4:20pm

Wed February 1, 2012
National Security

Doctor At Bin Laden Compound Connected To CIA

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Last year's killing of Osama bin Laden has become a distant campaign talking point here in the U.S. But in Pakistan, the issue is still burning. And Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stoked the fire recently by confirming that a local Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, had helped the CIA find bin Laden.

Panetta told the CBS program "60 Minutes" that he is very concerned about Afridi's well-being because the doctor was detained by Pakistan after the bin Laden raid, and may well be tried for treason.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")

SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: This was an individual who in fact, helped provide intelligence on - that was very helpful with regards to this operation. And he was not, in any way, treasonous towards Pakistan. He was not, in any way, doing anything that would've undermined Pakistan.

CORNISH: Here to talk more about the case of Shakeel Afridi is Saeed Shah. He's a reporter for McClatchy Newspapers.

So Saeed, let's start with the most basic question: Who is Shakeel Afridi, and what was his involvement in tracking down Osama bin Laden?

SAEED SHAH: Well, Shakeel Afridi is a Pakistani doctor. He works for a government department in - northwest of Pakistan. And he was recruited by the CIA in order to help them establish whether or not Osama bin Laden was living in this suspicious compound, in a town called Abbottabad.

And his job was to somehow get some DNA samples from those living in the house - not necessarily those of Osama bin Laden, although that would've been the ultimate jackpot, but of some of his family members.

CORNISH: And Doctor Afridi apparently did this through a vaccination program, correct?

SHAH: That's right. In order to try and get the DNA samples, he had to have an excuse. So he set of the vaccination program in Abbottabad for hepatitis B. And they rang the bell, and Shakeel Afridi waited outside. He managed to get a nurse inside the house - who administered some of these vaccinations, we think, and tried to get some DNA samples. In the end, we believe the effort was unsuccessful.

CORNISH: Now, there's some speculation that Afridi might not have necessarily known he was working on behalf of the CIA. I mean, can you explain that, given what we've heard from Defense Secretary Panetta?

SHAH: Well, I think it's pretty likely that when he was recruited, he would have been recruited by Pakistanis who, in turn, may have been working for other Pakistanis who eventually, were working for American CIA operatives. So he probably didn't know that he was working for the CIA, and what its repercussions would be.

CORNISH: You know, bin Laden was not a Pakistani national. Defense Secretary Panetta's essentially arguing that this doctor did not spy on Pakistani officials in any way. And yet, it's looking like it could be - he could be charged with treason. I mean, what is the popular view of this case in Pakistan?

SHAH: I think the popular view is very muddled. I think at some level, people realize that Osama bin Laden was also an enemy of Pakistan. But that is overridden by a greater - sort of hatred for the United States, and anything American. And in Pakistan, anyway, Shakeel Afridi is considered a traitor.

CORNISH: What is the status of his case now, in terms of the charges - and where does it go from here?

SHAH: Well, he's not been charged with anything. He is in custody; he has been in the custody of Pakistani military intelligence. And the United States fears that he has been mistreated in custody. It is unclear whether he will be charged, formally charged, or whether some deal will be done. And, you know, there is quite a mystery around him.

CORNISH: Saeed Shah - he's a reporter for McClatchy Newspapers. Thank you so much for talking with us.

SHAH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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