WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The CIA has withdrawn its top officer stationed in Pakistan after learning of a specific threat against his life, U.S. officials said Friday.
The officer "is returning to the United States after the decision was taken that terrorist threats against him in Pakistan were of such a serious nature that it would be imprudent not to act," a U.S. intelligence official told Reuters.
"The CIA's mission in Pakistan, including the agency's relentless fight against militants, continues unabated," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
There was no formal CIA statement on the case.
Current and former U.S. national security officials said there was strong suspicion in Washington that the name of the CIA official had been deliberately leaked to Pakistani media or lawyers by elements of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI).
"It is highly unlikely that the chief of station would have been identified by name without at least tacit approval from ISI," said a senior congressional aide who has worked on issues related to Pakistan.
"This should be interpreted as a message from the Pakistani intelligence service that they are still in control of intelligence-gathering in their country,"
As Pakistan's principal intelligence and counter-terrorism agency, ISI is regarded by American officials as a critical player in operations against al Qaeda and other militant groups using Pakistan as a sanctuary and staging area for attacks in neighboring Afghanistan and elsewhere.
However, American officials have long believed that elements of ISI are sympathetic to, or even working in collaboration with, militant factions.
U.S. officials knowledgeable about American relations with ISI say they have detected a significant deterioration in relations between the Pakistani spy agency and its American interlocutors during recent months.
Some American officials said they believe ISI elements may have leaked the identity of the CIA officer in retaliation for the filing of a private civil lawsuit in Brooklyn, N.Y. federal court against ISI and Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan based militant group, by the family of a Hasidic Jewish couple who were killed during a 2008 attack on hotels and other targets in Mumbai by militants linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Experts on the relationship between ISI and Pakistani militant groups believe that some ISI elements are close to Lashkar-e-Taiba and may have even played a role in creating the militant group.
The Associated Press reported that the CIA station chief's name had appeared in a lawsuit filed in Pakistan which accused the American official of complicity in CIA drone operations which killed civilians.
The station chief had served in Pakistan for several years. He had remained on assignment there beyond the normal tour of duty for a station chief, intelligence sources said, and was expected to receive a new assignment in the relatively near future.
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