WASHINGTON – Pakistan's intelligence service has arrested the owner of a safe house rented to the CIA to observe Osama bin Laden's compound before the U.S. raid that killed the al-Qaida leader, as well as a "handful" of other Pakistanis, a U.S. official said late Tuesday.
In Pakistan, a Western official confirmed a New York Times report that five of the Pakistani informants who fed information to the CIA before the May 2 raid were arrested by Pakistan's top military spy agency.
The officials spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence matters. A spokesman for the Pakistani spy agency declined to comment.
The Times, in an article posted on its website late Tuesday, said detained informants included a Pakistani army major who officials said copied the license plates of cars visiting bin Laden's compound in Pakistan in the weeks before the raid.
The fate of the CIA informants who were arrested was unclear, but American officials told the newspaper that CIA Director Leon Panetta raised the issue when he visited Islamabad last week to meet with Pakistani military and intelligence officers.
U.S.-Pakistani relations have been strained over the raid by Navy SEALs on Pakistani territory, which was a blow to Pakistan's military, and other issues. Officials said the arrests of the informants was just the latest evidence of the fractured relationship between the two nations.
The Times said that at a closed briefing last week, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee asked Michael Morell, the deputy CIA director, to rate Pakistan's cooperation with the United States on counterterrorism operations, on a scale of 1 to 10.
"Three," Morell replied, according to officials familiar with the exchange, the newspaper said.
American officials speaking to the Times cautioned that Morell's comment was a snapshot of the current relationship and did not represent the Obama administration's overall assessment.
"We have a strong relationship with our Pakistani counterparts and work through issues when they arise," Marie Harf, a CIA spokeswoman, told the newspaper. "Director Panetta had productive meetings last week in Islamabad. It's a crucial partnership, and we will continue to work together in the fight against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups who threaten our country and theirs."
Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, said in an interview with the Times that the CIA and the Pakistani spy agency "are working out mutually agreeable terms for their cooperation in fighting the menace of terrorism. It is not appropriate for us to get into the details at this stage."
Gannon reported from Islamabad, Pakistan.