Former CIA Chief Mark Kelton believes that Pakistani intelligence agencies poisoned him after the raid on Osama bin Laden. Pakistan is an American ally, but there remains a deep distrust between the two countries. Kelton was reportedly despised by the country’s intelligence community, earning himself the nickname “the cadaver.”
The Washington Post broke the former station chief’s allegations against the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI). Officials say there’s no proof to back up the poisoning claim, but it’s clear that the ISI had the motivation.
The previous station chief in Islamabad was Jonathan Bank, whose identity was outed by a Pakistani lawsuit against U.S. drone strikes. The CIA orchestrated what the Post called a “ruse” to get him safely out of the country. Then it was Kelton’s turn as the new CIA chief.
Within 48 hours of his arrival, a CIA contractor got into a shootout with two armed Pakistani men. Kelton stonewalled the Islamabad, insisting to the U.S. ambassador that they tell them nothing, even though the authorities found a treasure-trove of spy gear in the contractor’s car. The face-off lasted four weeks before the ambassador finally received permission to talk directly with ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha, acknowledge the contractor was with the CIA, and give a $2.4 million settlement to the Pakistani men’s families.
The day after those secret court sessions, the controversial drone strikes roared back to life. One incident killed at least 40 people at a tribal council meeting in Datta Khel. Pasha was furious, describing the attack as a “kick in the teeth.”
Then came the biggest embarrassment for ISI: the CIA raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Kelton, Ambassador Munter, and a senior U.S. military official made far-reaching preparations for Pakistani reprisals, including having personnel evacuate to India or onto the USS Carl Vinson from the Karachi shore.
Some blow-back came after CIA Director Leon Panetta accused the Pakistani government of either being complicit or inept. That’s when Kelton started having severe stomach pains and had to cut his two-year tour down to just seven months. Back in the U.S., he had to have abdominal surgery to clear up the problem, but the former station chief did not describe the nature of the procedure.
“I’d rather let that whole sad episode lie,” he said. “I’m very, very proud of the people I worked with who did amazing things for their country at a very difficult time. When the true story is told, the country will be very proud of them.”
CIA officials said of the disclosure, there’s a “limit what we can say about any individual cases… but we have uncovered no evidence that Pakistani authorities poisoned a U.S. official serving in Pakistan.”
Others have complained about ISI’s malfeasance. According to Amnesty International, the Pakistani government needs to investigate the ISI over alleged attacks on journalists like Saleem Shahzad, who was abducted in broad daylight and then tortured and killed. The prime suspect is the intelligence agency.
Speaking on Kelton’s allegations of poisoning, Pakistan Embassy spokesman Nadeem Hotiana dismissed the story.
“Obviously the story is fictional, not worthy of comment. We reject the insinuations implied in the allegations.”
The former CIA station chief was in Moscow prior to his short stay in Pakistan. He faced an adversarial intelligence agency there and took much of the confrontational mindset with him to Islamabad, a quality the CIA thought would be an asset. It’s possible that the station chief also became paranoid and mistook the stomach pains as poison, but his story nevertheless sheds light on the tenuous relationship between the U.S. and one of its allies in the war on terror.
[Photo by John Moore/Getty Images]