Officer Failed to Warn C.I.A. Before Khost Attack, Contractors Killed
Attack Killed Civilian Contractors and former Civilian Contractors
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.
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. It is unclear whether any action will be taken against the C.I.A. operative in Jordan who chose not to pass on the warning.
The agency is a closed society that makes precious little public about its operations. It is sometimes loath to investigate itself, and at times has resisted punishing people for failures.
In 2005, for instance, Director Porter J. Goss rejected the recommendation of an internal review that “accountability boards” be established to determine which senior C.I.A. officials should be blamed for intelligence breakdowns before the Sept. 11 attacks. Mr. Goss said that punishing top officers “would send the wrong message to our junior officers about taking risks.”
Current and former C.I.A. officials said that the decision not to hold officers directly responsible for the bombing was partly informed by an uncomfortable truth: some of those who may have been at fault were killed in the bombing.
In particular, the officials said there was particular care about how much fault to assign to Jennifer Matthews, a Qaeda expert at the C.I.A. who was the chief of the Khost base and who died in the attack.
One former C.I.A. officer with Afghanistan experience said there was bitter internal debate at the spy agency over whether Ms. Matthews — who had little field experience — ought to singled out for blame for the security lapses that allowed the bomber, Mr. Balawi, onto the base.
“There’s a lot of built-up emotion over this, because one of the primary people accused is Jennifer, and she’s not here to defend herself,” he said.
Several family members of the victims of the Khost attack, reached by telephone and e-mail on Tuesday, declined to comment about the C.I.A. report. Mr. Panetta said that families would be informed about the report’s conclusions in the coming days. Read more here
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