I wrote yesterday about failures in signals analysis by counterterrorism officials, but I woke up today to read about a deadly failure of good old human intelligence. The suicide bomber who killed seven CIA operatives in Afghanistan last week was an Al Qaeda double agent.
The attacker, a physician-turned-mole, had been recruited to infiltrate al-Qaeda’s senior circles and had gained the trust of his CIA and Jordanian handlers with a stream of useful intelligence leads, according to two former senior officials briefed on the agency’s internal investigation. His track record as an informant apparently allowed him to enter a key CIA post without a thorough search, the sources said.
The bomber, identified as Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, was standing just outside an agency building on the base Wednesday when he exploded a bomb hidden under his clothes, killing the seven Americans along with a Jordanian officer who had been assigned to work with him. Six CIA operatives were wounded.
Balawi was a Jordanian physician with a history of Islamist militant support. He had been recruited by Jordanian intelligence agents and had been working with the CIA for long enough to be a trusted informant. And then he blew himself and seven operatives up inside of their base.
Neal Ungerleider at True/Slant also found that Balawi was a blogger who liked to fantasize about an Islamist future.
It appears al-Balawi, writing under the nom-de-plume Abu Dujanah al-Khurasani, ran the extremely popular jihdaist bulletin board al-Hesbah. Among al-Hesbah’s many users, some were people connected to the London tube bombers and others high-ranking al-Qaeda members.
Al-Balawi/al-Khurasani was also a prolific blogger…who, apparently, liked to daydream about a future caliphate….The face of Islamist terrorism apparently is this: A 36-year-old doctor posting about future dystopias on internet forums in his free time. He could just as easily have been a Trekkie.
I’m sure this is a much more thorny intelligence dilemma than being more aware of warning from Africa, and I can’t say I’ve got any armchair-intelligence-operative suggestions. I’ll say though, while I’m sure that the CIA is not pleased with the attention they’re getting about their efforts in Afghanistan, I’m glad to hear they were actually working on getting to Al Qaeda.