Published May 24, 2012
GOP Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, expressed concern Wednesday about the extent of the Obama administration’s efforts to protect the Pakistan doctor who was sent to prison in Pakistan for treason after helping to find Usama bin Laden.
"This has been handled very poorly right from the time of the raid," King told FoxNews.com.
Dr. Shakil Afridi ran a vaccination program for the CIA to collect DNA and verify bin Laden's presence at the compound in the town of Abbottabad where U.S. commandos killed the Al Qaeda chief in a May 2011 raid.
The operation outraged Pakistani officials, who portrayed it as an act of treachery by a supposed ally.
King, R-N.Y., said administration officials talked about the doctor and his DNA sampling.
"They put him out there," said King, who made clear he didn't know the exact details about what, if anything, the administration may have done to get the doctor out of Pakistan or otherwise protect him. "I'm focused on that they disclosed his identity."
A senior administration official on Thursday disputed the argument.
“If you go back to the first stories about the doctor’s alleged affiliation with the U.S., it was clear Pakistani authorities leaked it to the press,” the official said. “The Pakistanis found Dr. Afridi on their own There was no attempt to disclose this individual’s name or association with the operation. That defies logic. Identities of human sources are sacrosanct in the intelligence community.”
The official also said there were efforts to protect Dr. Afridi both before and after his arrest, but this official did not have an explanation as to why they weren’t able to successfully protect him or remove him from the country before he was arrested.
The first reference to Dr. Afridi appears to be in a July 2011 story in the Guardian newspaper.
The doctor was sentenced to 33 years in prison on Wednesday for conspiring against the state -- a verdict officials said is likely to further strain the country's relationship with Washington.
Senior U.S. officials have called for Dr. Afridi to be released, saying his work served Pakistani and American interests.
“What Dr. Afridi did is the furthest thing from treason. It was a courageous, heroic and patriotic act, which helped to locate the most wanted terrorist in the world,” said Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., members of the chamber’s Committee on Armed Services.
They also said Dr. Afridi’s actions were consistent with the multiple, legally binding resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council, which required member states to assist in bringing bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network to justice. They also called upon the Pakistani government to pardon and release Dr. Afridi immediately.
A senior U.S. official with knowledge of counter-terrorism operations against Al Qaeda in Pakistan said the doctor was never asked to spy on Pakistan.
"He was asked only to help locate Al Qaeda terrorists, who threaten Pakistan and the U.S.," the official told Fox News. "He helped save Pakistani and American lives. His activities were not treasonous, they were heroic and patriotic."
But many Pakistani officials, especially those working for the country's powerful spy agency, do not see it that way.
"He was working for a foreign spy agency. We are looking after our national interests," said a Pakistani intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with the agency's policy.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday that the administration has "regularly taken up" the issue of Dr. Afridi with Pakistan and she expects "we will continue to."
Afridi's conviction comes at a sensitive time because the U.S. is already frustrated by Pakistan's refusal to reopen NATO supply routes to Afghanistan. The supply routes were closed six months ago in retaliation for American air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Afridi was detained sometime after the May 2, 2011, raid, but the start of his trial was never publicized.
The U.S. operation severely strained ties with Pakistan. The Pakistani government kicked out U.S. military trainers and limited counter terrorism cooperation with the CIA.
The relationship got even worse in November when the U.S. killed the 24 Pakistani soldiers at two posts along the Afghan border, an attack that Washington said was an accident but the Pakistani army insisted was deliberate.
Pakistan immediately retaliated by closing the NATO supply routes and kicking the U.S. out of a base used by American drones. Before the attack, the U.S. and other NATO countries fighting in Afghanistan shipped about 30 percent of their nonlethal supplies through Pakistan. Since then, the coalition has used far more expensive routes through Russia and Central Asia.
The U.S. has pressed Pakistan to reopen the supply line, but negotiations have been hampered by Washington's refusal to apologize for the attack and stop drone strikes in the country as demanded by Pakistan's parliament. Many observers view the latter demand with skepticism because elements within Pakistan's government and military have supported the attacks in the past.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.