[Guest post by DRJ]
The US government provided intelligence information and security advice to Benazir Bhutto and her staff but she failed to act on it:
“The United States provided a steady stream of intelligence to Benazir Bhutto about threats against her before the former Pakistani prime minister was assassinated and advised her aides on how to boost security, although key suggestions appear to have gone unheeded, U.S. officials said Monday.
Senior U.S. diplomats had multiple conversations, including at least two private face-to-face meetings, with top members of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party to discuss threats on her life and review her security arrangements after a suicide bombing marred her initial return to Pakistan from exile in October, the officials told The Associated Press. The intelligence was also shared with the Pakistani government, the officials said.
Much of what was passed on dealt with general threats from Taliban extremists and al-Qaida sympathizers and “was not actionable information.”
The officials said Bhutto and her aides were concerned, particularly after the October attack, but were adamant that in the absence of a specific and credible threat there would be few, if any, changes to her campaign schedule ahead of parliamentary elections.
“She knew people were trying to assassinate her,” said an intelligence official. “We don’t hold information back on possible attacks on foreign leaders and foreign countries.” The official added, however, that while the U.S. could share the information, “it’s up to (the recipient) how they want to take action.” “We gave them a steady stream of intelligence,” one official said.
The officials spoke to AP on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter and amid widespread disbelief over the Pakistani government’s assertion that Bhutto died not from bullet or shrapnel wounds but from injuries sustained while hitting her head on her vehicle’s sunroof during Thursday’s attack by a suicide bomber and gunman.”
The claims by the Pakistan government about the nature of Bhutto’s injuries and cause of death look particularly feeble and point out the need for other nations to participate in the investigation. That may be why, as reported in the linked article, the US has also quietly joined calls for international cooperation in investigating Bhutto’s assassination. There are indications that Britain’s Scotland Yard will assist and any US role will be limited.
It was also reported that Bhutto considered hiring private British or US security but the US government discouraged that because the involvement of Western interests might “increase the threat and become a target itself.” Instead, the US recommended Bhutto hire private Pakistani security and reduce her visibility in large crowds:
“However, there was no indication that Bhutto’s team—including her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, who attended at least one of the meetings—had followed through on the most critical of the recommendations, including the hiring of private guards and reducing her visibility in large crowds like the one in Rawalpindi where she was killed.
The officials said Zardari rejected using private Pakistani security companies due to fears they might be infiltrated by extremists even though several of the recommended companies have international components and are used by Western embassies to protect personnel.”
Apparently Bhutto, her family, or the PPP had been in contact with the US company Blackwater about its services:
“Anne Tyrell, a spokeswoman for the private U.S. security company Blackwater Worldwide, known for its operations in Iraq, said her company had been approached about possibly providing protection for Bhutto, “but unfortunately, an agreement was never reached.”
While Bhutto’s staff did take some steps to improve the safety of the party’s vehicles, the officials expressed surprise that the car in which she was riding when attacked had a sunroof and stressed that they would have strongly advised her against popping her head out of it in the presence of large numbers of people.”
Hindsight is 20/20 but I’m surprised the PPP and Bhutto didn’t hire private security, especially after the October bombing.