Attack on Afghan CIA post just as worrying as Northwest 253

A lot of ink has been spilled describing what went wrong with the attempted terror attack on Northwest flight 253 on Christmas Day. And a lot of distressing information has certainly come out about the intelligence and security failures evident in the near-success of the Eunuch-bomber.

There seems to be comparatively less attention paid to the suicide bomber who attacked a CIA base in Afghanistan last week, killing seven Americans and one Jordanian along with himself. Yet the prospect that Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi was a double agent working against the CIA — when we thought he was infiltrating al Qaeda for us — may reflect even worse on our capabilities and be an even more worrying sign about the terrorist outfit’s sophistication.

About what the al-Balawi attack says about the CIA and al Qaeda, former CIA agent Reuel Marc Gerecht writes today in The Wall Street Journal:

This operation could well have been months—if not longer—in the making, and neither the Jordanian intelligence service (GID), which supplied the double agent to the CIA, nor Langley apparently had any serious suspicion that al-Balawi still had the soul and will of a jihadist.

That is an impressive feat. The Hashemite monarchy imprisons lots of Islamic militants, and the GID has the responsibility to interrogate them. The dead Jordanian official, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, reportedly a member of the royal family, may not have been a down-and-dirty case officer with considerable hands-on contact with militants, but al-Balawi surely passed through some kind of intensive screening process with the GID. Yet the GID and the CIA got played, and al Qaeda has revealed that it is capable of running sophisticated clandestine operations with sustained deception.

Gerecht lays some blame on procedural and operational failures among CIA leadership. But he also writes that — eight years after 9/11 — the CIA’s in-house talent and knowledge relating to Arab countries and language is sorely lacking. For instance:

The CIA uses the GID so often not because the Jordanians are brilliant but because the Americans are so often, at best, mediocre. The GID’s large cadre of English-speaking officers makes liaison work easy with Langley, which has never been blessed with a large number of Arabic-speaking officers, particularly within the senior ranks.

In light of President Obama’s remarks yesterday about what went wrong with Northwest flight 253, Gerecht weighs some possible measures to take after the attack on the CIA in Afghanistan.

[Obama] did not come into office pledging to reform the CIA, only restrain it from aggressively interrogating al Qaeda terrorists. There is near zero chance that the president will attempt to improve the Agency operationally in the field. His counterterrorist adviser, John Brennan, is as institutional a case officer as Langley has ever produced. If Attorney General Eric Holder is so unwise as to bring any charges against a CIA officer for the rough interrogation of an al Qaeda detainee during the Bush administration, the president will likely find himself deluged with damaging CIA-authored leaks. Mr. Obama would be a fool to confront the CIA on two fronts.

But the president is likely to compensate for systemic weakness in American intelligence in substantial, effective ways. Mr. Obama has been much more aggressive than President George W. Bush was in the use of drone attacks and risky paramilitary operations. One can easily envision him expanding such attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. Visa issuances, airport security, and perhaps even FBI surveillance of American Muslim militants are likely to become much tougher under Mr. Obama than under Mr. Bush. President Obama will, no doubt, continue to say empirically bizarre things about Guantanamo’s imprisonment system creating jihadists, but his administration will now likely find another location to jail militants indefinitely. Too many of President Bush’s released detainees have returned to terrorism.

What’s clear is that our counterterror operations clearly are still lacking — a sad fact that has been undermining both the Bush and the Obama approaches to fighting terrorists.

27 comments Add your comment


January 8th, 2010
10:34 am

Good piece Kyle. Thanks for spotting this and bring it to our attention.

There are a lot of “facts” coming out about the meeting with the “triple agent” that may or may not turn out to be correct. But losing the station chief, been there over 10 years, our “expert” on
al Qaeda, really hurts.

But as I keep pointing our, we are at war, a new kind of war, but still a war. And wars always result in casualties. The American people need to steel themselves to the fact that we will take casualties. We will take casualties overseas and we will take casualties in the homeland. We will stop most attacks on the homeland, we will not stop all. Anyone who thinks so is living in a dreamworld.


“…eight years after 9/11 — the CIA’s in-house talent and knowledge relating to Arab countries and language is sorely lacking.”

This is disturbing. If you can’t read what they write and understand what they say, how can you win? The military has released several Arab language specialist because of being gay – did the CIA try to pick up these guys? Just a thought?

Democrats are Corrupt, Repukes are Lying Scum

January 8th, 2010
10:52 am

I have always found the cia to be both arrogant and incompetent, and their actions in this case just confirms my belief. Sitting in a bunker with a gods eye view of the battlefield, surrounded by flat screen monitors, and targeting third world villages with drone launched hellfire missiles surely gave these cia people the sense that they were invulnerable and superior to all. Did they imagine they could kill hundreds of Muslim men, women and children with their missiles, and not anger our so called Muslim allies like this double agent? Filling a small room with your people for a meet with a double agent (double agents should never be trusted, they have already demonstrated their moral flexibility once by changing sides, so a second change should be even easier), and NOT SEARCHING THE DOUBLE AGENT first is both the height of arrogance and incompetence. The CIA’s vow of revenge just means more reckless disregard for the lives of Afghan and Paki women and children. This murder, killing and revenge just grows with each act, so expect more violence on all fronts. I suggest we withdraw now and let the locals sort things out, otherwise this war will drag on for decades and spread beyond any control. What a waste of men, material, and money.


January 8th, 2010
11:05 am

Were not at war.

Were an empire fighting battles against occupants of our holdings and effected by our political and military-industrial complexes mechanizations and manipulations.

We should mind our own business and defend our soil. Naive? BS. Give it a try and see what happens – how ’bout that!

Why ya want to kill the country for the sake of having an empire?

I’ll do just fine without the empire. My roof will still cover me. I’ll still be able to feed myself. Maybe even fly like we used to. And yes, even drive using gasoline produced from oil. Why do you like the stress and strain of fighting muslims and lobbing cruise missiles into Yemen which just incites them more?

Me no understand.

Democrats are Corrupt, Repukes are Lying Scum

January 8th, 2010
11:17 am

Tarzan, there is one group responsible for this endless war, they crawl under rocks to hide, and call themselves neocons…..I list the names of a few for your benefit….Paul Wolfoweasel, Liar Libbie, Pukie Pearlie, Filthy Feithie, and DickHead Chanie. The names are disguised to hide the guilty.


January 8th, 2010
11:21 am

Our HUMINT capabilities are pathetic. First, American education places no value on learning a second language. Second, there are no big defense contracts for smart people. Think how many people we could have trained with money spent on the F-22 program. Third, the addiction to gadgets and toys severely hampers efforts not producing a “gee whiz!” thingamabob. Fourth, there is no effort to attract our best and brightest to truly serving our county. If you can make 50 times the money on one taxpayer bailout bonus, why would you go live in a tent in Afghanistan—risking your life to boot?

9/11, the entire Iraq war, and a host of other debacles are 100% rooted in our HUMINT failure. Worse yet, nothing will change soon.


January 8th, 2010
11:27 am

I think, and hope, Obama is beginning to get the picture on a lot of things. His only plan for the CIA is restraint, and yet he is surprised when their performance falters. Likewise on the economy, his only plan for small business is to tax them to pay for all his new programs, and yet he is surprised that they are not hiring.

He does not have enough knowledgable people on his staff to understand the cause and effect of the things he is doing.


January 8th, 2010
11:40 am

I don’t know what other answer there is besides removing ourselves from the problem. The problem being our interventionist foreign policy. If not that, than we should seriously start considering this a religious war; that is how our enemies see it, and fight to capitulation with all we got. Civil liberties can take a back seat for awhile; don’t worry, you’ll get them back…when we say so. Playing with finding a middle ground here is pointless, reckless and immoral.

Intown Lib

January 8th, 2010
11:47 am

Jess: that is pretty condescending and ignorant. Obama got the picture before he took office. Obama is who he is, not the image of the naive intellectual that the Republican PR machine created out of thin air during the election and after.

Kyle: the airline attack got more attention because millions of Americans fly (and because Republicans spent alot of energy trying to spin the story against Obama) but, very few Americans are CIA operatives in Afghanistan. So far, most Repubs have not “aided and abetted the enemy” (as Cheney would say) by making baseless attacks against Obama’s Afghanistan approach. Not yet, anyway.

Chris Broe

January 8th, 2010
11:53 am

That the CIA bomber was a doctor and father of 2 is the crux of how vast and embedded the Al Queda conspiracy truly is. That Al Queda is an ideological nation without borders is an insurmountable combative advantage.

I love the Right’s certainty that they could do better. They are drinking their own Tea, aren’t they?


January 8th, 2010
12:14 pm

“They are drinking their own Tea, aren’t they?”

Here’s your invitation to try a cup. It tastes better than Kool-Aid, I swear.

Campaign for Liberty Regional Conference at Atlanta
January 15-17, 2010

Banned By Cindy

January 8th, 2010
12:20 pm

It’s impossible to grow accustomed to the extreme fantasy atmosphere and self-absorbed blindness that pervades American discussions over Terrorism, especially in the wake of a new scare. The Right, seeking as always to exploit Terrorism fears, falsely accuses Obama of not displaying “war” language and a “war” mentality, in response to which he and his aides step forward to affirm — yet again — that WE ARE AT WAR!, and to point to all of the times Obama decreed this to be so and all of the war actions he has ordered. So we’ve spent the last decade screaming to the world that WE ARE AT WAR!, that we’re a War Nation, that we’re led by a War President. That we are “at war”…is an absolute bipartisan orthodoxy that must be affirmed by all Serious people. And we are currently waging some form of actual war in no fewer than five predominantly Muslim countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia); are threatening Iran with “crippling” sanctions and — from our more deranged quarters — war; and continuing our unbroken devotion to Israel’s causes.

Yet even in the face of all of that, it is bewilderment and confusion that reign when our media stars and political figures talk about attempts to attack Americans. Why would they possibly want to do this? They must be crazy, or drunk with religious fervor, or consumed by blinding, inhumane hatred. Much of that is probably true for individuals willing to blow themselves up in order to slaughter as many innocent civilians as possible. But it’s equally irrational to think that you’re going to spend a full decade bellowing WE ARE AT WAR! to the world, send bombs and troops and all forms of death to multiple Muslim countries (both directly and through Israel), and not have that directed back at us. That’s what happens when a country is “at war” — it doesn’t just get to blow up things and people in other countries, but its own things and people sometimes get blown up as well. That’s how “war” works.

It’s truly astounding to watch us — for a full decade — send fighter jets and drones and bombs and invading forces and teams of torturers and kidnappers to that part of the world, or, as we were doing long before 9/11, to overthrow their governments, prop up their dictators, occupy what they perceive as holy land with our foreign troops, and arm Israel to the teeth, and then act surprised and confused when some of them want to attack us. In general, the U.S. only attacks countries with no capabilities to attack us back in the “homeland” — at least not with conventional forces. As a result, we have come to believe that any forms of violence we perpetrate on them over there is justifiable and natural, but the Laws of Humanity are instantly breached in the most egregious ways whenever they bring violence back to the U.S., aimed at Americans. It’s just impossible to listen to discussions grounded in this warped mentality without being astounded at how irrational it is. What do Americans think is going to happen if we continue to engage in this conduct, in this always-widening “war”?

Democrats are Corrupt, Repukes are Lying Scum

January 8th, 2010
12:28 pm

Stinking Cindy banned me too, just because I said she should be fired for stupidity. She and her opinion both stink. But banning those who disagree with you is the DummyCrat way. At least the Rupukes tolerate dissent, they just call you a traitor and ask why you hate america. Impeach Obama NOW, and on a much lesser note, fire cindy now.


January 8th, 2010
12:45 pm

The history of the CIA and its actions in foreign countries almost assures that they will suffer blowback eventually. At the root of all of our foreign tyrrany you can find the CIA. Let us not forget that they were responsible for deposing the democratically elected president of Iraq in 1953 and helping Saddam to power. But of course we are the perfect nation who never does those sorts of things. We just spread democracy and lover wherever we go.

Despite severe stupidity - Cindy is still writing nonsense

January 8th, 2010
12:45 pm

The cia is responsible for global warming…all that hot air on K street.

Hillbilly Deluxe

January 8th, 2010
12:55 pm

Yet the GID and the CIA got played, and al Qaeda has revealed that it is capable of running sophisticated clandestine operations with sustained deception.

Hillbilly Deluxe

January 8th, 2010
12:57 pm

Yet the GID and the CIA got played, and al Qaeda has revealed that it is capable of running sophisticated clandestine operations with sustained deception.

Oops, wrong button.

That’s the nature of the intelligence world. You have to constantly be on guard and take nothing at face value and most importantly, never underestimate your enemy.

Chris Broe

January 8th, 2010
1:16 pm

I decline to drink any Tea, (he said gingerly, yet unsweetenedly).

I'm really cold today!

January 8th, 2010
1:36 pm

I’m impressed! I have read Kyle and Jay’s blogs, and nobody has blamed either Bush or Obama for the ice on the roads here! LOL!


January 8th, 2010
1:41 pm

Great op. I agree that this is much more important than the airliner. This is where the war on terrorism is being fought and youve got to think that the attack will set us back quite a way. That idiot on the plane was incompetent but the guy that did this and the others that supported him obviously arent. Seems like a mission that was well planned and expertly executed. Scary that they are intelligent enough focus on high value targets instead of airliners and trained enough
to pull it off. Whats gonna happen when guys like that decide to take on missions in the US. Wont be 200 people on a jet, thats for sure.

Also gotta question the ability of the government agencies to defeat these guys. Without question the CIA and others were behind the curve before and now I wonder whether there have been improvements since 9/11 and whether they can improve enough going forward.

Stop The Lies

January 8th, 2010
2:31 pm

Twenty-five per cent of the stimulus was dedicated to tax cuts, and a sizeable portion of the tax cuts went to working individuals who make less than 250,000 per year to include tax incentives to small businesses. Find me one morsel of a federal tax increase since Jan 19,2009 please.


January 8th, 2010
2:54 pm

American imperialism insists we attack and occupy the middle eastern countries because they have oil and we do not. These are oil wars waged by American $BILLIONAIRES to make more money. American Hospitals kill 195,000 Americans every year by medical error. Why don’t you declare war on the nuts in charge of our health care system and health insurance corporations. The greedy CBA (Crooked Bankers Association)just committed a $1.25 TRILLION robbery of the American taxpayers in broad daylight with their bailout of corporate $BILLIONAIRE. Not one crooked banker is in jail! Join VFC (Vigilantees For Christ) and end congressional pensions now. Make the CBA homeless and poor.

Byron Mathison Kerr

January 8th, 2010
2:56 pm

@Tarzan, January 8th, 2010, 11:05 am:

Well said! You hit the nail squarely on the head. The Empire of the United States of America has a military presence in over 100 countries around the world. And of course people resent our meddling in their sovereign affairs for the sake of economic exploitation. It is the same imperialism that has been on-going in the world for centuries, it just looks somewhat different through a modern lens. This is clearly not the result our founding fathers envisioned our nation to be.

All the aggressive, violent reactions to the 9/11 incident (AKA military actions) have mostly created more dedicated enemies of the United States. We are caught in a sort of Chinese Finger Trap, putting our resources into policies that only yield the opposite of what we are trying to accomplish — protect our citizens — while refusing to give up these policies because it benefits the economic interests of mostly a small, wealthy, highly-influential minority.

Those who advocate a smaller central government body need to realize the first step is to stop trying to govern so much of the world that is not part of our own sovereign soil.


January 8th, 2010
3:03 pm

Let’s jail Ollie North that setup the CIA drug operation in Colombia to fund military coups in Latin America so fascist dictators could serve American corporations and the American mafia.


January 8th, 2010
3:42 pm

Billy Hewitt,

We do not have oil? I think, no, I know you are mistaken. We have plenty of oil which our democratic administration refuses to let oil companies produce. They then are the ones who foster dependance on foreign oil. And by the way, there are several people from the financial institutions now in jail.

Algonquin J. Calhoun

January 8th, 2010
3:58 pm

Indeed, casualties are a regrettable part of war that has to be accepted. The most alarming message to come from this sad occurrence is that XE, formally Black Water, is supplying freelance spooks. They are viewed as officers as was made clear when two of Blackwater’s freelance mass murderers were killed along with five CIA officers. This use of contract spooks, cooks and other mercenaries started during the Reagan administration and was overseen by Dick (head) Cheney. The American people are being fleeced and we certainly don’t need these murderderous , overpaid scumbags reporting on anything or doing anything in our name. May they rot in hell!


January 8th, 2010
4:00 pm

Democrats are… Repukes are…, I agree with your positions, even if I feel your zeal is a distraction. You are correct, the CIA may have some dedicated, professional patriots in the field, but the “corporate culture” (political organization) leaves much to be desired. This was not a terrorist attack; it was a battlefield SNAFU (exploitation of a tactical error on the part of the CIA). I believe it was NVA General Giap who, when discussing the outcome of the Vietnam War said (paraphrase); …most U.S. soldiers were conscripts who has a 1 year tour of duty, and from the moment they touched down, they counted the days until the would return home. They were asked to fight/die for an idea. There were soliders in my army who had fought the Japanese and French as well as the Americans. They fought/died for their homeland and they would fight until the war ended.” We (America in general and CIA decision-makers in particular) do not understand al Qaeda, and the neo-con chickenhawks (who were “too busy” for Vietnam) do not care. They see their “war on terror” as a jobs program for their cronies and an opporunity for self-enrichment (financially and politically). I had hoped Obama would avoid the mistakes (pride cometh before the fall) of his predecesor, but he is a neo-con in liberal clothing.


January 11th, 2010
12:59 pm

You are absolutely right about this being just as important/scary if not more so than the attempted Christmas day flight bombing.

It really is amazing how little coverage this incident has gotten compared to the Christmas day one, and I appreciate you bringing it to light here.