CIA warned about informer who bombed Afghan base
WASHINGTON (AFP) – Jordan tried to warn the CIA about an informer who later attacked the spy agency’s base in Afghanistan last year, killing seven Americans, a US intelligence official said.
Concerns about working with the informer had to be “weighed against the information he had already provided, and his potential to lead us to the most senior figures in Al-Qaeda,” the intelligence official told AFP on Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Details of Jordanian misgivings emerged as the CIA unveiled the findings of an internal review into the December 30 bombing, with the agency’s director saying the spy service failed to vet the informer amid a series of “missteps.”
An internal task force probing the incident concluded that the “assailant was not fully vetted and that sufficient security precautions were not taken,” CIA Director Leon Panetta said in a statement to agency employees.
“These missteps occurred because of shortcomings” across the agency, including “management oversight,” he added.
Only three weeks before the attack, a CIA officer received warnings from his Jordanian counterpart about the bomber, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, but chose not to inform his superiors, the New York Times reported, citing Panetta.
The officer was apparently dismissive of the warning because he suspected the Jordanian intelligence officer who offered it was jealous of a colleague’s close relationship with Balawi, the Times reported Panetta as saying.
The December 30 attack on a major CIA base in Khost, near the Pakistan border, was a devastating blow for the spy agency and the second deadliest single assault on the CIA in its history.
Central Intelligence Agency officers saw in Balawi a valuable contact and had invited him onto the base of the compound without patting him down.
When he was about to undergo a search near a building entrance, he set off his explosive with CIA agents standing nearby. Balawi was tied to Taliban insurgents battling US-led forces in Afghanistan, and had been plotting to attack his CIA handlers.
No single individual or group could be assigned blame for the incident, Panetta’s statement said.
“Rather, it was the intense determination to accomplish the mission that influenced the judgments that were made,” he said.
Some former CIA officials and analysts have questioned the role of the chief of the Khost base, Jennifer Matthews, who was among those killed in the bombing.
It was unclear if the agency had decided to avoid assigning blame out of respect for those who had died, including Matthews, who lacked experience in the field.
“A lot of the evidence here died with the people,” Panetta told the Times.
The CIA chief, who recently visited Khost and laid a plaque at the site of the bombing, said the agency has since killed some of those behind the December attack, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“We have also gone after the others who were involved in the planning of this and have taken many of them out too,” he said, without specifying how they were killed.
The US government does not openly discuss its drone bombing raids in Pakistan.
In his statement, Panetta said he approved a series of recommendations from the task force, including tightening security procedures, improving training, bolstering communication and “reinforced counterintelligence practices.”
The agency would place a priority on applying “the skills and experience of senior officers more effectively in sensitive cases,” and “more carefully manage information sharing with other intelligence services,” in an apparent reference to how Jordan’s concerns were handled.
Despite the Khost attack, Panetta vowed that the spy agency would carry on what he called “the most aggressive counterterrorism operations in our history.”
“We will sustain that momentum and, whenever possible, intensify our pursuit,” he said.
The CIA has been pursuing an intense bombing campaign against Taliban and Al-Qaeda figures in northwest Pakistan using pilotless drones, despite public criticism in Pakistan and from Western human rights groups.