- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 15, 2011

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani army denied Wednesday that one of its majors was among the Pakistanis who Western officials say were arrested for feeding the CIA information before the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The New York Times, which first reported the arrests of five Pakistani informants Tuesday, said among the detained was an army major who copied license plates of cars visiting the al-Qaeda chief’s compound in Pakistan in the weeks before the raid.

A Western official in Pakistan confirmed that five Pakistanis who fed information to the CIA before the May 2 operation were arrested by Pakistan’s top intelligence service.

Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas denied an army major was arrested, saying the report was “false and totally baseless.” Neither the army nor Pakistan’s spy agency would confirm or deny the overall report about the detentions.

The group of detained Pakistanis included the owner of a safe house rented to the CIA to observe bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, an army town not far from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, a U.S. official said. The owner was detained along with a “handful” of other Pakistanis, the official said.

The Western officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence matters.

The fate of the purported CIA informants who were arrested was unclear, but American officials told the Times that CIA Director Leon E. Panetta raised the issue when he visited Islamabad last week to meet with Pakistani military and intelligence officers.

U.S.-Pakistani relations have been strained by the raid by Navy SEALs on Pakistani territory, which embarrassed the country’s military, and other issues.

One cause of tension between the two countries is U.S. drone missile strikes targeting militants in Pakistan’s tribal region near the Afghan border.

Three attacks Wednesday targeted suspected terrorist compounds and a vehicles in south and north Waziristan tribal areas, killing at least 15 suspected insurgents, according to Pakistani intelligence officials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Pakistani officials often denounce the strikes in public, even though many are believed to support them in private. That support has been strained since the bin Laden raid, especially because the strikes are unpopular with the Pakistani public.

Officials said the arrests of the suspected informants were just the latest evidence of the fractured relationship between the two nations.

The Times said that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, at a closed briefing last week, asked Deputy CIA director Michael Morell to rate Pakistan’s cooperation with the United States on counterterrorism operations, on a scale of 1 to 10.

“Three,” Mr. Morell replied, according to officials familiar with the exchange, the newspaper said.