Based on reports by the Associated Press quoting sources familiar with Dr. Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, the 32-year-old Jordanian physician who turned against his Jordanian intelligence recruiters and struck the CIA’s forward operating base Camp Chapman in Khost province near the Afghan-Pakistan frontier on December 30 killing seven Central Intelligence Agency employees and his Jordanian recruiter, al-Balawi matched the psychological profile of a suicide bomber.
This undated image provided by ABC News purports to show Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, the suspected Jordanian double agent who killed seven CIA officers in Afghanistan on Dec. 30, 2009. (Photo: ABC News / The Associated Press)
As reported by the Associated Press on Jan. 5, a close relative of al-Balawi’s and high-school friend Mohammed Yousef “described the bomber as ‘brilliant,’ a devout Muslim, well-mannered, well-spoken, but a little anti-social.” [Note: The correct term is asocial, meaning a loner; not antisocial, which refers to a psychopathic character structure.]
January 7, 2010 Update
The New York Times quotes al-Balawi’s mother, Shanara Fadel al-Balawi, as telling Agence France-Presse that her son was “conscientious” and “a good student” at a Jordanian public school. This characterization is consistent with and reinforces my initial Jan. 5 assessment.
Mrs. al-Balawi also described her son as someone who “was never an extremist,” and who had applied last year for a visa to study in the United States. Although this information is not directly pertinent to Humam al-Balawi’s psychological profile, it does provide important contextual information.
Of similar diagnostic value with reference to psychological profiling is the characterization of al-Balawi by a brother, who declined to give his first name, as a “very good brother” and a “brilliant doctor” who had been “changed” by last year’s three-week-long Israeli offensive in Gaza, which killed about 1,300 Palestinians.
Source: “Jordanian bombers path remains a mystery to his family” by Stephen Farrell, New York Times, Jan. 7, 2010.
The thumbnail sketch by individuals closely acquainted with al-Balawi offers a precise match for the puritanical compulsive terrorist type represented by 9/11 hijack ringleader Mohamed Atta – the unobtrusive, disciplined operative willing to sacrifice himself for a “higher cause” — that I red-flagged in a confidential report to the CIA in March 2005.
In view of the vital national security interests of the U.S. and its allies in the war on terror to accurately profile and preempt future attacks by this type of terrorist operative, I’m releasing an executive summary of my 2005 report.
Key Leadership Roles in a Global-Reach Terrorist Operation
Personality Profiles of Three Al-Qaeda Leaders
Personality assessment of three al-Qaeda leaders in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the United States provides evidence for a rudimentary model of the leadership roles required for major terrorist operations. This model has implications for combating terror.
Osama bin Laden
Assessment of Osama bin Laden (Immelman 2002a), founder and leader of al-Qaeda, shows he is highly ambitious and exploitative (i.e., narcissistic), with adventurous and dissenting (i.e., antisocial) tendencies. Narcissistic leaders are bold, competitive, self-assured, and frequently charismatic; they easily assume leadership roles, expect others to recognize their special qualities, and often act as though entitled. Antisocial leaders are bold, courageous, and tough; are minimally constrained by the norms of society; routinely engage in high-risk adventures; are not overly concerned about the welfare of others; are skilled in the art of social influence; and are adept at surviving on the strength of their talents, ingenuity, and wits.
Bin Laden’s blend of narcissistic and antisocial personality patterns suggests the presence of the unprincipled narcissist syndrome. This character complex combines the narcissist’s arrogant sense of self-worth, exploitative indifference to the welfare of others, and grandiose expectation of special recognition with the antisocial personality’s self-aggrandizement, deficient social conscience, and disregard for the rights of others.
A major implication is that bin Laden neither fits the profile of the highly conscientious, closed-minded religious fundamentalist, nor that of the religious martyr who combines these qualities with devout, self-sacrificing features; rather, it suggests that bin Laden is adept at exploiting Islamic fundamentalism in the service of his own ambition and personal dreams of glory. In the war on terrorism, information operations can be used to undermine the moral authority of the charismatic leader.
Assessment of Ayman al-Zawahiri (Immelman & Kuhlmann, 2003), reportedly chief strategist for al-Qaeda operations prior to 9/11, shows that he is highly contentious and oppositional (i.e., negativistic), with highly dominant and controlling (i.e., sadistic) tendencies.
The amalgam of negativistic and sadistic personality patterns in Zawahiri’s profile suggests the presence of the abrasive negativist syndrome. For these personalities, minor frictions easily exacerbate into major confrontations and power struggles. They characteristically take the moral high ground, dogmatically and contemptuously expose their antagonists perceived hypocrisy, and contemptuously, derisively, and scornfully turn on those who cross their path.
The study offers an empirically based psychological framework for conceptualizing Ayman al-Zawahiri’s antagonistic negativism, single-minded commitment to a cause and inflammatory rhetoric. The major implication is that it highlights the importance of a committed, persuasive, “true believer” in a strategic position close to the charismatic leader.
Assessment of 9/11 hijack ringleader Mohamed Atta (Immelman 2002b) indicates a highly conscientious (i.e., compulsive), introverted (i.e., schizoid) individual with secondary self-denying (i.e., masochistic) features.
Atta’s personality profile suggests the presence of the puritanical compulsive syndrome. This composite character complex is rooted in deep ambivalence between obedience and defiance, and characterized by the dual ego defenses of reaction formation against forbidden thoughts and sadistic displacement of hostile impulses. The masochistic elements in Atta’s profile provide a partial, personality-based explanatory framework for his willingness to sacrifice his life as a martyr for his cause.
The major implication is that political socialization experiences that produce a compulsive character structure – one manifestation of which is the classic authoritarian personality – may predispose a person to suicidal acts of terror (so-called “martyrdom”) when molded by a political culture that promotes religious fanaticism. In the war on terrorism, the ability of security personnel to identify the external features of this personality pattern can increase the probability of detecting terror operatives inside the United States and at our borders.
Summary and Formulation
Collectively, these three studies suggest three critical roles in terrorist organizations: (1) A narcissistic, charismatic leader devoid of core values beyond personal self-interest, adept at exploiting others in pursuit of their grandiose ambitions; (2) strategic-thinking “true believers” without constraints of conscience in the levels of violence they are willing to employ in their single-minded pursuit of mission; and (3) unobtrusive, disciplined operatives willing to sacrifice themselves for a “higher cause.” The presence of such radically different personality types occupying key roles in a terrorist organization has practical implications for fighting terrorism.
Immelman, A. (2002a, July). The personality profile of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Paper presented at the Twenty-Fifth Annual Scientific Meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology, Berlin, Germany.
Immelman, A. (2002b, July). The personality profile of September 11 hijack ringleader Mohamed Atta. Paper presented at the Twenty-Fifth Annual Scientific Meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology, Berlin, Germany.
Immelman, A., & Kuhlmann, K. (2003, July). “Bin Laden’s Brain”: The abrasively negativistic personality of Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri. Paper presented at the Twenty-Sixth Annual Scientific Meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology, Boston, MA.
Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, AKA Abu Dujanah al-Khurasani
(Photo credit: Al Jazeera)
Wife says CIA bomber saw U.S. as adversary (AP, Jan. 7, 2010)
CIA bombers intel led to successes (NBC, Jan. 6, 2010)
CIA officers double-crossed (MSNBC, Jan. 5, 2010) – Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., talks about the al-Qaida double agent who killed seven CIA agents and a member of the Jordanian royal family. (03:54)
Topical reports on this site
CIA Bomber’s Tangled Web (March 4, 2010)
New Details in CIA Bombing (Jan. 10, 2010)
CIA Zawahiri Team Decimated (Jan. 4, 2010)
Where is Osama Bin Laden? (Dec. 10, 2009)
Osama bin Laden Personality Profile (Dec. 6, 2009)
Chuck Hagel on National Defense (Sept. 3, 2009)
Ayman al-Zawahiri Personality Profile (June 3, 2009)
USPP Terrorist Profiles
Abstracts of terrorist profiles developed at the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics:
3/25/2012 Topical report
“Roger” (the first name of his cover identity), chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center for the past six years, has been the principal architect of the CIA’s drone campaign and the leader of the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
By Greg Miller
March 24, 2012
Given his attention to operational detail, Roger is seen by some as culpable for one of the agency’s most tragic events — the deaths of seven CIA employees at the hands of a suicide bomber who was invited to a meeting at a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, in December 2009.
An internal review concluded that the assailant, a Jordanian double-agent who promised breakthrough intelligence on al-Qaeda leaders, had not been fully vetted, and it cited failures of “management oversight.” But neither Roger nor other senior officers were mentioned by name.
One of those killed, Jennifer Matthews, was a highly regarded analyst and protege of Roger’s who had been installed as chief of the base despite a lack of operational experience overseas. A person familiar with the inquiry said that “the CTC chief’s selection of [Matthews] was one of a great number of things one could point to that were weaknesses in the way the system operated.”
Khost represented the downside of the agency’s desperation for new ways to penetrate al-Qaeda, an effort that was intensified under President Obama.
Roger’s connection to Khost and his abrasive manner may have cost him — he has been passed over for promotions several times, including for the job he is thought to have wanted most: director of the National Clandestine Service, which is responsible for all CIA operations overseas.
But current and former senior U.S. intelligence officials said it is no accident that Roger’s tenure has coincided with a remarkably rapid disintegration of al-Qaeda — and the killing of bin Laden last year. …
FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — January 5, 2009
One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I reported that Vice President Dick Cheney, in an exit interview on CBS “Face the Nation,” defended the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, of which he was a key proponent and architect.
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