Ansar Abbasi had a sensational piece featured on the front page of The News on Thursday which claims that ‘850,000 US spies given clearance WP reveals that growth of agents has gone beyond all bounds since 9/11 incident’. This is a shocking revelation. It’s also not true.
Ansar Abbasi’s investigative research is based on his apparently just now discovering an investigation published in The Washington Post over two years ago. That research, conducted by more than 20 journalists “describes the huge national security buildup in the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks”. It does not report that the US employs 850,000 spies. Neither does it mention “265,000 contractors like Raymond Davis”.
What the article did report is that “An estimated 854,000 people…hold top-secret security clearances”. The Washington Post divided top-secret work into 23 different categories that include intelligence, but also include:
- Border control
- Building and personal security
- Counter-drug operations
- Disaster preparedness
- Facilities management and maintenance
- Law enforcement
- Management and administration
- Staffing and personnel
If we are to believe Ansar Abbasi, “normal administrative human resource functions” and “construction associated with…fencing and barriers” is the work of ‘spies’.
Obviously some of the estimated 850,000 people with ‘top secret’ clearance are spies, but hardly all of them. In fact, Ansar Abbasi has no idea how many are really spies, or what fraction of those have any connection with Pakistan. This is probably because that was not the subject of The Washington Post report, which is more concerned with the growth of American defence spending and the American government using war time monitoring techniques to monitor its own people. In other words, American investigative journalists are conducting careful research to hold their own government and military accountable. Instead of doing something similar, Ansar Abbasi misrepresents their findings to weave a conspiracy against Pakistan out of thin air.
If Ansar Abbasi had conducted more research into his subject, he might have easily discovered another report in The Washington Post which quotes the American spy chief revealing that “the United States intelligence community comprises almost 100,000…Americans in 16 federal departments and agencies”. We checked with a Maths professor and he confirmed that “almost 100,000″ is over 8 times less than “almost 850,000″. It is also worth noting that, despite being concerned with the number of American spies operating in Pakistan, Ansar Abbasi’s investigative research failed to discover the following:
- In March 2011, ‘as many as 331 US officials, most of whom are suspected of being engaged in espionage under diplomatic cover, have been identified to leave the country’
- In June 2011, ‘Ninety of the 135 US service personnel training Pakistan’s Frontier Corps have left the country after Islamabad officials said they had “reassessed our requirements”.
- In December 2011, ‘the Central Intelligence Agency has vacated an air base in western Pakistan that it had been using for drone strikes against militants in the country’s tribal areas’.
- In September 2012, ‘Pakistan has given foreigners working for Save the Children a week to leave the country after becoming convinced that the aid organisation was used as cover by US spies hunting Osama bin Laden.’
If anything, the number of US spies in Pakistan appears to be decreasing. Unfortunately, readers of Ansar Abbasi’s column in The News would not know that.