NEWS

Panetta: Jordanians Warned CIA about Khost Suicide Bomber

By Joseph Straw

Jordanian intelligence authorities warned the CIA that the source who killed nine people at an agency base in Afghanistan last year might be a double agent, CIA Director Leon Panetta told The Washington Post and other media outlets.

A classified report on the incident cites a series of systemic failures that led to the Dec. 30 incident, in which Saudi-born  Jordanian physician Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, AKA Human Khalil Muhammad, entered Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost Province and detonated a concealed bomb, Panetta said. The suicide attack killed five veteran CIA operatives, two agency contractors, an Afghan driver, and al-Balawi’s handler from Jordan’s General Intelligence Directorate (GID).

Reports soon after the incident cast it as an embarrassment for the GID. Panetta, however, told the Post that al-Balawi’s behavior raised red flags with Jordanian officials:

According to Panetta's account, in early December a Jordanian officer approached one of his CIA counterparts in Amman, Jordan, to share his doubts about Balawi's trustworthiness. The Jordanian said he worried that Balawi might be a double agent, citing behavior that he considered troubling. It was peculiar, the Jordanian said, that Balawi had repeatedly sought to persuade the Americans to meet him in the Taliban stronghold of Miram Shah, a city in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan.

The Jordanian cautioned that Balawi "may be trying to lure us into an ambush," Panetta said.

The GID shared its concerns with a CIA contact, but the official attributed the dissent to infighting within the GID and did not pass them on within the CIA, according to the report.

The GID initially found al-Balawi through his posts on extremists Web sites. The agency and its U.S. counterpart thought that as a radical and a physician he could possibly provide access to al Qaeda second-in command Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is also a doctor.

When it was revealed that al-Balawi gained entry to the CIA base without full security screening, observers speculated that the agency relaxed procedure out of eagerness and a reluctance to offend a potentially valuable source. Panetta, however, said that sources in the region were typically screened and searched after entering facilities, so that locals would  less likely to spot them entering. Al-Balawi was about to be searched when he detonated the bomb, according to reports, and the CIA changed the policy after the attack.

Further security reforms are forthcoming, Panetta said, including more rigorous security training for operatives working overseas, and red-teaming to spot security vulnerabilities at sites overseas.


♦ Photo by Duffman/Wikimedia Commons
 

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