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Arrest of CIA Agent Sheds Light on American Covert War in Pakistan, Straining U.S.-Pakistani Relations

StoryFebruary 23, 2011
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U.S. officials have admitted an American detained in Pakistan for the murder of two men was a CIA agent and a former employee of the private security firm Blackwater, now called Xe Services. Up until Monday, the Obama administration had insisted Raymond Davis was a diplomat who had acted in self-defense. The arrest of Davis has soured relations between the United States and Pakistan and revealed a web of covert U.S. operations inside the country, part of a secret war run by the C.I.A. The Guardian of London first reported Davis’s CIA link on Sunday and noted that many U.S. news outlets knew about his connection to the CIA but did not report on it at the request of U.S. officials. We speak with Declan Walsh, the Pakistan correspondent for The Guardian, who first broke the story. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: U.S. officials have admitted an American detained in Pakistan for the murder of two men was a CIA agent and former employee of Blackwater, now called Xe Services. That’s X-E. Up until Monday, the Obama administration insisted Raymond Davis was a diplomat who had acted in self-defense.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: With respect to Mr. Davis, our diplomat in Pakistan, we’ve got a very simple principle here that every country in the world that is party to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations has upheld in the past and should uphold in the future, and that is, if our diplomats are in another country, then they are not subject to that country’s local prosecution.

AMY GOODMAN: The arrest of Raymond Davis has soured relations between the U.S. and Pakistan and revealed a web of covert American operations inside the country, part of a secret war run by the CIA. Public anger in Pakistan is widespread, was inflamed when one of the victim’s wives committed suicide, saying she feared her husband’s killer would be freed without trial.

The Guardian newspaper in London first reported Raymond Davis’s CIA link on Sunday. The paper added that many U.S. news outlets, including the New York Times, knew about Davis’s connection to the CIA but did not report on it at the request of U.S. officials who said they feared for his safety. The New York Times, the Washington Post, Associated Press, other media outlets subsequently confirmed the CIA link and admitted to withholding the story.

To discuss the details of the case, we’re joined by Declan Walsh via Skype from Lahore, Pakistan. Declan, the Pakistan correspondent for The Guardian who first revealed Raymond Davis’s link to the CIA.

Just lay out the significance of this story and how big it is in Pakistan, Declan.

DECLAN WALSH: Well, Amy, really, this is the story that has absolutely dominated the headlines here in Pakistan ever since this slightly mysterious shooting incident occurred on January 27th. Initially the focus was pretty much on the details of what actually happened when Raymond Davis opened fire on these two men. But there was always this strong feeling of suspicion about what exactly his role was and what type of diplomat he was, if he was someone who was not not only armed with an illegal weapon but also someone who was able to use it so effectively. Davis fired 10 shots, all of which hit the two people who were killed. And now, obviously, since the news has come out that Davis is indeed employed by the CIA, that has really just added fuel to the fire here, and there have been street protests as well as pretty much blanket media coverage.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the New York Times, AP, Washington Post, going along with the Obama administration, who told them not to reveal that he was CIA, that he was Blackwater, yet The Guardian in Britain decided to blow the cover.

DECLAN WALSH: Well, I mean, I can’t speak for those other media organizations other than what we reported in our own story, which was that we became aware, before we published, that other news organizations in the U.S. had the same information we had and had decided to withhold it. And what I can say is that we engaged in discussions with the American government, with U.S. government officials, before publication, and they made the same case to us that we shouldn’t publish.

And this case basically ran along two lines. Part of it was they said that this would greatly complicate their efforts to get Davis out. We felt that this was something that — this was an argument that didn’t particularly apply to us, that, whether it made it harder or easier, our job was — our priorities lay elsewhere. But the second and potentially more serious argument they made was that Davis’s life would be endangered if his employment status at the CIA was revealed, and specifically that his life would be endangered at the jail where he’s currently being held. It’s called Kot Lakhpat, in Lahore.

We looked at those arguments very seriously. We interviewed a number of people. We tried to find out as much as we could about conditions at the jail. But ultimately we decided that we didn’t necessarily — we didn’t buy that argument, effectively, because we felt that, for a start, most Pakistanis actually at that point were already working under the assumption that Raymond Davis was a CIA official. I mean, there were stories in all of the papers here referring to Davis as a CIA official. The day that we published our story, there was a front-page piece in one of the English papers saying Raymond Davis is linked to the CIA. And at that point, Pakistani intelligence officials, Pakistani officials with both the intelligence service and with the government, were telling us that he was CIA. So, really, this was, you know, a very thinly disguised secret, if you like, in Pakistan at that point.

AMY GOODMAN: And his relationship with Blackwater?

DECLAN WALSH: As we — we had also understood that Ray Davis was a Special Forces soldier. He served with an Army Special Forces unit until 2003. At that point he left — he retired from the Army, and he went into the very lucrative military contracting business. At some point between 2003 and 2010 — the date’s not entirely clear — Davis was working either for Blackwater or for the company it subsequently renamed itself as, Xe Services. Davis appears to have worked for Blackwater in Pakistan as a security contractor for the CIA, initially. Then, as we understand it, the CIA effectively took that contract away from Blackwater but retained people like Davis as employees of the CIA, going forward. They basically changed the way that they ran their operation there.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain exactly what Raymond Davis did and what it meant for him now to have diplomatic immunity, and the wife of one of the two victims he killed committing suicide.

DECLAN WALSH: Well, there’s really not a lot of clarity about what Raymond Davis did. You know, the official U.S. government line from the beginning was that he was either an employee of the consulate in Lahore or that he was a diplomat. Now it’s really not clear whether — as an employee of the CIA, what exactly he did. Some reports are suggesting that he was merely part of a security team, and there are other reports suggesting that he was part of surveillance activities, espionage and surveillance. And certainly, when one sees the items that were seized on him at the time — not only the weapon, he was also carrying a GPS, he was carrying a telescope, and he was carrying an air ticket, things like that — those items have certainly aroused suspicion among Pakistanis that he was more than just a simple security officer.

AMY GOODMAN: Declan Walsh, we’re going to continue this conversation and put it up as a web exclusive. Declan Walsh is The Guardian’s foreign correspondent for Pakistan and Afghanistan, author of the forthcoming book on Pakistan, Insh’Allah Nation, first revealed Raymond Davis’s link to the CIA in The Guardian newspaper.

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