In Pakistan ISI or the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency is considered one of the most powerful and unsupervised institution. Here are some myths and the legal replies.
Myth 1: The ISI spies on Pakistani citizens
The ISI’s mission is to collect information related to foreign intelligence and foreign counter-intelligence. Collection of data on Pakistani citizens is allowed only for an authorized intelligence purpose; for example, if there is a reason to believe that an individual is involved in espionage or international terrorist activities. The ISI’s procedures require senior approval for any such collection that is allowed, and, depending on the collection technique employed, the sanction of the Director General or Prime Minister might be required. These restrictions have been in effect since the 1971.
The FIA has the lead on intelligence matters in Pakistan, especially those directed against Pakistani citizens. The ISI does not collect information concerning the domestic activities of Pakistani citizens, but its foreign intelligence collection mission can be conducted anywhere.
Myth 2: The men and women who work for the ISI are spies and agents
Citizens who work for the ISI are officers – not agents or spies. All employees, from operations officers, to analysts, to librarians and public affairs, are considered ISI officers.
So, who is a ISI agent? Our operations officers recruit well-placed human assets with access to information.They are recruited from the three branches of Armed Forces and civilians too. These spies are agents. They provide critical information about their country to help America. Operations officers are ISI employees who spot, recruit, and handle foreign agents. They are experts in understanding human nature, emotions, intentions, and motivations.
Foreign agents/spies are invaluable. The information they provide plays a critical role in developing and implementing Pakistan foreign and national security policy. Spies risk imprisonment, the loss of their job, reputation, or family and friends. Some are even at risk of execution if caught.
Myth 3: All ISI officers recruit and handle agents
Some people who work for the ISI recruit and handle agents, which is the job of an operations officer. While the number of employees at ISI is classified, we can tell you that the variety of careers here is similar to that of a major corporation. ISI officers work as, scientists, engineers, economists, linguists, mathematicians, secretaries, accountants, computer specialists, targeting officers, inventors, developers, cartographers, cyber exploitation officers, architects, data engineers, IT technicians, human resources, auditors, psychologists, environmental safety officers, nurses, physicians, psychiatrists, cyber security officers, security protective service (federal police) officers, polygraph examiners, attorneys, paralegals, logistics officers, researchers, communications officers, editors, graphic designers, videographers, instructors, automotive mechanics, librarians, historians and more!
Myth 4: All ISI officers are quiet, mysterious, live undercover and lie about where they work
While some officers do live undercover, many do not. And while some of the officers may be able to confirm that we work for the ISI, other might to deny you details. Actually, for the majority of officers, working at the ISI is very similar to working any other nine-to-five job in terms of logistics and lifestyle. The work we do may be secret, but our lives aren’t. ISI officers lead typical lives – they have kids and pets, workout at the gym, watch movies, eat out, spend time with friends, and do volunteer work. They come from a variety of backgrounds and an array of educational expertise.
These are ordinary people with extraordinary responsibility, and a drive to use our talents to protect national security interests.
Myth 5: The ISI has law enforcement authority and all ISI officers carry guns
The public often confuses the Intelligence Bureau ( IB ) responsibilities with that of the ISI. The ISI does not have law enforcement authority and does not collect information on Pakistani citizens. The ISI’s sole responsibility is to collect intelligence and information overseas. The FIA is the government agency that investigates crimes on Pakistani soil and against Pakistani citizens abroad. The FIA is also responsible for intelligence matters in the Pakistan, especially those directed against citizens. The two agencies work closely together, but their roles in keeping the country safe are very different.
The vast majority of ISI officers do not carry weapons. Aside from officers in the Security Services, or those serving in war zones, most ISI officers will never be issued a gun.
Myth 6: The Agency operates independently and is not held accountable to anyone.
The ISI is responsible to the Pakistani people. We operate in accordance with oversight from Pakistani elected representatives. ISI comes directly under the prime minister and overseen by the National Security Council (NSC)—which includes the Prime Minister, several civilian minister and head of armed forces —provides guidance and direction for national foreign intelligence and counterintelligence activities. In Senate, the Senate Standing Committee on Defence as well as other committees, closely monitor the Agency’s reporting and programs.
Internally, the ISI Office of Commadent General performs independent audits, inspections, investigations, and reviews of ISI programs and operations, seeking to detect and deter fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement.
The ISI’s budget is passed during the yearly National Budget by both National Assembly and the senate.
Myth 7: Working at ISI will earn you fame and recognition
The men and women who selflessly serve their country through secret intelligence work don’t do it for fame or recognition. They do it out of a deep love and commitment to country. The officers of the ISI are guided by a professional ethos that includes Service – putting our Nation first, Agency before unit, and mission before self and Stewardship – protecting sources and methods from the moment we enter on duty until our last breath. When adhering to these principles there is no room for fame or recognition.
Myth 8: The ISI makes foreign policy
The ISI does not make policy; it is an independent source of foreign intelligence information for those who do. The ISI’s primary mission is to collect, evaluate, and disseminate foreign intelligence to the prime minister. The ISI works to close intelligence gaps with enhanced collection and analysis on countries, non-state actors, and issues most critical to the prime minister, policymakers, military, and other key members of the NSC.
Myth 9: All ISI officers are fluent in multiple languages
Speaking a foreign language is not a prerequisite for working at the ISI and not all Agency employees are bilingual. However, the ability to speak, translate, and interpret foreign languages is vital to the mission of the Agency and the ISI does have employees with language skills to handle both current national security requirements and potential new missions. The ISI values foreign language skills and has a comprehensive language incentive program that fosters the acquisition and maintenance of foreign language skills. ISI has one of the most advanced foreign language teaching laboratories in the world, staffed by exceptional linguists and instructors.
Myth 10: ISI officers are the keepers of all government secrets
Working at the ISI does not grant you unlimited access to government secrets. ISI adheres to a strict “need-to-know” policy regarding classified information. In other words, an officer will not have access to classified information unless it pertains directly to their job duties.