CIA Bombing Rocked Intelligence World The deaths of several CIA employees in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan last week put a spotlight on the usually unseen world of intelligence operatives. The suspect in that attack was a Jordanian doctor with ties to al-Qaida, who had been recruited by Jordanian intelligence. The U.S. and Jordan are trying to piece together what went wrong, and what signals might have been missed. Columnist David Ignatius of The Washington Post talks to Madeleine Brand about how the intelligence world works.
NPR logo

CIA Bombing Rocked Intelligence World

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
CIA Bombing Rocked Intelligence World

CIA Bombing Rocked Intelligence World

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Its MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.


And Im Madeleine Brand. The news that a purported Jordanian double agent killed seven CIA operatives in Afghanistan sounded like something out of a movie, maybe a movie like Body of Lies. Body of Lies is about a CIA agent who works with Jordanian intelligence to fight terrorists.

Its based on the book Body of Lies, written by David Ignatius. Hes also an expert on national security. He writes a column for the Washington Post. And he joins me on the line now. Welcome to the program.

Mr. DAVID IGNATIUS (Author, Body of Lies): Thank you, Madeleine.

BRAND: Now, this suicide bomber was apparently so trusted by the CIA operatives that he was let onto this secure base in Afghanistan without being thoroughly searched. Did this surprise you? Is this protocol?

Mr. IGNATIUS: It did surprise me. I'd have to say that this looks like bad tradecraft, as people in the CIA would say. To allow an agent - you always have to suspect the worst - who might be a double agent, or in this case a triple agent, access to one of your bases without giving him a thorough physical search would be unusual.

Ive talked to a number of former CIA officers, and they say good tradecraft wouldve dictated quite different arrangements. Its better to meet people outside bases, just as youd want to meet them outside an embassy; to go to safe houses, as we like to say, not just in spy novels, but as the CIA officers themselves like to say. So it was a little bit unusual, and risky.

BRAND: Was it possible that the Americans relied too much, were too trustworthy of the Jordanians, who had allegedly apparently worked with this suicide bomber?

Mr. IGNATIUS: Theres a very close relationship between these two services that dates back many years. And I have to say the Jordanians, from what I know, have been extremely helpful to the CIA in going after al-Qaida. Here is a source that theyve been running and that they trust, and so you want to - this is a business that runs on trust, in part. So you don't want to offend their agent, and by implication the Jordanians themselves, by demanding too many pat-downs and searches. But thats the kind of sloppiness, while you understand the motive, that ended up getting people killed.

BRAND: Now, in your novel Body of Lies, you describe the inner workings of how the Jordanian intelligence service works. And its quite interesting; theyre planting rumors and lies within terrorist groups so that they start turning on each other. And Im just wondering, how close to reality was what you portrayed in the movie?

Mr. IGNATIUS: Well, I did a lot of research for the book. The book began with a conversation with George Tenet, who was then CIA director. And I asked him in 2002 or 2003, whats the service thats really helping you the most in this post-9/11 fight against al-Qaida? And he immediately said the Jordanians, and recommended the man who was then head of that service; his name was Saad Kheir.

So the next time I was in Jordan, I went and asked the palace for permission to go visit Saad Kheir and the general intelligence department, and spent a lot of time talking with them and getting their stories. So the reporting is real, and the tradecraft that I describe with the Jordanians is as close as I could get to what I think is reality.

And basically that tradecraft stresses - interesting in light of whats just happened - knowing as much as you can about the people that you're working with. Information is the key leverage for the Jordanians, so theyll try to know everything about you, your family, the place youre from, your tribal links, all the little bits of leverage that they can have on you.

Theres one scene in the movie, also in the book, which was taken directly from reality, from an anecdote about Saad Kheir, the former head of the service, in which he handed a cell phone to somebody he was trying to recruit. And on the other end of that cell phone was the mans mother. And the mans mother had thought that her son had been sending her gifts and money and a new couch. All the time it had been sent by the Jordanian intelligence service in secret. And the mothers thanking the son. Oh, thank you. I knew youd amount to something.

And this man hands the phone back to his Jordanian case officer, knowing he has been caught. They have got him, because they know him, they know his mother. Theyve just got the whole web of his life in their hands, and he became their agent. So thats how they operate. Theyve been successful in the past.

What an embarrassing reversal for them to have recruited somebody who turned out to be a triple agent.

BRAND: Thank you very much. Thats David Ignatius; hes a columnist for the Washington Post.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.