The Jordanian doctor who carried out last week's suicide bombing on a CIA base in Afghanistan had been such a valued CIA informant, according to a former intelligence official, that his reports were subject to "restricted handling," meaning they were seen in Washington only by the CIA director and his top assistants.
The former intelligence official, who has been briefed on the attack, tells NPR that the informant had previously revealed enough information about al-Qaida operatives to enable the CIA to kill them with missile strikes from unmanned aircraft.
"He was feeding us low-level operatives and we were whacking them," the source said. He agreed to discuss the attack on the condition of anonymity.
The suicide bomber, identified as Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, had met previously with CIA agents, according to the former intelligence official, but never inside the CIA base, known as Forward Operating Base Chapman, outside Khost.
Multiple sources have told NPR that the Dec. 30 attack, which killed seven CIA employees (including two who were working for the agency as contractors), occurred at a meeting where Balawi had promised to give information on the whereabouts of Ayman al-Zawahiri, No. 2 in the al-Qaida command behind Osama bin Laden. Balawi insisted, however, that he would deal only with the top CIA personnel in the country.
Balawi's offer, which is said to have been relayed to the senior CIA leadership in Washington, was accepted.
"He looked good," said the former intelligence official, "and we were hungry. It is so hard to penetrate al-Qaida." The White House was informed of the meeting.
Among those who showed up at Chapman was the agency's "chief of targeting" for Afghanistan and the deputy chief of station, both of whom came from Kabul, as well as the regional CIA head, from Khost, and the chief of the Chapman base. The deputy chief of station survived the blast, according to several intelligence officials, but is in grave condition at a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.
Other CIA staff were from the CIA's Global Response Staff, which provides protection services for the agency. Two were employed on a contract basis through the private Xe security firm, formerly known as Blackwater.
Several former intelligence officers have been critical of what they regard as "security lapses" in the arrangement of the meeting, including the physical exposure of so many CIA personnel to a potentially hostile agent and the failure of security personnel to search Balawi before the meeting. The former intelligence official says the decision to hold the meeting inside the Chapman base rather than outside was due to security concerns.