CIA Finds Series Of Failures Led To '09 Attack

NPR's Robert Siegel talks to New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti about an inquiry into the 2009 suicide bombing in Afghanistan that killed seven CIA employees. According to the CIA's internal investigation, the agency had been warned that the man who set off the bomb might be working for al-Qaida.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The CIA suffered one of its most deadly attacks late last year in Afghanistan, and it now appears that the spy agency had received a warning beforehand. That warning about a possible double-agent working for al-Qaeda was not passed along, and the al-Qaida operative killed nine people with a suicide bomb. Seven of them were CIA employees.

These details have emerged along with a final review of the incident. The CIA released its internal investigation today. New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti has been following the story and joins us now.

And, Mark, what have you learned about this warning and why the CIA didn't act on it?

Mr. MARK MAZZETTI (Journalist, New York Times): What we learned today was that a CIA officer in Amman, Jordan, heard concerns from one of his colleagues and Jordanian intelligence that this alleged great force of the CIA was going to get to lead them to al-Qaida operatives might in fact be working for al-Qaida or other militant groups.

It was not a very specific warning, and they were really more concerned about this agent rather than hard evidence. However, Leon Panetta, the CIA director, said today that those concerns should have been passed up the chain and sent to CIA headquarters so that they could have help get this person that the CIA ultimately invited on to its base in late December, where he then detonated a suicide bomb.

SIEGEL: Now, today's CIA report details what it calls systemic failures that led to the deadly ambush last December. What's meant by systemic failures here?

Mr. MAZZETTI: Well, Director Panetta said that, in essence, the whole CIA was to blame. There was a breakdown across the board, from the vetting of the double-agent who is, again, they thought might bring them to senior al-Qaida officials.

They also thought that there were breakdowns at the base in terms of security. This person was invited onto the base without proper screening, and that was also not the norm. And that there were also failures to sort of properly train CIA officers for fieldwork.

Director Panetta said that there was a lack of really warzone experience at that CIA base, and more experience might have prevented this deadly attack from happening.

SIEGEL: Well, does this notion of systemic failures mean that no one at the CIA is going to be disciplined for the errors that led to this deadly suicide attack?

Mr. MAZZETTI: Yes. It appears that the report concludes that not one individual or a group of individuals ought to be held directly responsible or be held up for blame in the incident.

So, they are not convening what the CIA called Accountability Board, which is a group of CIA officers who are a body who investigate and holds individuals accountable. There may have been some internal reviews or demotions or some internal action that we do not know about, but not an organized accountability process that's going to be set in motion from this report.

SIEGEL: Well, if the failures then were systemic rather than attributed both to specific individuals, it is expected that things will change the CIA because of this investigation?

Mr. MAZZETTI: Well, Director Panetta said he looked at the change. He just instituted a number of reforms based on the recommendations of the group that did the investigation.

He is putting a more counterintelligence officers into the counterterrorism center. In other words, the people who were supposed to be able to ferret out double agents and are always suspicious of the sources that the CIA uses, they're going to work more closely with the operators.

And this, according to Director Panetta, may prevent one of these attacks in the future. In other words, be able to know whether the people, the agents that they're running might be working for the other side. There were a number of other reforms in terms - including security procedures that Director Panetta announced.

But, I mean, there's no doubt that this was a colossal failure by the CIA that led to one of its deadliest days ever.

SIEGEL: That's New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti. Thank you, Mark.

Mr. MAZZETTI: Thanks very much.

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