picked up by Pakistani intelligence agents days after the Bin Laden raid a year ago and now in secret detention, the doctor, Shakil Afridi, has embodied the tensions between
Beyond hard feelings and talk, however, his case has had a much wider effect: It has also roiled the humanitarian community in
Hardest hit is Save the Children, the largest international aid agency in
Dr. Afridi has told interrogators for the top Pakistani military intelligence agency, the ISI, that he was introduced to the C.I.A. through Save the Children, according to Pakistani officials and Western aid workers. Save the Children vigorously denies the claim, saying it has been made a scapegoat by a desperate man who, according to senior American officials, has been tortured in Pakistani custody. Nevertheless his claims have had a stark impact on an organization that says it spent $105 million last year helping seven million Pakistanis, most of them women and children.
Senior managers have been forbidden from leaving the country, other staff members have been refused visas, and aid supplies have been blocked by customs officials, depriving an estimated 35,000 infants of medical care over a three-month period. Pakistani intelligence has monitored the phone calls and residences of Save the Children staff.
Other aid groups complain of problems, too, largely at the hands of Pakistani officials convinced that their employees could be spies. To them, the affair sheds new light on a murky practice that they say should never take place: the recruitment of aid workers as intelligence operatives in a sensitive country like
“The C.I.A. needs to answer for this,” said David Wright, the country manager for Save the Children, who has not left
In some ways, Dr. Afridi, 48, was a textbook subject for intelligence operators looking to hire a pair of eyes in
But Dr. Afridi had a reputation for hustling as well as healing, and he faced multiple allegations of corruption and professional malpractice, according to officials, colleagues and government papers seen by The New York Times.
At his private practice, several patients claimed he performed improper operations to make extra money, prompting a local warlord named Mangal Bagh to detain him for a week in 2008 until he paid a fine of $11,100. In June 2010, 11 months before the Bin Laden raid, a female nurse filed a sexual harassment complaint that caused him to lose his job for six months.
The C.I.A. saw Dr. Afridi differently. He was a “dedicated medical professional who had made a career of providing health care, especially vaccinations, to women and children,” said a senior American official with knowledge of his case. He was recruited “several years” ago, the official said, with instructions to collect information about Bin Laden’s network in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, as his home region is officially known.
“Dr. Afridi was asked only to continue his program — providing health care and vaccinations in the FATA and elsewhere, and to let us know if he saw Al Qaeda when he was there,” the official said.
Dr. Afridi’s mission in Abbottabad, however, was different: he was asked to set up a hepatitis B vaccination scheme that would enable him to take blood samples from the inhabitants of Bin Laden’s sprawling, three-story house, providing DNA evidence the C.I.A. could use to prove he was there. But Dr. Afridi was not told the identity of his target, the official said.
In between vaccination rounds, Pakistani intelligence said, Mr. Afridi would smuggle himself into the American Embassy in
Ultimately, though, Mr. Afridi failed to establish Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad or gather useful DNA — his main achievement was to establish cellphone contact with Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, the “courier” who guarded Bin Laden.
But he did, over the years, provide “valuable information” about Islamist extremists that saved both American and Pakistani lives, the official said. “His activities were not treasonous, as some have suggested; they were heroic and patriotic,” he said.
That is not the view inside Save the Children, where the doctor’s allegations of collusion with American spies have had stern repercussions.
In July 2011, two months after the Abbottabad raid, officials at the American Consulate in
Dr. Afridi’s had some connection with Save the Children, Mr. Wright admitted. He attended four medical training courses run by the aid agency between 2007 and 2010, and unsuccessfully applied for a job in 2009. Otherwise, he said: “There’s not a scrap of proof, apart from the word of one very spurious character. But his story is doing us a lot of harm.”
Other aid agencies make similar complaints. In a letter to the C.I.A. director, David H. Petraeus, in February, InterAction, a consortium of 200 American nongovernmental organizations, said it feared his agency’s actions contributed to “an uptick in targeted violence against humanitarian workers” in
Experts in polio, a scourge that
The impact was concentrated in the tribal belt and parts of
Ms. Ali added that she was “disturbed and “alarmed” to learn that Dr. Afridi had been working for the C.I.A. while he administered a polio vaccination effort in Khyber Agency — the country’s worst hit district, according to Unicef. “To use a health worker shows complete callousness on their part,” she said.
The danger that American intelligence work can taint an entire profession has been the subject of debate and restrictions since the 1970s. By policy, the C.I.A. has not placed spies abroad under cover as Peace Corps volunteers or American Fulbright scholars. They cannot pose as journalists accredited to American news organizations except with a waiver from the president or the C.I.A. director.
Loch K. Johnson, a professor of international affairs at the
“If they use an oil rigger, businesses say it endangers all the other oil riggers,” said Mr. Johnson, who recalled discussing the matter with William E. Colby, the C.I.A.’s director from 1973 to 1976, who complained then about “a melting ice floe of adequate cover” as scandal led to new limits.
But Mr. Johnson said he did believe it was a mistake for the C.I.A. to use public health workers like Dr. Afridi in developing countries. “That’s a particularly sensitive group that does ethical and important work in very dangerous areas,” he said.
A C.I.A. spokeswoman, Jennifer Youngblood, said she could not “comment on, or confirm, any possible operational activity.” But she added that the C.I.A. “certainly respects the great work of medical N.G.O.’s in difficult places around the world.”
Dr. Afridi’s case is far from resolved. The government’s Abbottabad Commission, which is investigating the Bin Laden raid, has recommended that Dr. Afridi should face treason charges — even before it has published its findings, expected this month. Others say the case is more complicated, arguing that it may fall under local tribal law, which would not allow the death penalty but could lead to anything from a quiet release for Dr. Afridi to perpetual imprisonment.
In any event, one senior government official said, “He is in for a long haul.”
Reporting was contributed by Scott Shane from Washington, Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud and Ismail Khan from
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs