Writing at the Daily Beast a few days ago, Philip Shenon (formerly an investigative reporter at the New York Times) had a scoop that deserves wider attention. According to Shenon, a “senior federal law enforcement official” told him that the Obama administration has sent a “clear, if carefully worded warning” to Pakistani leaders. The Pakistanis were warned, according to Shenon, “that their own children and others relatives, as well as their subordinates in the government, should be scrutinized for possible terrorist ties.”
The official, who has been briefed on details of the Times Square bombing case, says Pakistanis have also been told that the United States is concerned by the large number of connections between Pakistani military officers and some of the recently uncovered terrorist plots aimed at the United States and its European allies.
If this is true, and I have no reason to doubt it, then Shenon’s account is additional evidence that the Obama administration is grappling with one of the thorniest issues in what was formerly known as the war on terror. The Pakistani military and intelligence establishment is deeply in bed with the jihadist hydra residing on its own soil. The “establishment,” as it was recently called by the United Nations in a report dealing with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, is a duplicitous ally indeed.
Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber, is the son of a retired Pakistani vice air marshal named Bahar ul-Haq. Shenon describes ul-Haq as “one of Pakistan’s most accomplished pilots and flight instructors.” He is apparently underground now, avoiding investigators. This is curious behavior. One would think that if ul-Haq wanted to clear the record and cooperate with authorities in their attempt to ferret out all of the details of his son’s attempt at mass murder, then he would be forthcoming – not hiding.
That’s not the only tie between Shahzad and the Pakistani “establishment.” As has been widely reported, a Pakistani Army major has been arrested in connection with the Times Square attack. The unnamed Pakistani officer was reportedly in contact with Shahzad by cell phone shortly before Shahzad’s Nissan Pathfinder-turned-bomb fizzled.
Let us connect a few more dots. Last week, MacLean’s in Canada reported that Shahzad received training from Lashkar e Taiba (LET), a Pakistan-based terrorist group that has long been sponsored by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Agency, in 2006. An unnamed LET “commander” told MacLean’s that his organization had nothing to do with Shahzad’s attack, but the LET did train him. “Shahzad came to us for training,” the LET commander told MacLean’s. “He stayed with us for three months and we provided him with the basics. Then he went back to the U.S.”
When Shahzad traveled to Pakistan in 2009, he was met by a leading member of Jaish e Mohammed (JEM), a Pakistan-based terrorist group that has strong ties to al Qaeda. Like LET, JEM was originally a creation of the ISI. The JEM member reportedly led Shahzad to a training camp run by the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan), or TTP, which has claimed responsibility for the Times Square attack. Additionally, U.S. officials have pointed to numerous threads of evidence implicating the TTP in Shahzad’s attempted bombing.
Although the TTP now threatens the Pakistani nation and parts of its government, it was originally another ISI creation, along with the so called Afghani Taliban. The TTP has also sworn allegiance to Mullah Omar, the head of the Afghani Taliban, who is a longtime ISI client. There are plenty of reasons to fear that while parts of the Pakistani “establishment” fight with the TTP today, others are still complicit to a degree in the TTP’s assault.
So we have Shahzad’s father, the detained Pakistani Army major, the training provided by the LET, the JEM ties, and the TTP’s sponsorship. All of this raises the possibility that Shahzad received assistance from Pakistan’s “establishment.”
It is also eerily reminiscent of the way the alphabet soup of Pakistani terror groups came together to murder Daniel Pearl. (Members of the JEM, LET, and various other terrorist organizations, all with ties to the ISI, were involved in Pearl’s murder. The best account of this is Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, by Bernard-Henri Lévy.)
This isn’t the first time that a Pakistani terrorist with such establishment ties has made news in the last few years. Shenon reminds us that David Headley, the Chicago-based terrorist who changed his name from Daood Gilani so that his travels would be easier, has “deep” ties to the Pakistani elite. Headley has pled guilty to not only conspiring with the LET to attack Mumbai in November 2008, but also to plotting an attack on the Danish newspaper responsible for the notorious Mohammed cartoons.
In December 2009, Bill Roggio provided still more examples of the ties between the Pakistani “establishment” and the terror network.
In April, the United Nations reported on the establishment’s duplicity in the context of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. And earlier this month, while appearing on 60 Minutes, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rightly highlighted the same problem, even saying that she is sure that some parts of the Pakistani government know where Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden are hiding.
All of which is to say that it is no wonder the Obama administration sent a “warning” to Pakistan’s leaders concerning their sons and other relatives. Shenon's intriguing account deserves additional attention from the press.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.