US Embassy building in Pakistan can be used for surveillance: AGP

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Raising objections over a new seven-storey US Embassy building in the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad, the Auditor General of Pakistan had cautioned that its top floor can be “conveniently” used for surveillance of the government offices in the adjacent areas, a media report said. The US government went ahead with the construction of the building without waiting for the prime minister’s approval, Dawn reported.

The revelation comes amidst tensions in the ties between Pakistan and the US after President Donald Trump last month hit out at Islamabad for providing safe havens to “agents of chaos” that kill Americans in Afghanistan and warned Islamabad that it has “much to lose” by harbouring terrorists.

Citing an audit report released by the AGP office, the paper said that the Capital Development Authority (CDA) had withheld the No-Objection Certificate for the US embassy until the approval from the premier, as the CDA can only sanction the construction of up to five-storey buildings in the area. “Despite pending approval by the prime minister, construction had started,” the audit report says.

Citing a report published in Dawn on November 17, 2011, the paper said a CDA official had confirmed that a plan for a new US embassy building had been approved by the authority. The report claims that the CDA chairman had received a letter from security agencies on February 14, 2012, that expressed concerns about the construction of the seven-storey building, saying it “would overtake most of the ministries and other official buildings along the Constitution Avenue”.

The AGP audit report also warned that “in all probabilities, the rooftop of the building will be utilised to install surveillance devices that could be used to monitor government offices in the vicinity”. It acknowledges that the “irregularity” occurred due to the “lack of oversight” and failure of implementation of rules. Despite constant requests made by the AGP, a department accounts committee meeting could not be held, the report adds.

The audit report has recommended a high-level inquiry against the construction of the building and stresses upon “appropriate corrective action”. The building blueprint was approved in January 2012 by a committee comprising officials of the CDA, representatives of Planning, Emergency and Disaster Management and members nominated by the Pakistan Council of Architects and Town Planners. Not one of them had raised an objection at the time. After a local intelligence agency raised concerns, the city managers had decided to limit the height of the building.

The new embassy building was inaugurated in July 2015. “The intelligence agency asked the CDA to explain how it could approve a seven-storey structure in the Diplomatic Enclave and urged the CDA to take appropriate action,” the paper added.

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