I’m troubled by the unfortunate killing of 7 members of the CIA in Khost province, Afghanistan. How in the world did a suicide bomber manage to get to that many CIA employees in a remote FOB?
Well it appears it was mostly a matter of bad tradecraft – a breakdown in procedures designed to ensure situations like that don’t develop.
First, this was an asset that the CIA had been using to get next to al Qaeda number two Zawahiri. He’d been to the FOB before and, apparently, was promising some information that enticed a number of CIA members to the FOB. That was a major mistake:
Said Bob Baer, a former CIA case officer, “It is sort of a grim calculation but normally when you meet an asset like this you have one, maybe two people. So I think people are going to point out inside the agency that they shouldn’t have 13 people there.”
“Why the officers would show a source all their faces, that alone was a terrible decision,” said one former senior CIA paramilitary operative who served in Afghanistan and requested anonymity when discussing sensitive and classified matters. “This is a sad, sad event, but it was a complete security breakdown.”
Why they felt it was necessary to flaunt security and tradecraft conventions remains a mystery, but frankly, that bit of stupidity didn’t have to be fatal. This bit of stupidity, however, almost ensured it:
Al-Balawi had been to Chapman previously and because of the information he was promising, CIA officers told Afghan guards to allow him past the first of three checkpoints without searching him. The bomber was actually escorted around the checkpoints, and the officers also told the guards to vacate the area, sources told ABC News.
So this combination of flaunting the rules of their tradecraft and security procedures cost them 7 CIA employees and 3 or 4 others associated with them.
In the line of business these people are engaged, complacency kills. Short cuts kill. There’s a reason for the existence of certain procedures, however time consuming and onerous they may seem. The fact that their tradecraft was so blatantly and obviously disregarded is disturbing. And, as you might imagine, the consequences, while devastating, aren’t unexpected.
When you’re dealing in life and death situations where anything is possible, you cannot assume anything. Your “asset” could be just what this guy was – a double agent. The poor assumptions made to put this guy in front of 13 CIA employees are mind boggling. And they make you wonder, given the situation, how well trained these people were in the tradecraft which should have prevented this from occurring, or at least minimized its effect.
Regardless, what you now have to hope is a new emphasis will be made on the tradecraft that should have prevented this situation from developing. But these deaths and why they occurred do not at all reflect well on the CIA – an organization which is supposed to be our finest and most proficient asset for gathering foreign intelligence.