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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.”
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
Length in days of the sentence Russian blogger Alexei Navalny served for leading an opposition rally last year:
Israeli researchers developed software that evaluates the depression of bloggers.
A teenager in Singapore was convicted of obscenity for posts critical of Lee Kuan Yew, the country’s founding father, that included an image of Lee having sex with Margaret Thatcher.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”