At The Wall Street Journal, Matthew Rosenberg rams home the point that US and Pakistani intelligence services are really in the dark on the status of Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban.
“We won’t know for certain until the Taliban want us to know,” said Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former Pakistani official who spent much of his career in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where Mr. Mehsud operated and may have perished.
The tribal areas-the home base for much of the Taliban’s and al Qaeda’s senior leadership-remain in some ways an intelligence black hole. US drones patrol the skies above, tracking potential targets and firing missiles at them. But the flow of intelligence from informers on the ground is uneven, at best, and that affects how much can be learned about what the militants are actually up to, current and former Pakistani officials say.
“In the tribal areas news spreads very fast, exceedingly fast. It used to be impossible to conceal any news, particularly news of this magnitude,” Mr. Mohmand said. “When people in authority, the people in the security forces and intelligence apparatus, do not know what is happening in the tribal areas, it means there is an institutional vacuum in the tribal areas,” Mr. Mohmand said.
The lack of reliable sources and established government in the tribal areas hinders intelligence efforts, as has the decimation of existing intelligence sources by the Taliban in an attempt to purge the region of spies.
Communication intercepts on both sides of the border have also helped to avert attacks in the region and in the West, U.S. and Pakistani officials say.
But the intercepts and drones “can’t give us all the proof we need to say someone is dead,” said a senior Pakistani intelligence official. “There are a lot of attacks we haven’t been able to stop.”
The confusion is compounded by Pakistan’s growing deficit in human intelligence. The ISI takes the lead in spying in the tribal areas, yet it has lost about three dozen agents and informants in the region since the start of 2009, the Pakistani official said.
I’ve made some of these points over the past week, see here for instance. Kudos to Matthew Rosenberg and The Wall Street Journal for stepping back and looking at the bigger picture.
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