Questions Follow Deadly Attack On CIA
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
I'm Melissa Block.
And we begin this hour with the latest on the suicide bomber who killed seven CIA officers last week in Afghanistan. A Jordanian spy was also killed in the attack. As we've been reporting, it now appears the bomber was an al-Qaida member who had been recruited by Jordanian intelligence to spy on al-Qaida. He then lured his CIA and Jordanian handlers into a trap.
With us now to sort out some of the threads of this story is NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. And Mary Louise, what have you been able to find out about this suicide bomber?
MARY LOUISE KELLY: Well, it appears that what we have here is a triple agent. This was a young Jordanian doctor, originally known in al-Qaida circles as a recruiter, someone who posted regularly to the jihadi chat rooms and Web forums. Because of all that activity, the Jordanians arrested him a couple of years ago. And while they had him, they tried to flip him - get him to spy for Jordon and for Western intelligence agencies. It had seemed to be working. They sent him to Afghanistan, where he apparently provided a lot of valuable information.
However, we, of course know that as of last week, certainly, he was working for al-Qaida. What we don't know is: Did he ever really work for the U.S. or for Jordon? Was he always secretly working for al-Qaida? One former CIA official who I spoke to said it is incredibly difficult to run a triple agent. One lesson of this is that the fact that al-Qaida apparently managed to do it, speaks to how resourceful they still are after all these years.
BLOCK: And one big question still, Mary Louise, is how he got onto the base without, apparently, being searched, so he could carry out this attack.
KELLY: Yeah. This is something that has stunned a lot of intelligence veterans. And what they will tell you is that when you work with these types, you have to assume that you may be working with a double or, in this case, a triple agent. Because of that, one of the key rules of spy trade craft, I'm told, is you would never let someone like this onto your operating base because if you do, they know what it looks like, they know what security looks like, they know what you look like. So, it's obviously a very risky thing to do. One U.S. intelligence official I spoke to said, look, we realize that there's huge risk here, but, you know, these are unsavory individuals and we have to work with them. A saint is not going to get us the intelligence we need.
BLOCK: Yeah. One thing - to work with an unsavory individual, as you say, another thing to let them onto your forward operating base, in this case, a key base in Afghanistan.
KELLY: Right. And clearly there are details that we still don't know yet. One explanation that was provided to me is maybe they were trying to build up trust, develop a respectful relationship. It may also be - I've had several sources tell me - that perhaps another security check was coming. The bomber was apparently outside a fitness room. He was not yet in the meeting room when he detonated. And apparently, perhaps another pat-down was coming and he had to detonate early.
BLOCK: Mary Louise, another question that's emerged about whether procedures were followed and that's, why were so many CIA operatives in the same place at the same time, including, I believe, a station chief, right?
KELLY: Apparently, what I'm told is that the bait that this bomber provided was that he had information on Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaida's number two. That would've been some tantalizing bait. And apparently a lot of officials wanted to gather to hear it. I'm told that the fact that they were all there speaks to how hard U.S., by agencies, are trying to still go after these top al-Qaida officials, they're taking more risk to try to do it.
BLOCK: Now, you mentioned the suicide bomber's Internet postings, jihadi chat rooms that he was involved in, must've raised suspicions now among his handlers?
KELLY: Apparently not. That's one thing that does not seem to have roused suspicions because that would've been part of his cover. If he was arrested because of intelligence activity online, if you're Jordanian intelligence trying to flip him, the last thing you would want him to do in terms of his credibility would be to stop those postings. One key thing here, I think, Melissa, is that it will raise for CIA people all sorts of questions about all the other sources they're trying to run.
Obviously you're always questioning that, you're always wondering whose side somebody's on in this murky world, but I think a lot of attention will have to focus now on trying to make sure the CIA is not being penetrated.
BLOCK: NPR's Mary Louise Kelly who covers intelligence for us. Mary Louise, thanks very much.
KELLY: You're welcome.
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