A Pakistani official denied Wednesday that an officer in its army was among those detained for allegedly helping the CIA track Osama bin Laden to the compound where U.S. forces killed him in May.
The New York Times, quoting unnamed sources, first reported the detention of five alleged informants Tuesday, saying a Pakistani army major who recorded license plate numbers of cars visiting the compound was among those detained.
A Western official in Pakistan confirmed that five Pakistanis were detained in connection with the May 2 raid by U.S. Navy SEALs on the compound in Abbottabad, 30 miles northeast of Islamabad.
But at a news conference, Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the report of the major's detention was "false and totally baseless." Neither the army nor Pakistan's spy agency would confirm or deny the overall report about the detentions.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Robert Gates downplayed the events on Capitol Hill.
"Most government lie to each other," he said. "That's how business gets done."
NPR's Rachel Martin quoted a Pakistani official as saying the media were blowing the issue out of proportion.
"He said Pakistan is well within its rights to detain and question people who are accused of giving information to a foreign intelligence agency working on its soil," Martin told All Things Considered host Robert Siegel. "And that is how many in Pakistan view the CIA and its operation against bin Laden."
She said Pakistan is also saying that the men were picked up soon after bin Laden's death, and the move wasn't an affront to the CIA.
Martin said the perception in the U.S. is different.
"Folks who watch the U.S.-Pakistan relationship in this country say this is just one more indicator that the relationship has just derailed – that Pakistan and the U.S. simply have different objectives when it comes to counterterrorism and there's a deep level of distrust on both sides," she said.
NPR's Julie McCarthy, reporting from Islamabad, said the differing narratives emerging from Pakistan and the U.S. were "another indication perhaps of how each one is seeking to portray this post-Osama bin Laden reality."
Pakistanis, she said, are deeply angered by the U.S. raid, which they see as a violation of their country's sovereignty. Pakistanis "are also angry at their own army to a certain extent for allowing the Americans to swoop in and take bin Laden undetected," she told Morning Edition.
The detainees included the owner of a CIA safe house that was used to conduct surveillance on the bin Laden hideout in Abbottabad, a U.S. official told AP.
The Pakistani army claims that some of the people detained have been "cleared and released" while others remain in custody, McCarthy said. The army has sidestepped the question of whether a crime was committed, saying only that the individuals were detained as part of an "ongoing investigation" into the raid, she said.
American officials told the Times that CIA Director Leon Panetta raised the issue of the fate of the informants when he visited Islamabad last week to meet with Pakistani military and intelligence officers.
"I think what we're witnessing here is mounting revelations that demonstrate a sort of crumbling relationship," between Washington, D.C., and Islamabad, McCarthy said. "Still, the United States is very keen to get it back on track."
The Associated Press contributed to this report