Thursday, January 27, 2011

WaPo's Spytalk Quotes Fred Burton

A commenter kindly sent me a link to today's WaPo SpyTalk column, which quotes a retired Diplomatic Security counterterrorism specialist who speculates "that the American involved in a fatal shootout in Lahore, Pakistan, was the victim of a spy meeting gone awry, not the target of a robbery or car-jacking attempt."

"It looks like an informant meet gone bad more than a car-jacking attempt,” said Fred Burton, a former deputy chief of the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service’s counter-terrorism division.

Early reports were sketchy. Many said the American, identified in the Pakistani press variously as Raymond David, or just “Davis,” had shot two armed men on a motorcycle “in self defense” as they approached his car in a robbery attempt. As the American sped away, another Pakistani on a motorcycle was killed, according to the reports.

-- snip --

According to Burton, who worked on several major terrorism cases in the 1980s and 1990s, the incident showed that David “had outstanding situational awareness to recognize the attack unfolding and shoot the other men.”

“It shows a high degree of firearms discipline and training,” Burton added. “Either the consulate employee's route was compromised by terrorist or criminal surveillance, or it's feasible he was set up in some sort of double-agent operation, if this wasn't a criminal motive.”

Fred Burton works for a private sector threat analysis company, and he is of necessity a promoter of both himself and his company, STRATFOR. Here's his self-description of his background. Others have been less than impressed by him. Personally, I think STRATFOR's reports are perfectly serviceable private sector threat analysis, but you have to take a lot of Burton's stuff down a few levels of melodrama.

Someone sent me STRATFOR's report on the Lahore incident this afternoon, and I've copied excepts from it below.

Three Pakistani locals were killed in Lahore on Jan. 27 in an incident involving a U.S. consular employee. The employee, identified by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad as Raymond Davis, said he fired in self-defense, according to police reports. Details are still sketchy, and the investigation is ongoing. However, based on initial accounts, it appears that Davis was practicing good situational awareness and thwarted a robbery or possibly an assassination.

In Davis’ account of the incident (relayed via Lahore police to Pakistani media), he said he noticed several motorcycle riders approaching his vehicle, and one pulled out a pistol. At that point, Davis shot and killed one of the motorcyclists with a 9 mm pistol. A second wounded motorcyclist reportedly died later in the hospital, and a vehicle fleeing the scene (it is unclear if it belonged to Davis or another consular employee) hit and killed a bystander.

The shooting took place at a prominent roundabout (there are conflicting reports as to whether it occurred at the Mazang or the Qartaba roundabout) in the afternoon, with many witnesses who allegedly corroborated Davis’ account.

--snip --

The situation Davis was in is a common one for quick robberies and is also used for assassinations: He was in his vehicle, stopped at a traffic light, and vulnerable to gunmen on motorcycles who could quickly maneuver next to him and flee the scene just as quickly. This assassination tactic has been used in Pakistan, (a general was assassinated in Islamabad in 2009), Yemen, Greece (the November 17 militant group killed multiple U.S. officials this way during the 1970s and 1980s) and elsewhere. It is possible that this attack was a robbery attempt (very common in Lahore), but since the target was a U.S. Consulate employee in a high state of alert (indicating he was trained to maintain situational awareness), assassination cannot be ruled out.

That Davis was driving alone in an unmarked vehicle (no diplomatic plates or flags, meaning that it was meant to blend in) without the standard security presence and while wearing a wireless headset indicates that he could have been acting covertly. Additionally, according to eyewitnesses Davis took pictures of the individuals he had shot, indicating that he knew to collect evidence (and thus was well-trained and prepared).

That last paragraph strikes me as unwarranted and way too dramatic. As those who are posted in critical-threat places know, it is not uncommon for U.S. diplomatic vehicles to have nondescript local license plates in an attempt to lower their public profiles. There is no need to read any covert / intelligence meaning into that. Likewise for the use of a headset or other wireless device, or the fact that Davis used a camera.

The simplest, and the least dramatic, explanation is that Davis was the target of a criminal attack, such as a robbery or carjacking, which as STRATFOR says are common in Lahore. Davis did indeed maintain 'situational awareness' and so forth, but that, too, is not uncommon today for U.S. mission personnel of all kinds.

I see no reason to suppose that Davis was any sort of exotic type such as an intelligence agent, military Special Forces, or a security guy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

He had his blue badge on, clearly not someone used to making sure he can blend in.