This article appears in today's New York Times.
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has confirmed publicly for the first time that an imprisoned doctor in Pakistan was working with the C.I.A. to gain access to Osama bin Laden’s compound in the months before American troops killed Bin Laden last May.
Mr. Panetta, in an interview on the CBS News program “60 Minutes” to be broadcast Sunday, also said he believed that some officials in Pakistan knew that Bin Laden was hiding in the sprawling Abbottabad compound that was encircled with walls 18 feet high. CBS released excerpts from the interview on Saturday.
“It was the largest compound in the area,” Mr. Panetta said. “So, you would have thought that somebody would have asked the question, ‘What the hell’s going on there?’ ”
Mr. Panetta said that his beliefs were based on a hunch rather than any hard evidence, and American officials have said privately that the cache of electronic files seized at Bin Laden’s compound contain no proof that Pakistani authorities were protecting Bin Laden.
Still, Mr. Panetta, who was the director of the C.I.A. when the raid occurred, said that one of the reasons the Obama administration did not notify Pakistan’s government before the Navy Seal raid last May was that American spy agencies had previously spotted Pakistani military helicopters flying over the compound and were concerned that Pakistani authorities might tip off Bin Laden.
Mr. Panetta is the first American official to publicly confirm that a Pakistani doctor imprisoned by Pakistan’s intelligence service in the days after the Bin Laden raid had been working for the C.I.A., collecting intelligence in Abbottabad.
American officials have said that the doctor, Shikal Afridi, had been running a phony hepatitis B vaccination program as a ruse to obtain DNA evidence from members of Bin Laden’s family, who were thought to be holed up in the Abbottabad compound.
Obtaining DNA at the compound would have allowed Americans to match the samples with Bin Laden family DNA evidence on file at the C.I.A., providing evidence that Bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad.
American officials have said that the doctor gained access to the compound but never saw Bin Laden and was not successful in getting any DNA samples.
Still, Mr. Panetta said in the “60 Minutes” interview that Mr. Afridi had provided intelligence to the C.I.A. that was “very helpful” to the Bin Laden operation, and he expressed anger that Pakistan had charged the doctor with treason.
“For them to take this kind of action against somebody who was helping to go after terrorism, I just think is a real mistake on their part,” he said.