CIA Report: No Disciplinary Action In Afghan Attack

CIA Director Leon Panetta says he will not fire or discipline any officials for failing to prevent the 2009 suicide bombing inside a base in Afghanistan that killed seven CIA employees. The blast was set off by a Jordanian double agent.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, Im Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And Im Renee Montagne.

The CIA is not going to punish any of its own over missed intelligence that led to a suicide bombing in Afghanistan. That attack cost the most lives ever in a single incident in the CIA's history.

Since seven CIA employees died last December at a base near the Pakistan border, the CIA has been investigating what went wrong. A special task force has found that were systematic failures, and also indications that the CIA missed warnings that could have prevented the attack.

NPRs Rachel Martin covers intelligence and she joins us now in our studio.

Good morning.

RACHEL MARTIN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: What were the warning signs that the CIA apparently missed?

MARTIN: There were several red flags, Renee. Warnings that the CIA, based at Khost, Afghanistan, could be vulnerable to an al-Qaida attack of some kind. But that critical information never made into the hands of the people who actually needed to know it most.

MONTAGNE: Well, how specific were they?

MARTIN: They were pretty specific, these warnings. The man who carried out this attack had established a good track record with the CIA. And let me just take you back briefly to what happened late last year.

It was a remote outpost near the border with Pakistan where this happened. And the CIA team in Khost had been working with this man. He was a Jordanian doctor with a lot of high-level connections. His name was Humam al-Balawi and he had proven in the past to be a valuable informant. He had the potential to provide them with access to key operatives in al-Qaida, mainly Osama bin Laden's top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

It was a relationship with a lot of potential, so they were very keen on cultivating this. But a U.S. official close to the investigation confirms to me that a few weeks before the attack, a CIA officer in Jordan got warnings that this man might be a double agent. But this officer didnt share the warnings with his supervisors.

And that wasnt the only warning. Others back at CIA headquarters and overseas raised similar concerns about this man. But the information, again, never got to where it needed to go, to those CIA agents working in Khost.

MONTAGNE: And other mistakes?

MARTIN: Well, the task force found that there was no real chain of command in this particular operation. There wasnt just one person overseeing this, and so that became a major problem. Also, security protocols: How did the attacker get so close to the base, on the base, with explosives. There were major lapses there.

Also, the vetting process is flawed, they found. Those CIA operatives in Khost believed that this man was fully vetted. They trusted him and ultimately they made the call to invite him on that base, where he then detonated a suicide bomb and killed seven CIA employees.

They decided that the information that he could give them was so good -connecting them with Ayman al-Zawahiri - that it was worth the risk.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, why is there no punishment? I mean, did the investigation place blame on particular people?

MARTIN: They did not. And Director Leon Panetta went out of his way not to. He said no one person or group can be held responsible. And hes been very careful not to ascribe blame to those who died. In fact, he went so far as to say, in the memo that he released agency-wide yesterday, that it was these people's intense determination to accomplish the mission that influenced the judgments that were made in the end.

MONTAGNE: Was it possible though, that it was something they wanted to believe that was going to work?

MARTIN: Exactly. I mean he was essentially saying that they were doing their job too well.

MONTAGNE: Rachel, thanks very much.

MARTIN: You're very welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR national security correspondent Rachel Martin.

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