The CIA’s Mission to Protect Americans Claims the Lives of Seven Officers in AfghanistanAuthor: Philip Tufano
The suicide attack on December 30th, 2009 that claimed the lives of six CIA officers, one American security contractor assigned to the agency and a Jordanian military intelligence officer was the second worst attack against the CIA since the American embassy bombing in Beirut in 1993, that attack killed eight CIA officers.
The attack last week took place at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Afghanistan. The base is located in the Khost province, a hotbed of Taliban activity and a stronghold of one of the most hardened and dangerous militant groups called the Haqqani Network. The base played a critical role in the CIA's operations in Afghanistan, including assisting with drone attacks and building informant networks in Pakistan.
The Taliban claimed responsibility last Thursday for the killings that was carried out by a suicide bomber who was wearing an Afghan National Army uniform. "The martyr attack was carried out by an Afghan military, Samiullah, when the CIA agents got together in a U.S. club-cum-training center for a meeting in order to collect information on the Mujahedeen," the release said, according to a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute.
Some senior intelligence officials think the bomber may have gained access to the base because he was an informant who had provided reliable and actionable intelligence about high-value targets in the past and was considered a potentially valuable asset. According to an Associated Press report, the bomber was a 36-year-old doctor recruited by Jordanian intelligence to support U.S. efforts against al-Qaida. The suicide bomber; identified as Human Khalil Abu-Mulal al Balawi, from the Jordanian town of Zarqa; was also the home to the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the one-time leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The CIA's Khost base was established in the months after the September 11th attacks as the U.S. launched its CIA-led offensive against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The base started as a makeshift safe house for CIA-Afghan operations. The base by 2002 had grown into a major counterterrorism hub that included joint operations with CIA, US Special Operations forces and various Afghan allies.
It is disturbing that most Americans don’t understand or appreciate the sacrifices that the dedicated men and woman of the CIA make every day to protect the US and Americans. In the Khost attack the six men and one woman (believed to have been the Chief-of-Station) spent long periods of time away from their families and homes, in an area of Afghanistan that is isolated and extremely dangerous. These brave Americans understood the dangers of their jobs; they were not paid huge salaries to perform their duties, but did so because they believed that what they were doing was important to protecting Americans from the potential of future terrorist attacks. The seven dead CIA officials leave behind a total of eight children; one of the officials was expecting the birth of his first child next month.
"Those who fell yesterday were far from home and close to the enemy, doing the hard work that must be done to protect our country from terrorism," said Mr. Panetta, Director of Central Intelligence, in a message to agency employees. "We owe them our deepest gratitude, and we pledge to them and their families that we will never cease fighting for the cause to which they dedicated their lives—a safer America." Mr. Panetta went on to credit US military doctors and nurses in Afghanistan with saving the lives of the additional people wounded in the attack. "Yesterday's tragedy reminds us that the men and women of the CIA put their lives at risk every day to protect this nation," Mr. Panetta said.
The CIA vowed to avenge the killings last week and began mobilizing against the perpetrators of the attack. "The CIA is already working hard to find those who supported the Khost attack," a U.S. intelligence official, adding "this attack will be avenged through successful, aggressive counterterrorism operations."
CIA spokesman George Little commented that the attack serves as a stark reminder of the dangerous nature of the CIA's work. "There's still a lot to be learned about what happened," said Little. "The key lesson is that counterterrorism work is dangerous. Our fallen and wounded colleagues were on the front lines, conducting essential operations to protect our country."
It is understandable how this attack could have happened, in that in order to gain the trust of an informant, it is sometimes necessary to overlook some elements of tradecraft that may have prevented such an attack. Since this individual had provided high-value intelligence in the past and had worked hard to gain the trust of his CIA handlers, it is understandable that the CIA officials would have felt it necessary to make this individual feel that he was a trusted and valuable member of their team. It was a calculated risk and it demonstrates the commitment that the men and women of the CIA are willing to undertake everyday in a war zone, putting their own personal safety second to the primary mission of protecting Americans.
President Barack Obama also wrote to CIA employees last Thursday, he praised the service of the dedicated and patriotic officers who were killed in the attack."These brave Americans were part of a long line of patriots who have made great sacrifices for their fellow citizens and for our way of life," wrote President Obama. Since the 9/11terrorist attacks, he said, "because of your service, plots have been disrupted, American lives have been saved, and our Allies and partners have been more secure."
The CIA officers killed in the attack last Wednesday will be added to the Wall of Honor in the CIA's lobby at HQ in Langley, VA. The Wall of Honor which currently holds 90 stars representing each agency employee killed in the line of duty. The most recent star was added last June to memorialize an officer killed last year, but the officer's name and duties weren't made public, as is usually the case with CIA officers killed in the line of duty.
Contributions to assist the families of fallen CIA officers killed in the line of duty can be made through the Officers Memorial Foundation that was set up in 2001 after the death of Mike Spann, who was killed in Afghanistan. Prior to this bombing in Afghanistan, which took the lives of 7 officers, there had been 4 officers lost in the past decade. The Foundation has been created by a group of concerned Americans who wish to assist the survivors and dependents of intelligence officers who died in the line of duty as the result of hostile action. These survivors and dependents deserve the support of their fellow Americans because of the supreme sacrifice made by their loved ones to preserve and defend the freedoms all Americans enjoy.
Donations can be made to:
The CIA Officers Memorial Foundation
C/O Arnold and Porter LLP
555 12th street N.W.
Washington, D.C., 20004
Please make all donations payable to "CIA Officers Memorial Foundation.” All donations are tax deductible, as the foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.About the Author:
Philip Tufano is the Executive Director of Global Training and Technical Communications for InterActive Training, Inc. Philip was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, where he attended the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College of the City University of New York (CUNY), obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in International Business and Management in 1990.
Philip obtained a Master's degree in International Journalism & Corporate Communications in 1994 from Northeastern University in Boston, MA.
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