Spies instead of help - CIA sent operatives into Pakistan after a deadly Kashmir quake

US soldier looks at collaped houses in an earthquake devastated area of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, 05 November 2005(AFP Photo / Banaras Khan)
When a 7.6 magnitude earthquake ripped through Pakistan in 2005, the whole world responded. Around 79,000 people were killed in the quake, one of the deadliest in recorded history. The US was there to help, too. At least that was their story.

After a massive quake centered near Kashmir devastated the eastern world, the United States was one of dozens of nations that offered aid in the immediate aftermath. Within a month, the US Defense Department had deployed nearly 1,000 personnel to respond to the disaster and the United States Agency for International Development sent millions worth of monetary assistance.

Also deployed, according to a new book, was a stealth team of spies.

Authors Marc Ambinder and DB Grady explain in their latest joint collaboration that as the US rushed to respond to the Kashmir quake, America took advantage of the disturbance. Under the guise of a humanitarian effort, spies were deployed into Pakistan with the mission of infiltrating both al-Qaeda and the Pakistani intelligence network. The revelations are published in the duo’s new book, The Command: Deep Inside the President's Secret Army, and in it they reveal to the public for the first time allegations over how the Joint Special Operations Command has done much more than the world realizes.

Ambinder has previously served as a White House correspondent and Grady a Special Forces paratrooper. In The Command, they write that the Joint Special Operations Command, the group known for working the raids on both Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, have done much more than meets the eye. Among their other abilities, write the authors, the JSOC serves as a secret army to aid in underground operations. Among those include the installation of spies amid the natural disaster in 2005.

"The US intelligence community took advantage of the chaos to spread resources of its own into the country,” write the authors. "Using valid US passports and posing as construction and aid workers, dozens of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operatives and contractors flooded in without the requisite background checks from the country's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency," they continue.

"Under a secret program code-named Screen Hunter, JSOC, augmented by the Defense Intelligence Agency and contract personnel, was authorized to shadow and identify members of the ISI suspected of being sympathetic to al-Qaeda.”

While it is not clear if the tracking method ended at identification or if CIA-approved JSOC troops killed any Pakistani intelligence members, it does not seem like a move that would have been that out of the ordinary. “One official said that the goal of the program was to track terrorists through the ISI by using disinformation and psychological warfare,” add the authors.

“They operated in the border areas of Pakistan deemed off limits to Americans, and they targeted courier networks, trainers and facilitators,” they continue.

The revelation, more than six years after the fact, comes as tensions between the US and Pakistan approach a breaking point. Relations have worsened between the former friendly allies since the clandestine JSOC raid that ended the life of al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil. Since conducting the mission last May, the US has continued to fly drones in, out and over Pakistan and has continues a military presence much to the chagrin of the country’s government and citizens.

In recent weeks, the US has claimed that it is attempting to expedite the end of its war in neighboring Afghanistan, but as RT noted earlier today, the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan insists that those talks are too exaggerated.

As a flame works towards snuffing what’s left of the tie between the US and Pakistan, Ambinder and Grady’s accusations will surely only increase the intensity of the blaze.

To the UK’s Daily Telegraph, former Pervez Musharraf official Tariq Azim agrees that this revelation will only worsen relations.

"Plenty of people are now saying we told you so, the US is up to its old tricks," he says. "Once again it brings up the debate about whether the US is really our ally.”

Those fears are spreading internationally as well as the United States’ ever-increasing series of shadow wars becomes more well known to the rest of the world.

Hisham Mohammed Salah, a 37-year-old café owner, recently told the New York Times that he was worried that operations similar to what the US was doing in Pakistan would soon come to his own country of Iraq. “We hear from time to time that drone aircraft have killed half a village in Pakistan and Afghanistan under the pretext of pursuing terrorists,” he says. “Our fear is that will happen in Iraq under a different pretext.”

While Ambinder and Grady’s book discusses the Kashmir incident in its best detail yet, it only exposes a fraction of what the JSOC has partaken in. A recent New York Times report revealed that the team has been dispatched to 70 countries during the last ten years and regularly works with 12,000 troops a day.