Washington Babylon — March 24, 2010, 10:42 am

The Khost Bombing: What went wrong?

The inestimable Jeff Stein is now writing for the Washington Post, and his debut “SpyTalk” column looks at the Khost bombing last December 30th, which killed seven CIA officers and contractors. “The base chief’s lack of operational experience, lethally mixed with a lack of rigorous supervision from senior officials from CIA headquarters on down, got her killed,” Stein writes, summarizing criticism from Robert Baer, a former clandestine operations officer, as well as other sources he spoke with.

A seasoned operative would have punched holes in her [the base chief's] plan to bring Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi — a Jordanian doctor who persuaded the CIA he could penetrate the top circles of al-Qaeda — to the agency’s base in Khost, counters Charles Faddis, a career operative who retired in 2008.

As it turned out, Balawi had been dispatched by al-Qaeda in Pakistan. When he was picked up by an agency security team, he stepped into the car wearing a suicide vest of explosives. They failed to pat him down — another inexplicable lapse.

I’ve been hearing the same sort of criticism from people I’ve talked to. One said:

This was bad management and bad tradecraft. This was a clandestine meeting with a high-threat asset, yet they put thirteen people [the number of personnel killed or injured] in the immediate purview of an untrusted, unknown agent. You take risks during war, but thirteen people? They were already in the station when they were getting ready to search him. Judgment went out the window because they thought they were going to get Al Qaeda’s Number 2.”

Another former senior officer I spoke with was less scathing, but also critical. He said simply, “I can see how this happened but a series of steps were taken that were highly imprudent. There is no way this could sustain any serious review.”

CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano told Stein:

“The agency continues to take a close, exacting look at the Khost attack. This organization learns both from its successes and its setbacks. It’s strange, though,” he added, “to see people—in some cases people who left here many years ago—posing as experts on operational tradecraft in the Afghan war zones.”

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

Commentary November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm

Shaky Foundations

The Clintons’ so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2016

Psychedelic Trap

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Hamilton Cult

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Held Back

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Division Street

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Innocents

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quiet Car

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Hamilton Cult·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The past is complicated, and explaining it is not just a trick, but a gamble."
Illustration by Jimmy Turrell
Article
Division Street·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Perfectly sane people lose access to housing every day, though the resultant ordeal may undermine some of that sanity, as it might yours and mine."
Photograph © Robert Gumpert
Article
Held Back·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"'We don’t know where the money went!' a woman cried out. 'They looted it! They stole our money!'"
Artwork by Mischelle Moy
Article
The Quiet Car·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Flor Arely Sánchez had been in bed with a fever and pains throughout her body for three days when a July thunderstorm broke over the mountainside. She got nervous when bolts of light flashed in the sky. Lightning strikes the San Julián region of western El Salvador several times a year, and her neighbors fear storms more than they fear the march of diseases — first dengue, then chikungunya, now Zika. Flor worried about a lot of things, since she was pregnant.

Late in the afternoon, when the pains had somewhat eased, Flor thought she might go to a dammed-up bit of the river near her house to bathe. She is thirty-five and has lived in the same place all her life, where wrinkled hills are planted with corn, beans, and fruit trees. She took a towel and soap and walked out into the rain. Halfway to the river, the pains returned and overcame her. The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion.

Photograph by Joshua Lutz
Article
Innocents·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion."
Photograph © Nadia Shira Cohen

Amount of laundry an average American family of four washes in a year (in tons):

1

A study of female Finnish twins found that relative preference for masculine faces is largely heritable.

It was reported that visits from Buddhist priests could be purchased through Amazon in Japan, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra began streaming performances through virtual-reality headsets.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today