An explanation of the US and Pakistan governments’ odd behavior in the Raymond Davis affair

Summary:  As standard fare the FM website provides analysis of current events.  Seeking hidden truths (often in vain) and using these incidents to illustrate larger dynamics at work in America.  The Raymond Davis affair is rich in lesson for us.  Here we see one obvious explanation what’s happening, but ignored by our geopolitical experts and news media.   This is the 4th post; links are at the end; see the comments for updates.

To be an American geopolitical expert requires (broadly speaking) a willingness to see the US government’s views, and only the US government’s views.  Alternative views can only be false or irrational or evil.   Not always, but on important issues.  When the government’s views change, then one’s views can change (staying at most slightly ahead of the pack).  Crimestop, blackwhite, doublethink, and bellyfeel are keys to career success.   Heretics require integrity and personal courage; no matter how skillful they remain on the margins (to name a few examples:  Chuck Spinney, Winslow Wheeler, Doug Macgregor, Bernard Finel). 

The Raymond Davis affair nicely illustrates this problem.  The news media and most geopolitical experts reflexively treat the US government’s (USG) story as gospel, and alternative versions circulating in Pakistan as irrational or propaganda.  Pakistan’s government (GOP) appears torn, unable to formulate a coherent story.  We can draw some interesting conclusions, working step by step to an explanation (but not THE explanation) of actions taken by the USG and GOP.


Step #1:  The USG as the dog that didn’t bark
Step #2: Why has the GOP not ended this incident?
Step #3: Summary of the key questions
Step #4: Circumstantial evidence
Update — Step #5: Of what significance is Davis’ CIA connection?
Step #6:  Conclusions
For more information: other posts about the Raymond Davis

Step #1:  The USG as the dog that didn’t bark

The USG says that on 20 January 2010 they sent POG a note stating that Raymond Davis was due full diplomatic immunity by his job and location under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 (see Wikipedia).  In this “background briefing” by the State Department on 21 February a senior administration official said this note had been released to the press.  It hadn’t.  When  Justin Elliott of Salon asked he was told:

State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson tells me that the January 2010 diplomatic note regarding Davis will not be made publicly available. “We don’t release diplomatic communications,” she said.

This is important evidence, like the dog that did not bark in the Sherlock Holmes story The Silver Blaze. The USG can release the 2010 diplomatic note giving Davis immunity (redacting the confidential parts).  Ending the dispute, giving GOP a way out:  declare Davis an evil murderer, deport him — and tell their people they had no other choice under long-standing Treaty obligations.  That would probably mute the public anger, or at least reduce it to a dull roar.

Why has the USG not released the note?  This is the core mystery.  We can only guess, but there is one obvious possibility:  perhaps because the USG has lied, again.

  • Perhaps there is no such note.
  • Perhaps the note does not mention Davis. 
  • Perhaps it does list him, but only due a low grade of immunity (e.g., listing him as a consular officer). 

This seems an obvious possibility, but seldom mentioned by the US news media or our geopolitical experts.  Which is odd given the long list of lies by USG officials since WWII.

Step #2:  Why has the GOP not ended this incident?

Similarly, the GOP can end this affair by acknowledging that they received the 2010 note (or a later note).  Here are two reasons why they might not do so.

(a)  Perhaps the GOP (or a powerful element of it) wants the Davis affair to continue.  This incident has sparked public opposition to American intervention in Pakistan and created a diplomatic crisis with the USG.  Neither of that seems helpful to GOP, but domestic power politics or ideology might trump other considerations.

(b)  GOP might want to give Davis immunity, but have not done so because the relevant documents (notes from USG to GOP listing people due diplomatic immunity) show that Davis did not have immunity. If so, why has the GOP not lied — saying these documents did give Davis immunity? Perhaps because someone in GOP has copies of the documents, and will release them should senior GOP officials give (or acknowledge) Davis’ immunity.  The documents might be the 2010 note or later correspondence (such as those mentioned in the WaPo and  The News).  Foreign Minister Shah Mehmoud Qureshi refused to grant Davis diplomatic immunity (on advice of Ministry experts) and was sacked (see articles hereand here for details).

Step #3:  Summary of the key questions

As usual, deductive reasoning has only helped us identify the vital things we do not know.  Davis role in covert activities plays no obvious role in the maneuverings over his diplomatic immunity (or lack thereof).

  1. Why has USG not released the note, if it proves Davis innocent? 
  2. Why has GOP not acknowledged that the 2010 note (or a later one)?

We do not have the necessary documents.  We do not have explanations for the actions of the USG and GOP.

Step #4:  Circumstantial evidence

Lacking direct evidence, we can look to the circumstantial evidence for help.  Facts from which deductive logic can produce a conclusion.  Never guaranteed, but often suggestive.  First, do we have exculpatory evidence supporting the USG version? 

  • How did the US embassy describe Davis after the incident?
  • What type of identification was Davis carrying?
  • How did Davis identify himself to the police after the incident?

If these all show Davis as a technical employee at the US embassy, that would be strong evidence that the USG had so designated Davis to the GOP — and he had full immunity.  But in fact all three say the opposite, that Davis was support staff at one or more US consulates (if the USG has so designated him, he would have little immunity).

But this provides only weak inculpatory evidence (of his guilt, that he had little or no immunity).  The US government might have identified him as having full immunity, but given him a different cover — listing in the directory and ID.

(update)  Step#5:  Of what significance is Davis’ CIA connection

Davis appears to have been a CIA employee of some sort.  Some are given full immunity, some have a non-official cover (NOC) with no immunity.  For example, Valerie Plame was a Third Consular officer at the US Embassy in Athens.  It’s not clear the relevance of Davis’ real job to the actions of the USG or GOP.

Step #6:  Conclusions

We can draw some strong conclusions.

  • We do not know the truth of what happened or how USG identified Davis to GOP.
  • There are indications that the USG story is false.  Treating it as self-evident requires blinders.

But few care about the these details.  Not the crowds on the streets of Pakistan care.  Nor do most of our geopolitical experts.  Nor do most of our journalists.  The Pakistani news media have covered this story in detail.  As usual with journalists outside the herd-like US media, they provided high-quality and detailed coverage (beyond anything found in the US news media) — and total fiction.  This allow many US experts to dismiss their coverage in total, which might otherwise shake their blinders (painful!).

We can mindlessly accept what we are told.  That worked in the 20th century, allowing America to become the sole superpower.  Helped by the self-immolation of our competitors in WWI and WWII, and the internal collapse of the USSR due (communism fail).  The 21st century will offer stronger challenges to us.  We will have to do better.  We can do better.

For more information:  other posts about the Raymond Davis affairs

  1. The Raymond Davis incident shows that we’re often ignorant because we rely on the US news media.  There is a solution., 18 February 2011
  2. How to lose an ally: updates on the Raymond Davis affair, 20 February 2011
  3. The core of the dispute with Pakistan about Raymond Davis (let’s understand it before it sparks fires with Pakistan), 25 February 2011

12 thoughts on “An explanation of the US and Pakistan governments’ odd behavior in the Raymond Davis affair”

  1. Expert reactions

    The comments received from geopolitical experts (broadly speaking) on this post are binary in nature.

    (1) Outrage or mockery for doubting the US government’s version, and believing what Pakistani officials and news media can be right when it contradicts what the US government says (this is slightly exaggerated for effect, but not much).

    (2) Some form of agreement. As in “You’re just suggesting in public what everyone else is suggesting in private.”

  2. About the NYT excuses for not accurately reporting, update

    (1) Statement by Arthur S. Brisbane, the Public Editor of the New York Times, 26 Feburary 2011 — Excerpt:

    The Times’s disclosure on Monday that it withheld information about Raymond Davis’s connection to the Central Intelligence Agency has kicked up a powerful response, some of it as bitterly critical as these readers’ comments.

    … on Feb. 8, the State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, contacted the executive editor, Bill Keller, with a request. “He was asking us not to speculate, or to recycle charges in the Pakistani press,” Mr. Keller said. “His concern was that the letters C-I-A in an article in the NYT, even as speculation, would be taken as authoritative and would be a red flag in Pakistan.”

    Mr. Crowley told me the United States was concerned about Mr. Davis’s safety while in Pakistani custody. The American government hoped to avoid inflaming Pakistani opinion and to create “as constructive an atmosphere as possible” while working to resolve the diplomatic crisis.

    The agreement with United States news organizations, which included The Associated Press and The Washington Post as well as The Times, held together until early last week. But on Sunday, the British newspaper The Guardian, quoting an unnamed “senior Pakistani intelligence official,” reported that Mr. Davis worked for the C.I.A. and that American news organizations knew that “but have kept it under wraps at the request of the Obama administration.”

    Even then, the State Department had one more request — that The Times and others wait 24 hours while the United States worked to secure Pakistani authorities’ commitment to place Mr. Davis in the “safest possible location.” The Times delayed further, but on Monday afternoon published a story saying Mr. Davis was a private contractor providing security to a “covert, C.I.A.-led team collecting intelligence and conducting surveillance on militant groups.”

    In that story, The Times noted its agreement to “withhold information about Mr. Davis’s ties to the agency at the request of the Obama administration.”

    As profoundly unpalatable as it is, I think the Times did the only thing it could do. Agreeing to the State Department’s request was a decision bound to bring down an avalanche of criticism and, even worse, impose serious constraints on The Times’s journalism. The alternative, though, was to take the risk that reporting the C.I.A. connection would, as warned, lead to Mr. Davis’s death.

    For nearly two weeks, The Times tried to report on the Davis affair while sealing off the C.I.A connection. In practice, this meant its stories contained material that, in the cold light of retrospect, seems very misleading.

    … How can a news outlet stay credible when readers learn later that it has concealed what it knows?

    (2) Excerpt from Glenn Greenwald’s comment about this at Salon:

    When the Government wants something censored – and newspapers comply – the claim is ALWAYS that publishing it will “endanger lives.” That’s what they said about the Pentagon Papers. It’s how Bush got the NYT to sit on the NSA story for a year. It’s what they claimed about Dana Priest’s disclosure of CIA black sites.

    Now that the Guardian published this, is Raymond Davis dead? You don’t think the Pakistanis already knew or strongly suspected he was with the CIA? They’ve been screaming that at the top of their lungs for weeks.

  3. More about our journalists acting as government lapdogs, update

    (1) Interview on the the BBC News

    Date and show not given. See the video here — Excerpt:

    BILL KELLER (Executive of the New York Times): The charge the administration has made is directed at WikiLeaks: they’ve very carefully refrained from criticizing the press for the way we’ve handled this material . . . . We’ve redacted them to remove the names of confidential informants . . . and remove other material at the recommendation of the U.S. Government we were convinced could harm National Security . . .

    BBC HOST: Just to be clear, Bill Keller, are you saying that you sort of go to the Government in advance and say: “What about this, that and the other, is it all right to do this and all right to do that,” and you get clearance, then?

    KELLER: We are serially taking all of the cables we intend to post on our website to the administration, asking for their advice. We haven’t agreed with everything they suggested to us, but some of their recommendations we have agreed to: they convinced us that redacting certain information would be wise.

    CARNE ROSS (UK advisor to the UN 1998-2002): One thing that Bill Keller just said makes me think that one shouldn’t go to The New York Times for these telegrams — one should go straight to the WikiLeaks site. It’s extraordinary that the New York Times is clearing what it says about this with the U.S. Government, but that says a lot about the politics here, where Left and Right have lined up to attack WikiLeaks – some have called it a “terrorist organization.”

    (2) Articles by Gleen Greenwald at Salon giving more examples (with links)

    (a) WikiLeaks reveals more than just government secrets“, 30 November 2010 — “The WikiLeaks disclosure has revealed not only numerous government secrets, but also the driving mentality of major factions in our political and media class. Simply put, there are few countries in the world with citizenries and especially media outlets more devoted to serving, protecting and venerating government authorities than the U.S.”

    (b) The NYT’s journalistic obedience“, 21 February 2011

    (c) The military/media attacks on the Hastings article“, 27 February 2011

  4. Another lapdog barks, update on

    Our Man in Pakistan, Christopher Hitchens, Slate, 28 February 2011 — “The dreadful treatment of Raymond Davis is a reminder of how dysfunctional our relationship with Pakistan has become”

    It does occur to Hitchens that the US story might be false. US government press releases are gospel to most of our geopolitical experts. That there might be two sides to the debate is heresy.

  5. The mainstream news media lies to you for your own good, as a matter of principle, update on

    The Patriotism of the American Media“, Jack Goldsmith, Lawfare, 28 February 2011

    I’m not a regular reader of Lawfare, but it appears to celebrate the death of the Constitution — appluading the extension of government power, explained how it is right and proper under our laws. Here they extend the scope of their advocacy, explaining why the news media should provide uncritical appluase for the government. The national security state is America; we just live under it.

    A comment posted at Salon:

    I’d suggest Goldsmith doesn’t know what he’s looking at re: journalism. He’s seeing all this bowing and scraping among journalists and their institutions and calling it “patriotism”. It’s no more patriotic here than it was at Versailles. These guys are no longer concerned with what is best for the nation as a whole–they’re simply trying to thrive in the court.

  6. Rebuttals shredding the New York Times' justifications for withholding news

    (a) The nationalism bias of journalists“, Glenn Greenwald, Salon, February 2011 — Conclusion:

    One can debate whether it’s good that American media outlets are driven in their reporting by an allegiance to the U.S. government and what these reporters define as America’s “national interests.” But what’s not debatable is that this is far away from an “objective” press, and even further away from an adversarial one. America’s “establishment media” is properly described as such precisely because their overarching objective is to promote and defend establishment interests in what they report to — and conceal from — their readers. That’s precisely why so many people are increasingly turning to other outlets that are emancipated from those biases — foreign media, the Internet, whistle-blowing sites — in order to remain informed.

    (b) Keeping Quiet About Davis“, Amy Davidson, New Yorker, 28 Feburary 2011 — Excerpt:

    So the “only thing” the Times could do was be “misleading”? That question contains a lot of sub-questions. Here are some:

    (1) What was the risk to Davis, exactly? He is in the custody of Pakistan, one of our allies. It is not like he’s being held hostage in a cave somewhere, or on the run. …

    (2) Who was the intended audience, or, rather, non-audience, for the silence? Put differently, who was this supposed to be kidding? Crowley, according to the Times, was not asking the paper to suppress something that hadn’t been reported but, as Keller put it, “not to speculate or recycle charges in the Pakistani press.” So news outlets were asked not to tell Americans, among others, what Pakistanis were already reading? (It is also interesting that this involved elevating the “authoritative” Times and disparaging the Pakistani press—which was actually ahead on the story.) Was the government, beyond its protestations about Davis’s safety, concerned about how this might affect American views of our wars, or cause people here to question elements of our involvement in Pakistan or our use of private contractors? …

  7. Another fine example of a geopolitical experts stating the obvious only after the US government has made it respectable

    Never Fight a Land War in Asia“, George Friedman, Stratfor, 1 March 2011

    Friedman states things that were blindingly obvious in 2001, but could not be said until now because they contradicted the US Government’s narrative. Now that SecDef Gates has said them, these truths can be discussed. Too late, of course.

    Also note that US geopolitics is a no-fault zone, as seen by our experts. No matter how obvious the error, or how many times repeated, it’s nobody’s fault. Certainly not the fault of our senior generals, who in this view just follow orders. See Friedman’s concluding paragraph, giving the excuse used by children — “these things just happen.”

    This is not a policy failure of any particular U.S. president. George W. Bush and Barack Obama have encountered precisely the same problem, which is that the forces that have existed in Eurasia, from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in Korea to the Taliban in Afghanistan, have either been too numerous or too agile (or both) for U.S. ground forces to deal with. In any war, the primary goal is not to be defeated. An elective war in which the criteria for success are unclear and for which the amount of land force is insufficient must be avoided. That is Gates’ message. It is the same one MacArthur delivered, and the one Dwight Eisenhower exercised when he refused to intervene in Vietnam on France’s behalf. As with the Monroe Doctrine, it should be elevated to a principle of U.S. foreign policy, not because it is a moral principle but because it is a very practical one.

  8. A Pakistani general (rtd) explains the significance of the Davis affair, update

    The fallout from the Davis affair“, FB Ali (Brigadier, Pakistan Army, retired), Sic Semper Tyrannis, 1 March 2011 — Well worth reading, IMO. Opening:

    Raymond Davis’s murder trial has begun, while the US continues to press for his repatriation, though now much more circumspectly. Whatever the outcome of these proceedings, this affair has already had a significant impact on the US-Pakistan relationship, and may yet do so also on Pakistan’s internal situation.

  9. The judge rules on Davis' claim of diplomatic immunity, update

    Pakistan court rejects Raymond Davis’s claim of diplomatic immunity“, DNA (Indian), 3 March 2011 — Excerpt:

    In a setback to the US efforts to seek early release of its national Raymond Davis arrested for double murder, a Pakistani court today rejected his claim that he has diplomatic immunity and said it would go ahead with his trial.

    During the last hearing of the case, 37-year-old Davis, a suspected CIA contractor, had filed an application in which he insisted that he had immunity. … After hearing the arguments of defence and prosecution lawyers, judge Aujla said no authentic document had been presented by Davis or the Pakistan government to show that the American national had diplomatic immunity.

    The judge said a note provided by the US embassy was not sufficient to prove Davis’ diplomatic status. He rejected Davis’ application claiming diplomatic immunity and said the court has the jurisdiction to go ahead with his trial.

    When defence lawyers told the judge that they had not been provided all the documents related to the charges levelled against Davis, Aujla directed the prosecution to ensure this was done and adjourned the case till March 8.

    … Davis was represented at today’s hearing by three lawyers, including Zahid Hussain Bukhari, a former judge of the Lahore high court.

  10. Another example of US geopolitical experts misleading us, update

    Our experts and news media work to keep us ignorant. As in this article, where Stratfor again parrots the US government’s story, without even a hint of the evidence suggesting it is false:
    * that it was not a robbery attempt,
    * Davis getting out of the car to shoot one of the men in the back,
    * the dispute about his diplomatic immunity.

    Pakistani Intelligence and the CIA: Mutual Distrust and Suspicion“, Scott Stewart, Stratfor, 3 March 2011

  11. Recommended reading about Pakistan-USA relations

    An Army Without a Country“, Ahmed Rashid, New York Review of Books, 4 March 2011 — Excerpt:

    The assassination on Wednesday of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Federal Minister of Minorities, killed in broad daylight in Islamabad by four gunmen, is one of the most shameful acts of political violence committed by Pakistani extremists. That it comes just two months after the murder of Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab and one of the country’s leading liberal voices makes it all the more chilling. Yet the government and state’s reaction to the two killings has been even more shameful — raising the disturbing possibility that extremism is still being used by the security services in its efforts to oppose Western policies in the region.

    About the author
    Ahmed Rashid is the author of Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia and Taliban, an updated edition of which was published in April. He lives in Lahore.

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