"Last week, according to the Western officials, al-Balawi reportedly called his handler to say he needed to meet with the CIA’s team based in Khost, Afghanistan, because he said he had urgent information he needed to relay about Zawahiri.
His handler was a senior intelligence official, identified in Jordanian press accounts as Sharif Ali bin Zeid.
But bin Zeid was not just a Jordanian intelligence officer; he was also a member of the Jordanian royal family and was a first cousin of the king and grandnephew of the first king Abdullah." MSNBC
Yes. Captain Sharif Ali bin Zeid, was a relative of the Zeid bin Shakir whom I previously mentioned.
Well, folks, in spite of all the self-serving bilge from CIA historians and Mike Scheuer (it's all about us – really!) this is a major set-back, AND A COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY ONE. Who is the juvenile ass that was running this operation?
The CIA decided that the "take" sounded so appealing that they would bring this foreign espionage agent, recruited by the Jordanians but not a Jordanian intelligence man, into the CIA's operating base near the Pakistan border for de-briefing? They did it because he wanted it that way? HELLO!! Anyone home here? Anyone? They drove him from Pakistan? From the Quetta area? Hello!!
First of all, if they could pick him up, then they could have taken him to another location in Afghanistan, the region, Jordan or ANYWHERE ELSE but the damned base where the field team was located. What were they going to do, stage a dinner in his honor at the base? Were they going to dress him up in some uniform (an old CIA trick) to make him feel good?
What would have been wrong with de-briefing him in some distant place with the team sitting in by VTR?
Heads should roll, those that are left among the people who had any part in these stupidities. pl
The station chief is said to have been a woman with 14 years of experience in Afghanistan. She came from Kabul to meet the guy and also died. How dumb.
What really makes me wonder is why would they have so many people in one place to talk to this guy?
Were they giving a birthday party for him? Everyone wanted to be there for the “big moment” to write and sell a book about it?
The whole story is one big screw up. The CIA will now be out of expertise/business in the area for years. Heads should definitely roll over this operation.
May be the CIA operator became greedy thinking “Man, I can score a KIA on Zawahiri, and get promoted, a medal, a book deal, land on TV rolodexes for life, etc.”
The lack of accountability for screw-ups over the past several years appears to have led to a culture of professional sloppiness in US government service. Unfortunately for these people, they paid the ulitmate price of accountability.
Just as the US is picking up its tempo of operations so does it’s adversaries.
The “Home Run Mentality” at work, rather than build a painfully slow intelligence infrastructure go after a big target like Zawahiri.
I bet Captain Sharif Ali bin Zeid wasn’t even screened because of his excellent references which is not good news.
Remember in baseball you also have to play defense which means not placing the ball in an attractive target zone.
“Heads should roll, those that are left among the people who had any part in these stupidities.” pl
IMHO. the CIA CYA mentality, nothing will unfortunately happen.
“What would have been wrong with de-briefing him in some distant place with the team sitting in by VTR?”
That would have been the way to go, of course. Likely he planed to detonate the bomb when he was searched (assuming he was ever searched) It may be the double agent had hoped to kill one maybe two low level agents at most. But, lucky him, he wasn’t searched until a bunch of people surrounded him. Which does indeed defeat the purpose of searching.
So, were the Taliban very cleaver, or just very lucky? Or was the CIA just careless? Or did they really, really trust the Jordanians, who I’m told are super good intel people and issued a pre-9/11 warning?
Or was this agent really that good? Was he ever so charming and likable?
Or is that even the best F@$%c up sometimes?
BTW, don’t they have bomb sniffing dogs who can search a target before anyone comes in contact? Just curious.
1. Glad your feeling better.
2. It looks like (among other many other things) possibly a case officer/handler falling in love with his source.
Thomas. Yes. Pl
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Yes, but that does not excuse CIA incompetence. Pl
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What, shurely a corner office, a shiny medal and triples all around is the usual reward for the type of brains behind this and the near simutaneous underwear bomber fiascos.
Hmmmm, blinding decapitation on the battlefield while the incompetent enemy shouts Fire! on the home travel front . . . . sets of some kind weirdass dialectical process in my processor that kicks out cognitive dissonance so loud I must opine that there is likely something going on here that is way more than the sum of its parts, now busily revealing themselves . . .
Damned right on this one. Obama should clean house while he’s at it,too.
Just out of curiosity exactly what district was the CIA station in and what is that environment? It does seem that taking the source elsewhere to debrief rather than where “he” suggested is rather basic fieldcraft? And in general how do you think the Leon Panetta choice has helped “reform” the CIA? Previously I did beleive that the CIA did a great job of protecting itself from direct threats, but maybe I was wrong!
Michael Sheurer is becoming more rather than less interesting to me! I did read “Imperial Hubris” and his other published work about the terrorist threat. Why is he becoming more interesting? I think he believes he can influence internal drivers of policy in the CIA when in fact it appears obvious to me that there are very few competent drivers of INTEL policy left in that organization. Perhaps ending the 20 years and out rule except for those who have bothered to immerse themselves in a foreign language and culuture and lived there rather than a DC suburb would be a good criteria. 20 years of going home at night to a DC suburb does not seem to justify a separate pension and benefit system. Great sympathy for the families of the dead. The tragedy of war and INTEL ops is how often people are killed by ignorance, hubris, and failure to be able to read the tracks in the sand. The interesting thing to me about the John Le Carre character Leamus is how often he was faced with a choice that would result in bad things either way and yet was forced to use his judgement and information base to do so. It looks more and more to me that operating in portions of the Islamic world is presenting the US only with bad choices. So now my question is how does the system choose between those bad choices? And of course what is the overall strategy? Not so great tactics by the oppositon here but apparently highly successful.
“Last week’s attack will be avenged. Some very bad people will eventually have a very bad day,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.”
From the MSNBC article Pat linked to.
I suppose retribution is required when the mouse upends the cat.
Do they know who the “some very bad people” are? How much do we spend annually to nail UBL, Zawahiri and their buddies and what are the results? How much do they spend annually to mess us up and what are the results? Who is getting the better bang for the buck?
It seems that AQ and our “safety czar” politicians keep whacking away at our personal liberties as that is what apparently keeps giving.
Another story from:
Leaders of the Lashkar al-Zil now knew that CIA operatives were trying to recruit reliable tribal people from Afghanistan so that the latter could develop an effective intelligence network along the border with North Waziristan’s Shawal and Datta Khel regions, where high-profile al-Qaeda leaders often move around.
Laskhar al-Zil then laid its trap.
Over the past months, using connections in tribal structures and ties with former commanders of the Taliban and the Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan, the militants have planted a large number of men in the ANA.
One of these plants, an officer, was now called into action. He contacted US personnel in Khost and told them he was linked to a network in the tribal areas and that he had information on where al-Qaeda would hold its shura (council) in North Waziristan and on the movement of al-Qaeda leaders.
The ANA officer was immediately invited to the CIA base in Khost to finalize a joint operation of Predator drones and ground personnel against these targets.
Once inside, he set off his bomb, with deadly results.
The Italians identified over twenty CIA officers involved in the 2003 snatch of Abu Omar off the streets of Milan. In this case the officers’ tradecraft was horribly incompetent. Now CIA officers bring a foreign source into their base to meet at least 13 (by the casualty count) officers… as you pointed out, more horribly incompetent tradecraft. I’m sure there’s a lot more we will never read in the newspapers.
I hear there is a serious lack of experienced old case officers who know the meaning of “Moscow Rules” to train the youngsters for a few years before they are set out on their own. I also hear that both CIA and DIA are full of overly ambitious kids whose goal is to make rank as fast as possible rather than become skilled, experienced case officers.
Time to bring back the old timers and school the youngsters in the basics.
Only tangentially off topic, I’d guess most SST readers might find it “enlightening” to read that the most senior US intel officer in Afghanistan might actually “get it” with regards to Afghanistan:
Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan (28 page PDF)
The bio on that senior officer from that document is:
That article is in error and appears to be based on spurious Taliban claims of responsibility. The bomber was apparently a Jordanian source and was vetted by Jordanian intelligence, which may be the reason he wasn’t searched. His Jordanian handler was also killed in the attack.
The attack occurred on FOB Chapman (also called firebase Chapman or Khowst Airfield) in Khowst district in Khowst province, which is on the border with Pakistan. Khowst is the primary operating area for the Haqqani network, which is the group most closely associated with AQ and UBL. It’s not surprising that the CIA would have a significant presence there.
I’m not very intelligent, but I do have enough intelligence to know that the intelligence officers who were in charge of this operation weren’t being very intelligent.
And speaking of intelligence, our very intelligent president told us that the real war is in Afghanistan. So it’ll be interesting to see how he’ll use his intelligence again to tell us that the real war is actually in Pakistan and possibly even in Yemen — including possibly [fill in the blank], [fill in the blank], ect.
As a former CIA case officer who saw plenty of incompetence even back in the 1980s and 1990s, I would observe that the problem is due to the lack of language and cultural skills among CIA officers. The new breed of CIA careerists don’t run unilateral operations against targets because they can’t and have to rely on local informants who are in turn recruited by other local informants. It is damned easy to infiltrate a system that operates like that and it is a virtual guarantee of crappy intelligence (not press coverage today about how bad the intel in Afghanistan is). I’m sure the Station was hungry to nail Zawahiri and took the bait without even thinking of what the consequences might be. I grieve for the dead and their families, but my God, when are they going to begin to figure out how to play the game?
Phil Giraldi said, “…the problem is due to the lack of language and cultural skills among CIA officers. The new breed of CIA careerists don’t run unilateral operations against targets because they can’t…”
I couldn’t agree more. At one time Army case officers were expected to be able to run operations in a foreign language. If they couldn’t, they would be pulled from the field… and that would cause personal and professional shame. This is certainly not the case today. A truism among anthropologists is that one cannot understand a culture without understanding the language. I’m sure the current lack of linguistic skills will have an adverse effect on MG Flynn’s prescription for a new intel paradigm in Afghanistan. (Thanks, Mad Dogs, for pointing out this article.)
Phil et al. I would not for a moment suggest that MI and DIA clanops are any better. pl
“I would not for a moment suggest that MI and DIA clanops are any better”
I second that. I’m afraid the current state of clanops competency across the Intelligence Community is “teh suX0r.”
Mike S. (anonymous)
Stop saying that what CIA does or does not do will determine the outcome of the war. pl
Who knows the truth about the perpetrator? No one can get his name right and as far as what the US networks/media are saying or publishing – they are getting info from “anon” official(s) or third party. The eighth victim’s name was not known until his body was flown back to Jordan and all that time only 7 victims were mentioned- why? .
The double agent was supposed to be a Jordanian but who really knows …….
BTW: I am a woman myself but who, in their right mind would put a woman in charge of Ops ( and dealing with informants) in Khost?
Not Khost, all of Afghanistan. Pl
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I guess the Afghan schoolchildren were very bad people and therefore had to be dragged out of bed, handcuffed and shot. They are saying it wasn’t military personnel who did the deed. Whether my supposition is correct or not, the Afghans will certainly follow the same reasoning.
I don’t buy the argument that “the problem” here was the lack of cultural knowledge or being fluent in the local language(s). The problem here is just plain old incompetence and forgetting the basic ABCs that were outlined by Lang in the next post.
I suspect that part of the reason this happened was because of the double agent handler’s connections, meaning that precautions were not taken because the first cousin of the Jordanian king and grandnephew of the first king Abdullah vouched for the bomber. But that’s just a hunch.
It’s funny how all of the media attention is focused on airport security and not on stuff like this. Without good intelligence and the people to put the pieces together, it’s not possible to foil plots.
What really scares me is that it seems like it’s only the incompetence of terrorists that’s really keeping us safe. God forbid someone like the CIA bomber get on a plane…
Sorry, but do you really mean “wog” seriously?
A wog was the disparaging name of the colonials for “uppity” Indians who got “above their station”.
You are not a racist. Why use a term that is as offensive as “nigger”?
I think one thing to draw from this attack is that the actor appeared to be prompted, at least in terms of the timing of the event, by the Xmas attack on the airline. Agreed?
This begs the question, is there a third wave? Vigilance is key at this time.
In addition to all of the informed and cogent remarks above, I believe the debriefing was done at the base for (talk about irony) security reasons. The protection of intelligence, law enforcement, and other similar officers has become the driving force in many decisions, to the point that the mission is often compromised. I agree, of course, with the need to protect our people, but we sometimes have to take risks- even extreme ones.
A domestic example of this mindset was the Columbine affair where SWAT and other responders waited far too ling because they did not know exactly what was happening and “force protection” overcame accomplishment of the mission- to terminate the incident.
The reason the media focuses on airline security is economics. Airlines are big business and the job of the media and government is to reassure the public it is safe to fly. What I find strange is that we are supposed to be reassured that a gunman, like recently in Vegas, is a lone-nut and not a terrorist, as if the monsters our society helps create are are less threatening than those created elsewhere. I believe some terrorists actions within the U.S. have been covered-up.
You ought to develop more of a sense of humor.
“wog” in this case is amusing because the CIA clearly thought of them that way. pl
I think Scheuer has done a great job of educating the American populace about the reasons why “they” hate us, or at least why “they” attack us. Scheuer’s main message is that “they” don’t attack us because we are free to drink Budweiser, abort our babies, and vote in elections, “they” attack us because of our foreign policy.
For this he should be commended.
Re: R. Edward Morris & Force Protection
A further irony is that Chapman is the staging base for an SF ODA team and usually has security from the bigger FOB (or is it Camp now?) Salerno to the tune of a platoon or so. Salerno was about 10 klicks away, so it doesn’t make sense for them to not take a hill or something and use that as a meeting place.
“Indians?” Rather parochial of you. The British generally thought and may still that the wogs start at Calais.
How do you feel about “Huckleberry Finn” or “The Nigger of the Narcissus?” pl
“wog” in this case is amusing because the CIA clearly thought of them that way.
Someone should tell the CIA Afghanistan has WMD – Wogs of Mass Destruction.
“Microsoft Word, rather than PowerPoint, should be the tool of choice for intelligence professionals..” Michael T. Flynn.
Last night on the Newshour, a gentleman whined that there should not be accountability (for the Christmas Airline incident) because the people work hard and new rules will burden them even more. This has been a common refrain during these past years on how everyone is working “hard”. Well, quit working “hard” and work more efficiently and effectively. If you can’t get out of the way for those that can.
In back to back paragraphs, you suggest that lack of cultural understanding wasn’t the problem; and that you suspect they let the guy in b/c of the tie to Abdullah.
You apparently don’t see the contradiction. People lacking in real understanding often use this sort of shorthand. “Who is he?” “He’s been vouched for by the nephew of the King!” “Oh, my! Show him right in.”
An officer would never make this mistake who hadn’t already acclimated to being led around by a tour-guide who has cotter-pinned a chain to his nosering.
Great, now I know what a wog is! I didn’t want to ask. Binh, “WMD”, I like that.
Anonymous, we need to maintain a sharp sense of humor here. Enjoy.
Re the unfortunate Khowst/FOB Chapman CIA disaster:
1. I second ‘The Beaver’s comment. In these kind of areas, having a female officer head intel ops by itself incites the opposition. This is not intended to be an anti-equal-opportunity comment, but most of us who read SST are aware of the realities.
2. This seems a variant of the al Qaeda assasination of Ahmed Shah Masud, the Tajik leader. Sr CIA officers ought to have been wary of such attempts. From Quetta!! Oh dear!