Al-Qaida Killed Two CIA Officers 13 Years Ago

Molly Huckaby Hardy and Tom Shah were among more than 200 people killed in 1998 when al-Qaida bombed the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. And now, 13 years after their deaths, their CIA affiliation has been revealed. The U.S. government said the two were State Department employees. But both Hardy and Shah were working undercover for the CIA, according to Associated Press reporter Matt Apuzzo, who tells NPR's Melissa Block what he discovered.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

They are believed to be the first CIA officers killed by al-Qaida. Molly Huckaby Hardy and Tom Shah were among more than 200 people killed in 1998 when al-Qaida bombed the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. And now, 13 years after their deaths, their CIA affiliation has been revealed.

The U.S. government said the two were State Department employees, but as the Associated Press is reporting, both Hardy and Shah were working undercover for the CIA. It is a rare revelation for a group of people whose ultimate sacrifice often goes unreported.

Matt Apuzzo co-wrote the story, and he joins me now. And Matt, the CIA hasn't confirmed this publicly, but you learned of their CIA ties through anonymous sources.

Mr. MATT APUZZO (Associated Press): Correct. About a half-dozen, six or seven current and former U.S. government officials who, you know, intimately knew this issue and were pretty close to the two people who died.

BLOCK: And they confirmed it for you. You've been learning more about each of them. And let's talk first about 51-year-old Molly Huckaby Hardy and her career.

Mr. APUZZO: Well, Molly was a financial officer, and she did the books. She made sure all of the money added up. If they were going to be spending money to pay sources or get information, she made sure all that money added up. It's a really important, but often unsung, job in the agency.

BLOCK: OK. And then there's Tom Shah, 38 years old, and a really unlikely background for a CIA operative.

Mr. APUZZO: Yeah. Tom is an accomplished jazz musician, played in back-up bands for Perry Como. He has his master's, and his Ph.D., in music. He was a music teacher. And his professors told us that he just responded to an ad for government service and went into training, became one of the most up-and-coming, the most promising young operatives of his generation, spoke fluent Arabic and Hindi, decent in Russian.

And Tom was actually in Kenya on a very secret, sensitive mission, one of the most sensitive missions that was going on in Africa at the time. He was there to recruit and to get information from a high-ranking Iraqi government official.

BLOCK: And they were doing that in Kenya?

Mr. APUZZO: Yeah. If you're meeting a source, you don't want to meet them in the Middle East where all of these, you know, Middle East intelligence agencies are running around. You want to get them out of there and go to Africa - where ideally, there are fewer prying eyes.

BLOCK: And Matt, we should explain, these two names were known. They're listed on the memorial, two victims in Nairobi. And within the agency, their CIA affiliation would have been known, too?

Mr. APUZZO: Right. So every year, the director of the CIA holds a private ceremony. And family gets to come and the CIA community comes, and they read all of the names of the fallen officers, you know, over the years. And every officer is commemorated by a star on the wall at Langley. And they also have a book that's called the Book of Honor, and the names are written in the book. But in some cases - like this case here - when the officers are still undercover, it's a blank line in the Book of Honor. So it's never really known, outside of the pretty close-knit CIA community, who the fallen officers are.

And in a lot of ways, they really - it really sums up the CIA career, right? You - not everybody who serves wears a uniform. And in a lot of times you're anonymous in life, and you're anonymous in death. And that's what a lot of these guys sign up for.

BLOCK: Would there be any risk, any danger in exposing their names now, 13 years after their deaths?

Mr. APUZZO: We talked a lot about that. We talked a lot about it with people in government, active. We did hold back some details about Tom's mission in particular - who he was meeting with, what he was doing. But no. I mean, the concern was over the sanctity of the mission, which we went out of our way to protect.

What we were trying to do was honor these people who have never had their moments to - you know, their families have never had the moment to say, this is what my mother was doing; this is what, you know, my husband was doing; this is what my son was doing. And you know, in a lot of ways, Memorial Day stories can do that for people who serve in uniform, but they don't often get to do that for people in the CIA.

BLOCK: Matt Apuzzo of the Associated Press. Thanks for coming in.

Mr. APUZZO: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.

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