David Ignatius today has an excellent column on the politicization of terror alerts and the related matter of the leak of the name of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan. As he notes, it"appears that Khan may, all too briefly, have been one of the most important agents in place the United States has managed to recruit in al Qaeda."
The conventional wisdom on this -- or at least the widely aired claim -- is that administration officials leaked Khan's name in order to bolster the credibility of the terror warnings issued just after the end of the Democratic convention, and that they did so out of some mix of organizational incompetence and indifference to the consequences of the leak.
Yet an author in Salon today has a more troubling theory.
Husain Haqqani says there were two leaks from the Pakistanis -- the first, leaking Khan's name and the second, blaming the initial leak on the Americans. The leaks, suggests Haqqani were "motivated by [an] eagerness to show off their success in arresting al-Qaida figures or, more ominously, by a desire to sabotage the penetration of al-Qaida that Khan's arrest had made possible."
The two possibilities are quite different in their implications. But both suggest -- a point Haqqani develops through the piece -- that the US has delegated the al Qaida hunt to an inherently unreliable partner.
(After all, we know Pakistan's intelligence service -- the ISI -- was riddled with Taliban and AQ sympathizers prior to the war. So there's no reason to think that's changed entirely.)
Nor is the author here just some random scribe. If you scan down to the author bio, it notes that Haqqani was an "advisor to former Pakistani Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and ... Pakistan's ambassador to Sri Lanka." Since those are the two previous democratically-elected Pakistani prime ministers, the second of whom was overthrown by the current military head of state, it is fair to infer that Haqqani is not well-disposed toward the current government. But those posts and the high-level diplomatic appointment also suggest that he's pretty wired in the country and probably has pretty good sources in country.
He concludes the piece by noting "As long as the U.S.-Pakistan relationship remains a single-issue alliance based on the quid pro quo of changes in Pakistani policy for U.S. money, the regime in Islamabad will continue to be tempted to take its time in finding all the terrorists at large in Pakistan. After all, most subcontractors who are paid by the hour take longer to get the job done."