The Cable

Jim Jones was secret courier in “memogate” scandal

Former National Security Advisor Gen. Jim Jones was the interlocutor who delivered a secret memo to then Joint Chief of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, which contained an offer to overthrow Pakistan’s military and intelligence leadership, making him a key figure in the scandal roiling Pakistan known as "memogate." Newsweek Pakistan was the first to ...

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Former National Security Advisor Gen. Jim Jones was the interlocutor who delivered a secret memo to then Joint Chief of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, which contained an offer to overthrow Pakistan’s military and intelligence leadership, making him a key figure in the scandal roiling Pakistan known as "memogate."

Newsweek Pakistan was the first to report that Jones was the link for the secret memo from Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz to Mullen, delivered only nine days after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. Ijaz claims the memo was conceived by Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani, who Ijaz says was claiming to be working on behalf of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

Jones confirmed his role in the memo’s delivery Sunday to Pakistan’s The News. "I was not in government on May 10 when I forwarded the message to Admiral Mullen," General Jones said. He has also disclosed his involvement to the Financial Times, which published the original Oct. 10 op-ed that revealed the existence of the memo.

Mullen said initially that he didn’t remember receiving the memo, but later confirmed to The Cable that he did in fact receive it, but took no action. The memo contained an offer to reshape Pakistan’s national security leadership, cleaning house of elements within the powerful military and intelligence agencies that have supported Islamist radicals and the Taliban, drastically altering Pakistani foreign policy — and requesting U.S. help to avoid a military coup.

Haqqani denies having any role in the drafting of the memo, but nevertheless has offered to resign. He is in Islamabad now, defending himself against the allegations that he sought to make a power play to reshape Pakistan’s national security landscape.

Meanwhile, the Washington foreign policy community reacted with shock that Haqqani, a Washington institution in his own right, has become the man at the center of the "memogate" scandal.

Haqqani is beloved by many in Washington, distrusted by some, but known by all. He maintains a myriad of unofficial relationships with high-ranking U.S. officials, powerful civilians, and journalists.

Growing up in a suburb of Karachi, Haqqani rose from relatively meager beginnings to become a key personality in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship during its most tumultuous period. His multi-decade career in Pakistani politics included stints advising Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. He has a close personal relationship with Zardari, Bhutto’s widow.

He has lived in the United States for the last 10 years, where he taught at Boston University before becoming Zardari’s envoy to Washington in 2008. He has since become famous in Washington policy circles for his gregarious personality, his constant networking, and his reputation for getting himself in the middle of the most complicated and controversial issues in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. He is an outspoken critic of the military’s role in Pakistani politics and his 2005 book Pakistan: Between Mosque And Military hammers on that theme.

Ijaz, a controversial character in his own right, told The Cable on Thursday that Haqqani conceived of the memo, dictated it to him, and managed the cover up after Ijaz revealed its existence. Newsweek Pakistan also revealed Sunday that Ijaz met last month with Inter-Services Intelligence chief Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s premier spy agency, and handed over his cell phone and computer, which allegedly contain evidence of Haqqani’s involvement.

Around Washington, Pakistan experts and officials have been left wondering if the story is true and, if so, how Haqqani — who is seen as extremely savvy when it comes to diplomatic dealings — could have stumbled so badly.

"It’s the kind of thing that Haqqani would dream up, but it’s not like Haqqani to execute it this poorly," said Christine Fair, associate professor at Georgetown University.

The logic of trying to move against Pakistan’s military at their weakest point — right after bin Laden was found in their midst — makes sense, said Fair. What doesn’t make sense is why Haqqani would go through Ijaz, a man whose credibility in Washington is doubtful at best.

"Haqqani’s a smart enough man that I could see him putting together this sort of thing, but I don’t get why he would deal with a man like Ijaz," Fair said. "Besides, the different claims in the memo didn’t make any sense, and Husain is smart enough to write a better memo than that."

The promise that the weak, Zardari-led civilian government would overthrow the powerful army and intelligence leaders was so unrealistic that it caused Mullen to completely disregard the memo when he received it.

"There was nothing to suggest at the time that this memo had any Pakistani imprimatur whatsoever," a military source close to Mullen told The Cable. "He did not know the source and the memo was not signed so there was no authenticity…. And the idea that the Pakistani military was pursuing some sort of overthrow was ludicrous, especially in the wake of the [bin Laden] raid. They were under intense public scrutiny at that point. The idea had zero credibility."

One U.S. official told The Cable that there is sympathy for the general mission of the memo, to move the U.S.-Pakistan relationship away from the Pakistani military’s control, a mission that happens also to be a lifelong crusade of Haqqani’s.

"The critique the memo lays out is dead on," the U.S. official said. "The Pakistani military is a bad actor and the prospect of getting rid of them is a very tempting one. It may be unrealistic but it’s very tempting."

"We are unable or unwilling to think about a strategy for Pakistan that doesn’t see the military as the lead actor on dealing with Pakistan’s security issues," the official said. "That was the Bush strategy and that is the Obama strategy and it doesn’t seem to be working."

Regardless, the memo failed to convince anyone in the U.S. government to do anything and as the scandal grew, Ijaz began releasing more and more circumstantial evidence to prove his allegation that Haqqani was at the center of the idea. Ijaz has released Blackberry Messenger transcripts he says represent his interactions with Haqqani in planning the scheme.

There’s no way to verify the messages, but "HH" in the transcripts describes several Obama administration officials in detail, and contains the banter and personality for which Haqqani is famous. Haqqani denies their authenticity.

Haqqani has friends in Washington who are rallying to his defense. Their main argument is that Haqqani wouldn’t be so foolish as to trust the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, and his career, to Ijaz.

"We need to look at who is Ijaz. He has been circulating on the fringes of Washington circles for years. Most long-time Pakistan watchers don’t find him so particularly reliable," said Lisa Curtis, senior research fellow on South Asia at the Heritage Foundation. "If he claims to be such a close confident of Ambassador Haqqani, why did he throw him under the bus? Husain Haqqani has a great deal more credibility than Mansoor Ijaz."

Others argue that Haqqani, for all his faults, was important to the effort to stabilize the U.S.-Pakistani relationship and served Pakistan well. Ijaz said that Haqqani was doing a good job as ambassador and was serving Pakistan well in that post.

"He is someone who is trying to help people [in Washington] understand who we are and help people here understand what kind of a mess [Pakistan] is. In that sense, he’s done a very credible job and it would be a loss for Pakistan to see him go," Ijaz told The Cable. "I still consider him a friend."

Ultimately, we may never know if Haqqani was responsible for memogate, but the scandal has laid bare the deep distrust between the Pakistani security establishment, its civilian counterpart, and the U.S. government.

"It’s a parody of Pakistan. It’s a conspiracy within a conspiracy, it’s reflective of how dysfunctional things there are," the U.S. official said.

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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