U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said there is no apparent evidence that senior Pakistani officials harbored and protected Osama bin Laden, although he concedes some people in Pakistan must have been aware of the terror chieftain’s existence inside the country.
“Today, from all the information I have seen, we can’t conclusively say that somebody senior knew and promoted safe haven [for bin Laden],” Rogers, a Republican Congressman from Michigan, told reporters.
“Clearly there may have been elements that knew and looked the other way. But we can’t say the institutions, yet, knew and looked the other way.”
US President Barack Obama has already made similar statements, though he stopped short of accusing the Islamabad government of sheltering bin Laden.
“Clearly [bin Laden] had a logistics network. Who knew, and what they knew, is something we’re asking lots of questions about,” Rogers said.
“I think it’s inherent as our relationship continues here that we know who, what, when and why about Osama bin Laden being in this particular compound for as much as five years. We should all understand that.”
Rogers also said that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency also likely has some members who are sympathetic to the militants.
“We know that certain ISI members still have a sympathy toward the Taliban, and certain al Qaeda elements, and the Haqqani network [of militants],” Rogers said.
Pakistani leaders, notably Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, have strenuously denied their complicity in the bin Laden affair, although they admitted to some intelligence failures.
Meanwhile, Rogers also stated that even after the successful raid on bin Laden, the US should accelerate its efforts hunt down many more terrorists.
Before the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday morning, he warned: “Al Qaeda is alive and well. They are hurt, they’re damaged, their inspirational and operational leader has been taken off of the battlefield, which is a huge opportunity for us. The confusion with them is opportunity for us and this is the time to step on the gas and break their back. We need to make sure all the policy makers from the executive branch to Congress understand that all of the things that led up to Osama bin Laden have to be a) improved on and b) they need to have the leadership behind them so they can continue to produce the kind of information that will get us [Ayman] al-Zawahiri.”
He added: “This is our chance to break the back of al Qaeda. It’s no opportunity for us to retreat.”
Rogers further indicated that cuts in intelligence services in 1990s might have led to the tragedy of 9-11.
“When 9/11 happened it took a unit that was fairly obscure, didn’t get all the resources and made it incredibly important,” Rogers said.
“So what we realized is…we don’t have enough human intelligence. We don’t have the ability to touch people using the correct language in the correct place as often as we would like. Our ability to have signals collection and places where we need it was lacking and it was very Washington, DC-centered to the rest of the world. We didn’t really coordinate as well as we could.”
Rogers also disputed the allegation that the war in Iraq and enhanced interrogations of inmates at Guantanamo Bay may have actually slowed down the campaign to get bin Laden.
“All of the interrogations that were conducted over time – you took someone off a battlefield, you’re going to talk to them. I don’t think you have to use torture to get information. I’m a former FBI guy, obviously. We had our ways,” he said.
“But all those interrogations netted information that helped us get smarter about who they were and how they operated, and everybody that you talked to, that gives you an opportunity to solve that next big problem for our effort to break the back of al Qaeda. So yes, I think we should be interrogating people.”
He also disclosed that CIA chief Leon Panetta informed him that if bin Laden had been taken alive, he would’ve been locked up in the Guantanamo Bay U.S. military prison “because that’s the one facility that not only is protected from people inside from getting out, but also from outside people getting in,” Rogers said.
“We do need to have a place to put [captured high value targets]. If we get Zawahiri off the battlefield, where do you put him?”