CIA acknowledges "missteps" led to officers' deaths

WASHINGTON Wed Oct 20, 2010 2:40pm EDT

1 of 2. Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud (L) sits beside a man believed to be Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal Al-Balawi, in a still image taken from video released January 9, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan via Reuters TV

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The CIA on Tuesday acknowledged "missteps" and "shortcomings" that allowed a would-be informant to enter a U.S. base in Afghanistan and blow himself up on December 30, killing seven CIA officers.

The mistakes included failing to act on warnings about the assailant from Jordanian intelligence or take security precautions that may have prevented the second most deadly attack in agency history, according to an internal investigation.

Suicide bomber Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi tricked the CIA into believing he could be a useful tool in the battle against al Qaeda, and was invited inside a well-fortified U.S. compound in Khost province in southeast Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.

"He had confirmed access within extremist circles, making a covert relationship with him -- if he was acting in good faith -- potentially very productive," CIA Director Leon Panetta said in note to agency employees. "But he had not rejected his terrorist roots. He was, in fact, a brutal murderer."

Panetta cited mistakes by the agency revealed in the investigation, notably the CIA's failure to properly vet Balawi, who made a suicide video released after his death calling on militants to launch more attacks.

But they also included critical security lapses and communication breakdowns.

One of the biggest mistakes may have been the failure of a CIA officer in Jordan to pass along concerns raised by Jordanian intelligence about Balawi's ties to al Qaeda.

"The Jordanians raised concerns about Balawi," said a U.S. intelligence official.

"Those concerns were weighed against the information he had already provided, and his potential to lead us to the most senior figures in al Qaeda."


Immediately after the bombing, Panetta defended the agency against accusations of a security blunder.

In a column written for The Washington Post in January, he said the bomber detonated his explosives just before security guards were about to search him. He said no one ignored the hazards, and it "was not a question of trusting a potential intelligence asset."

On Tuesday, Panetta suggested the shortcomings within the agency were too broad to isolate blame.

"These missteps occurred because of shortcomings across several agency components in areas including communications, documentation and management oversight," Panetta said.

"Responsibility cannot be assigned to any particular individual or group."

Panetta said he had approved in recent months 23 actions, including tightened security procedures and creating a counter-intelligence vetting cell that would focus on "high-risk/high-gain" informants, like Balawi.

He noted that counterterrorism work still required working with "dangerous people in situations involving a high degree of ambiguity and risk."

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Comments (9)
Randy549 wrote:
Why didn’t they search him before he was allowed into the high-security compound? Seems like it could have saved at least some lives.

Oct 19, 2010 9:34pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Fiscal wrote:
Just Obama and his team who run to third base instead of going though the bases required for success. Many of us are making money predicting reliably that Obama and his team will make the wrong decisions consistantly. Unfortunately for those in the CIA, ARMY, MARINES,NAVY who are the Bats of the adminstration that get broken in these adolescent…..No Stupid…Blunders trying to score runs buy running to third.
Kick them Out before they destroy the entire economy and security of the world.
Erase the Game Plan on Nov 2nd

Oct 19, 2010 10:15pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Lary9 wrote:
I paraphrase what W.C. Fields famously said? “It’s always easier to cheat a dishonest man.” How about this? “It’s always easier to deceive a deceiver.” How sadly instructive is this bit of cloak & dagger irony?

Oct 19, 2010 10:16pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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