A Few Words in Defense of the Pakistani ISI

A lot of arch and winking snark is circulating about finding OBL living in a nice house surrounded by retired army officers and a few blocks from the Pakistani military academy. The suggestion is that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service out of whose sight no sparrow falls, or even ruffles his feathers a little, or the army itself, must have known who their neighbor was and didn’t tell us.

This is so cynical and small-minded, and paranoid, as it projects superhuman powers of detection and inference on the ISI. Bin Laden didn’t have his name on the mailbox. He didn’t have a phone, so how were they supposed to even look him up in the phonebook! His facebook page is all in Arabic; Pakistanis don’t speak Arabic! The walls around the place were eight and twelve feet high, and you have to have no manners at all not to understand that means you’re not welcome to look in. What kind of gaucherie are we expecting; gossiping with servants?

It’s even been suggested that they sent over a nice brisket for busy evenings in the plotting and mayhem trade, or otherwise facilitated his sojourn. In a neighborly sort of way. But since they had absolutely no possible way of knowing who he was (a servant would take the brisket at the door) this is making a gracious virtue into a fault, and so unfair.

Anyway, the ISI is about the single, enduring, defining mortal threat to Pakistan, which is India, and its laser-like focus is legendary. We’ve heard absolutely nothing to suggest suspicious behavior of this sort from the OBL digs: not a Slumdog Millionaire delivered from Netflix; not a moo from inside; none of the usual symptoms of Indianity. And until we do, let’s respect the ISI and the army for doing their job and not being the kind of nosy people who stir things up and make bad feeling among neighbors who just want to get along and mind their business.

UPDATE: The Pakistani ambassador to the US explained to a reporter that criticizing Pakistan for not finding OBL was unjustified, and offered – as evidence that bad guys are sometimes just very hard to find – Whitey Bulger’s long success at staying out of jail. You could not make this up: Whitey Bulger was protected by the FBI, as a useful source of information with which to prosecute Italian mobsters, and money; the agent who “ran” him is in prison for life. Read the fictionalized version (better than real life, of course) in George V. Higgins’ At End of Day.

[Cross-posted at Same Facts]

Michael O’Hare

Michael O'Hare is a Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.