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Oct 20th, 2010

Officer Failed to Warn C.I.A. Before Attack

CIA director recommends improved procedures to vet sources

Image: CIA bomber Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi
A man reads a copy of a newspaper whose front page shows a photo of suspected suicide bomber Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi in Amman, Jordan, Jan. 9, 2010. (Photo credit: Ali Jarekji / Reuters file)

By Mark Mazzetti

October 20, 2010


WASHINGTON — Three weeks before a Jordanian double agent set off a bomb at a remote Central Intelligence Agency base in eastern Afghanistan last December, a C.I.A. officer in Jordan received warnings that the man might be working for Al Qaeda, according to an investigation into the deadly attack.

But the C.I.A. officer did not tell his bosses of suspicions — brought to the Americans by a Jordanian intelligence officer — that the man might be planning to lure Americans into a trap, according to the recently completed investigation by the agency. Later that month the Qaeda operative, a Jordanian doctor, detonated a suicide vest as he stood among a group of C.I.A. officers at the base.

The internal investigation documents a litany of breakdowns leading to the Dec. 30 attack at the Khost base that killed seven C.I.A. employees, the deadliest day for the spy agency since the 1983 bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut.

Besides the failure to pass on warnings about the bomber, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, the C.I.A. investigation chronicled major security lapses at the base in Afghanistan, a lack of war zone experience among the agency’s personnel at the base, insufficient vetting of the alleged defector and a murky chain of command with different branches of the intelligence agency competing for control over the operation.

Some of these failures mirror other lapses that have bedeviled the sprawling intelligence and antiterrorism community in the past several years, despite numerous efforts at reform.

The report found that the breakdowns were partly the result of C.I.A. officers’ wanting to believe they had finally come across the thing that had eluded them for years: a golden source who could lead them to the terror network’s second highest figure, Ayman al-Zawahri.

As it turned out, the bomber who was spirited onto a base pretending to be a Qaeda operative willing to cooperate with the Americans was actually a double agent who detonated a suicide vest as he stood among a group of C.I.A. officers. “The mission itself may have clouded some of the judgments made here,” said the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, who provided details of the investigation to reporters on Tuesday.

Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, in 2009. He spoke Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010 about an inquiry into an attack at a C.I.A. base in Afghanistan. (Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite / The Associated Press via The New York Times)

Mr. Panetta said that the report did not recommend holding a single person or group of individuals directly accountable for “systemic failures.”

“This is a war,” he said, adding that it is important for the C.I.A. to continue to take on risky missions.

The investigation, conducted by the agency’s counterintelligence division, does, however, make a series of recommendations to improve procedures to vet sources and require that C.I.A. field officers share more information with their superiors.

Mr. Panetta said that he also ordered that a team of counterintelligence experts join the C.I.A. counterterrorism center, and to thoroughly vet the agency’s most promising informants. …

Mr. Panetta said that because he was considered a reliable source, normal security procedures were eased: Mr. Balawi was not subjected to screening at the perimeter of the Khost base, and a large group of C.I.A. officers gathered to greet him when he arrived. …

Read the full report at the New York Times


Related reports on this site

Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi killed seven CIA officers and contractors, a Jordanian intelligence officer, and a driver when he blew himself up at a CIA facility in Afghanistan, on Dec. 30, 2009. Al-Balawi matched the psychological profile of the “puritanical compulsive” type of suicide bomber. (Photo credit: The Associated Press)

CIA Bomber’s Tangled Web (March 4, 2010)

Balawi Fit Suicide Bomber Profile (Jan. 5, 2010)

New Details in CIA Bombing (Jan. 10, 2010)

CIA Zawahiri Team Decimated (Jan. 4, 2010)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — October 20, 2009

Iraq-Afghanistan Casualties

One year ago today, I provided my weekly report of U.S. military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Army Pfc. Brandon M. Styer, 19, Lancaster, Pa., was killed Oct. 15, 2009 at Arghandab River Bridge, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with an IED near Firebase Cobra. He was assigned to the 569th Mobility Augmentation Company, 4th Engineer Battalion, Fort Carson, Colo.

Pfc. Styer was one of 15 Fort Carson soldiers killed in Afghanistan in October 2009, the worst single month for combat deaths the post suffered since the Vietnam War, increasing the tally of Fort Carson soldiers killed in Afghanistan to 32, in addition to 255 killed in Iraq.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — October 20, 2008

Write-in Campaign: Day 2

Two years ago today, on the second day after announcing a write-in campaign against U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District, I featured an interview I did the previous day with KMSP Fox 9 television in the Twin Cities, rebuking Bachmann for her “anti-American” comments on MSNBC “Hardball” with Chris Matthews.

Joining the Race

Fox 9 KMSP
October 20, 2008

Monday, more opponents took aim at Bachmann, including St. John’s University professor Aubrey Immelman, a fellow Republican who is reviving his campaign as a write-in opponent.

Immelman, a Republican from Sartell, Minn., lost to Bachmann in the Republican primary in September. He says he wants his candidacy to be a Republican referendum on Bachmann and the direction the party has taken the country. …

One Response to “CIA Report: Balawi Intel Failure”
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