Daily Times - Leading News Resource of Pakistan
LAHORE: Art Keller, a former CIA agent who spent eight years hunting Al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden in Waziristan Agency, said the US was re-hiring retired CIA agents to work with local populations to hunt the world’s most wanted man. A report in The Times reported on Wednesday that when Keller, 39, volunteered for the Bin Laden team in 2006 to become the acting chief of one of the CIA’s bases in Al Qaeda and Taliban territory in Waziristan, he was not an obvious choice.
He spoke no Middle Eastern languages, and was not an expert on Al Qaeda or Pakistan. But with many resources diverted to Iraq at the time, the CIA was desperate for agents to join the hunt, which was essentially “outsourced by the US to a network of Pashtun spies run by the Pakistani intelligence services”. But he said the desperation was now changing to serious efforts with the agency bringing back CIA retired officials — a group known as The Cadre — many of whom are veterans who worked with the Afghan Mujahideen during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.
Keller’s replacement was also one such grey-haired, 65-year-old CIA veteran, who spoke Pashtu. “One of the things the agency has done is to bring back these old hands,” Keller said, men who despite their age “are willing to spend many months in conditions most people would say are akin to prison”.Keller, who has retired from the CIA and now works as a freelance writer in New Mexico, said, “The divorce rate is very high — it’s through the roof. Yet it’s part of the allure that keeps on driving them back. A lot of the time you are just sitting there reading stuff but you are also in the right area, it’s the big show — you are at retirement age but are you really going to sign up for the bowling league?” He said the hunt was largely run by the ISI, with the nerve centre in Islamabad, but ground operation running from decrepit bases such as the one he worked at in Waziristan. “Our role in the hunt was done entirely from in front of a computer inside the base,” Keller told the paper.