ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan's main spy agency denies it unmasked the CIA's station chief in Islamabad, and warned such allegations could damage its already fragile counterterrorism alliance with the United States, several news organizations reported Saturday.
The New York Times said it was told by a senior official, in a background briefing at the headquarters of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate in Islamabad, that the accusation was unsubstantiated and based on conjecture.
The Washington Post said it was told by a Pakistani intelligence official that the CIA had lodged no complaints with the ISI about the matter.
American news organizations reported that U.S. officials suspect the ISI exposed the identity of the CIA station chief, perhaps in retaliation for a recent U.S. civil lawsuit naming the ISI chief in connection with the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India.
The U.S. lawsuits were filed last month in New York, and the plaintiffs include relatives of victims in the Mumbai attacks, which left 166 people and nine attackers dead. The assault has been blamed on the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is listed as a defendant in the suit. But the lawsuits also list the ISI and its chief, Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the Associated Press reported. The suits allege that the ISI "has long nurtured and used international terrorist groups," including Lashkar-e-Taiba.
For the United States, the recall of the top American intelligence official in Pakistan comes at a delicate time.
The White House over the past week released the results of a review of progress in the war in neighboring Afghanistan. The report included the conclusion that the existence of havens for militants on Pakistan's side of the border remained a major obstacle to defeating the Taliban and al-Qaida.
Pakistan's assistance in clearing those militant hideouts — and providing intelligence to help the United States pinpoint targets for its covert, drone-fired missile strikes — is considered crucial. A breakdown in the relationship with Pakistani intelligence could be a major blow to the United States.
The station chief, who is undercover and whose name is classified, was named last month in a legal complaint being pursued by a Pakistani man, Kareem Khan, who said a CIA drone strike last year killed two of his relatives and a friend.
In a news conference last month, Khan said he sought $500 million in damages from the station chief and other U.S. officials, and he threatened to sue if that demand was not granted. It was not, and his lawyer last week asked police to pursue a criminal case against the station chief.
The drone program is run by the CIA, and the station chief would have played a major part in choosing targets for strikes.
Khan's attorney said he was given the station chief's name by two Pakistani print journalists. The Post said the ISI official called that claim plausible and said the name was common knowledge.
The Post said according to CIA veterans who have worked in Islamabad, the station chief would rarely have left the U.S. Embassy compound and only senior embassy staff would have known his name.
China trade deals: Pakistan and China signed nearly two dozen private-sector deals worth billions Saturday, the second day of a rare visit by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. Including government deals inked Friday, the two sides have agreed to 35 new pacts that are expected to bring up to $30 billion of investment to Pakistan over the next five years, Islamabad said.