Something brewing in Europe has spooked counterterrorism officials. On Oct. 3, the State Department issued a rare warning to Americans, urging them to show vigilance during their trips. Over the last week, European counterterrorism officials have escalated their precautions: The Eiffel Tower has been cleared twice in the last three weeks because of bomb alerts, and special anti-terrorism forces have been active on French streets. The threat, which covers France, Britain, and Germany, is reportedly of a "Mumbai-style" attack by al Qaeda. In November 2008, terrorists wreaked havoc on the Indian port city by launching coordinated attacks against hotels, restaurants, and tourist sites, killing 166 people. Could the same sort of horror be in store for Paris, Berlin, or London?
An unusual footnote in Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars sheds light on where responsibility for such an attack might originate. Indeed, it is the only footnote in the whole book.
Woodward's footnote qualifies a line reporting that, within 48 hours of the Mumbai attacks, then CIA Director Michael Hayden told Pakistani ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani that CIA intelligence showed no direct link to the Pakistani military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, the country's main spy agency. "[T]hese are former people who are no longer employees of the Pakistani government," Hayden reportedly told Haqqani. However, the U.S. intelligence community would apparently revise this assessment because there, at the bottom of page 46 of Woodward's book, are the words: "The CIA later received reliable intelligence that the ISI was directly involved in the training for Mumbai."
The Pakistani military would admit a month later that it had connections to individuals involved in the attack. The head of ISI, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, briefed Hayden at CIA headquarters, telling him that the planners of the Mumbai attacks, identified as "at least two retired Pakistani Army officers," were linked to the ISI, but the operation had not been authorized by the Pakistani military. It was rogue, Woodward writes, before quoting Pasha: "There may have been people associated with my organization who were associated with this. That's different from authority, direction and control."
The "rogue" quote in Woodward's book has been picked up by the Indian media because it fits with the narrative, popular among many in Pakistan's bigger neighbor, that the Pakistan military in general and the ISI in particular have ceased being national institutions subordinate to legal or governmental control. Saikat Datta, writing this week in Outlook India, described the Pakistani terrorist organizations responsible for the Mumbai attacks as "a parallel state run with quiet and ruthless efficiency by the ISI."
The Indians have a point -- and when they read Woodward's footnote, they will be even more convinced. With U.S. officials having originally assured New Delhi that the Mumbai attacks were not sanctioned by Islamabad, thereby averting Indian military retaliation, it is unclear whether they told their Indian counterparts of their revised view or left it for them to read in Woodward's book.
So far, the "R word" has yet to enter the American public's lexicon. But Obama's Wars also introduces another "R word" that holds great consequence for U.S. policy toward Pakistan: "retribution." If Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American citizen, had successfully blown up his SUV in New York's Times Square in May, National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones warned Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, the United States "would be forced to do things Pakistan would not like," according to Woodward. Pakistani readers of the book would have been surprised to learn that the U.S. response "could entail a retribution campaign of bombing up to 150 known terrorist safe havens inside Pakistan." Dating from George W. Bush's administration, Woodward writes, the United States already has a "brutal, punishing" plan (of which Obama has been informed): "the U.S. would bomb or attack every known al Qaeda compound or training camp in the U.S. intelligence database."
Neither "brutal" nor "punishing" sounds much like a measured response -- but Obama's Wars is clear that there aren't many options for eliminating the terrorist threat emanating from Pakistan. After the entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States is not in the business of invading any more countries -- and certainly not a country like Pakistan, which possesses dozens of nuclear weapons.
But that doesn't mean that the United States can afford to ignore the growing chaos in South Asia. When Bruce Riedel, the former CIA analyst who conducted the Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy review for the White House, briefed Obama on Air Force One, aside from another 9/11 traceable to Pakistan or a jihadi government in Islamabad, the "third bad thing" he said he feared was another Pakistani attack on India, "either directly or indirectly, Mumbai redux." The next attack would provoke an Indian military response, "and that means you are talking about the potential for nuclear war."
Last week, CIA Director Leon Panetta met General Pasha in Islamabad. Woodward's Washington Post colleague, David Ignatius, quoted a senior ISI official as saying that the two men "discussed everything possible," and Panetta had been "reassured" of Pakistan's "support for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan." Let's hope so.
Let's also hope that wiser heads emerge in Pakistan. Woodward depicts the Army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani (a former ISI chief himself), as unreliable and capable of telling only half the story. Nor does the civilian government offer much comfort: Zardari "doesn't know anything about governing," according to Woodward, quoting "a candid private assessment" by the U.S. ambassador to Islamabad, Anne Patterson. Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani does not merit a mention in Woodward's "Cast of Characters" or even his index.
So Europe is on alert for terrorist attacks that would likely originate in Pakistan and be controlled from Pakistan -- the two distinguishing features of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Until Woodward's book, observers might have assumed that, in the intervening two years, the United States might have succeeded in pressuring Pakistan to place the ISI under tighter control. We can no longer make that assumption.
Perhaps we should be asking: Why is General Pasha still head of the ISI? He was, after all, appointed a month before the Mumbai attacks that Woodward, in his footnote, linked firmly to the ISI.
Simon Henderson is the Baker fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. From 1977 to 1978 he was the resident BBC and Financial Times correspondent in Pakistan.