Who really killed Syed Saleem Shahzad?

Syed Saleem Shahzad, a Pakistani investigative journalist, was founded dead in a canal in North-East Pakistan in May-June 2011. There is still no clarity on who actually killed him. But the email exchanges below throw some light on what Shahzad’s work was and who might have got him killed. These emails, between executives of global intelligence company Stratfor, were published by Wikileaks under the name ‘The Global Intelligence Files’.

Below is the entire mail trail on what might have happened to Syed Saleem Shahzad.

——– Original Message ——–
Subject: Pakistan Journalist Vanishes: Is the ISI
Date: Tue, 31 May 2011 13:15:00 -0500
From: Fred Burton <[email protected]>
To: OS <[email protected]>

Fears are growing for the safety of a well-known Pakistani journalist who has been missing for 39 hours now and, according to an international advocacy group, is believed to be in the custody of Pakistan’s controversial Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Human Rights Watch declared that Syed Saleem Shahzad, a reporter working for the Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online and Adnkronos International, the Italian news agency, could be subject to mistreatment and even torture while in custody.

UPDATE: Pakistan’s main news channels are reporting that Shahzad’s dead body has been found. One news channel broadcast what appeared to be a black and white image of Shahzad’s face. There were visible signs of torture..

Read more:


From: Fred Burton <[email protected]>
Date: Tue, 31 May 2011 19:18:28 -0500 (CDT)
To: Kamran Bokhari<[email protected]>
Cc: Secure List<[email protected]>

Subject: Re: Fwd: Pakistan Journalist Vanishes: Is the ISI Involved?

I’m not surprised. Have we confirmed he’s dead?

On 5/31/2011 7:16 PM, Kamran Bokhari wrote:

Heard that the ISI agents who were “interrogating” him didn’t realize he had a heart condition and when they began the thrashing the guy had a heart attack and died.

On 5/31/2011 2:17 PM, Fred Burton wrote:
A reasonable man would conclude that the chap was on the CIA dole, but you did not hear that from me. Payback is a bitch.


From: “Kamran Bokhari” <[email protected]>
To: “Fred Burton” <[email protected]>, “Kamran Bokhari” <[email protected]>
Cc: “Secure List” <[email protected]>
Sent: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 7:28:02 PM
Subject: Re: Fwd: Pakistan Journalist Vanishes: Is the ISI Involved?

Yes, he is dead. But the question is why create this new crisis when there are no shortages of crises.

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From: Reva Bhalla <[email protected]>
Date: Tue, 31 May 2011 19:29:03 -0500 (CDT)
To: <[email protected]>
Cc: Secure List<[email protected]>; Fred
Burton<[email protected]>
Subject: Re: Pakistan Journalist Vanishes: Is the ISI Involved?

is it that much of a crisis?


From: “Kamran Bokhari” <[email protected]>
Date: Tue, 31 May 2011 19:36:07 -0500 (CDT)
To: Reva Bhalla<[email protected]>; Kamran
Bokhari<[email protected]>
ReplyTo: [email protected]
Cc: Secure List<[email protected]>; Fred
Burton<[email protected]>
Subject: Re: Pakistan Journalist Vanishes: Is the ISI Involved?

Pretty big one. Domestic and int’l media shit-storm about how ISI brutally killed a journalist who uncovered ties between navy and aQ. The big thing now is aQ penetration of ISI.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T


From: Fred Burton <[email protected]>
Date: Wed, 1 Jun 2011 07:51:53 -0500 (CDT)
To: Sean Noonan<[email protected]>
Cc: Secure List<[email protected]>
Subject: Re: Pakistan Journalist Vanishes: Is the ISI Involved?


Note his May 20 book release.

He was living on borrowed time operating in the belly of the beast. His last interview is telling. Regardless, he’s dead. Life on the edge.

On 6/1/2011 6:34 AM, Sean Noonan wrote:
Did y’all read his most recent story?


These three stories are pretty good on his death and what was going on:

  • http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-05-31/syed-saleem-shahzad-suspicions-fall-on-pakistansisi-in-journalists-death/#
  • http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/leading-journalist-murdered-by-pakistani-security-service-2291604.html
  • http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2074800,00.html#ixzz1NxHaX4xA

Just throwing ideas out here. This is such a clusterfuck I don’t know what to think.

His next was to be “Next: Recruitment and training of militants” So who was doing the recruitment and training, huh? If it’s anything like the first half, it sounds like he’s going to accuse someone in the Pakistani military. Maybe they wanted to stop that?

Excerpt of new book on AQ and friends. Says the Mumbai plan was ISI’s and a dude under Kashmiri at LeT carried it out: http://www.syedsaleemshahzad.com/2011/05/who-masterminded-mumbai-attack/ It seems just as likely jihadists could go after him for exposing their location (or that they thought he exposed it).

The reports I’ve read through of ‘torture’ were really just that he had been hit in the face. That’s probably pretty typical of any militant or criminal outfit, and while the other reports of his ISI meetings were more peaceful, it wouldn’t be that difficult for them to go that far either.

Here’s his email to the HRW: http://asiancorrespondent.com/56321/saleem-shahzad-dead-another-one-bites-the-dust/

For future reference:

Meeting details as on October 17, 2010 at the ISI headquarters Islamabad between DG Media Wing ISI, Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir and Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Bureau Chief Pakistan for Asia Times Online (Hong Kong). Commodore Khalid Pervaiz, the Deputy Director General of Media Wing ISI was also present during the conversation.

Agenda of the meeting: discussion on Asia Times Online story published on October 15, 2010, titled Pakistan frees Taliban commander (see http://atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/LJ16Df02.html).

The meeting discussed the following issues.

1- Syed Saleem Shahzad told Rear Admiral Adnan that an intelligence channel leaked the story. However, he added that story was published only after a confirmation from the most credible Taliban source. Syed also explained that DG ISPR was sent a text message about the story, but he did not respond.

2- Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir had the view that story caused a lot of embracement for the country but observed that issuing a denial from the government side is no solution. He suggested Syed Saleem Shahzad should write a denial of the story.

3- Syed Shahzad refused to comply with demand and termed it impractical.

4- Rear Admiral Adnan was curious to know the source of the story as it is a shame that information would leak from the office of a high profile intelligence service.

5- Syed Shahzad called it an intelligence leak but did not specify the source.

6- The conversation was held in an extremely polite and friendly atmosphere and there was no mince word in the room at any stage. Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir also offered Syed Saleem Shahzad a favor in following words.

“I must give you a favor. We have recently arrested a terrorist and have recovered a lot of data, dairies and other material during the interrogation. The terrorist had a hit list with him. If I find your name in the list, I will certainly let you know,”
(end of email)

On 5/31/11 7:56 PM, [email protected] wrote:

I’m sure the ISI extracted a confession of his CIA work before he died. There will be a leaked story about his double agent work and the Pakis rub the CIA’s nose in it. Its what intel agencies do. Tit for tat. The world will soon forget him. Price one pays for playing the game.

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The most interesting aspect is the killing of a journalist. Fine line between an investigative journalist and spy. When you rattle around topics nobody wants aired, you pay the price. Truth tellers always get shot. Its much easier to lie or make up stories.

On 6/1/2011 8:46 AM, Sean Noonan wrote:


i don’t think we’re going anywhere with this SSS thing, though it is interesting.

On 6/1/11 8:41 AM, Fred Burton wrote:

The poor bastard went down the rabbit hole and was neutralized. ISI is fully infiltrated by sympathizers and operatives. So, he was killed by ISI. Will we find a smoking gun? No. Will anybody care about this dude? Not really. The Agency lost an asset. Life goes on. There is a reason the CIA set up unilateral operations in Pakistan.

Suggest everyone read David Ignatius new book on CIA NOC and front company operations in Pakistan. Once again, he has gotten dead right.

On 6/1/2011 8:06 AM, Sean Noonan wrote:

the question, though, is still who did it. It means very different things if it is the ISI, the traditional military, or the jihadists. Then a question of who within those groups can also mean different things. Not saying we can answer that very easily, but who specifically killed who (with the support of who) would explain if there is an issue or not. Operating between the intelligence services and jihadists is a very, very dangerous place- so it’s not all that surprising that these deaths occur. And as tensions go up, so will those deaths. But we would have to know the same people were involved in the deaths to really know what ‘the issue’ actually is.

On 6/1/11 7:59 AM, Kamran Bokhari wrote:

The issue is not the man himself (though I am personally spooked out because I knew him and we met not too long ago and he wrote on my fb wall a day before he went missing). Instead the issue is the growing number of deaths of people who have been supportive of jihadists. Recall KK and Col Imam and now Triple-S. The other thing is that each of these 3 people were with the ISI at one point. A former army chief confirmed to me that SSS was at one point on the payroll. Each of these guys had a falling out with the official ISI but maintained links deep within the service. These guys have also had ties to jihadists of one type while pissing off other more radical types.

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