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Spy is at the center of international dispute

WASHINGTON — The American who fatally shot two men in Pakistan last month and who has been described publicly as a diplomat is a security contractor for the CIA who was part of a secret team operating out of a safe house in Lahore, U.S. officials said.

Raymond Davis, 36, has been detained in a Pakistani jail since his arrest. He has said he opened fire on two Pakistani men after they attempted to rob him at a traffic signal in Lahore.

Citing officials who would speak only on the condition of anonymity, the New York Times reported that the retired Special Forces soldier carried out scouting and other reconnaissance missions on militant groups as a security officer for the CIA.

The disclosure compounds an already combustible standoff between the United States and Pakistan at a time of growing distrust and complicates U.S. efforts to win Davis' release.

President Barack Obama and other senior administration officials have repeatedly described Davis as a diplomat who was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Lahore and have said he is entitled to diplomatic immunity.

Davis' arrest and detention may have inadvertently pulled back the curtain on a web of covert American operations inside Pakistan, part of a secret war run by the CIA. The episode has exacerbated already frayed relations between the American intelligence agency and its Pakistani counterpart, created a political dilemma for the weak, pro-American Pakistani government, and further threatened the stability of the country, which has the world's fastest growing nuclear arsenal.

Without describing Davis' mission or intelligence affiliation, Obama last week made a public plea for his release. Meanwhile, there have been a flurry of private phone calls to Pakistan from Leon Panetta, the CIA director, and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all intended to persuade the Pakistanis to release the secret operative. Davis has worked for years as a CIA contractor, including time at Blackwater Worldwide, the private security firm (now called Xe) that Pakistanis have long viewed as symbolizing a culture of American gun-slinging overseas.

U.S. news agencies had agreed to temporarily withhold information about Davis' ties to the agency at the request of the Obama administration, which argued that disclosure of his job would put his life at risk.

On Monday, American officials lifted their request to withhold publication after foreign news organizations disclosed aspects of Davis' CIA work.

The Washington Post reported that a U.S. official said the impact of the disclosure that Davis is a CIA contractor "will be serious."

"I think it's going to make it a hell of a lot harder to get him out," the official said. "I think ISI knows what this guy is, but I think this is just going to inflame the Pakistanis."

The ISI is the acronym for Pakistan's spy service, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate.

"Our security personnel around the world act in a support role providing security for American officials. They do not conduct foreign intelligence collection or covert operations. Any assertion to the contrary is flat wrong," said George Little, a spokesman for the CIA, without commenting specifically on Davis.

At the time of his arrest, Davis was carrying a Glock pistol, a long-range wireless set, a small telescope and a headlamp.

Special operations troops routinely work with the CIA in Pakistan. Among other things, they helped the agency pinpoint the location of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy Taliban commander who was arrested in January 2010 in Karachi.

Even before his arrest, Davis' CIA affiliation was known to Pakistani authorities, who keep close tabs on the movements of Americans. His visa, presented to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in late 2009, describes his job as a "regional affairs officer," a common job description for officials working with the agency.

As Davis is held in a jail cell, new details are emerging of what happened in a dramatic daytime scene on the streets of central Lahore on Jan. 27.

By the American account, Davis was driving alone in an impoverished area rarely visited by foreigners, and stopped his car at a crowded intersection. Two Pakistani men brandishing weapons hopped off motorcycles and approached. Davis killed them with the Glock, an act American officials insisted was in self-defense.

But on Sunday, the text of the Lahore Police Department's crime report was published by a prominent daily newspaper, the Daily Times, and it offered a somewhat different account.

It is based in part on the version of events Davis gave Pakistani authorities, and it seems to raise doubts about his claim of self-defense.

According to that report, Davis told the police that after shooting the two men, he stepped out of the car to take photographs of one of them, then called the U.S. Consulate for help.

But the report also said that the victims were shot several times in the back, a detail that some Pakistani officials say proves the killings were murder. By this account, Davis fired at the men through his windshield, then stepped out of the car and continued firing. The report said that Davis then got back in his car and "managed to escape," but that the police gave chase and "overpowered" him a short distance away.

In a twist that has further infuriated the Pakistanis, a third man was killed when an unmarked Toyota Land Cruiser racing to Davis' rescue, drove the wrong way down a one-way street and ran over a motorcyclist.

Pakistani officials have demanded that the Americans in the SUV be turned over to local authorities, but American officials say they have already left the country.

The Pakistani Foreign Office, generally considered to work under the guidance of the ISI, has declined to grant Davis what it calls the "blanket immunity" from prosecution. In a setback for Washington, the Lahore High Court last week gave the Pakistani government until March 14 to decide on Davis' immunity.

The pro-American government led by President Asif Ali Zardari, fearful for its survival in the face of a surge of anti-American sentiment, has resisted strenuous pressure to release Davis. Some militant and religious groups have demanded that Davis be tried in the Pakistani courts and hanged.

Besides the three Pakistanis who were killed, the widow of one of the victims committed suicide by swallowing rat poison.

Davis appears to have arrived in Pakistan in late 2009 or early 2010. Documents released by Pakistan's Foreign Office showed that he was paid $200,000 a year, including travel expenses and insurance.

He is a native of rural southwest Virginia, described by those who know him as an unlikely figure to be at the center of international intrigue.

He grew up in Big Stone Gap, a small town named after the gap in the mountains where the Powell River emerges.

The youngest of three children, Davis enlisted in the military after graduating from high school in 1993.

"I guess about any man's dream is to serve his country," his sister Michelle Wade said.

Shrugging off the portrait of him as an international spy comfortable with a Glock, Wade said: "He would always walk away from a fight. That's just who he is."

Davis served in the infantry in Europe — including a short tour as a peacekeeper in Macedonia — before joining the Third Special Forces Group in 1998, where he remained until he left the Army in 2003. The Army Special Forces — known as the Green Berets — are an elite group trained in weapons and foreign languages and cultures.

It is unclear when Davis began working for the CIA, but American officials said that in recent years he worked for the agency as a Blackwater contractor and later founded his own small company, Hyperion Protective Services.

Davis and his wife have moved frequently, living in Las Vegas, Arizona and Colorado.

One neighbor in Colorado, Gary Sollee, said that Davis described himself as "former military," adding that "he'd have to leave the country for work pretty often, and when he's gone, he's gone for an extended period of time."

Wade said she was awaiting her brother's safe return.

"The only thing I'm going to say is I love my brother," she said. "I love my brother, God knows, I love him. I'm just praying for him."

Information from the New York Times and Washington Post was used in this report.



Spy is at the center of international dispute 02/21/11 [Last modified: Monday, February 21, 2011 10:31pm]
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