U.S. fears China got a good look at bin Laden raid wreck

  • Article by: MARK MAZZETTI , New York Times
  • Updated: August 14, 2011 - 10:06 PM

U.S. intelligence eyes Pakistan with distrust. Osama bin Laden's death raid escalated tensions. Pakistan's ties to China are especially troubling.

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A wrecked high-tech U.S. helicopter may have been examined by Chinese engineers, with consent of Pakistani officials.

Photo: Mohammad Zubair, Associated Press

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WASHINGTON - In the days after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Pakistan's intelligence service probably allowed Chinese military engineers to examine the wreckage of a stealth American helicopter that crashed during the operation, according to U.S. officials and others familiar with the classified intelligence assessments.

Such cooperation with China would be provocative, providing further evidence of the depths of Pakistan's anger over the Bin Laden raid, which was carried out without Pakistan's approval. The operation, conducted in early May, also set off an escalating tit-for-tat scuffle between U.S. and Pakistani spies.

U.S. spy agencies have concluded that it is likely that Chinese military engineers -- at the invitation of Pakistani intelligence operatives -- took detailed photographs of the severed tail of the Black Hawk helicopter equipped with classified technology designed to elude radar, the officials said. The members of the Navy SEALs team who conducted the raid had tried to destroy the helicopter after it crashed at Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, but the tail section remained largely intact.

U.S. officials cautioned that they do not yet have definitive proof that the Chinese were allowed to visit to Abbottabad. They said that Pakistani officials had denied that they showed the advanced helicopter technology to foreign governments. One military official said Sunday that Pakistani officials had been directly confronted about the U.S. intelligence.

One person with knowledge of the intelligence assessments said the U.S. case was based mostly on intercepted conversations in which Pakistani officials discussed inviting the Chinese to the crash site. He characterized intelligence officials as being "certain" that Chinese engineers were able to photograph the helicopter and even walk away with samples of the stealth coating.

Pakistan has a close military relationship with China, and large numbers of Chinese engineers work at military bases inside Pakistan. Pakistani officials have even suggested that the Chinese navy might eventually build its own base along Pakistan's coastline.

Several Pakistani officials reached Sunday declined to comment. The U.S. assessments were disclosed Sunday by the Financial Times. The newspaper cited Pakistani officials who denied the accusations.

When pictures of the helicopter's tail emerged in the days after the Bin Laden raid, defense experts said it bore little resemblance to a standard Black Hawk helicopter. They said that the helicopter in Abbottabad appeared to have a special coating designed to elude air defenses and that the Black Hawk's sharp edges seemed to have been replaced with curved parts that could further confuse ground radar systems.

Pakistan's anger about the Bin Laden operation was so intense that officials in Islamabad, the capital, hinted in news reports in May that they might allow the Chinese to see the helicopter wreckage, but it was unclear at the time whether Pakistan's government might follow through on the veiled threats. Pakistani officials also made a high-profile trip to Beijing shortly after the Abbottabad raid, part of a not-so-subtle campaign to show the strength of Pakistan's alliance with China amid faltering relations between Washington and Islamabad.

The relationship between the spy services began fraying in the months before the Bin Laden raid, after a CIA contractor was charged with murder and jailed in Lahore. The contractor, Raymond Davis, killed two men at a crowded traffic stop in Lahore in January, in what U.S. officials described as an act of self- defense after the two men tried to rob Davis.

Davis was eventually released from jail, but U.S. relations with Pakistan declined steadily in subsequent weeks and sank even lower after the Bin Laden raid.

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