ISLAMABAD // Pakistan yesterday denied reports that an army officer is one of five detained Pakistani men who Western officials say provided information to the CIA in the months prior to American raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
A report published by The New York Times on Tuesday said the men were arrested in connection with the May 2 raid, which embarrassed the Pakistani military and its premier spy organisation, Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI).
The report claimed that the detainees include a Pakistani army major, who is said to have copied the licence plates of cars that drove up to bin Laden's compound in the garrison town of Abbottabad, which is home to Pakistan's main military academy.
The owner of a house that the CIA rented to observe bin Laden's compound has also been taken into custody. The CIA monitored the compound for months, using cameras with telephoto lenses, infrared imaging equipment and sensitive eavesdropping devices.
The New York Times also reported that Leon Panetta, the CIA director, raised the fate of the informants during talks with Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani and the head of the ISI, Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, last week during a visit to Pakistan.
Pakistani officials declined to confirm the report.
An ISI spokesman, Major General Athar Abbas, "strongly refuted" the claims by The New York Times, according to a tersely-worded news release. "There is no army officer detained and the story is false and totally baseless", the release said.
A Pakistani intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said several people from Abbottabad and its surrounding areas were arrested as part of an investigation, but he declined to comment on the news about the arrest of CIA informants. The official said up to 40 people had been detained and questioned after the May 2 raid.
The news of the arrest comes at a time when relations between Pakistan and United States are their lowest ebb.
It is expected to further fray the relationship between the two countries as the US increases pressure on Pakistan's army and intelligence officials to probe further the network that allegedly helped the al Qa'eda chief live a comfortable and sequestered life in a military town for years.
The arrests seem to be part of an effort by Pakistani officials to unearth the independent network the CIA had managed to form within the country in recent years.
The US has also urged Pakistan to go after militant hideouts and safe havens in North Waziristan tribal region. But Pakistani officials have balked at the US demand, saying they will choose the timing of the military offensive.
The Pakistani army's rank and file are also upset with the US for conducting a unilateral operation without involving local military and intelligence officials. That anger has been expressed to General Kayani during his visits to garrisons across the country, while General Pasha dealt with hostile parliamentarians when he gave a classified briefing to a joint session of the parliament last month.
Consequently, the US has significantly reduced the number of its military officials, mostly trainers, in the country, according to the US officials