WASHINGTON (AFP) – Jordanian officials raised concerns with the CIA about an informer who later attacked the spy agency’s base in Afghanistan last year, killing seven Americans, a US official has said.
“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,” the US intelligence official told AFP Tuesday, after an internal review of the incident concluded the CIA failed to fully vet the assailant.
(AFP) A screengrab released by SITE Intelligence Group shows Humam al-Balawi in an interview by al-Qaeda’s media arm, As-Sahab Media.
The New York Times said the CIA operative in Jordan who obtained the information chose not to pass it on to his supervisors, and that it was unclear if any displinary action would be brought over that decision.
Panetta said the operative was apparently dismissive of the information on the suicide bomber Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi because it was thought the Jordanian intelligence officer who offered it was jealous of a colleague’s close relationship with the eventual attacker, the Times said.
“Sufficient security precautions were not taken,” CIA director Leon Panetta said in a statement to agency employees, adding that the “missteps occurred because of shortcomings” across the agency, including “management oversight.”
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 worst single assault on the CIA in its history.
The CIA had believed the suicide bomber Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi was a valuable contact and had invited him onto the base of the compound without a search.
When he was about to be searched near a building entrance, he set off his explosive and it later emerged he was tied to Taliban insurgents battling US-led forces in Afghanistan.
No single individual or group could be assigned blame for the incident, Panetta said.
“Rather, it was the intense determination to accomplish the mission that influenced the judgments that were made,” he said.
The Times said the agency was unwilling to assign blame for the bombing to an individual as those who could be found at fault might have been killed in the blast, including the Khost base chief Jennifer Matthews, who had little experience in the field.
“A lot of the evidence here died with the people,” the CIA chief is quoted as saying by the Times.
“The mission itself may have clouded some of the judgments made here,” he is reported to have said, noting the informant was offering information on one of the CIA’s top targets, Al Qaeda’s second highest commander Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Panetta approved a series of recommendations from the CIA task force probing the attack, including tightening security procedures, improving training, bolstering communication and “reinforced counterintelligence practices.”
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 carrying out an intense bombing campaign against Taliban and Al-Qaeda figures in Pakistan using pilotless drones, despite public criticism in Pakistan and Western human rights groups.